Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven

If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here’. I discovered the truth behind this popular phrase about Kashmir when I visited the place with my family in 2008. It was a dream-come-true to actually be at the beautiful locales which I had only seen in movies.

Be it the picturesque Dal Lake with the mighty Pir Panjal mountains in the backdrop or the snowcapped peaks of Sonmarg, the thrilling gondola ride in Gulmarg or the fascinating horse ride to Pahalgam; the lovely tulip garden or the Mughal gardens where we wore traditional Kashmiri costume and jewellery, the memories of each and every place are etched in my mind. But as much as I was enthralled by the scenic beauty of Kashmir, I was equally moved by the goodness of the people there.

Srinagar was the first place we visited as part of the North India tour. We had already booked our stay in a houseboat. On our way from the airport to the Dal Lake, our taxi driver Riyaz gave us a lot of information about the different sightseeing spots and agreed to take us around for the next few days.

On reaching the boulevard of Dal Lake, he helped us hire a beautiful ‘shikara’ to ferry us to our houseboat. It was the experience of a lifetime. Several bright and attractive ‘shikaras’ were gliding on the mirror-like waters of the Dal Lake, some ferrying passengers back and forth from their houseboats, some taking tourists on longer sightseeing tours of the interior parts of the lake to the floating farms which grow vegetables and flowers and the floating market where small shops sell Kashmiri handicraft and embroidered dresses among other things. Some of the ‘shikaras’ were also selling things like saffron, handmade artificial jewellery, shawls and flowers. 

We were warmly welcomed by the owner of the houseboat, Rafiq and his family. The houseboat was aesthetically decorated with Kashmiri carpets and handicraft and beautifully carved furniture. It had a lounge, a dining room, bedrooms with attached bathrooms, a kitchen and a balcony.

Rafiq and his  family really made us feel at home and cooked delicious meals for us throughout our stay.

On last day of our stay, we went to some of the famous religious places in Srinagar. After visiting the Kheer Bhawani Temple and Hazratbal Shrine, we went to the famous Shankaracharya Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered the oldest shrine of worship in the Valley.

It is situated on the Gopadari Hill and can be reached only after climbing about 240 stone steps. As we were enjoying the splendid aerial view of the city, my son, Mukul, who was 10 at the time, slipped down a few steps and hurt his back. A few of the Army personnel present there rushed to help us and immediately provided some first aid but nothing seemed to help.

As we were trying to figure out how to take him down, two locals came and told us not to worry. They crossed their hand and made my son sit on their hand and told my husband to hold him for support. We took him to the hospital and he felt better the next day. The same day, we bid farewell to the lovely people of this paradise called Kashmir.

One of the men, who had carried my son down the steps, was so concerned that he even called us up a few times to enquire about his health.

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