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Kashmir - A Beautiful Poetry of God ūüėć


Whenever I hear the word Kashmir, I remember Shammi Kapoor dancing on a Shikara in Dal Lake and singing the song - Tarif karu kya uski jisne tumhe banaya.... The movie Kashmir Ki Kali which has scenes of Sharmila Tagore in Kashmiri attire and beautiful meadows with snow caped mountains in the background always enticed me to visit Kashmir.


Kashmir derives it's name from the name of a Vedic sage Kashyapa who is believed to have settled people in this land. Accordingly, Kashmir would be derived from either Kashyapa-mir (Kashyapa's Lake) or Kashyapa-meru (Kashyapa's Mountain).


Day 1 :


The opportunity to visit Kashmir came my way in 2011 when I planned to visit Kashmir with my office colleagues. We decided to go through a travel group and booked our seats through Sachin Travels for a 9 nights 10 days trip to India's Switzerland. As informed by Sachin Travels, me and Sonali (my colleague) reached Mumbai Airport in the morning at 6 a.m. Our flight to Srinagar via Delhi departed on time & we reached Srinagar at 12 p.m. Our two guides were waiting for us at Srinagar airport along with the coaches and after all the tourists assembled, we finally started our much awaited Kashmir trip.


The breath of fresh and unpolluted air after we landed in Kashmir was first thing we realised that we will have during our stay here.


Gulmarg :

Gulmarg Gondola

To reach to the greener pastures or meadows we had to take the cable car, popularly called as the Gondolas from Gulmarg at 2,600 metres (8,500 ft). The Gondola ride from Gulmarg comprises of 2 stages, the first state is from Gulmarg to Kongdoori at 3,080 metres (10,100 ft) and the second stage is from Kongdoori to Apharwat Peak - 4,200 metres (13,800 ft). 

As per our booking with Sachin travels our Gondola ride to Kongdoori was included in the Package. The 15 minutes beautiful Gondola ride from Gulmarg to Kongdoori is permanently stitched in my memories. The Gondola ride passed over mystic valleys & green pastures. It was the most enjoyable 15 minutes ride. On reaching Kongdoori, we spent some time in the green meadows and had some Kashmiri tea (Kahwa) and Maggie noodles. There were lots of shops selling Kashmiri stoles & we spent some time window shopping. We asked our organisers about shopping and we were told that we would get time for shopping at Srinagar, Pahalgam & Katra.

Aphawat Peak

The Aphawat peak is the last stop for Gondola ride and has adventure sports activities like Skiing etc. In winters, many professional Skiers visit this area for sporting activities. Tip : Being at a height of 13,800 ft. Aphawat peak is very cold and it's advisable to wear extra warm clothes if you are planning to visit this place. It is advisable to visit Aphawat peak as it commands the beautiful view of the valley and Gulmarg below.

Our 1st day ended with the hotel stay in Srinagar. After a long journey and sight-seeing around Kashmir, we simply checked into our hotel rooms for a peaceful sleep.

Day 2 :


Shalimar Bagh :

Shalimar Bagh

The itinerary for today ‚Äď a visit to Shalimar Mughal Gardens (Bagh) & Nishant Gardens (Bagh). After breakfast, we departed for Shalimar Gardens. The Ancient history of the Garden can be traced to second century when it was built during the reign of Pravarsena II who ruled Kashmir. The word Shalimar in Sanskrit means "Abode Of Love." It is then during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir who modified and enlarged this ancient garden for his wife Nur Jahan and renamed it as Farah Baksh. The garden covers an area of 31 acres and is built with the size of 587 meters in the length and 251 meters in width. The Garden has 3 terraces fitted with fountains and with Chinar trees all around it. The Garden is linked to the Dal Lake water through a canal.

Shalimar Bagh surrounded with Chinar Trees

The first Terrace Garden has a public garden with Diwan-E-Aam. The second Terrace Garden has 2 shallow terraces which are slightly broader. The Diwan-E-Khas which was earlier accessible to King and his guests is in the center of this Terrace. The 3rd Terrace Garden is flanged by Diwan-E-Khas and Chinar trees. The entrance to this terrace has 2 small pavilions built in Kashmiri style. All these terraces have an axial water channel which flows through this terraces. During the spring season that is from April to July the Shalimar Bagh looks amazing as the Chinar trees and its surroundings of the bagh are green in colour. In the Autumn season that is from August to October the Chinar trees change their colour from Green to Orange.

The main attractions of Shalimar bagh are the Chini Khanas i.e. the oil lamps which used to be illuminated at night which created a dazzling site. However, in the present times this Khanas are adorned with flower pots which are also visually delightful. The other attraction in the Shalimar Garden are the variety of flowers which are in full bloom during the spring time.

So enchanted by the beauty of the Garden, we didn’t realize how time flew by. After spending 2-3 hours in Shalimar Garden, we headed for lunch. After lunch we visited Nishant Bagh.

Tip : The public washrooms in this gardens were uncleaned hence should be avoided.

Nishant Bagh :


Nishant Bagh Entrance

Nishant Bagh is the largest Mughal Garden in Kashmir. It is situated on the eastern side of Dal Lake. Nishant Bagh is a Urdu name which means "Garden Of Joy". Nishant bagh has the Zabarwan Mountains as its backdrop. Nishant bagh is a terrace garden which has 12 terraces. The first Terrace has water collection chamber that is linked to side flow of water from the garden. A central water stream is 4 meters wide and 20 centimetres deep, which flows from the top of the garden through the channel decorated with the fountains. Another attraction of Nishant Bagh has stone and marble benches from there one can see beautiful view of Dal lake. We spent two and half hours here before heading towards the market shopping of Walnuts, Kashmiri carpets, Saffron and Woolen clothes.

Nishant Bagh

After spending more than 2 hours in shopping, we returned to our hotel for dinner. We were excited for next two days because we were going to stay in Houseboat and were going to take experience of Local Kashmiri cuisine and their hospitality. So we slept in dreaming of our stay in Houseboat. Tip : In July and August you can visit Indira Gandhi Tulip garden too. It blossoms in that time. This tulip garden is a floating garden. At that time tourists visit Kashmir from worldwide to see Tulip Garden.

Day 3 & 4 :

Houseboat - Dal Lake :

Houseboat in the Dal Lake, Shikara Rides, Floating Market on Jhelum river are the main attractions of Kashmir trip. The shoreline of the lake is lined with Mughal Gardens, Houseboats and Hotels. We can see beautiful view of Dal lake from Shalimar Bagh Mughal Garden & Nishant Bagh Mughal garden which are situated on the Bank of Dal lake.

Houseboat Interiors


During the winter season temperature drops till -100 to -110 Celsius which freezes the lake. The Kashmiri Hanji community have built and maintained these houseboats. They cultivate floating gardens and produce commodities for floating market too for their livelihood. Shikara ride is an amazing experience in Dal lake. Shikara means a small boat. In that ride we can see beautiful meadows, snow caped mountains, beautiful trees in lake, houseboats and floating markets.

For next two days we were at our leisure and we strolled around the Dal lake, Shikara rides, Clicking photos in Kashmiri Dresses & Shopping in floating market. Houseboat experience was amazing and out of the world. In the morning, after coming out from our room in Houseboat we saw mesmerizing view of lake and beautiful meadows.

Day 5 :


Sonmarg :

Sonmarg

After taking beautiful experience of House-boat, we headed towards Pahalgam. But the first halt was at Sonmarg. It took one and half hour to reach Sonmarg from Srinagar. It was one of the most scenic ride. The Sind River which is largest tributary of the Jhelum River (Vitasta in Sanskrit) was our companion along the entire journey. The journey is upwards of sixty miles long valley and deep rock-girt gorge to open grassy meadow land and village-dotted slopes.

Sonmarg means 'Meadow of gold' and this place has backdrop of snowy mountains against a cerulean sky which gives Sonmarg its unique identity which can be differentiated from rest of Kashmir. This is the reason why a large number of Hindi movies have been filmed in Sonmarg. Sonmarg was a gateway on ancient Silk Road connecting Kashmir & Tibet. The Zoji La pass which lies 15 km east of Sonmarg is one of the highest road pass in India. Sonmarg still has an Army base camp on NH 1D and is strategically important for the defending the Indian borders.

We took a 15-20 minutes break near the Army base camp. From there Sachin Travels arranged cars in order to take us to Thajiwas Glacier which is the major attraction in Sonmarg. The Ponies can also be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas Glacier. On reaching the glacier, we had Maggie and omelette at the Maggie point. After filling our tummies, we opted for snow sledging on the Glacier and also enjoyed a snow ball throwing game.

Tip : You can hire sledge-cart for Rs.100/- to 200/- and gum boots for Rs.50/- to 100/-. (cost may vary as per the season).

From Thajiwas Glacier we moved towards Pahalgam. It took nearly 4 hours (167 kms) to reach Pahalgam. By the time we reached our hotel it was dinner time and after having dinner we dozed off immediately.

Day 6 :


Betaab Valley :

Betaab Valley

After a good night sleep in Pahalgam next day was our visit to the famous Betaab valley. The valley is named after the Bollywood movie Betaab which was shot here. The Betaab valley is situated in between the two Himalayan Ranges ‚Äď Pir Panjal and Zanskar. Betaab valley is one of the most beautiful Valley in Kashmir. We left our transport near the roaring stream. The backdrop of the roaring stream had lots of Pine trees, meadows & Snow Caped Mountains.

We crossed the stream and enjoyed this natural beauty of Kashmir. Betaab Valley is now a typical picnic spot which is frequented by tourists as well as the locals. In one of the groups of locals, we also saw a Kashmiri girl singing and dancing. We spent few minutes listening to the local folk song before we wandered off in the valley.

After spending a couple of hours in Betaab valley, our organizers took us for local sightseeing of Pahalgam.

Pahalgam :


Pahalgam is a tourist town in Anantnag district. It is a popular tourist destination and hill station. Pahalgam is associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra. Pahalgam is also famous as a marketplace for Pashmina Shawls, Kashmiri Jackets and woolen sweaters. We did some shopping in Pahalgam market and then our organizers took us to a Cricket Bat Factory in Pahalgam and showed us the process of manufacture of Cricket Bats.

On retiring to our hotel our organisers informed us about the special Kashmiri dinner (Wazwan) which was being arranged for us. Kashmiri Wazwan is actually a Kashmiri Thali which consist of vegetarian as well as non vegetarian dishes.

Kashmiri Wazwan - Photos from Google Archives

Day 7 :


Aru Valley :

Aru valley is placed at around 12 kms from Pahalgam city. The Aru valley has colorful floral meadows, misty ambiance and other typical ingredients of Kashmiri beauty like the Pine forests and snow caped mountains. At Aru valley, we spent our time clicking pictures of the valley and posing in the Kashmiri dresses which were available on rent.

After returning from Aru valley, we had couple of hours of rest before a local folk program which was arranged at the hotel followed a camp fire activity.

Day 8 & Day 9 :


Vaishnodevi Temple, Katra :

Vaishnodevi Temple - Photo from Google Archives

The day started with a heavy heart as we finally bid adieu to Kashmir and we moved to Vaishnodevi Temple, Katra which is in Jammu district. The journey from Pahalgam to Katra was exhausting as the journey passes through the different ranges of Himalayan Mountains and it covered our entire day. We reached our hotel in Katra at 6.30 p.m in the evening.


After an exhausting journey we took rest for couple of hours as we had to leave for Vaishnodevi Shrine at 1 a.m. in the night. We trekked all the way and reached Vaishnodevi by 5 a.m. in the morning. As photography is prohibited at Vaishnodevi, it is advisable to leave your cameras in the locker room of your hotels. After four hours of trek, we were famished and tired. We all decided to eat something before we get in the long queue for Vaishnodevi darshan. It took one and half hours before we were finally able to pay respects to the deity. After our successful trek to Vaishnodevi, we returned to our hotels by 11 a.m. and we immediately hit the bed. We woke up in the evening as we had to complete our shopping in our last leg of this trip.  Katra is famous for The Kashmiri Dress Materials and Kurtis, Pashmina Shawls, Woolen Sweaters, Kashmiri Ornaments, Walnuts, Dry Apricots, Saffron, etc. Tip : Since Katra market is cheaper that Kashmir Market, it is advisable to shop at Katra. After a marvelous 9 days journey around Kashmir it was time to say goodbye. We took a train from Jammu to Delhi and followed by a flight from Delhi to Mumbai. Now nearly 9 years have lapsed after this trip to Kashmir but I am still amazed by its beauty and I recollect having read this anonymous quote on Kashmir

"Kashmir is that beautiful poetry of God which he wrote while experiencing together that highest form of happiness and deepest sorrow. The valley never fails to amaze tourists."


True to the quote, Kashmir is a land of happiness but also deepest sorrow.


Lets hope in the coming years, we can see a safe & peaceful Kashmir. Tathastu!!!


- Mohini Nabar

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