First: I'm a dumb tourist. After Altaf (travel agent, part-time model) and Faisal (guesthouse operator, master trekker) spent all of yesterday telling me I should go trekking, I finally agreed to a 3-day trip for 8000 rupees, or about $160. This was supposed to be a 2-day 1-night trip in Pahalgam, and then a day trip to Gulmarg. As I handed over my money, I realized that you can always pay more later, but you can never pay less. Still, I did want to do some trekking, and everyone in Srinagar sells these package deals, so maybe this was the best way I could do it. And $160 and 3 days is relatively low risk.
Second: I Am Sir Oracle (and when I ope my lips, let no dog bark). Part of the $160 deal was a share-taxi to these places. But another guy canceled, so I have the driver and car to myself. I mean, I could be like "hey Fayaz, drive over there" and he would. Yet we have no normal-people communication due to the language barrier. So that's weird. Being Sir Oracle is a little uncomfortable.
Third: I'm a dumb tourist. We arrived in Pahalgam, there's no indication of what we should be doing. I thought Altaf said we would meet up with a couple of other travelers and hike up to a hut where we're going to stay the night, but Fayaz the driver has brought me to some guesthouse, the owners of which are now telling me the price of some rooms. Dammit, let me call Altaf. Nope, number's disconnected. Let me call Faisal. He tells me everything is fine, and why am I wasting time talking to him, there's not much time left in the day! Well. Feeling bamboozled, I argue a bit, and call Faisal back.
Fourth: I Am Sir Oracle. Turns out they'll pay everything, afterward. Err, okay? So yes! Let's go hiking! I will hire a guard from among the locals (with the help of Imran, a young Pahalgam travel agent and fluent English and Kashmiri speaker) to walk alongside me, to make sure I don't stub my pinky toe or something.
Fifth: I'm actually an entirely reasonable dude. I guess we missed the original trek due to heavy traffic on the way to Pahalgam, so what we're doing is the consolation prize. That's fine. My guide Rasul and I hiked to Baisara which is about the most beautiful place ever.
Sixth: my guesthouse owners here in Pahalgam greeted me at the end of the day with "you are happy?", then pulled a bottle of mango juice out from behind the TV and poured me a glass as if I were a pouting child. He returned with tea and toast on a tray. I am Sir Oracle.
Practical tip for Pahalgam: if you're looking for a guide, Imran Ganai of Jungle Guyz Adventure seemed helpful and honest. imranbeachresort at the rate of gmail.com or 09419923810.