Emperor Jahangir’s famous lines: “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.”
(If there’s a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.)
It’s true: Kashmir, in a single word, is paradisiacal.
In the summer of 2014, as soon as I got done with my 2nd year examinations, I left for Kashmir with my family. The state may be full of tragic stories of border issues and rising militancy but it continues to attract tourists from all over the world without fail because of its serenity, beauty, culture and also the atmosphere of the love and warmth created by the locals.
Our trip here began when we boarded the flight to Srinagar at 1430 hours. After landing in Kashmir, the first thing which greeted us was the armed police, the Indian Air Force officers and planes, stationed around the airport.
We made our way outside the airport and were received by the representative of the travel company. On the way to my hotel which was just opposite to the serene Dal Lake, I kept looking on the beautiful flowers blooming all over. After feasting and resting for an hour, we headed our journey towards the Dal Lake where we hired a shikara (a boat), and took a ride around. The Dal Lake is considered to be the “Jewel in the crown of the Kashmir” or “Srinagar’s Jewel”. The shore line of the lake, is about 15.5 kilometres, encompassed by the boulevard lined with breath-taking Mughal era gardens, parks, houseboats and hotels.
We also visited the floating market on the Dal Lake and bought small wooden shikaras, Kashmiri souvenirs and sweets. We tasted the Kashmiri Qawa and spiced tea. You have to pay Rs. 200 for an hour shikara ride on the Dal Lake in the peak season, which usually lasts from March to October. The evening was spent relaxing in the rooms, which usually are well furnished with a lot of provisions to face the harsh weather conditions.
Meals in the hotel were quite delicious. The following morning we checked out of the hotel and headed towards Pahalgam.
We left for Pahalgam, which is located 95 km from Srinagar at a height of 7200 ft, known as the “Valley of Shepherds”. On our way to Pahalgam, we came across the fascinating Kesar factories and also the thousands of cricket bat factories.
We checked into a comfortable hotel in Pahalgam late in the afternoon. Serving as a base camp for the Amarnath Yatra, Pahalgam is also a treat for various adventures junkies and also a starting point for several treks. We took a horse ride to a scenic meadow called Baisaran or ‘Mini Switzerland’. The trip cost Rs. 1000-1200 per horse. After that, we went to visit a few other sites in Pahalgam, which were Chandanwari, Betaab Valley(so called because the Hindi film Betaab was shot there) and Aru Valley. You can only take local taxies as taxies form Srinagar or Jammu are not allowed to take you sightseeing here. We were exhausted after the journey, and went to the bed early after a light dinner.
We directed our journey towards Gulmarg, a popular skiing destination. Gulmarg literally means “Meadows of Flowers”, situated 60kms from the Srinagar which is an hour journey but as we were coming from the Pahalgam, so it took us three hours to reach Gulmarg. On the way to Gulmarg, it started raining heavily, the weather became suddenly very harsh and cold, but it was a relishing, adventurous experience. Finally we reached our hotel which had a very beautiful view outside. Once the weather became clear, we went for the gondola ride which has three levels. The entire trip costs Rs 2500-3000.
The gondola ride depends on the weather conditions, but we were lucky to have finally been relieved from a harsh weather to a clear weather; we reached the level 2 of the ride and from there to level 3. After reaching the highest point of the mountain, we felt utterly amazed by seeing the spotless clear snow all over and the people skiing and sledging on it.
In the night it became very cold and we came back to our rooms, had dinner and slept.
In the morning, we again came back to Srinagar and headed towards Mughal gardens such as Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh and Chashm-e-Shahi. The most prominent feature of these gardens were its long stretches of cascading fountains and the thousands of beautiful and colourful flowers all over.
We also went to the Pari Mahal or House of Fairies, a historic monument with a surrounding well-laid spacious garden which was once a Buddhist monastery. After all these main sites, we went to some local temples for blessings.
In the evening, we headed towards our houseboat through shikara. The houseboat was a bit scary because of its wooden infrastructure, especially in the night when it became quite. But on the whole, it was a great experience in the houseboat because of its cleanliness, warm and delicious food, ongoing shopping in the houseboat itself and the water all over around it.
Finally this paradisiacal trip came to its end, when we checked out from our houseboat and headed towards the airport. The days in Kashmir were so amazing and incredible that everyone should go there at least once in their life. We talked, we laughed, we played, we enjoyed, we travelled, we explored; we lived!
It has been more than one year since I visited Kashmir, and as I wind up with my travelogue, these numerous pictures and various beautiful places we visited, are vivid and still makes me feel astonished and happy at the same time, just like the Kashmiri people.