A valley of tranquillity

A valley of tranquillity

Kashmir

A valley of tranquillity

The images of Kashmir I had in my mind till recently were those beautiful visuals of the valley captured in Hindi films and in the glossy photographs hanging on the walls of my travel agent’s office.

But what I actually saw this summer in Kashmir completely transformed those images in my mind forever, convincing me that no photograph or visual can ever do justice to this outstandingly beautiful place.

After dredging the internet over several days and exchanging notes with “travelling” friends, I decided to tour three of the most sought-after destinations in Kashmir — Srinagar, Gulmarg and Pahalgam.

Heaven on earth

Even as I drove out of the Srinagar Airport, the first sight was a landscape dotted with the much-loved chinar trees — dense, sparking green and absolutely majestic. That evening, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll in the famed Chashme Shahi and the Nishat Bagh gardens, built by the Mughals. The natural spring in the Chashme Shahi is believed to have medicinal properties, which cured Shah Jahan’s queen Mumtaz Mahal of her illness. Overwhelmed by the variety of the neatly planted trees and flowering plants, I stayed on till sunset savouring the crisp, chilly air.

A visit to Srinagar is incomplete without a stay in a houseboat on the placid Dal Lake. Hundreds of houseboats, with curious names like “Hollywood”, “Leela Palace”, “H B Aristotle”, dot the banks of the lake. These elegantly built houseboats with intricate, latticed façades are floating havens, complete with every amenity and luxury one can imagine. The Dal is famous not only for its calm beauty, but also for the throbbing spirit of the community that it sustains within its periphery. My stay was complemented by a leisurely shikara ride. Chemists, restaurants, souvenir shops, flower-sellers, vegetable-vendors and even a floating post office, all set up on houseboats, jostled cheerfully and reached out to tourists throughout the day.

From Srinagar, I left for Sonamarg, which is literally the “Golden Meadow”. The drive to Sonamarg is on the picturesque NH D1, through the Zoji La pass, connecting Ladakh to Kashmir, through the Sindh valley. Stunning sights of placid glaciers and serene lakes at the foothills of the Himalayas are what awaited me in Sonamarg. Throughout this charming countryside of Kashmir, I feasted on the frame-worthy views of emerald-green forests, meadows and of the meandering waters of the Sindh River skirting the highway. After the Kargil War, these alpine meadows are witness to heavy Army deployment all along the highway till the Thajiwas glacier.

The Thajiwas glacier, popularly referred to as “zero-point”, is a sought-after destination for high altitude sports like skiing, river-rafting etc. The sight of miles and miles of glittering, white snow when I stepped out of the car will remain a cherished memory. After a few rounds of sledging and amateur attempts at skiing, I sealed off my outing with a steaming plate of Maggi and spicy masala tea.
What a sight!

Gulmarg, the meadow of flowers, was next on my itinerary. Even as I was nearing Gulmarg, magnificent sights of blooming lavender, daisies and dandelions casting a soft white and purple hue to the meadows beckoned me. After enjoying a long and leisurely walk along India’s highest golf course, I relished a hearty dinner of piping hot parathas and saag at a local dhaba, and spent the evening absorbing the sounds and smells of the local market. I took the much-awaited Gulmarg gondola ride the next day. My guide deftly slipped me past the surging crowds and seated me in a gondola for the first ride up to Kangdoori and then up to Apharwat Mountains of the Pir Panjal Range, situated at a staggering height of nearly 13,000 ft, from where I saw the fenced LoC as a thin black line.

The last leg of my trip was Pahalgam, which is a scenic wonder lying along the banks of the Lidder, a large tributary of the Sindhu. I reached Pahalgam driving past tall poplars, willows and chinars, countless shops selling saffron and dry fruits on one side and cricket bats on the other. Chandanwari is the starting point for the famed Amarnath Yatra through Pahalgam. At a distance of about 15 km from Pahalgam is the Betaab Valley, which was surrounded by snowy peaks and thick pine and deodar forests. Aru Valley is India’s Heidi-land. Colourful floral meadows, tree-lined landscapes and the mist-drenched forests made Aru valley seem straight out of a fairy tale.

However, as I drove back to Srinagar Airport, the heavy military presence and the multiple layers of security-checks almost broke the spell which Kashmir had cast on me.

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