If Nature decided to bestow all her bounties on Earth; if the Himalayas chose to keep the world in their tight embrace and if the Almighty chose to sprinkle the soil with gorgeous colours chosen from His palette, then it is here, it is here, it is here….!
Within moments of our finding a Shikaara, sellers thronged us, pushing their colourful Kashmiri attire and trugs onto our laps, urging us to get photographed. Could we refuse?
At once, the image from Bemisal’s prominent song, Ye Kashmir Hai flashed before my eyes, invoking the famous lines― “Kitni Khoobsurat Ye Tasveer Hai, Mausam Bemisal Benazir Hai, Ye Kashmir Hai!”
We halted in the middle of the lake for Kashmiri Kahwa and hot pakoras. Kashmiri Kahwa ―a popular concoction is a delicious brew garnished with slivers of dry-fruits. Just a sip and I instantly decided to abandon my tea for once.
A drive along an undulated road took us to Shankaracharya Hill on Hari Parbat. The drive en route the hill makes for a pleasant sight, with wildflowers dotting the landscape.
Wildflowers dotting the Hills
Climber Roses Climbing their way to Glory
Once inside, you can’t but stop admiring the profuse carvings on the pillars and railing which add to the surreal look of the place.
The cool spray of water squirting from fountains sprouting on the lawns, and the soft caress of mountain breeze carrying the fragrance of Attar roses, are constant convoys as you saunter along the evergreen turf.
There are a number of Chinar Trees, under whose shade you can spread your picnic basket. The soft whispers of children and the chirping of birds call for a perfect setting to catch up with family. The serenity of the place coupled with the beauty around, will surely make you veer your mind from the mundane to the exciting.
A Carpet Weaver at Work
Undoubtedly, it is the charm of Nishat Bhag that lent a gleam to Joy Mukherjee’s already naughty eyes!
The topiary also adds a unique touch, which no other Mughal garden boasts of.
Pari Mahal or ‘Garden of Fairies’ is one mesmerizing marvel never to be missed! Although smaller in size, I’d say prettier, as though a magical and esoteric veil has cloaked the place.
While the other Mughal Gardens have open terraces, Pari Mahal’s architectural uniqueness highlights the stoned stairways that lead you to gardens planned in different strata. This layout not only offers a glimpse of the pastoral precincts in one fell swoop, but also allows you to behold the beauty of the Dal Lake below!
With seemingly secret stoned stairways leading to…nothing but gardens at different levels, a veil of enigma certainly shrouds the place.
Close to Pari Mahal is the Chashmashahi Gardens created by Ali Mardan Khan, who was Shah Jehan’s governor.
The highlight here is a spring that gushes forth three terraces. The spring and the pool around which the garden is laid, owe their discovery to a Hindu Saint, Saint Roopa Bhawani.
His narration at first seemed just out of the plaque, but what’s not mentioned on the plaque is that the popular song ‘Tere Bina Zindagi Se koi’ of ‘Aandhi’ fame, starring Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen was shot here!!
Believe me, that piece of information has got us mulling over.
This vacant garden bench seemed to beckon us with a ‘come hither’ look!
The Himalayas in their dazzling glory stood poised even as the tall pines rose elegantly to touch the silver clouds; and the torrential river below meandered charting its own course, totally unmindful of its spectators!
We did nothing but stroll around, make small talk with villagers and pick fallen pine-cones.
A few houses lay scattered uphill and we befriended the inmates, who were a warm and friendly lot.
A decent houseboat with amenities will cost you more but it’s worth it. Please do not compromise even if you have to shell a few bucks more. Houseboats are graded with ‘A’ as the ‘costliest and best’ and ‘D’ as being down the rung. Opt for the best and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
By sundown, we crept back into our electric blankets and it was only a roaring appetite that made us crawl out looking for supper.
Silence was a breather we inherently resorted to, to capture and treasure the breathtaking view below. The scene unfurled as we glided over sheets of snow and Deodars & gaped in awe. There were just two more people with the three of us .
Yet, as we entered the sprawling pasture, a faction of horsemen descended on us like a pack of wolves! It’s not possible to explore the place entirely on foot, but it’s still fine to do some places on your own.
The sound of a burbling brook permeated the silence as we slid into a slideshow presented by Nature..
Traversing steep gradients and deep chasms, we halted on the shores of the raging Doodganga River.
With Deodars and Firs as cheerleaders and intercepted by boulders along its course, the mighty Doodganda frolicked forward fearlessly and unabashedly, dispensing a lesson or two in surging ahead despite stumbling setbacks..
A ray of sunshine on a cold breezy day has the power to stoke your soul.
With the azure heavens above, the emerald earth below and with 360 degree ‘unobstructed view’ of the world, Yusmarg seemed a fertile bowl of unbridled euphoria!
A Blooming Dale
Yusmarg possesses a certain je ne sais quoi that caught on us; perhaps a free-spirited yet contented feeling that filled us up as we drove back to Srinagar. The only regret is that we never considered spending a day or two more over here.
Sonamarg or ‘Meadow of Gold’ is perhaps called thus, for, the goldmine of treasures it holds.
The Sind River signals the trail to Sonamarg
It was a beautiful day. The crisp cold zephyr was caressing me and the Sun’s warm rays served as a salve, as I stood under this pine-cone laden tree. If I were to describe that experience, ‘Sukoon’ (pacifying bliss in Urdu) is the word that comes up.
The shooting spree that tourists captured through their binoculars
Even as we trudged uphill, numerous skiing assistants cornered us, shoving their skiing equipment under our nose.
Once seated onto the skates, it’s hauled uphill along the slope and then released. For the faint-hearted, a helper would be ready to tow you downhill. This time, Salman’s presence was the skiing folk’s bait!
The Sind River―Blowing Hot & Cold At the Same Time! What a quirk of Nature!
Slowly, the white magic began to fade and it seemed as if one part of the range turned ‘green-eyed’ sighting the swarm of tourists that its fair counterpart commanded!
The woods are dark and deep, but we had promises to keep…
Couldn’t pass by without capturing this lad and his innovative 4-wheeler
A Kashmiri Handloom & Handicraft Outlet with Hordes of Beautiful Booties.
A Pashmina Saree found its way into my suitcase.
On the way to Kargil, at Tullumulla in Ganderbal district, lies this century old temple, also known by locals as Tullmull Temple. Dedicated to Goddess Bhawani, she is propitiated here with an offering of sweet rice pudding and hence the name Kheer(rice pudding) Bhawani came to stay.
From pink to violet to lavender, mauve, purple, magenta and red, the garden resembled a ‘Spray-Art Masterpiece’, done by the Master Himself!
Bestowed with vivid colours and sprightly shapes, and with a dash of heady scent, they’re undoubtedly the most enlivening of Nature’s creations, & there they lay casting a ripple on the sod & in our hearts.
A 75 year old sandook(box) made by the artisan’s grandfather
We bid adieu to Srinagar which was home to us for 9 days! Hospitality Home and its hosts seemed like family but we had promises to keep with Pahalgam. We were certain that we’d soon visit again and fortify newly forged ties.
On the route to Pahalgam, we stopped at Marthand Temple, which is a Sun Temple. Interestingly, even Muslims are known to pay obeisance here!
Pahalgam derived from the words ‘Pahal’ meaning ‘shepherds’ and ‘gao’ meaning village, is still a small town whose inhabitants were and are shepherds.
The weather was surely pleasant with the sun shining through silver clouds upon the cool mountain gale & we could not stay put in our rooms. A plateful of Kaanda bhajia polished off with steaming tea got us ready to explore Pahalgam.
The scene seemed straight out of a Hindi flick of the sixties, where village belles cavorted about, often chased by their besotted beaus, and when the Earth and the Heavens conspired to shelter their romance.
A rapturous buoyancy coursed through as I walked barefoot on this dew-kissed lawn, inhaling the pure mountain air.
These crisscrossing bridges across the ford, make traversing the meadow a cakewalk.
BAISARAN (MINI SWITZERLAND)―PAHALGAM
Just a kilometre away from Pahalgam, abutting the Kalahoi River and the right bank of Lidder, is an ancient temple, its ancientness dating back to 400 AD.
The tweet of birds and the warm glow of the evening sun pacifying the nippiness, lent bliss to the already tranquil ambiance.
Ensconced amid the woodland and against the snow-cloaked Himalayas, is the 800 year old Gouri Shankar Temple.
A mild drizzle had us cowering into shops and each time the rains abated, we indulged ourselves with more shopping.
En route to Srinagar, we caught sight of these woods. The scene seemed steeped in silence and we couldn’t but help pausing to soak in the stillness.
This was our second visit to Vaishnodevi. Even as the Trikuta Hill Ranges began to emerge, the atmosphere and ambiance outside was palpable. There was a certain lightness in the air and the sunlight seemed less harsh as if overflowing with abundant blessings.
My son and I chose to take the pony downhill and perhaps that was a wrong move for the 3 hour descent, as ponies aren’t that deft on concrete steps and my tail-bone is still recovering from the onslaught.
The Durbar Hall houses a collection of paintings by famous artists like MF.Husain, Laxmi Pai and J.Swaminath. The Nala Damyanti series is a constant. Sepia tinted photographs of renowned dignitaries and those of Hari Singh’s lineage adorn the walls.
A shop within, sells books authored by the handsome Raja Karan Singh, whose abode is somewhere within the confines.
So, carry costumes to match the season. But heavy woollens will be needed in most places.
What Should Be The Duration Of Your Visit?
Both Jammu and Kashmir still have untouched niches and I’m sure we’d get back to cover those! A standalone holiday in Jammu is certainly on the pipeline.