Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Kashmir Diary


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…)


This is how Emperor Jahangir described Kashmir centuries ago and people till date are trying to gauge the truth and depth of this statement. I too am a part of this “Kashmir Loving” crowd now, thanks to my recent visit to this picturesque Himalayan State. People say the best time to visit Kashmir is from April to June, but from what realized on my trip is Kashmir is beautiful all-round the year, you just need to have an eye for it.
I went to Kashmir early in the month of March this year and this is how it treated me – Serpentine roads, endless white valleys, snow laden pine trees, cascading streams of frigid water and the music of running stream between icy rocks. But let me start from the very start.

Day 1 - Srinagar

The escape from the scorching early summer heat took me on a 2 and a half hour long flight with the last half an hour flooding my sight with breath taking views of Himalayas from the sky. On landing between the hiatus for rigorous checking and reaching our hotel, I spent my time shivering (didn’t keep enough cold clothes handy) and staring at the beautiful city of Srinagar. The excitement of the trip takes away all uneasiness and tiredness, and so we ventured out to explore the lake city as soon as possible.

Destination 1 – Shankaracharya Temple.
Overlooking the Dal Lake, the Adi Shankaracharya Shiv temple is situated on the Zabarwan Mountain in Srinagar. A drive through meandering roads in this densely forested mountain leads to this 9th century temple which is said to be a meditation seat of the Saint after whom it is name. The stone temple, almost 250 steps up the mountain, is a regular place of worship and a must visit place in Srinagar. Due to security reasons phones and cameras are not allowed here but the view of the city from the mountain top is totally priceless.

Destination 2  - Chesmashahi Garden
Close to the Shankaracharya Temple is the smallest of the Mughal gardens of Srinagar, Chesmashahi. This 3 terraced garden is situated at the foothills of the Zabarwan mountain which paints a hypnotic backdrop against the high gate of the garden. It was built by Emperor Shah Jehan and is house to a small shrine of Chesma Sahibi which has a perennial stream of water.
Destination 3 – Pari Mahal
Pari Mahal was the perfect getaway for the end of a really tiring day. This garden adorned by age old ruins made by Dara Shikho is the best place to spend a peaceful evening and watch the sun go down. The lush green grounds and the Islamic arcs in the orange shade of twilight – I guess you guys go a pretty good picture..:D Unfortunately had to say good bye to all of it, because it is better to be back to your room before 8:00PM in Srinagar and the next day was my tryst with Sonmarg.

Day 2 – Sonmarg

Next day began early with adrenaline rushing through me as it was day to go to Sonmarg! It takes almost 2 hours from Srinagar to Sonmarg but the travel freak in me made the journey about 3 and a half hours long. We stopped at the Nagin Lake and at some

Paddy Fields and a Punjabi Dhaba before finally reaching Sonmarg. Personal vehicles are not allowed to explore the area and we had to choose between Jeeps and Horses. The rates of Horses started rather ended at 1k per person and 1 Jeep’s rental from 4000 so - You have to Bargain! In the month of March this meadow of gold wears a thick blanket of white and becomes a famous sledge fans’ destination. During other time of the year it is a trek destination. I was lucky enough to not only witness the thick fir and pine forests sprinkled with fresh snow and touch the chilled crystal clear water of the Nallah Sindh but also to witness snowfall which started at around 3 – first ever experience of snowfall! Speechless! Be sure you go around the whole village area of sonmarg coz the snow clad mountain is not everything, there is much more to enjoy. Anyways back to my trip – Didn’t feel like leaving, but by the time we did leave I was shivering with cold and the only thing that gave me relief was a cup of hot tea and a plate of hot Maggie in a nearby shack which had round coal chimney. My parent, brother and I huddled around the chimney with a couple more who also, like us, were lamenting about going back to Srinagar after and awesome day at Sonmarg.

Day 3 – Gulmarg


Day 3 also started with an equally ecstatic me. We got up early to get to the meadow of flowers as soon as possible. We reached Tangmarg in 1 and a half hour. Tangmarg is the starting point for Gulmarg climb. Personal vehicles are not allowed after Tangmarg. So we booked a local jeep, got a guide and fur jackets and shoes and were on our way up in less than half an hour. Did I forget to mention, it had started snowing way before Tangmarg and the snowfall continued and got heavy with every passing altitude. It was hilarious to see the jeeps move with iron chains tied to the wheels just to avoid sticking. Traffic had never been more delightful. We moved at snail speed and my brother and I used every opportunity to get out and make snowmen along the meandering roads in the pine forests of Gulmarg. We finally reached the top and then started the enthralling experience of walking in snowfall for hours.





To reach the Gondola people usually choose sledges but only my parents selected that option, my brother and I decided to walk the 4.5 km to and fro journey and enjoy every moment in the snow. We walked to the Shiv Temple where Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz dance to the tunes of Jai Jai Shiv Shankar and to a 120 year old Church sitting quietly on the mountain top. The Golf course was covered with feather soft snow and us walking and slipping and falling, left deep some big foot impressions and some crazy snow angel forms. During the summers the golf course in inaccessible to normal tourists but during winters it is covered with almost 5 6 meters of snow and becomes a skiing hub. We spent almost an hour skiing and sipping Kashmiri Kaawa here. Skiing rates start from 500 to 2000 INR depending on how much time you will to indulge in it. Then we continued our walk till the Khyber Hotel which literally loved like some frozen palace and finally reached Gondola, the highest cable car ride in the world – goes up to 14000 ft above sea level.
We could not go to level 2 on Gondola – Aparwath, due to heavy snowfall, so had to suffice with the wonder of lever 1 - Kungdoor. Gondola Cable ride for a person to level 1 is INR 600 and level 2 is INR 800. Once on level one the white valley below reminded me of the movie Fanaa – and to my surprise some scenes of Fanaa were apparently shot in Gulmarg, so our guide said. We spent more time skiing here and did I mention LOC is visible from here; it is clearer from level 2 though. After an awesome hour at Kungdoor we made our way back to the base and back to where our local jeep was kept. Coming back to Tangmarg was another snail trail and we decided to stay in the jeep this time and use the Kangri’s we had taken with us from Tangmarg. It was freezing as the snowfall that had started at 10 that day, was still going on; it was 4 when we left Gulmarg. On our way back to Srinagar we stopped at a small shack and enjoyed hot cup of tea with special Kashmiri barley cookies and mawa cakes.
After reaching Srinagar we quickly freshened up and left for our palace on water aka the houseboat we were going to spend our night in a house boat on Dal Lake. There are almost 100 houseboats on Dal most of them costing around 3k to 6k per night. Our date was New Sultan Hunky Dory – a 25 year old house boat. It was a cozy artistic boat which made us feel no less than some sultan of Kashmir. The whole lake was illuminated by colorful lights from different houseboats at night and early morning we woke up to quacking of quails and wild ducks.

Day 4 – Pahalgam


Next day we travelled out to Pahalgam where we also had a one night stay. On the banks of Lidder River lies this beautiful hill station. It takes over 2.5 hours to reach Pahalgam from Srinagar. But before Pahalgam we decided to make a halt at Avantipura. Avantipura is an ancient city and it serves as the junction between Jammu Srinagar and Pahalgam. This city is best known for the ruins of temples, which are believed to be built by Pandavas and date centuries back. Unfortunately the real size and grandeur of these temples are unknown as they were destroyed in early Sultanate attacks on India.
From there we went straight to Pahalgam, crossing acres of apple orchards – all leafless due to the winters but beautiful nonetheless.  We reached Pahalgam where there was snow everywhere but it was sunny at the same time. We settled in our hotel room and in no time were out to go to Baisaran Valley aka Mini Switzerland. Baisaran Valley is a large clearing on mountains 3km up Pahalgam. The best way and the most interesting way to reach Baisaran is Pony ride. A pony costs around 500-1000 INR again bargaining is needed. It is better to give extra money to the kids who take you up the mountain than paying the pony dealers.
The uphill climb left me speechless. Not only is it a crazy climb, the constant music of the hidden spring made it one of my most memorable experiences. And the clearing which is a lush green meadow in the summers was laden with cotton soft snow everywhere shining in the sunlight. Achar paratha and coffee with snowman, a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, right?

Day 5 - Srinagar




After returning from there we went for a walk around the town, visited a temple and the horticulture garden. Next day it was sheer delight waking up early morning to witness the sun peep between snow clad mountains and we made our way back to Srinagar.
We bought kesar and walnuts on our way cause that is what Kashmir is famous for. Back in Srinagar we started with the remaining Mughal Gardens  - Nishant and Shalimar; both equally beautiful but Nishant being the largest one was more attractive and we went ahead and clicked photos in the traditional attire, why miss a chance right?
The local market around Nishat is also considerably cheap and has a pretty good collection. From there we went for our shikara ride and visit to the floating market. I got a chance to row the boat and click quite a lot of birds during the ride. The floating market is not exactly a shopping paradise but if you get into the right shop and are good at bargaining you would enjoy it anyways.
After spending almost 2 hours on Dal we went to Shawart Palace – a huge Kashmiri Handloom showroom which also had a carpet making machine on display, which was really cool actually. After that we spent the evening roaming around in Lal Chawk Market. When in Srinagar do eat Pattisa and Petha if you have a sweet tooth and if you love nonveg – the streets are yours!




Day 6 – Return to Maya Nagri



Well nothing much to do on the day when you have to catch a flight back home because Srinagar Airport makes sure you remember every nook and corner of that structure. So leave atleast 3 hours before your flight, you have to cross the hurdle of 5 check points. Lucky me we I sported a army plane just before leaving paradise. The trip to heaven and back was not just a trip but an experience that would stay with me forever. Kashmir is one destination people just have to visit. People say they want to go to Switzerland to enjoy the alps, the gardens and tulips; I would say go to Kashmir Switzerland might be the same but could not really be better than Kashmir.

P.S - For more pictures click HERE

Quick 'To Know' and 'To Do' list for your Kashmir Trip can be found HERE

8 comments:

  1. Lovely account of your journey Vaisakhi. The pics are just mindblowing, one can imagine if Kashmir is this beautiful in pics, how spectacular it'd be with naked eyes. :)

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    1. Thanks Aditi....it indeed is just amazing! Plan a visit ASAP...you will love it....and glad u liked the post and the pics...:D

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  2. The way you started the post, was beautiful, I love knowing new things...then I felt like I am enjoying each day in those beautiful places..The heaven is scemic no doubt, but still the way you clicked certain places was simply beautiful the duck wala, snow walla and few more

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    1. Glad you liked the post Deepti....the whole point was to make the readers enjoy every moment the way I did, if not totally at least close enough and if you enjoyed the post - Mission Accomplished :)

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  3. I love Kashmir too much and you shared a very important and so beautiful things about Kashmir. i will be there in Kashmir in next year in march i will visit this all places you suggest.

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    1. Do visit the places, I am sure u ll love them all. :)

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  4. Amazing blog!!! It’s superb to see the details of hotels from the blog. Recently a friend of mine wanted hotels in Gulmarg Kashmir . He also wanted to get some descriptive information about the room rents and I will recommend this blog to him and hope that will help him.

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  5. Thanks for online sharing on blogs information about Kashmir and beauty fully destination.
    Area is part of India, I have read your all article it’s so amazing and blogs designing also superb.
    We know Kashmir is too cool and unforgettable place there are availed natural beauty of atmosphere.
    The large number of tourism are also fun and so much enjoyment with family.Online booking Kashmir tour package

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