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Spectrum » Travel

Posted at: Jul 8, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Jul 8, 2018, 1:23 AM (IST)

On the gnome trail in Mt Buller

Ski, snowboard or simply leave a note for the gnomes in their letterbox in this Australian town

Preeti Verma Lal

amid an unending snowy stretch perched 1,805 metres above the sea level in Victoria (Australia), the adventurous zip their ski coats, lace their boots and slalom down the hill. Others tow their monstrous mountain bikes and race through the rubble, fallen logs, steep ascent and puddles. And in the whistle of the frosty winds and the roar of the snow-making machines, there are whispers about the gnomes, a slanted man, huskies that sing and a dog named Captain that could ski.

As the road curves up the hill, a yellow sign warns of ‘Gnomes Crossing’. Watch out for the gnome, the 6-inch tall spirit that hates to wear an underwear because it is ‘too civilised’, does not speak Latin, cannot shake a leg but dons the conical hat and moves around the mountain. The gnomes hangout by a Gnome Tree House that has a red door, a red letter box and a bench outside. One can leave a note for the gnomes in their letterbox, and who knows the creatures the size of a ski boot might write back. Gnomes were introduced by Paracelsus, a Swiss alchemist, in the 16th century and later adopted by more recent authors. They call Mt Buller home. There, one cannot get lost looking for gnomes — there’s an official Gnome Roam.

The gnomes might be a little mysterious, but Captain wasn’t. He was real, he was handsome and he knew how to ski. Captain was a German Shepherd dog whose story is twined with the tale of a man named Hans Grimus, an Austrian, who came to Australia with the proverbial $10 in his pocket and later helped turn Mt Buller into a big skiing destination. He set up a hotel and led the construction of several lifts. Today, the highest ski lift at 1,780 metres is named the Grimus Chairlift in his honour. Grimus loved everything about Mt Buller except that one rule that did not allow dogs in. The story is that Grimus asked the authorities whether they’d let Captain in if the four-legged could ski. The answer was a chuckled ‘yes’. Captain learned to ski, and after a Melbourne newspaper published the story, the skiing dog made headlines around the globe. Captain is no more, but Kaptan’s restaurant is named after him.

Besides Mt Buller’s landscape, where streets are flanked by twisted snow gum trees, one can lose a breath in an arty pathway. In the Athlete’s Path, a stony path leads down to the Square Plaza village. On a tall pole are iron cutouts of hollow faces tangled into each other. A few steps away a sculpted man rises from the snow slantingly. Such is the angle of his stance that one would think, he would fall. But he does not, his feet are dug deep into the ground. There’s a large menorah, a skier in shiny steel and a couple with their hands on the forehead looking for something. In the heart of the square is a cowboy riding his steed. By the chapel’s staircase, a short-haired woman leads his child up while two little children play in the snow.

There’s art in the Mt Buller pathway and there’s music by the Siberian huskies in Corn Hill Road. The huskies get harnessed and one can go dog-sledding. Often, the huskies jam together — they sing their hearts out, their guttural notes filling the Mt Buller sky with musical notes. A few might call the jam a territorial howl, but in Mt Buller it feels like a husky concert!

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