- Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Kashmir - A rendezvous in Paradise
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
It’s always said – ‘One needs to go the extra mile to get the most spectacular view' .
One such destination is the Kashmir Valley. We all know how beautiful it is but we are hesitant to opt for it as our next travel destination because of the news we hear every other day. If we can make our hearts believe to shove of all the negativity and insecurities, one will be more than marveled to visit the Himalayan crown-state of India.
Here is an personal account of the beautiful experiences we have had in the heavenly state of Kashmir and which will always remain a part of us for the rest of our lives.
We visited Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam and Srinagar on our visit to the Kashmir Valley and had many first times and one of its kind experiences.
Listing below our most precious and unique experience from the Kashmir valley -
The arial view of the Himalayan ranges before landing in Srinagar -
The snow clad mountain tops seemed like an ocean of white waves from above. It stretches for a significant distance to get a satisfying view. These giant never ending mountain ranges made us wonder of how vast the world is and what a tiny place we occupy in its vastness.
Life on the Dal Lake –
The Dal Lake is a well known tourist attraction in Srinagar but there actually exists a small village or township on the Dal lake. The lake is inhibited by local dwellings in floating houseboats. You see women/children rowing across the lake bed for daily chores like market visits and schools. There are small vegetable gardens on the lake. The lake also has a recreational park (known as The Nehru Garden), a shopping lane (Meena Bazar) and many beautifully craved houseboats floating on the shores thus making it a township in itself. While one can enjoy the Shikara (boat) rides on the Dal, you will be amused by the florists, fruits sellers, kabab sellers, photographers, jewelers rowing to you for their services on float. We were marveled at the human capacity to dwell anywhere and everywhere.
The garden city of Srinagar -
A tour around Srinagar equals to a walk into an enormous Mughal garden. Tulip Garden (Known as Asia’s largest), Pari Mahal, Chashme Shahi, Nishant Baug, Shalimar Baug are the ones we visited. Apart from these spectacular and well maintained gardens the whole city of Srinagar seems to be a large garden in itself. Almost all the roads are well shaded with the beautiful Chinar trees keeping the city always cool. The locals will tell you how the chinar leaves change their colours from green in summers to yellow and red in autumn thus painting the city it their shades. The outskirts of Srinagar are filled with cherry trees, almond trees, mustard fields which colourfully decorate their surroundings when their fruits/flowers are in full bloom. Owing to our visit during the spring/summer season, the city looked so fresh and green as though the trees just had the newly grown leaves and flowers of the season.
Old town vibes of Srinagar –
The city of Srinagar has a charm in itself. It feels like stepping back into the medieval times with the long stretches of old town houses and wooden buildings (said to be hundreds of years old), castle like homes centered amidst beautiful gardened premises, markets displaying artifacts with Mughal-styled art and royal charm. I found myself drawing resemblances to the Afgani towns from the novels of Khaled Hosseini. You don’t even remember the fancy shopping complexes / multiplexes / clubs that are very well missing in this city even in the 21st century era. Rather, you are likely to notice the horse carriages or carts on the city streets among numerous motored vehicles.
Snow clad valleys –
Most of India being a tropical country, we were overwhelmed to have our first snow encounter in Kashmir valley. Gulmarg which literally translates to ‘the valley of flowers’ had blown us with excitement as we drove out of Srinagar and found the snowclad mountains coming closer. Gulmarg’s biggest attraction is the Gandola ride (highest Cable car ride) to reach the top of the snow clad mountains and have a bird's eye-view of the Gulmarg valley. The further you look the only view is that of bright white reflecting snowy mountains. While we enjoyed all the fun activities and adventures, it did scare us at times overlooking the LOC, imagining how it must be for the soldiers staying at such climatic conditions with only mode of transport being by air or the cable car rides. This place will definitely give a different experience based on which time of the year one visits. We could as well experience the green meadows spread across the lower levels.
Travelling to the fairyland –
Driving to Sonmarg (the meadow of gold) was like a dream come true. As we got closer to Sonmarg the crystal clear stream water from the Sindh River decorated with lovely pebbles in the riverbed alongside the road soaked us in the serenity of this view. Surrounded by greenery, small villages, grazing herds of sheep and horses and beyond all this overlooking the giant Himalayan ranges are enough to agree to the term ‘Jannat’ rightly used for this dreamland. It is an overwhelming feeling of contentment. The pony ride to the glacier amidst such breathtaking scenery was really spectacular.
Paradise, it is –
The way from Srinagar to Pahalgam started with a portion of the route crossing AFSPA impacted areas giving us chills as to some tension around the place. After this stretch had passed, it was a treat to our eyes and soul to see the golden fields stretched on both sides of the roads especially that of saffron (though it was not ready for harvest yet, we were surprised to know that there are nightly guards in these fields when they are about to harvest). Following this were wholesale shops of dry fruits and saffron, wooden cricket bats (J&K is the major producer of these).
As we were approaching Pahalgam or Aru Valley there were only long stretches of Apple gardens making us dream of the view when apples would be hanging in bunches. On one side of the road was the stream of river Lidder flowing and the soothing sound of it creating a Zen like atmosphere. All that I wished was to pause the time so that we could soak in this atmosphere. As Pahalgam approached the river Lidder widened, meadows of green stretches of grasses with colourful wild flowers surrounded the place. Herds of sheeps and horses were grazing in the meadows. We also spotted some mountain monkeys feeding on the wild flowers. Beyond this we had the pony rides to the mountain top, known as Baisaran.
It seemed we were getting closer to an angelic place. Breathtaking views, cooler winds, few chilling drizzles, hide and seek view of the flowing stream and finally into the pine woods galloping on our ponies. No amount of cheezy words would do justice to what we experienced. Yes, if there is paradise on earth, it is nowhere else but here. Thus Rightly quoted -
“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast. “
Shop to your hearts content –
Kashmir is rich in their natural resources and one of the major producers of Almonds, different types of berries, apricot, Apples, Saffron, Himalayan garlic which one would definitely take back home. Kashmiri art, craft and clothing is also world renowned for Pashmina silks/shawls (silk from special kind of sheep wool found here) , Mulberry Silk, unique hand embroidery clothes, leather coats, artistically carved jewelries, decor items like papier mache artifacts, brass or silver vessels and many more things I have definitely missed.
It is never an overstatement if said you can spend all your money here and still wonder if you missed something.
How do you get closer to the local culture until you have tasted the local food –
Kashmiri food has many varieties of bread which can easily be spotted in any local bakery and no, its not the usual indian bread or roti. Kashmiri kahwa and noon chai (salty tea) are special hot beverages and definitely can beat any tea experience. It’s a food galore for the non-veg lovers with tikkas and grills available everywhere. Gushtaba, Rogan Josh, Tabak Mas, Shawarama are some non-veg cuisines to try. Vegetarians can feast of Kashmiri Pulao and Dum aloos. The market around Dal lake area has a lot to explore with many renowned eateries or cafes.
The locals –
Strolling in Srinagar without our tour agents, we got a chance to interact with the locals. They are very down to earth and friendly to communicate with. They will help you with locations even if you are lost and try to make you feel comfortable. Every other person expresses a concern of the media’s projection on Kashmir issues and its impact on tourism. One suggestion would be to refrain from discussing much on nationalism and be generic in opinions even if you want to, reasons best known to most of us. Also do not fall pray of every other person trying to sell something. It might be a bit annoying at times as they are in every tourist location.
Kashmir valley will bring alive your beliefs of fairy tales, angel lands and paradise (whatever you can call it) no matter which time of the year you visit it. While I wish I can come back to this place again and again (which I wish with many other places), my first experience of this beautiful valley will forever be a part of my soul beyond words can ever describe.
Quoting Rumi -
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”