Taken for a ride at Pahelgaum


 Taken for a Ride at Pahelgaum

When my friend and I visited Kashmir recently, Pahelgam was firmly on our agenda.

‘What do we do when we reach Pahelgam?’ we asked the manager of the boutique hotel in Srinagar we were staying in.

‘See it, what else?’ he replied surprised.

‘Of course we will see it- but what are the places we should see and how do we reach those places?’

‘Your cab driver will take you to the  Pahelgam barrier. After that you will have to get a local cab or a horse. The best option is the horse.’

‘A horse? No way on earth am I going to get on a horse!’ I declared.

‘Let’s reach there and decide.’ my friend, who used to be a rider, said.

The drive to Pahalgam was beautiful- along the lovely Jhelum River, snowy mountains, green farms and sprawling meadows.  We reached Pehalgam and our cab driver swung to a stop before a disreputable looking Kashmiri fellow sitting on his haunches, smoking a hookah.

‘Here’s the ghode wala’ he said

‘Who said anything about a ghode wala?  I was annoyed

‘Very cheap sister- we show you Mini- Switzerland, waterfall, apple orchard and so many things.’ The horse owner swung into his marketing spiel.

‘I’ll walk!’ I said

‘No, no sister!  It will take many hours and you will get lost’.  In the meanwhile, my friend was negotiating the cost of the ride.

‘Why are you talking about money with these fellows? I’m not going….’ I cried

‘Why, sister? Why won’t you go?’ clamoured the ghode walas surrounding us.

‘I’m scared of horses’

‘No…no…nothing to be scared of… Nobody ever fell from our horses. Try climbing …try…just try…’

I found myself ‘helped’ on top of a dejected horse. My friend galloped past.

There was no way out  but to resign to my fate.  Besides, I didn’t know how to get off the nag.

‘How long will this tour take? ‘I asked

‘Only one-two hours! You will remember it’ my ghode wala said. He was, possibly, the seediest human being (SHB) I’d ever come across.

Then started the most terrifying ride of my life! This was no easy, touristy incline. We were riding up steep, vertical slopes along steep precipices with the horses negotiating loose stones and six inches of deep wet mud. My friend ahead rode with an easy gait, commenting on the glorious vistas and the invigorating mountain air. All I could see were the hind hooves of her horse, slipping and somehow regaining foothold.

I was miserable.

Aaram se baitho! Ghoda aapko kabhi nahin girne dega!’ SHB said when I squealed as my horse slithered over gnarled tree roots.

My shoulders were hunched, I held on to the iron ‘handle’ in front of the saddle so hard that my knuckles turned white and my feet kept slipping out of the stirrups. There was a searing pain emanating from my tailbone. SHB smelt worse than the horse but I daren’t order him away.

Just as I thought that things couldn’t get worse, we came across a steep ninety degree slope that ended in an 8 inch wide stream. The horse had to down the slope into the stream and then briskly clamber up an equally steep, slippery, rocky slope.

I shut my eyes in fear. The horse fell! I was on top of it!

So much for the horse never let anyone fall!

The torturous trip took four hours. And we paid handsomely for the ride.

Were the spectacular Himalayas really worth it? I’ll tell you when my tailbone stops hurting!


This piece appeared in The Tribune as a ‘middle’


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