It had been 10 years since we all were heading onto an adventure together. Maybe calling it an adventure is an overstatement but for us this was it. The first trip we ever made was at a time when for me, being in senior kindergarten, made me feel so important than my sibling who is a year younger to me and today, look at us. The 5 sisters who have grown into wonderful women, some married and one with even a miniature copy of herself!
So this was a trip that was being planned for more than a year. We were so excited to finally be able to visit the beautiful valley of Kashmir that we had heard and read so much about. But the fact that all of us being reunited and some even accompanied by their better halves, was what we looked forward to the most.
As we were about to board the flight, I felt a nagging sensation like I was leaving something behind. It bothered me quite more than I’d like to admit (though that is a story for another time) but seeing all those bright cheerful faces even before the break of dawn, all fears fled away. As we waited for the flight to take off, for what seemed like eternity, our zeal knew no bounds when we finally were up in the air. And oh boy, nothing beats that amazing feeling we felt as we were slowly heading towards Srinagar airport, gazing at the snow clad mountains that were going to be our home for the coming 8 days. Just the sight of this heavenly place from mid air was enough to rejuvenate us even after having a sleepless night.
As we landed at the airport, Imtiaz bhai was waiting for us with a placard of our name in his hand. A little intimidated at first (we hear so much about things happening in Kashmir, that we form a habit to look at people skeptically) but after the first few rounds of hellos, things went pretty smooth from there.
Different Shades of Jannat
Our first night in Srinagar was to be spent in a houseboat in the world famous Dal Lake and boy, those houseboats were nothing like I’d imagined. So huge with numerous rooms and you know what the best part was? It stood still, its deonar wood is so strong and it becomes stronger when immersed in water for long periods! So we spent the evening roaming in the lovely Shikaras and enjoyed the cold crisp weather of the lake, as we danced and sang for hours on the porch. Tired, I was off to sleep as soon as I lay on my bed and I couldn’t have been happier to wake up to a morning like that. The calm of the lake water, the cool wind blowing in my face soothed by the warm sun rays that fell on my skin, surrounded by mountains on each end and only my thoughts to accompany me! I had found my happy place right there 😀 Of course not for long but that’s okay :p
As we bid our farewell to our houseboat keeper who took utmost care of us and made us feel like home, we headed out for the snow clad town of Gulmarg. So much snow that there are actually no residents living in Gulmarg; only tourist accommodations! As we were passing through the winding roads onto our hotel, the only description I can come up with for how I felt at that time was awe-struck. Yes, I was lost for words to see the beauty of the white carpet laid out all around the hilly slopes right outside our hotel. And as if that wasn’t enough, we wanted to experience the view from the top of the mountain! We were warned about the lack of oxygen and extremely thin air up there but our excitement took over and we didn’t look back. As we stepped out of the world’s highest Gondola at 14000ft, the gush of the wind blowing into our faces and the exhilarating view was literally breathtaking! I felt like my heart would explode, so much beauty; I was afraid my heart wouldn’t be able to behold . It was heaven right there, I swear! 😍❤
After hours of playing in the snow and having done the super fast snow bike rides (made me feel like driving a batmobile to say the least :p) and some skiing, a plate of hot maggi and the amazing “kashmiri kawa” seemed like just the balm my body needed. And as we finally came down with heavy hearts, I can safely say that Gulmarg is going to be etched in our memories forever!
Our next destination was Pahalgam and I was looking forward to this place the most. After spending 2 days surrounded by lush white carpet of snow all around, I was longing to see some green in the valley. And although this year’s heavy snowfall didn’t give us quite the real look of Pahalgam, it indeed was a refresher to see tall pine trees standing on the banks of the Lidder river. What really struck me was how beautifully nature can play tricks with us. On one side, there was the snow clad river bank and right next to it, the river was flowing peacefully; oblivious to the snow all around! In this really small town of Pahalgam, the most fascinating thing we did was their famous pony rides. We were not quite comfortable at first with sitting on the ponies but realizing that it was the only way to go where we wanted to, we reluctantly sat on the ponies. I was so scared, I hadn’t sat on a horse in almost 15 years! And to make things even difficult, “Bulbul”, my pony liked to run and i have to say those 2 hours were certainly the most trying 2 hours of my life! But I would also be lying if I said that it was not worth it. Traversing across waterfalls, mountainous roads covered with more than 2 ft of snow and only the guide and the ponies to accompany was definitely an experience to last a lifetime.
The next day we set out to come back to Srinagar and our enthusiasm was on cloud 9 as we reached Asia’s largest Tulip garden that we were so lucky to have witnessed. It opens for a maximum of 30 days in a year and we reached right when the Tulip festival commences! I have to say, I had undermined the sheer beauty of the garden in my mind because I couldn’t fathom how a mere garden could attract so many visitors. But as soon as I stepped in and saw the vast array of tulips and daffodills, surrounded by black mountains and clouds hovering above, just enough to let some sun rays in, I was left speechless. And I have to admit, the beautiful valley and people of Kashmir have left me speechless for more times in just 8 days than I’ve ever been made to feel that way.
On our last day, as we reached the airport, I could see that not only us but even Imtiaz bhai looked sad as we said our goodbyes and clicked one last selfie together.
I could go on and on about the scintillating views of this Jannat I spent 8 days in, but there is something even more important I want to share with you all. During my stay there, all I kept wondering was how ill fated are the residents of Kashmir to be enduring so much blasphemy due to political and religious conflicts for so many decades! Those people there know nothing but love. They are one of the most sweetest people I’ve ever come across. I have traveled enough across India over the years to safely say that I’ve never seen people so humble and hospital to their guests as the Kashmiris. They are the living embodiment of “Atithi devo bhava” and I couldn’t help but gasp when Imtiaz bhai said that this beautiful land was completely shut down for 6 months. Of course I had read in news but I always thought media hypes issues (which it certainly does) but having spent some time there, I couldn’t help but feel heart broken to see the plight of people living there. Kashmir is called the valley of endless sorrows by many and I hope and pray to God, that all this conflict ends. The children of Kashmir deserve to grow up in a healthy environment and have access to all opportunities like the rest of the country.
A salute to our soldiers who are stationed at every 2-3km distance just so the civilians can hope to carry on with their days and sleep peacefully at night. They never know when someone will go up and shoot them! And indeed that is not even an overstatement. During the 8 days that we were there, some disturbances happened there cause of an encounter followed by protest and stone pelting on soldiers that left 24 of them injured. We even cancelled out on one destination because of chances of unrest. Our stars must be shining very brightly during the last week; because as soon as we landed in Mumbai, we got news of a grenade attack, just 5 kms away from Srinagar and things have not been fine ever since; what with the avalanche and glacial melting causing water levels to rise. My brother spoke to our Imtiaz bhai to check if things were okay but he sounded quite grim. I hope and pray that things mellow down soon.
To move onto a lighter note, I urge each and everyone to visit Kashmir once in their lifetime. It truly is paradise here on earth.
But make sure, you carry appropriate lotions (hardly useful though) to protect yourself from skin tan!!
Friendly Warning : Chances are you’ll come back with a nose so black, you’ll wonder if its really you :p 🙈