|Our Really Big Adventure|
| A top class ski resort
with all the associated trappings this is not. Set in absolutely fantastic
surroundings, mountains soar up to 6000m beside the slopes. This is a ski
resort Indian style. There are two blue slopes (really just the one divided
by a fence), and two lifts. The button lift is government-owned and -run,
and tourists are not allowed to use it. The rope tow operates intermittently,
if you pay the operator. Mostly people just trudge up the hill. Despite
the obvious lack of amenities it is not without its charm.
Solang is a small village about 13km, but 40 minutes, from Manali. At an elevation of 2500m the air is clear and fresh, and felt as though it was starting to get thin (surely it wasnt just lack of fitness that led to the breathlessness as I walked uphill?). The resort largely caters to local children and honeymooning Indian couples, a few outside cafes/shacks serve the Indian version of Après Ski, tea.
The lack of lifts and runs was compensated for by the excellence of our skiing coach, Himanshu. He had spent a few seasons teaching on exclusive Swiss slopes and was keen that we should outshine clients of competitive companies, especially those of the Mountaineering Institute. Look at them, said Himanshu on our first morning. Theyve been here five days already, and all they can do is snowplough! By the end of today youll be better than them. He was right too. His tuition was excellent and we made far greater progress in three days than we would have elsewhere.
The really remarkable thing about Solang is the people watching. Manali is a popular holiday town for Indians, especially honeymooners, and one of the main attractions for them, as for us, is the snow. But its an attraction of a different kind. Driving up to Solang, you pass dozens of shacks that rent out snow boots (wellies), snow coats (mostly luridly coloured fake furs), and snow dress or dangri (dungarees, I realised, or salopettes). It is in these bizarre costumes that many arrive in Solang Valley, eyes wide in wonder at seeing snow for the first time
The honeymooners do not in general ski. They walk around, sit in the snow, get pushed around in sleds and, if they are feeling brave, they do the tyre ride. It gives them a real sense of togetherness, commented Anil over lunch. I smiled & nodded. I could see how the petrifying rush down the steep, steep track would give you an adrenalin rush and a warm feeling of joint achievement. A sense of togetherness was something these couples desperately wanted to find, of course, as by and large they were strangers. They travel to see the snow, hoping the novelty of the surroundings will mask the novelty of each other.
The whole concept of arranged marriage has always fascinated me. I cant imagine someone else making that choice for me, and yet it is not hard to see how such an approach evolved. In truth, the view of marriage as primarily a contract to secure property has been prevalent across Europe for centuries. What I find stranger is that Indians are just as keen as Westerners on the concept of romantic love when it comes to legends, literature and movies. Just not when it comes to selecting life partners.
I have quizzed married Indian friends on the subject in the past. One was blissfully happy and had no criticisms at all. He was deeply in love with his wife, idolised their child, and couldnt imagine being happier. Another, while she loved her husband, resented her lack of choice and strongly believed that the system was wrong.
A third friend outlined for us the options he had faced, and it was easy to see why he had chosen to enter an arranged marriage with a local girl. Although he had been in a long relationship with a European woman in the past, he knew that it had no future unless he was willing to give up his family business and move to Europe permanently. Even if his girlfriend had been willing to give up her career and move to a remote part of India with him, the chances of long-term success seemed poor. The odds of success were he to marry a woman from Delhi or Mumbai, highly educated and cosmopolitan like himself, seemed even poorer. In marrying a local woman, at least many of the factors contributing to stability would be in place both parties happy to live in the same place, a strong network of family and friends, similar backgrounds in many ways. From that starting point, though, the stresses of learning to live together were undeniable.
While I accept that it has worked well for many,
and that it has been the best option for some, Im glad that I have
been free to choose for myself.