I can now say I’ve had a glimpse of paradise β€πŸ˜‡

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 πŸ˜€ Of course not for long but that’s okay :p

“Ye Ishq Haye, Baithe Bithaye, Jannat Dikhaye Haa😍”

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!

Betaab Valley

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.

Different Shades Of Jannat

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 πŸ™ˆ

My weekend getaway

As I woke up with sore legs and a runny nose, sleeping on an uneven surface, surrounded by the snores of my tired friends, I swear I hadn’t witnessed such a beautiful morning in a really long time. The cozy tent, although devoided me of my urban comforts, exuded the warmth of my bed that allowed me to sleep like a baby, with not a care in the world. The sore legs that followed was worth every bit.

As usual, the first one to wake up. I couldn’t have been anymore glad that I did. The lake just a few inches from me was ever so calm and and let its chill flow through me. Cut off from the outside world, could I truly admire the sound of the cuckoo’s bang that I don’t even get to hear in the city! The whistling of wind combined with the screeching of birds was pure melody to my ears. The amazing evening spent the day before played before my eyes as I breathed in the magnificence I was surrounded with.


Our day started with buckloads of energy and with these group of people, the energy just never seems to die! πŸ˜€

Empty, winding roads led us to our destination. Isn’t there something absolutely awe inspiring about winding roads? You don’t know when the road ahead is going to take a quirky, longer than expected turn and yet, you enjoy that ride just like any other. More so even! (Wish we could share a similar perspective on our lives too.)

As we reached our camping site, I have to admit I was thrilled but also a little nervous. Like honestly, we were in the middle of nowhere stranded in a small village! But then that’s why I wanted to go there in the first place. So letting go of my fears, I beheld the beautiful sight of the Arthur lake. And I knew our evening was going to be amazing.


As we settled our belongings in our tents, we took that much awaited dip in the lake. Scared at first, I let the water work its magic as I let it soak me in. Almost therapeutic.
(No doubt this “dip” in the lake proved to be difficult on my nose and throat later :p but it isn’t everyday you get to drench yourself in a lake, do you?)

As the sun slowly bid goodbye for us to welcome an enchanting evening, the pole star made its first appearance.

And before I could know it, the sky turned into a star studded night! A little less than my expectations, but it was a beautiful sight to behold none the less. Lying underneath the stars with only the moon to keep us company, I could hear Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the moon” from somewhere inside my head.
Then as sleep found my weary eyes, I rushed in to the firmly set tent, only to wake up to a morning, that was a visual spectacle of its own.
And then as I sat alone by the lake, waiting for my friends to wake up, I felt lucky enough to experience the bliss of solitude. Being one with nature works its own wonders.


As the sun finally stopped playing hide and seek and peeked in from between the Sahyadris, its first rays made my skin dance in warm satisfaction, as it found its antidote to the cold crisp breeze.
And then just as my friends began to wake up one by one, my lone time with nature came to an end but not before we went for that early morning boat ride. As I sat at the rear of the boat on one side, I couldn’t help but notice the beautifully perfect ripples that formed on the water as the rower artistically sculled his oars.

It was eventually time to bid farewell and leave the serenity behind us and walk back into the hustle and bustle of the city. But even I as I write this, lying on my comfy bed, with my legs still a little store and nose still runny from being exposed to the chilling water of the lake, I can’t help but smile as I’m hit with the wave of nostalgia from this beautiful getaway.

 
PS: As #exploringmyhorizons turns 1, πŸ˜‡ I want to thank each and every one of you generous readers who keep encouraging me to write and follow my heart. This journey has been very rewarding for me on a personal level and I have you all to thank for it. Hope to see you all continue to shower your kindness and love to this blog.☺

Thank you ❀

Lost…..still not foundπŸ’­

Enchanted. That’s exactly what I felt right at that moment when the early rays of the rising sun dawned on me as I slept in one country and woke up into another. I have watched the sun rise from various places before, what from the Himalayas or the southernmost tip of Kanyakumari to right from my own bedroom! But this! It was mesmerising. Above the clouds at 35000ft, it felt like I owned it. I literally could feel myself hearing “Aaj mai upar, aasman neeche” from somewhere inside my head! The golden pink hues in the sky marked the most beautiful beginning of my first travel abroad.

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Naturally, my excitement knew no bounds as I landed on the world’s best airport and the Lion city of Singapore. As I journeyed through the different cities, one thing became perfectly clear, something that I always thought about and was now having a first hand experience at it. People everywhere are basically the same. They have the same instincts, similar culture, the way they offer prayers to their God, everything. And yet we see racism and intolerance towards other religions. I always found it a moot point to fight over and now I even find it funny. Everyone worships and has the same devotion for their God, just the manner of showing it is different. I wonder why is it so difficult to accept these differences. Well that is a topic to discuss for another time.
Inspite of the frequent heat waves, the zeal to see the unknown land had taken complete control and led me to each destination. Now I like to call myself a travel enthusiast or a wanderlust, although I’m yet to see so many places. The touristy, the not so touristy ones especially, I want it all!! I’m here with a tour group and as much as I wish I could travel alone and really explore the cities, I am trying to do it in whatever way I can.
It is amazing how us humans can connect with each other even in the most bizarre situations, we might not understand each other’s language and yet there is a strange connect. We know we might not even see these people ever again and yet we find our strings attached. This is the power of the one language that everyone speaks, the language of love, of smiles, of laughs!
We Indians usually have a so called “craze” for the foreigners visiting our country. So whenever we see some of ’em, a few super zealous beings surround them for pictures. I mean that is so typically Indian, isn’t it? That’s what we urbanized people call it right! But as much as you may find it hard to believe, it is true nevertheless that when our tour group was in Kuala Lumpur (again a perfect combo of nature and technological advancement) a group of Chinese tourists was so excited to see Indians that they wanted to click pictures with them. Not so “typical” now, is it?
Now like I mentioned earlier, I like to call myself a travel enthusiast I want to see the world but there are obviously certain places that are on the things to do before you die list πŸ˜› And I swear I couldn’t have been more happier as I can now gladly strike off one place from that list, Bali❀

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It had me dazzled before I could even land. Its vast stretch of picturesque beaches to heritage culture to the mind boggling artistic works to dangerous volcanoes, this island offers you all.  One of the most peculiar things I found about this island province was its magnificent skies. One could almost believe that someone painted those beautiful clouds up there, as if to watch over its people, almost angelic.
While I was at it, having the time of my life, I longed for time to take a pause cause who wants a vacation to end, eh, and return to normalcy where nothing seems exciting except for the weekly dose of vampires and everything supernatural? But that’s how it rolls and just like a dark night, every good thing comes to an end too. It is said that your time away from your busy life gives you a different perspective to see things in your life and I’d wished for the same too. But as I come back, I still am in the same dilemma as I was in before, more so even. What am I going to do? How am I going to build a name for myself? Will things work out for me at all the way I want them to? Most importantly, am I Ready to jet start my career? What’s holding me back? I thought I’ll get my answers while in Mother Nature’s crest, but l am still crippled with all the fear and desperation that comes with these questions.