Gulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir

gulmarg ghorawalla.jpgGulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla !

 Rashmi Talwar

 

“Helicopter service in Gulmarg; flying you on top of the world;

Places where we fly: Mont Apharwat, Frozen Lake, Sunshine, Tosa Maidan and Srinagar Airport.

Rs 7500/ per person.”

 

Much as I was elated by this small red billboard, I noticed on the way back from Gulmarg, Kashmir, owing to my senior citizen parents – not in the best of health, who could see some exotic places if they so desired, it got me thinking about the place Gulmarg –the famed ‘Meadow of flowers’.

Gulmarg waters do not speak. They take side lanes, quietly dolloping down from crevices and flow silently downstream, moistening lush undulating daisy slopes, embellished with hues and shades of wild swinging flowers in the softest breeze. Rolling hilltops are a fairyland where children would love to roll downhill and play antique games of L-O-N-D-O-N —London.

‘The meadow of flowers’ appears to open as a large cine screen after a Deodar tree-lined ribboned road enters a passage cut through the hills. I feel immersed into the spectacular beauty of the vista of Gulmarg, that appears like Switzerland, where no condescending boundary walls rupture the beatific scenery perched at an approximate altitude of 2650 m and located merely 56 km north of Srinagar- the Capital of Jammu& Kashmir, a simple 90 minute drive.

However, after a day and a night stay at Gulmarg, I realized that other than the exotic flowers, Gulmarg can boast of the best talkers and fighters in the region. They are the famous Ghorawallas or Horse owners of Gulmarg, whose fame spreads throughout the Kashmir valley.

1 gullmarg ghoda.jpgThe verdant greens, sugary air and exotic flowers of the valley have done little to sweeten their moods, disposure or decency. Hence like the naturally growing pitcher plant – or insectivorous plant on Gulmarg slopes and crevices, the famed Ghorawallas of Gulmarg have learnt to trap their prey by fear, falsehood or fallacy.  While the pitcher plant may remain a silent spectator to its squirming prey, this variety is highly advanced. It is loudmouthed, threatening, ready to turn anything into a big street brawl, capable of mob terror, fleecing, uses Pakistan slogans to instill fear and even resorts to violence with ‘Kashmiri’ drivers from other regions besides tourists.

One wearing pheran or loose cloak, kohled eyed and henna reddened beard and hair, possessed a rare knack of odd combinations. Seeing the Poop litter in this scenic valley, I suggested poop bags could be used for Ghoras or horses like in European countries to keep the place clean. The smarting Ghorawalla took it as a jibe–“The dayyy Poop bags will arrive in Gulmarg, Kashmir will go to Pakistan!” he declared.

Interestingly, although Government claims a stronghold on the Gondola services of Gulmarg, the Ghorawallas have the real say on plying to the Gondola site. If access to gondola and everything in-between feels so cumbersome in Gulmarg where the lords and Masters are the Ghorawallas, a shake of the grey cells should be of priority to Helicopter Service in the region, for a hassle-free, better and more lucrative business turnover. Perhaps the Heli services which has found few takers till now, and Ghorawallas should sit in a bilateral meeting to chalk out the strategies for the smooth operation, with Ghorawalla as a shareholder of the profit.

After all, the Ghorawallas in Gulmarg have united and created a solid vote-bank of the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and therefore are supposedly given a free rein to loot the tourists while whispers abound that the  police and bureaucracy are told to lie low and quietly collect their ‘cuts’ for being cooperative in ‘smart’ deals.

If you wish to use the circumbulation road of this scenic window of flowers – “Either you hire a a horse or Ghora or pay for a Snow Vehicle PVC,” a Ghorawalla literally barks to incoming tourists. Interestingly, like local warlords many of these Ghorawallas own both these modes of transport.

Perchance if you were able to push in a currency note as a chai-paani into the rough hands of the loudest protesting Ghorawalla, as a clearance to use your own taxi for the roundabout road, he will give you a free show of his stained toothed smile, even pull out his gruff hand to shake yours most vigorously, salute you and will assure you, there would be no Ghorawalla to stop or hassle you.  The next, you know, another Ghorawalla, a short distance ahead will stop your vehicle, put his hand out for a bakshish (bribe) and dial a number on his cellphone to tell the next Ghorawalla about the welcome and protocol to be meted to you for plying your own vehicle. By the end of the route you could be lighter by a few hundred currency notes, for having indulged and navigated in a drive around.

Tourists on a day tour, a one and a half hour drive from Srinagar, are in for the best theatrics. If they decide to hire none of the above transport modes, they will be made to feel like a celebrity as the Ghorawallas will stalk them throughout their trek. They’ll urge them for a free test ride on the horse and then hold out their hand for the price.

By chance if you do settle a deal for a horse, marking out the territory of the ride, another surprise awaits you.  Ghorawalla will refuse pointblank that he was a party to this deal and may ask two to five times more. If you feel strongly up for justice, and are not ready to give up without a fight, you’ll witness the speed with which tens of other Ghorawallas surround you and curse your riches for holding back payment to a poor Ghorawalla! Until you decide to call curtains.

When I requested a security man to let me pass by the barricade by paying a fee of Rs 50, as was mentioned there, because my parents could neither climb a horse nor take the PVC or snow vehicle, the police personnel asked me to make a deal, a deal with a Ghorawalla! The Lord Ghorawalla stood with his foot on a rock and picked his tooth staring at me. If there is the slightest of feelings that flits past you, that there is any rule of law here, please feign a memory lapse. The best recourse would be to equip yourself to beg or cry or whimper. These emotional froths just might work.

Two barricades in the circular road cuts a road through the stunning valley. Only if you are on night stay showing your booking on the cellphone, would you be allowed to ply your vehicle or taxi in the area. But this too has a clause and your night booking is ‘not yet’ a lucky ticket!

“You are fortunate if you booked a stay inside the barricaded area, else all those booked in hotels or huts or guest houses outside the barricade are barred from passing and treated at par with  other day tourists.”

Once a Ghorawallas told me to take the horse instead of the Gondola, up the hill on the Gondola Kangoori route as I had failed to purchase an online ticket. “It is a big blunder,” He shook his head and continued-“Why didn’t you buy ticket online and now Gondola ticket counter is closed for three days, until previous bookings are cleared”. He told me he could extricate few tickets in the black. He also suggested that going on his horse was the best adventure I could have, would cost less than Gondola and the views would be breathtaking by the royal horse ride. Adding,-“Many a times the Gondola develops faults mid-air, and was hardly safe.” I decided to check and found readily available Gondola tickets not only for Phase-I but also Phase –II for one fourth the price and an assurance that breakdowns are rarest of rare cases. Ghorawalla during our conversation had also explained that I might like to fill the tummy of his animal as a sadkaa or offering to the Divine, with an extra for horse-feed as his ‘poor’ horse did not relish mountain grass on this slope.

This takes me to the red billboard for Heli services –“Are the tourists visiting Gulmarg being freely allowed access to the Helicopter service or will they have to kowtow to the Lord Ghorawalla in the land of bloom showers?

For all you know, the Ghorawalla may just find another story using his trading skills, to strike a deal with a naive tourist claiming his horse has wings! “So you don’t really need a helicopter at that cost when it flits away so quickly, you miss all the beauty na, and the views are stunning from my flying horse!” he may add.

Author can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?8ZkljZ_ppDowoQ4O6jlOjc6Q_ep_ep

 

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mir Liyaqat Ali on May 23, 2016 at 3:51 PM

    Ponywallas turn Gulmarg into tourists’ nightmare
    Published at May 23, 2016 01:39:46 0Comment(s) 1043 views

    Horse dung turns cynosure into eyesore

    Ponywallas turn Gulmarg into tourists’ nightmare
    Mir Liyaqat Ali
    Srinagar, May 22:
    Even as complaints of harassment of tourists prompted Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti on Sunday to urge tourism stakeholders to ensure that no visitor is harassed, the government has failed to act against the horsemen of Gulmarg who have been accused of threatening and fleecing the tourists.
    As soon as the tourist vehicles reach the famed resort of Gulmarg, the horsemen and ponywallas crowd and force them to take ride at exorbitant rates. The unruly horsemen do not care whether the tourists want a horse ride or not and misbehave with the tourists and threaten them of dire consequences if they prefer a walk instead.
    These horsemen care little about union tourism ministry’s campaign to improve the treatment of tourists in India under the slogan Atithi Devo Bhava (Be one for whom the guest is God).
    Though there are only 1771 licensed ponywallas registered with the tourism department, the number of unlicensed ponies and horses has doubled over the years.
    The tourism stakeholders, including hoteliers, have accused tourism department of failing to check overcharging and misbehavior of ponywallas with the tourists.
    “Despite registering complaints with the tourism department regularly, no action is taken against these unscrupulous ponywallas who indulge in misbehavior with tourists on regular basis and over charge them for horse rides,” said general manager of a well-known hotel at Gulmarg, wishing not to be named.
    “Ponywallas even beat tourists for not taking the ride. If this thing continues tourism will come to standstill for want of tourists. They have literally created havoc at this heavenly destination where tourists come with great expectations but unfortunately leave with a bad impression,” said another hotelier, wishing not to be named.
    “They don’t even spare women and sick tourists. Complaints are registered with the tourism department but no action is taken against them,” he added.
    The resort is littered with horse-dung, which is proving a constant irritant for the tourists. Columnist, Rashmi Talwar recently wrote on the issue after her visit to Gulmarg. “Someone calls it ‘Heaven on Earth’ and I believe it. Just then, I step out onto the path and my foot squashes on warm horse goo! I look around for help, skidding on one leg, kicking the other to let go of the poo and looking around to wipe my shoe with an old newspaper or grass. Conversely, I see most side paths lumpy with animal excreta,” she wrote.
    The authorities have failed to address the problem. “The bad smell coming out of heaps of animal excreta has polluted the fragile environment of Gulmarg,” said Ravi, a tourist from Delhi.
    The horsemen don’t adhere to the directions of the tourism department to use separate tracks and pass through green pastures and roads.
    Secretary Tourism Farooq Shah told Rising Kashmir that government is taking every step to streamline the pony services at Gulmarg.
    “We have issued rate lists and those who don’t adhere will be taken to the task. Tourism department is also monitoring service providers regularly and whenever we receive any complaint against any ponywalla for misbehavior with the tourists, we take immediate action,” Shah said.
    He said the pony track was damaged due to snow and is being upgraded. “Clear instructions would be passed to the horsemen to use the track.”
    Meanwhile, Assistant Director Tourism, Gulmarg, Aliyas Nasir said unlicensed ponies are not allowed to be used and heavy fines are imposed on ponywallas for using more than one horse on one license.
    “We have deregistered 16 horses recently and imposed fines on overcharging. Though we don’t receive many complaints about misbehavior but whenever there is any such case we take due action,” he said.
    He said the pony service would soon get streamlined once the damaged pony track is fully restored. “Department has less human resources and we can’t keep check on everything,” Nasir said.
    “We are also looking to import cover bags to avoid animal excreta from falling on roads and meadows,” he said.
    Meanwhile, SDPO Tangmarg, Rameez Rashid said over 30 FIRs have been registered against ponywallas in police station Gulmarg since 2015 and challans have been also produced against the accused.
    “Police party is deployed at entry points which keeps regular check on service providers to facilitate better services to the tourists,” he said.
    SDPO said they often receive complaints of misbehavior and overcharging by ponywallas.
    He said a Tourist Association Group (TAG) from police department also ensures that tourists are not cheated. “Licenses of 6 ponywallas have been cancelled in recent past for overcharging and misbehaving with tourists,” the SDPO added.

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  2. Posted by Syed Shujaat Bukhari on May 9, 2016 at 8:33 PM

    This write up by Rashmi Talwar is an eye opener and cognizance is must. Ghodhawalla’s are making lives of tourists miserable in #Gulmarg and politicians are to be blamed for this as vote bank politics is responsible for this mess. Tourism department must take note of these voices from tourists.
    http://risingkashmir.in/news/gulmarg-land-of-lord-ghodawalla/

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  3. Posted by Marazi Rather on May 9, 2016 at 8:26 PM

    Very sad rg ur gulmarg trip , mayb horse owners think money z everything , itz their poor thinking n they always have rude approach. Hope u have enjoyed the trip apart from this godawalla mess. Anyways, do come again n visit all the place without paying any attention to any godawala. Thanku

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  4. Posted by Ahmad Kashmiri on May 9, 2016 at 8:24 PM

    Assalam Alikum
    MS Rashmi Talwar

    Hope you are doing well and now taking relaxed breath free of all kind pollution of Ghodawallas.
    I read your article,it is fine and beautiful.

    We.local.writers cant muster courage to write against these godawallas for they threaten us of consequences as we have.expierences of.

    Yes the govt is desperate for vote bank and.have surrendered and succumbed before these goons.

    But with writers like you govt has to act on this issue one fine day and come to the terms of humanity and justice.

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  5. Posted by Sadaf Munshi on May 9, 2016 at 8:20 PM

    You should write your next piece on the pesky shikarawallahs, Rashmi Talwar. They are no better. One day I was taking a quiet ride by myself, for peace of mind you know, but you think they will leave you alone?

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    • I will dear … Meanwhile urs was an apt and piercing rejoinder … I wish to express that such pieces ‘… In the name of emancipation’ should be discouraged for publication . They only denigrate the hard won strides made by women especially in Kashmir. Also they add to the negative narrative on women instigating and inspiring parochial mindset with warped ammunition .. Keep at it @sadaf and carry forward rational thinking

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      • Posted by Sadaf Munshi on May 9, 2016 at 8:21 PM

        That’s what I told dear Shujaat. We take one step forward, they pull us ten steps backwards. It is a very uneven struggle, and frustrating.

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  6. Posted by Mohammad Hussain Kanth on May 9, 2016 at 7:34 PM

    Not Gulmarg it is now Gobarmarg. So for vote bank policy is there this nuisance will continue.

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    • Your observation is so apt ….everywhere u can see poo or Gobar and if it rains the whole thing turns into a slush on roads ..It is a horrible feeling to see such a beauteous place ill treated thus

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  7. Posted by Javid Bakshi on May 9, 2016 at 7:30 PM

    I reigned them in for two years with stick lock n barrel… Did not heed to any political pressure… Jailed many a Pony wallah presidents… Doing so rubbed the mafia the wrong way…. If we have to save Gulmarg this is the way to go…. But we have to be ready to face backstabbing by our own people deep entrenched and supporting this mafia… Pony wallas, boot walas, coat walas and guide walas… and sisayat walas… But I am content I made a difference… The mafia is content too. It took them two years to get me transferred out of Gulmarg…

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  8. Posted by Altaf Hussein on May 9, 2016 at 7:27 PM

    Godhawallahs have created very bad name in Sonamarg also. Tourists are fleeced. They coerced, pushed, yelled, misbehaved and threatened at times to fetch small sums. They are nasty and sore on the face of common Kashmiri. Sames is that case with Gulmarg also. But I heard they have political patronage of some feeble but resourceful persons. Enforcement section run be an SP rank police officer, of Tourism Deptt make merry while the sun shines.

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  9. Posted by Mushtaq Burza on May 9, 2016 at 7:25 PM

    A great cause of concern for people connected with tourism

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    • Tourism is not what our netas think … Entice and Bring them to #Kashmir and then .. Let them go to the dogs ! Tourism better wake up as to what they are offering to a tourist

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  10. Kashmiri Taxi guy was so scared by Ghodawalas and feared they would smash windows of his car ..#KashmiriAgainstKashmiri

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  11. Posted by Irfan Yasin on May 9, 2016 at 7:23 PM

    I know I have seen it quite a few times how these Ghodawallas are a nuisance . In fact they scare away the locals not to speak of the tourists.

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  12. Irfan Yasin- Tourism department hide away like little kitten ..They dont want to bruise their leg or arm or be shouted away !! Its brusque #jungleRaj

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  13. Posted by Irfan Yasin on May 9, 2016 at 7:21 PM

    She is an acclaimed columnist and what she has experienced is something tourism dept must take serious note of.

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