After a year’s stint in New Zealand, I had just returned to India in January 2013. One of my friends kindly extended an invitation to me and my mother to join them on a family trip to Kashmir. If you are from India, you know that Kashmir is not a place where you visit often. It is more of a once in a lifetime opportunity and I did not want to let it go.
A package tour tailored to the family, but unique for me as this was one trip where I absolutely planned nothing!
Though not my preferred option for travel, I found many a times package tour as the best option for full-time workers like me. As long as I am on the go, I am happy!
So, what is Kashmir?
Jammu & Kashmir is the northernmost state of India most of it located in Himalayan Mountain valley. Apart from its scenic beauty, it is known for the territorial conflict between India & Pakistan since the partition of India in 1947. The political unrest in Kashmir makes it “Travelsafe” or not based on the particular time you are visiting. Is “married to militancy” a right term for this beautiful place? not sure.
In the month of March, we left for Kashmir. A flight from Bangalore Mumbai & then Mumbai to Srinagar.
You know you are visiting a place with a security threat when you start noticing the additional security checks for travelers bound to Sri Nagar. I think that was the time when my bags were screened the most number of times in a single trip including the open bag inspections!
Accommodation for that night was arranged in a Houseboat in Dal lake. It is a 20 Km ride from Srinagar airport to the Dal Lake.
My First Shikara Ride
After leaving our luggage in the houseboat and having an evening tea, we headed out for the Shikara ride. Shikara is nothing but a wooden boat with colorful drapes and curtains – a specialty of Kashmir. It was a one-hour slow boat trip across the river.
Though the water did not look great, the ride had a charm in the cloudy weather & colourful boat.
You come across other Shikaras where local men & women are selling handcrafted jewelry & Shawls for the bargain price.
Night in the HouseBoat
The houseboat in Dal lake was not up to my expectations as what I had in my mind was the luxurious Houseboats in Kumarakom, Kerala.
Most of the Dal Lake houseboats had heavily carved facades. Interiors of the one we stayed had Persian kind of settings, heavy curtains & bed covers. The caretaker constantly instructed us the ‘Don’t Do’ list which included taking any food items inside the room including coffee. In the chilly weather & the drizzle, the view of lights across Dal Lake was beautiful.
” Won’t we feel scared at night ? ” my mum mumbled after figuring out the door lock does not work.
(Touristy) Dal Lake
In the morning we headed out for a walk around the Dal lake and then for the Shikara ride. Shikara ride in the Dal lake is one of the topmost attraction for the tourists. Of course, it was a good experience.
Lake did not look pristine, the way it was portrayed in many of the pictures ( the very reason why I do not encourage edited photos). It looked exactly like the photo below !
Shankaracharya Temple was the next destination. It is situated in Zabarwan Mountain and takes about 200 plus steps to climb and needs over 45 minutes to reach there from the foothill. Lord Shiva is the deity and is a usual spot for the pilgrims heading for Amarnath Yatra.
There are routine bag checks by security guards and you are not allowed to carry any electronic device which includes your mobile phone & camera. And if I remember correctly there was no locker option anywhere near the shrine and you have to leave your valuables in the car.
For those who are unfamiliar with Hindu religion, it would be intriguing to find the temple has a Basin containing a “Lingam” (Penis) encircled by a snake. In traditional Indian society among Hindus, the linga is seen as a symbol of energy and potential of Shiva himself.
Next destination was the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip gardens, named after the first female prime minister of India. It also boasts the largest Tulip garden in Asia, spread over 30 hectares.
I remember the entry fees were very cheap (less than a dollar!). Tulips bloom only once in a year usually around End of March – April and last about 15-30 days.
Though I appreciate the beauty of Tulips, the fact that it has been planted in rows and patterns kind of makes me like it less.
Maybe yes, I like to see flowers in its natural setting.
Mughal Gardens of Nishat & Shalimar
There is no end to the gardens in Kashmir. Influenced by the Persian design, Mughal gardens of Nishat & Shalimar are perfect places to spend some good time. Local delicacies & food stalls are seen everywhere around.
I loved the view of Chinar trees(Maples) which lined the roads & parks.
The colorful hues of Chinar trees in Autumn is apparently an awesome view which draws a lot of local & tourist attraction. Since I was not there during the autumn, I could see only the beautiful green trees.
The Shrine of Hazratbal
The Shrine of Hazratbal is believed to house a hair of Prophet Mohammed and thus a sacred place for Muslims. Women are not allowed inside the main dome but can go around the mosque. Also, we were asked to cover our head.
Next day morning we were on a 90km ride to Pahalgam, a popular tourist destination known for its scenic valleys. It is a place where you can spend at least a day. There are enough options for food & stay as well.
The interesting things include,
- Scenic Betaab valley
- Horse/Pony riding trip in Baisaran Meadows
- Shopping for Kashmiri handicrafts, Shawls, Carpets, farens (long woolen ponchos unique to Kashmir)etc.
- A lot of options for the trek
Known for its Ski resort, Golf course & Gondola ride Gulmarg is a major tourist attraction 2 hours away from Srinagar( yes only 60 km, but 2 hours! )
On the way you can stop at Tanmarg 5 km before Gulmarg, to collect the snow gear at a bargain price.
I am planning to write a detailed post about Pahalgam & Gulmarg, so keep watching this space for more details.
Starting from the first glimpse of Kashmir through the airplane window, till the moment you leave Kashmir, you get to see a lot of Yellow mustard fields – like those ones right out of a Bolly wood movie!
No trip to Kashmir is complete without a cup of kahwa, the Kashmiri green tea with a lot of medical benefits. You get to see a lot of kahwa stalls serving them and a definite thing to try!
That summarises my first trip to Kashmir as a Tourist. I was amazed by the rich, colorful heritage and viewpoints which were a lot more than what I could take back from a 4 Day trip. Being aware that there are many more things which are yet to be seen in Kashmir, I can only look forward to a more detailed trip.
I feel it was just a glimpse of Kashmir that I have seen.