February 15, 2016 by
Travelling is, more often than not, a life-changing experience…
As you travel, you learn, you grow. Besides, if the learning and the growth takes place right there in the lap of heaven, the traveller ends up being more than calm and content.
A similar story of growth and of learning is my six days trip to Kashmir, the odyssey which began on 22nd March, 2011.
It was around 9:30 in the morning when I, along with my parents boarded an Indigo Airlines flight from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. It took approximately 3 hours of flight before we landed Srinagar Airport. As we hailed through the various security check-posts at the airport, it dawned on me how well the surrounding reflected well its image of the most terrorism-prone part of the country.
The main city is quite at a distance from the airport, but the journey of 13 km passes away in the blink of an eye once the breath-taking beauty around you gets you engrossed in itself. The diamond-like shine of the Dal Lake expanding across the entire city and the snow clad mountain ranges expanding beyond your limit of vision simply left us content at heart and awestruck both at the same time. Added to the beauty was watching how the city local vendors earned a living out of the tourism business in the valley.
For the first day of our tour, we stayed in one of those luxury houseboats meant for residential purposes. Unlike the boats and ships that are used for travel and exploration purpose in other parts of the world, the scenario in Kashmir valley is slighty different. Here, the houseboats serve more like a hotel or guesthouse, with suits of varying costs and comforts. Supreme, Delux and Luxury were the three categories of houseboats that were available for stay to the tourists. We booked a Delux houseboat for a span of one night and the morning after. I still remember the name, "HB Shehnaz Delux" it was. Stay in the houseboat was a once in a lifetime experience. The royal feeling that one extracts from the real wood furniture, antique lamps and ancient style woodwork, gaint and comfortable beds and the round-o-clock availability of classy wine, is simply irreplaceable. Wine consumption in Kashmir is not out of fun or fondness. It’s a necessity. The utterly bitter cold that the region faces leaves the inhabitants with no other option but to derive some warmth out of the wine. Our suite had a bottle of the old royal Blender’s Pride.
The place is also a hub of the traditional Kashmiri costume renting. We saw a number of tourists renting those traditional outfits and getting photo-shooted. The vendors earned well out of it. As we set out to explore during the evening, we realized the Dal lake is a floating market in itself. People set out for shopping handicraft, travelling through one of the Shikaras, oring them through the lake. One of the explicit features of the city that I noticed is the simplicity in the livelihood of its people.
After having dinner at a vegetarian restaurant and spending a comfortable night in the houseboat, we checked out of the houseboat the very next morning. After checking-in to one of the hotels nearby the tourist places and having breakfast there, we set out to explore some more.
This day was entitled to all the gardens in the city. First we visited the Mughal garden, surrounded by the mesmerizing mountain ranges. Next, it was the Tulip garden, specializing in Tulips. Even though it was not spring season and we didn’t get to see enough of tulips, the garden still was clad in magnificence. After treating ourselves with the Tulip Garden, we set out for another one named Chashme Shahi garden. This garden has a centuries old pond with a myth attached to it. The native people mentioned that once you rinse your eyes with the pond’s water, your eyes get treated of all the eye diseases. It is considered as an eye-purifying ritual which they have been following since ever. By the sunset, we checked-in back to the hotel.
The next morning, our halt was Gulmarg, clad with incredible natural beauty. Gulmarg is entitled the Switzerland of India. Before checking in to the place, we stopped at a post where they were renting boots and woollens to survive the freezing cold up there. One can avoid the rented woollens if they have worn a whole lot of it already, but the boots are a must since you won’t be able to walk through the snowy slippery ways otherwise. Also, snow sports like skiing and ice-skating attract a lot of tourists. Who would miss the sweet pleasure of building Snowman in a snow-covered landscape? Neither did we. We found local people selling weed widely to the tourists there. Up in the mountains, we also got to visit a Lord Shiva temple. It felt very serene and auspicious. Thereafter, we were served delicious Kashmiri delights at a Dhaba.
For the fourth day of our tour, Sonmarg was our destination. The calm and serene environment of Sonmarg contained great quality and amount of snow, even better than Gulmarg. There came a point in the way where vehicles could go no further. After that, the tourists were supposed to either walk or take horse rides. Horse rides are great, but if you really wish to be one with the mother nature and soothe yourself closely with the pure flowing river water.
Our next stoppage was Pahalgaon, the place where the Amarnath pilgrims start their Yatra. The roads were extremely slantly and clearly dangerous. We also visited the famous Betaab valley, the place were few scenes from the movie rockstar were filmed. All the places are nothing less than eternal beauty. On our way back, we also visited apple gardens, the specialty of Kashmir.
Tired of all the sight-seeing and snowball fights, all we did the next day was shopping Kashmiri stuff, including wooden antiques, sarees and woollens.
Next morning, after soothing ourselves with the 5 days long holidays, having some food for soul, we packed our bags, checked out of our hotel and set out on way back to our comfortable abodes.