Kashmir sits on the border of India and Pakistan. But, ask the people of Kashmir, and they will tell you it stands apart from either nation. Travel to Gulmarg and encounter snow leopards, AK-47’s, decrepit gondolas, endless powder runs and the infamous bukharis that give warmth to a frigid season in the Himalayas.

“Chai, chai, chai, coffee, coffee, coffee?” The words echoed around the small train carriage, rousing me from a hard, narrow bed. Towering piles of luggage lay in the aisles and I could hear the undeniable Indian sounds of men coughing up what sounded like their lungs in the carriages next to me. Across the aisle four groggy backpackers stirred in their sleep. A small mouse scuttled across the carriage floor and disappeared into the next compartment, perhaps looking for any leftover chapattis from the night before. A young Indian boy appeared and looked at me with the eyes of a newborn, growing wider by the second. As he stood there staring, a large woman came into view behind him, draped in bright green silks that swayed elegantly with the movement of the train. She chided him loudly in Hindi, and quickly led him away.

“Chai, chai, chai, coffee, coffee, coffee?” The chai wallah was slowly making his way back through the narrow aisles, and I fueled up on his spiced tea. I would need it to keep warm in Gulmarg…

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