“Agar Firdaws ba roy-i zamin ast, hamin ast-u hamin ast-u hamin ast.”JAHANGIR ON KASHMIR
Translation: If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here (Kashmir).
I have never considered myself lucky but my visit to Kashmir might have been successful in changing my opinion. My newly found optimism comes from the precise timing of my whole Kashmir trip which took place just a week before the imposition of the security lockdown and communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir.
Srinagar was our first destination in Kashmir. We took a cab to our hotel. The chatty driver didn’t lose a single moment to exalt his hometown. After hearing his reverent monologue, we hastily updated our shoddy itinerary leading us to our first stop, Dal Lake. The lake covers an area of 18 square kilometers and is part of a 21.1 square kilometers natural urban wetland. It’s one of the most famous tourist hotspots in Kashmir and hence full of haggling boatmen. We rented two boats and sailed across the placid lake. Floating lilies on the sparkling water offered a picture-perfect moment and the peaceful boat ride gave us a lovely view of Dal lake and Kashmir in its full grandeur.
Our shikara boats floated pass the wide spread of a floating vegetable market. Then around 7 km from the coast, we reached Char Chinar. Char Chinar is a micro-island amidst the lake. As the name suggests, the island is marked with beautiful chinar trees at the corners. There we enjoyed warm kulhads of tea and pyaaz ki pakodis while browsing through the traditional jewelry collections of the traders nearby. Following the boating experience, we stopped for a customary Kashmiri lunch of nadir yakhni and gushtaba before visiting the carpet factory and few other local markets for a bit of fun impulse shopping.
Our last stop for the day was Pari Mahal, also known as The Palace of Fairies. It is a seven-terraced garden located at the top of Zabarwan mountain range just south-west of Dal Lake. It mainly consists of Islamic structures overlooking beautiful gardens packed with various species of flowers.
Our day came to an end while drinking yet another variety of tea under the golden sunset.
Our next destination in Kashmir was Pahalgam. My younger siblings were looking forward to experiencing the thrill of a very bucket-list-worthy adventure sport – rafting. We had already made a few stops at a few well-known rafting spots but found them closed due to high tides. Before my cousins could start wallowing about their misfortune, we came across a local rafting place which had just opened up and were starting to set up for their first customers. The next thing I knew, I had been wrapped up in various safety attires and was ready to roll. The experience was as exhilarating as my last one in Rishikesh. The water was icy and tides higher than usual. Quivering throughout the return journey, I couldn’t help but curse myself for not carrying an extra set of clothes against my better judgment.
The last two destinations shortlisted for the day were – Betaab Valley and Aru Valley. Apparently Betaab valley got its name from the Sunny Deol-Amrita Singh hit debut film Betaab. It is situated around 15 kms from Pahalgam and is surrounded by lush greenery with wide limpid streams flowing through it. This stop truly turned out to be a hidden gem with plenty of mesmerizing, picturesque views. Just a short drive later we reached a much less commercial – Aru Valley. This valley made a peculiarly devotional impression on me. The view of the white gushing sparkling water and green meadows on one side was beautifully contrasting the snow caped mountains on the other, which made the experience even more memorable for us. Exhausted after the long trek, we called it a day after a hot, dreamy bowl of maggi (which tasted even better in that weather) and started afresh to Sonmarg the next day.
Our last location in Kashmir turned out to be the best location of our entire trip. Agenda for that day was Zero Point and the campsite. Zero point is a snow-covered site on the way to Zojila Pass from Sonmarg.The passage is treacherous and had become an even more dangerous climb due to some accident that had taken place that day. On our way we also caught a short glimpse of the Baltal Valley. At Zero Point we were welcomed with an alluring view of the snowcapped mountains towering above vast stretches of snow-covered land. Trekking a bit further we came across a commercial site filled with tourist trying their hand at various adventure sports. We opted for sledging which was such a rush and probably as thrilling as seen in the movies. After a few snacks and quick clicks, we descended the mountain and reached our camping site.
We had chosen a camping location for the last leg of our journey. Green Camping provided us with 3 large tents abutting broad winding river. Each tent was fitted with modern luxurious amenities including foam mattresses-wooden beds, bed-heaters, mosquito nets and well-equipped western bathrooms. The staff were friendly and very welcoming. After freshening up we spent the day playing games and just enjoying ourselves in the serene atmosphere. The day came to an end after a having a homely well-cooked meal and sipping a steaming cup of the famous Kashmiri kahwa beside the bonfire. I would definitely recommend Green Camping for camping enthusiasts.
The next day we made a few short stops to shop for saffron, ground nuts and cashmere shawls on our way back to the airport.
Kashmir including its mountains, green meadows, pristine lakes and water streams together provide gorgeous scenery and a welcome change from our hectic city lives. Their cuisine is unique and a definite treat for our taste buds. All in all, with the cool climate in the harshest of summers and a population consisting of the most amiable people proud of their heritage, the state was definitely worth the visit.