The next morning, Sakshar sought Raghaven’s permission to take Barkha for the cable car ride at Gulmarg Gondola. It was known for its second longest and second highest cable car ride in the world. Since the high altitudes might not be a good option for Kabir as well as Anjum, Raghaven thought that it was indeed a better option that at least one of them gets to explore the place. He understood Sakshar’s intent also but knew that he was a decent man. Besides, Raghaven fathomed Barkha’s undying adoration for Samay. At least, at this stage of life, no one could really take Samay’s place in her heart.
It was a real task to convince Barkha for the outing. But on Raghaven’s repeated urging, she agreed, reluctantly.
They took a local taxi for the little drive till the foot of the mountain. The street had some shops which rented gum boots and warm overcoats, much suitable for the cold on higher altitudes. The cable car ride was divided into two phases. The first phase was 3100 meters above the sea level, to the middle station of Kongdoor mountain, which had cafeterias for experiencing dining midst the snow and was the skiing hub for seasoned as well as tourist skiers.
The second phase begins at the Kongdoor and goes up till Apharwat, which was 3980 meters above the sea level. After the first 2-3 snowfalls, the region is known to see some unexpected blizzards, which bring the second phase of cable car ride to an abrupt halt.
Sakshar took Barkha to one of the rental shops for coats and boots. They commenced towards the cable car ride in silence. He knew that it was difficult to make her talk. She seemed to be delving into her own deep self, unaware of the surroundings. The only person that always had her attention was Kabir. Out of nowhere he blurted,
“I wish I was Kabir.”
“What?” Asked Barkha.
“You would have spoken something at least! I am not a ghost after all.”
Barkha wanted to just run back to the hotel, but realized that she was being too rude, and said “I am sorry. I know I have not acted too well, but I don’t know what to say. I just don’t understand anything. I am out of words to explain what I want to say.”
Sakshar could see the accumulated pain in her eyes and thought of distracting her.
“Do you know that you can see Indo-Pak border if we are lucky enough to go to the second phase too?”
Barkha asked surprisingly, “Is it? But why do we have to be lucky for that?”
“The blizzards appear out of nowhere during this season. The second phase being further up, becomes too risky to operate the cable car”, said Sakshar.
Barkha was actually hoping to be able to see the top of the mountain.
They reached the first phase, the Kungdoor mountain. It had two huge cafeterias and chairs and tables were set out in the snow. People were playing and eating in the middle of all the splendor.
“What about some coffee or tea?”, asked Sakshar.
“Nothing. Shall we go up to the second phase and may be have something after that? I really want to make it up there.” Barkha sounded ecstatic and couldn’t recognize her own voice full of a child like excitement.
Luckily, there were no blizzard warnings issued as yet and they commenced forth to the second phase, the Apharwat. As the cable car began its ascent, the sprawling snow sheathed highlands were a treat for the soul.
“What are those tiny things, looking like houses buried in snow?” asked Barkha.
Pointing towards a bunch of houses midst the pine trees, covered in snow with only their rooftop visible, Sakshar told, “These are the homes of Gujjars. These people live here through the summer and leave the place during winters. What you see as white all around is lush green during summers.”
Everything that unfurled was simple magic for her. They reached at the station and as they got down, they were surrounded by the guides. Sakshar held her by arm and took her out of the shed towards the ultimate paradise. All she could see was mountains covered in snow all around. It looked like each mountain competed with the other in its surge.
Taking her at a side from the crowd of the tourists, he said, “Okay now listen, I am going to take you further up, we will have to walk a bit for that and oxygen levels drop as we go up. It is not very high but the walking in the snow is a bit cumbersome. Therefore, sometimes these cable car operators keep an eye and don’t let the tourists go there. But they get occupied when a cable car is about to arrive. So, let’s wait here until there’s another one approaching.”
For that moment, they seemed like some back benchers of the school, planning ways to bunk the classes, escaping the eyes of the teachers.
Just at the right moment, they started walking further up. It was not steep, for which Barkha was thankful, but walking in 4 ft deep snow was definitely turning out to be nothing less than a gym workout. As they reached on top, Sakshar showed her the border. And then something came into his mind and he said,
“Come on let’s walk back. There’s something I want you to try”
They walked down and Sakshar stopped at about half-way and told her, “Just open your arms wide, close your eyes and fall back in the snow”.
As if she was already looking forward to it, she opened her arms and fell back in a free fall. She stayed like that for few moments, trying to merge in it completely. And tears began to well up in her eyes. Sakshar understood this feeling and remained quiet.
“Thank you very much for this moment Sakshar. You have no idea what you have given me today. Thank you, that’s all I can say. I am short of words”, said Barkha.
“You deserved this Barkha. You deserve this and everything else that you have been deprived of.” Sakshar wanted to hold her close, to let her know that she wasn’t alone now on.
Barkha stood up and in a spur of a moment, hugged Sakshar and cried bitterly.
What seemed to be a new chapter, was going to be her final step towards doom.