Gulmarg Winter Festival – 2012
“It was meant to be you guys” said Vivek, of Soul Curators, the organizers of the Gulmarg Winter Festival. He was referring to us being the first band to play at such a concert in all of Kashmir, in the last 30 years!
It could so easily not have been us there on stage that night. The original dates for the festival were clashing with our tour in Sri Lanka, but it snowed on those days and the festival was pushed by a week enabling us to make it. The day we arrived was really bad weather, so the sound set up couldn’t happen till the morning of the actual festival, and we were supposed to headline on the first day, but the delay meant that only 2 bands would play on the first day and as fate would have it, we started proceedings at the Gulmarg Winter Festival!
Kashmir is special to every single Indian, but MOST Indians have only heard about Kashmir, and VERY VERY few have actually been there. So when we were offered a chance to perform in Kashmir and what would be such a historic event, I had little hesitation in saying “Yes!” but we never knew how epic this tour would actually be.
Half the band had never seen snow in their lives, so the thought of performing on a snow covered mountain slope was met with mixed reactions of joy, apprehension, excitement and fear. And we experienced all those emotions on this trip!
We landed in Srinagar, straight from Delhi, where we played at one of our favorite clubs in the country, Attitude Alive, and were whisked off in cars straight to Gulmarg. Now Gulmarg is about 40Kms from Srinagar, but is DRAMATICALLY different in climate, terrain and most importantly for the rest of our trip – Temperature.
Enroute to Gulmarg, we did a pit stop at Tungmarg, where we had a fantastic lunch at a road side hotel, equipped ourselves with Wellies and jackets and waited our turn to climb the hills on to our hotel in Gulmarg. Then followed the most incredible road journey that we had had ever been on. We were seated in ‘chained vehicles’ – chains tied around the tyres of our vehicle to avoid them sliding back on the snow covered roads – and we were driving around the mountains that were covered in at least 4 ft of snow!
Those roads were just about wide enough for our SUV and somehow, there was two way traffic and we were witness to some amazing maneuvering with tyre slippage being accounted for as well! On one side of the road was the breathtaking scenery with snow clad mountains, tall pine trees and on the other, a vehicle trying to squeeze past on a road clearly meant only for one vehicle!
We reached Gulmarg nevertheless, safe and sound, but frozen to the bone, and then we realized how under prepared we had been all along and what it actually meant to be standing in sub zero temperatures. But all of us were just trying to soak in as much of the surroundings as possible. A couple of us had our first falls on ice, we tried to throw snow balls at each other and more importantly, realized the meaning of the word ‘Thaw’!
A small session of Dumb Charades to keep us amused after dinner and we slept like we hadn’t slept in a LONG LONG time.
The morning was the prettiest sight! The mountain range in the background and a vast snow filled golf course outside our window, and we couldn’t wait to go out and explore. With the warmest we could get ourselves to be and our spirits high, we walked out and straight into the open arms of the numerous guides and vendors waiting to take us for a ride :p – pardon the pun!
But we very soon realized how organized the tourism industry is here in Gulmarg, and after some more warm clothing purchases, we were assigned individual sledges and one attendant and we started our tour around the area. Your first time on a sledge is always going to be an experience and we had a crazy introduction to it, and then headed straight to the beginners ski slopes!
We got our ski gear on, and about half an hour later, we were all doing solo ski rides down the small slopes! And we have video proof to show!
From there it was another trek to the Gondola or the cable car and that took us to Phase 1 – 1200 metres above Sea Level! An intermediate spot that we could see a large part of the mountain range from. At this point, we were less than 100 metres from the Line of Control and that was quite something.
We came back from the day’s outing and everyone went back for a quick snooze because while you don’t realize it because of the temperature, walking around in boots in the snow and skiing makes you seriously tired.
We waited for a couple of hours before Vivek called saying things were more or less set up and we could come over to start a small soundcheck and continue to start the festival. The venue was like they took a winter postcard and plonked a stage right in the middle of it and how they did it is something I don’t even want to find out! The walk to the stage with no equipment itself was challenging for us, so having to set up a full PA there must have been a mammoth undertaking!
There were lots of problems to start with and one by one, we ironed out most of them, giving us enough to start the show with. Raghu was adamant that we perform in our trademark lungis and the compromise was that we would keep our boots on, and wear our lungis over them. Which is what we did!
With our fingers numb and not even feeling the strings as we strummed the guitar, it was quite challenging to even get through sound check, so our show was as expected, full of bloopers and absolute crazy moments when we had no idea how we were even playing! But like Raghu said, “Shiny Happy People” got us through our short 40 min set.
Now that I look at this experience, I am still left wondering why someone would do a festival like this, and even more of a question, is why bands would agree to play here, and a bigger one, why people would come to a place like this for such a festival! and the answer is that there is power in music and like the song ‘Kodagana Koli Nungitha’ says, each of us is significant in the way the universe functions, and every little thing that we do has repercussions that are felt somewhere.
For all that effort, Kashmir saw its first music festival ever, and after having spoken with the locals who hadn’t heard a band play in all their life, us playing for half an hour there, was a MAMMOTH event in their lives!
And lastly, us musicians are a little crazy that way, while most of this sounds ridiculous to the logical mind to pull off, we think its pretty darn cool!
I know we have been part of igniting a spark that will hopefully lead to much bigger things one day, but that is not for me to predict at this point. I just want to thank everyone who was crazy enough to think this was a good idea and follow through with it and make it happen.
We’ve played at quite a few special places around the world so far in our career, but this one will count as the craziest thing we have done yet!