By- Shravan Kumar (LT RLBU)
It all started with a thought to gift my parents something profligate for their silver jubilee marriage celebrations. I wanted my parents to experience ‘Jannat’ and the first thing that struck my mind was Kashmir. I had done all possible bookings in advance, hotel, taxi, train and flight and wanted the tour to be as smooth as possible.
There is an option to fly to Srinagar (summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir) from Delhi but we decided to travel by land to breathe in the freshness from the mighty Himalayas and to feed our eyes with a feast of scenic beauty. Our train reached Jammu Tawi station (Tawi is the river that flows in Jammu which is the winter capital of J&K) from Delhi in the morning from where we had hired a taxi for the entire trip. Our first halt was at Pahalgam. It took us around 12 hours to reach where we spent the night. On our way we had the staple food of J&K, rajma-chawal & lassi at a street-side Dhaba. I am sure many of us must have had this dish, but the taste of Himalayan grown rajma and Rice is quite compulsive. We stayed in a country side resort in the woods of pahalgam. As the sun rose next day, we were greeted by snow covered mountains and a pleasant morning breeze.
We set out to tour Pahalgam that day and our first destination was Baisaran – Mini Switzerland. We travelled on horses for 2 hours to reach this place. It’s a lush green patch of grass on the top of a hill land in the middle of woods. The view took us by surprise and it’s appropriately named as mini Switzerland.
All that we could hear was chirping of birds with occasional sound of the wind blowing through the trees. As this was the season for tourists, the place was flooding with public and the jockeys were charging us more than double. I should caution others who visit this place to bargain to their maximum capacity. It took us another 2hrs of horse ride to return to the parking area where we had to book a local taxi for touring other places in pahalgam. The locals have formed a taxi union and it was obligatory to hire their taxi for local sightseeing even though we had our own vehicle. We then went to Aru valley, Betaab valley and Chandanwari in the local taxi. Aru valley as the name suggests is a valley which is nothing but a photo point. Betaab valley is where the movie ‘Betaab’ was shot and Chandan Wari has a glacier which melts into a river. It is the place from where the Amaranth Yatra starts. We left for Srinagar in the eveining which is around 90km from Pahalgam. A house boat in Dal Lake was expecting our arrival and we had our apprehensions about a stay in a house boat. A Shikara (small boat) carried us from the ghat to the house boat. We were greeted with Kashmiri Kahwa (a special tea made out of herbs and saffron) at the house boat and were directed into our room. We expected a rough night as we thought that the boat will be rocking and with lots of mosquitoes. Our fears proved wrong as the boat was an engineering marvel made out of deodar wood and the fine wood carvings will remind you of the Mughal architecture, and to our surprise there were no mosquitoes either.
After breakfast in one of the dhabas’ on the banks of Dal Lake we left for Gulmarg. Gulmarg (gul-flowers) got its name from its geography, when the snow melts flowers blossom in the valley and so aptly named Gulmarg. We bought tickets for first phase of Gondola (highest ropeway in the world 14000ft) at the counter (tickets for the second phase were all booked online) and waited for 2 hours for our turn into a cable car. The ride is around 10 min long to reach the first phase. Many jockeys approached us to hire horses from Gondola to the snow point.
After a tough bargain he charged us 20% of what he had initially quoted and took us on a ride for 30 min. We tried a hand at a few adventure sports like sledge-ride, snow-mobile ride, skiing and all-terrain vehicle ride. This place is known for skiing and many skiing tournaments take place during the winter season.
Next morning we started our tour with a visit to Shankaracharya temple and then to the famous Chasme shahi. Chashma Shahi, is one of the Mughal gardens built in 1632 AD around a spring by Ali Mardan Khan. The water is so fresh that everyone was filling their bottles carrying home. It seems, Chacha Nehru used to drink water from that spring while he stayed in Kashmir. We then went to Nishat garden and Shalimar Bagh. These are Mughal gardens built in the form of terraces with sheets of water falls, linked through a channel to the Dal lake with beautiful flower beds spread all over the garden.
In the evening we were on a Shikara ride on the Dal lake. Dal lake is a city in its own, where Kashmiri’s have their homes floating in the lake (House boats), grow vegetables on floating farms & sell articles in floating shops. They even have a Floating post office and a Floating Police check post. The shikara ride on the Dal lake is one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating experience one can ever have.
On the last day we went to Sonamarg, (sona – gold, the snow glitters as gold when sunlight hits its surface) which is by the Sindh river around 90km from Srinagar on route to Leh. This is a picture perfect landscape with Snow Mountains, lush green fields, tall pine trees and fast flowing river. It is being developed as a wildlife sanctuary which majorly had horses & ponies. This was the last leg of our tour so we decided to just relax the live in the lap of nature as long we could.
“If there is ‘Jannat’ anywhere, It is here”