Saturday, March 22, 2014

My heart belongs to you, Dear Kashmir.

I'm overwhelmed, ecstatic, thrilled, euphoric, greatly content and I'm chilling on cloud nine..refusing to come back to the ground.
My five day long vacation to Kashmir with family was way more than fantastic. I visited some really picturesque places and also learnt a great deal about this wonderful city and its even more wonderful people.

Kashmir doesn't need any introduction. A lot has been said and written about its unprecedented and breathtaking beauty and I am seriously short of words to describe it in a different manner. The moment I laid my eyes on the magnificent snow clad Himalayas from the plane, I knew I was going to have the time of my life. The whole city was dressed in white layer of pristine snow. For a girl like me, who had been to a snowy place just once in all her life and that too around nine years back, that single moment was beyond all human expressions.
I literally skipped a beat!
The surprising fact is that Kashmir in March is never like this. It is that time of the year when snow starts to melt, sky gets clearer, flowers bloom, gardens turn green and everything wears the shroud of warm sunshine. But after so many years the city witnessed heavy snowfall this month, just three days before we landed there. So throughout our stay we got an excellent glimpse of winters of Kashmir.

At the airport, we were welcomed by a man named Ghulam Rasood. An extremely knowledgeable and humble person who became a great company in the guise of a driver. We had some wonderful conversations with him, snippets of which I'll share with you at the end of this post. The weather was cold and cloudy and it drizzled continuously for two-three days.
Our first night was in a house boat on Dal lake. Oh wait, I have to strike this wish off my wishlist....eeeeeeeeee!!!
This is the houseboat. Its name is Mumtaz Mahal. And it did feel like a royal mansion from inside.
We reached here around 4:30 in the evening so we had just 30 min to freshen up and get ready for the Shikara ride (A small narrow wooden boat is referred to as shikara there) which is usually an hour and a half long and we did not want to miss its charm in the daylight. 

That yellow thing is a shikara.
This is the Dal Lake. I had read about it in my social studies classes in school but I did not know that the lake is exceptionally majestic.
There is a floating market on the Dal Lake and to our surprise people carry food snacks to sell on their shikara which they use like cars. One such man served us delicious chicken kabab and super tasty tea. The shikara ride is extremely calming, a lot like some natural therapy.

The next day we shifted to Hotel Pinegrove located very near to the Dal Lake. Its a budget hotel with well maintained, spacious rooms and a friendly staff. The food here was exceptionally good. The first of the three attractions according to our itinerary was Pahalgam which we visited the second day. On our way to Pahalgam, my mother bought me a navy blue firan which is the local dress of Kashmir. It was soooo pretty that I immediately changed into it.

Pahalgam Valley
My brother trying to spoil my picture..which of course, he successfully did.
Oh by the way..that's a firan which I'm wearing.
In Pahalgam there's a famous Betaab valley named after the movie Betaab (duh!) but it was closed due to bad weather. Instead we did horse riding amidst a gorgeous path covered in snow. The horse on which I rode, his name was 'Aashiq Awaara'. xD
Pahalgam is also en route the annual Amarnath Yatra. Also, while returning from Pahalgam, we visited the ruins of Avantipur temple which was excavated years ago and was actually built circa 855 – 883 AD.

That's my cool dad leading us through the woods.
This is what I wanted to happen but it didn't. He's waiting for the ghode wale bhaiya. :P
The next day we visited Gulmarg, for which I was particularly very excited.. don't have a good reason though. Gulmarg is around 2hrs away from Srinagar.. the closest of all the three places. It has been tagged as the “heartland of winter sports in India” by CNN which is undoubtedly true.

In winters, this place is famous majorly for sledging and skiing. I and my brother did the latter. But the easy and fun part was just for a couple of minutes. Rest was pure torture as we had to struggle hard with those extremely heavy boots to go to the top, during which I shamelessly fell twice and laughed my ass off. I thought I had taken a five day break from workout but I was so wrong!

This is Gulmarg. Vast landscape covered in thick snow.
Honestly, this place is a little more than heaven to me.
That's me! In case you can't recognize.
Throughout our stay in Kashmir, the one thing which I desperately kept praying for was to witness snowfall as it was my childhood dream... like seriously! Many people said that it might snow in a couple of days as the weather was not showing any warm side so I diligently did my job..which was to pray to all the gods up there.

And it worked! Yes, it so worked! I witnessed the first ever snowfall in GULMARG! It couldn't have been better. Gulmarg is probably the most heavenly place to witness snowfall. I screamed, I jumped, I ran, I laughed! That moment when I saw white thermocol like thing on my coat, oh it was breathlessly amazing. Wait wait wait! I have to strike off this wish too from my wishlist... eeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

That's me again. Teeheee!!!
The last destination was Sonmarg which is usually the favorite picnic spot for the local people there, as per Ghulam ji. The route to Sonmarg is the most picturesque of all the three places. It is nearly impossible to move your eyes away from the window. The snow clad mountains surrounding a valley of gorgeous little huts in the middle of which Indus river gracefully carves its way is like an unimaginable scenery, impeccable in every shade possible.


Indus river narrowed down due to heavy snow.
On the day of Sonmarg, we were just 20 kms behind when landslide blocked the way. The officials told us that the route would be closed for the day because of bad weather. With high disappointment, we thought it would be wise to wait for sometime till we are hundred percent sure that Sonmarg is not gonna happen. Along with many other tourists, we passed time by having tea and maggie in one of the local shops and wandered around a small village.


Because we were stranded for more than an hour, my parents and Ghulam ji kept insisting to return and visit some other place instead but I refused blatantly because I religiously believed that we would visit Sonmarg. And yes, we did! We were sitting in the car with no hope and all of a sudden, we saw other tourists running towards their own vehicles with smiling faces and yelling that the route is cleared.. Sigh! My heart did a somersault in ecstasy.

Sonmarg has a couple of tourist attractions in winter such as a bridge which was exploded by Pakistani soldiers during the Kargil war. It has been rebuilt, of course.. but the very thought that it faced grave bloodshed gave me chills down the spine. There are two more small points to visit which are famous for the scenic view which one could see at almost every nook and cranny of the Sonmarg valley. While my parents enjoyed maggie (again!), me and my brother played around with little kids of a nearby village who also helped me make a small petite snowman.

Unfazed landscape.. on Thajiwas glacier.
The last point was Thajiwas glacier. Here again, skiing and sledging are the two main activities. We did none. We just chilled and absorbed the beauty around, as much as we could.. like one deep breath of oxygen before diving away in the ocean of mundane life. At one point, I felt so dwarfed and irrelevant by the splendidly huge mountains around me, I almost had tears of awe. Nothing could be compared to the naturally profound Himalayan range!

I'm not done with Kashmir yet. It is so beautiful that I have to visit this place again. But according to Ghulam ji, Kashmir subtly indicates 'Cash More'. So I must earn real hard in order to organize a summer trip to Kashmir in future.
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Things I learnt about Kashmir from Ghulam ji:

- People here are really kind and hospitable. I saw harmony among them too. They are not cold to outsiders which I somehow had the impression. On my last day there, I was gifted a small Kangri as a souvenir by a localite.
- They do not like to vote. They are hardly interested in elections because no matter what, they would never get what they really desire for and that is freedom from the clutches of India, Pakistan and China.
- Almost 99 percent of people have their own permanent residence in Kashmir. In this regards, it is a very prosperous and self-sufficient state.
- The people of Kashmir in India have a wrong impression about people of Kashmir in Pakistan and vice versa. Both the respective localites believe that the other part is less developed and that the people living there are no better than tribals. However, it is wrong for both the sides. Both are almost equally developed.
- Though it is a very sensitive area because of the frequent militant attacks, the city is unusually calm and composed in its daily mannerisms. One can see excessive police force in various parts of the city  throughout the year and the localites seem unaffected, which I believe is a good thing.
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18 comments:

  1. Been there 2 years back. How I ache to go again after reading your post and the lovely pictures.
    P.S- You look so cute!!

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    1. We can tag along together if you tell me your name.. :P

      P.S: Thaaaaankyou!

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  2. and you told me Kashmir would be too warm for skiing in March...ha!

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    1. Hahah! Because it never snows in March.

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  3. Wow! There's no other word to describe the place. I've never been there and to go there is there on my wishlist ever since I was a kid. Hope I can make it soon..

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  4. OMGGGGG After having a look at all these pictures, I wanna go to Kashmirrrr too. Like seriously. The 9th picture is a perfect cover photo. I wanna try skiing and all the adventurous stuff too. Just can't wait. Loved this post. The snow. omg. and KASHMIR ZOMGGGG!

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    1. Hehe!! Yes, you must. I would love to read about your experiences. :)

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  5. A lovely recount Vinati! Have to visit the valley once again now:)

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    1. Such is the charm of Kashmir.. :)

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  6. Wow..Kashmir is amazing. Maybe someday I will go there..Thanks for posting beautiful pictures..Love it :)

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  7. this is incredible! thank you for sharing such gorgeous photos and stories of your experience :)

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  8. Ahh these pictures are taking me to heaven. Its on my list of places to see before I die!

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    1. Visit this on your second anniversary, I say. :)

      By the way, when are you sharing your Delhi-Agra experience?

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  9. Ghulam Jee's lessons are priceless
    My parents went their for honeymoon and I had been wanting to go since I was 4
    All Switzerland Sites fail in frnt of your pictures and you look Mashallah V Cute :)

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    1. :D Shukriya!!!

      I diligently pestered my parents to take me to Kashmir and now they thank me for it. ^.^

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