~ Gar firdaus baruhe zamin ast
Hamin asto, hamin asto , hamin asto ~
(If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)
I was nervous and excited at the same time since this was the first time I was travelling on my own, that too to Kashmir, and that too with a bunch of unknown women from all across the country.
On Cloud Number Nine at Srinagar
Srinagar was pleasantly chilly and surprisingly rainy when we checked into our rooms.
We were just for one night at Srinagar so we did a quick rendezvous of the city.
First thing to do was go see the Dal Lake. There was a light drizzle and fog around the lake but leaving the heat of Mumbai and walking into this weather felt heavenly. It was chilly, misty and rainy all at the same time.
The markets were closed as it was a Sunday, so we took a detour to see one of the city’s best 5 star hotels – The Lalit Grand Palace
The group went across all directions exploring the beautiful gardens and restaurants. I preferred to explore the gardens outside as I was simply enjoying the weather.
The manicured gardens were bursting with flowers of all colors. Even though the weather was damp the atmosphere in the gardens was refreshing.
Detours you can take in Srinagar
- Visit the Mughal gardens for each one is beautiful and unique.
- Visit the Hazratbal Shrine; it is a historical place and a very holy place for Muslims.
- Women are allowed only on the outer premises of the shrine; however it is worth the visit.
- Visit the Chashme Shahi gardens which has a fresh water spring and have a drink of the natural mountain water. This will surely refresh you and you can take some home 🙂
- Ahdoo’s was the first restaurant to come up in the Kashmir valley. If you want a taste of authentic Kashmiri food then Ahdoos is a must visit.
- Pose in a traditional Kashmiri dress, jewelry and all. It is a must do and very fun. Photographers are available in the gardens and on the Dal lake. Make it clear on what it is you exactly want else they may overcharge you for pics that you never wanted.
- Take a walk around the city and explore the hidden lanes and smile at the locals, they don’t bite. In fact they are the very friendly.
Stairway To Heaven at Pahalgam
Carpets of flowers are laid out for you. Like a lady all dressed up in her finery….. the beauty mesmerises and captures your heart.
To reach Pahalgam valley we could either hike or take the help of horses.
I say the hike up the mountain is a better option because you have time to stop and take in the beauty of the mountains, the tall trees, the greenest grass, the sheep grazing and the most beautiful sounds of the birds.
Unfortunately it was raining so the mud got slushy and made the walk difficult; else the trek is of easy grade.
The horse owners will try to scare you about the trek but don’t fall for it. If you are confident about your fitness, go for it.
After a good two hour hike the view of the valley was worth the efforts.
There are rolling grasslands with gentle slopes. There are huge conifers trees in the backdrop and behind those are the towering mountains. The mist hangs over the mountains and trees.
The show that nature puts on for us is unbeatable. You can sit on the grass, walk around and just soak in the sights. There are stalls selling tea, Maggie to keep you warm if feeling chilly.
For our descent we took the help of one of the locals who took us down the mountains via some short cuts. We cut across the hills as we came down which saved a lot of time.
Short Stopovers on the way
On the way to Pahalgam we made a short stop at the Awantipura ruins. These are ruins of ancient Hindu temples built by a Kashmiri Hindu King.
We also stopped by the saffron fields of Pampore which are famous for what else but saffron. You can shop here for saffron as well.
Aru is a short drive from Pahalgam. The ride is very winding as we are climbing uphill but the views are amazing.
Once you reach the top there is an outhouse kind of place where you can go and sit if you want to escape the cold. You can also have some kahawa to feel warm.
The Houseboat – “Gul Gulshan Gulfam”
Arts and crafts, customs and tradition, food and hospitality, history and heritage, mystery and beauty all can be found and experienced in one place – the houseboats.
It is floating magic, the lake looks so dreamy and mystical and our hosts so welcoming and hospitable.
I was looking forward to staying at the legendary house boats on the beautiful Dal Lake.
The sun was about to set when we reached the banks. A shikara came to take us to the house boat
The shikara was gracefully gliding along like a swan on the lake. We were enjoying the cool evening breeze when all of a sudden a shikara comes alongside ours with a seller selling jewelry.
Now how can a bunch of women resist shopping…that too on a lake….and that too jewelry?
Finally it was sunset. The colors of the sun reflecting on the lake were out of this world. We were truly in paradise.
It was dusk when I entered the houseboat and my first impression was like the entire Kashmir was in it.
Right from the entrance to the last room reflected the arts, culture and heritage of this beautiful state. Detailed and intricate hand carving was done on the walnut wood from floor to ceiling. The patterns and designs were indigenous to Kashmir.
There were papier-mache wall hangings, paintings of the lake, traditional Kashmiri carpets, hookahs, and wooden carved furniture.
The entire boat gave an art deco feel. We settled into our rooms and got ready for dinner.
Dinner was traditional Kashmiri home food cooked by a chef dedicated for us. We had Dum Aloo, Kamal Kakdi vegetable, Chicken etc. Totally a hit with all of us.
I woke up early in the morning soaking in the mist and serenity of the lake.
Floating through the mist were the shikaras. I call them the boatmen of the mist.
It was one of the most ethereal experiences for me and very inspiring.
We also saw children going to school on the shikaras just like another busy day for them I guess 🙂
This was their normal life…living on a boat and going on land for their day to day chores.
There was one more thing to do on the lake 😉 We took a shikara and went shopping on the floating markets.
There is a Meena Bazaar floating market on the lake and we went shopping on the shikara. What an experience 🙂
You get everything that Kashmir has to offer in the market. So we went ahead and shopped our hearts out.
Feeling Like A Millionaire in Gulmarg
Who wants to be a millionaire? Well that’s how I felt skiing in Gulmarg 🙂
There is a base point before Gulmarg where you rent plastic boots and overcoats due to the snow.
I personally felt it is not required. If you have sturdy walking shoes and are already carrying an overcoat don’t rent.
The boots mostly have tiny holes in the sole and you will only find out once you walk in the snow, when your feet get wet and frozen 😦
And the rented overcoats may not be clean 😦
The only way to reach Gulmarg is via the ropeway. We waited patiently in line for our turn. The place was very crowded and not organized 😦
With the amount of money that is being charged this place should have been state of the art.
The ride is short but you see the forests below you and the melting snow as you glide on.
There are two levels of the ropeway. The first level takes you to the mountains where you can ski and watch the majestic mountains all around you. This is the most popular level.
The second level is higher and you can do the same things, but I guess with better views and lesser crowds. Both levels differ in cost so its upto you.
The day we went the second level was closed due to heavy snowfall so we had to make do with level one.
So we reached the slopes and now we were ready to ski 🙂
There are many individuals who will keep approaching you and asking you if you want to ski. There are other things offered as well like snowboarding, sledging etc.
From all of these I would recommend that you should only go for skiing. The rest is not worth your time.
It is a must that you bargain with them before you finalize your deal.
Skiing was enjoyable and a great experience. Loved it and would have done it better if the crowds were less. Most of the time I was afraid I would bang into someone and injure them and myself, but still enjoyed.
I felt like a millionaire skiing …with my skis, boots, poles, sun glasses and long overcoat 🙂
One more activity ticked off my bucket list.
Do wear sunglasses to escape the harsh glare of the snow.The rolling snow bound slopes are a treat for the eyes.
It’s A Beautiful Day in Sonmarg
Sonmarg is the best place to wind down after all the crazy exploring and adventure. The way to Sonmarg is spectacular and picture perfect.
We saw a lot of small glaciers, frozen ice sliding down the mountains, conifer trees, rivers gushing and the Himalayas in the backdrop
This place is near the Srinagar Ladhak highway. Sonmarg is a small place but again surrounded by the majestic mountains.
There are open meadows and grassy hills where you can go and relax and look at the snow capped mountains, make shapes of the clouds passing by, hear the sound of birds, feel the cool air on your face and just soak in all the peace and calm.
It’s great to spend some “me” time here. Maybe share a cup of tea with friends and have a nice chat. Or take a long walk around the rolling hills and click pics of the sun peeping through the mountains 🙂
After this lovely laid back time in Sonmarg it was time to pack up and leave. With a lot of sadness we left Sonmarg.
Prepaid SIMs will not work in JK state. You have use postpaid connection.
Departure from Srinagar Airport – The security check at the airport is very stringent. Every bag is thoroughly scrutinized, so you need to be at least 3 hours ahead of time so that your security check is done without any hassles.
There are no cabin bags allowed; all bags go into check in. Only a small purse is allowed. Pack accordingly.
Shopping Advisory 🙂
Kashmir is a rich source of handicrafts and a shopaholic’s delight 🙂 🙂
Make sure you buy from reputed places to ensure authenticity. Things you can buy:
- All kinds of shawls, Pashmina Shawls, colorful stoles
- Dry fruits like walnuts & almonds
- Kashmiri shalwar kameez
- Spices, special Kashmiri meat powders
- Beautifully embroidered bags, sarees, salwar kurtas, shoes
- Papier mache products like boxes, trays, plates, bowls, tree ornaments, mementos etc
- Carved wooden furniture, jewelry boxes, anything and everything you can make of wood
- Traditional jewelry like the Kashmiri jhumkas
- Cricket bats
Please remember to bargain, most things are overpriced.
You may travel the world and see its wonder, but the beauty of Kashmir cannot be compared to any other place.
Inspite of such natural beauty it is sad to see so much conflict and pain. We can see it in the people’s sincere and genuine smiles that there is also a lot of pain behind it.
I would definitely want to come back here again. I believe that if more people come here there will be less conflict as everyone will be employed.
So go to Kashmir and have an unforgettable holiday of a lifetime. Don’t get intimated by the armed forces, you will find them everywhere. They are there so that you can have a safe holiday.
If you’re lucky take a pic with them, salute and thank them.
The wise person has said it right – Kashmir is indeed paradise on earth.