Kashmir (Kashyapmaar) ―A Few Days In Paradise..

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….!

 
Kashyapmar or Kashmir ―the land sanctified by Sage Kashyap (who is known to have drained the waters and made the place liveable), would have you wondering if you indeed have wandered into paradise!
 
This being my second visit to Kashmir, I could not help going down memory lane and regaling my husband and son with my childhood experiences here. Certainly yes, my homecoming is enriched with fond memories, mementoes and musings of this memorable trip and here’s what I have to offer to you, readers.
Is Kashmir Safe? I’m often asked. We ought to salute the Indian Army for that.  Our Jawaans guarding the borders under challenging climes certainly deserve to be kept in our daily prayers.  
This plaque gracing the entrance of the famed Pari Mahal Gardens is a reminder of the harsh conditions faced by our soldiers. May they live long! May their tribe increase!  

Day-1
Mission Kashmir 

 

As we sheared our way through the clouds for a landing, the Great Himalayan Ranges began emerging from the veil of fog that had enveloped the Earth.  

 

There is always something enigmatic and esoteric about mountains, especially the Himalayas. 

 

It was 21 degrees Celsius in mid-May and a cloak of grey clouds had loomed large over Srinagar. Our joy knew no bounds, for we’d be away from the menacing heat of Mumbai. When the driver arranged by our host accorded us a warm welcome, we instantly knew that our stay would indeed be hassle-free.
Our mission began with a trip to the Dal Lake. 
With tall Poplars swaying gracefully in the cool mountain zephyr and with the gigantic Zabarwan Hills at the backdrop, Dal Lake was a real stunner!

 

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? 

Colourful Shikaaras with frilled and laced drapes done in vibrant colors lend a quaint charm, which is impossible to ignore.

 

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!”

 
Being rowed in a ‘Shikaara’ is the best way to enjoy the Dal. For a more peaceful ride, choose early evening, when the lake is sparsely inhabited. 
Note: The Dal Lake is famous for its floating markets (vegetables, fruits and handicrafts are sold in shikaaras). 

 

 

However, beware of hawkers because they usually quote an exorbitant rate for their wares. Lal Chowk is a better shopping destination. Moreover, if you entertain one hawker, others would make a beeline and it’s extremely annoying when you’d rather be enjoying the solitude.   
 
 

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.

 
It was here that Shammi Kapoor’s ashes were strewn after his death, as a tribute to his famous films ―‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ and ‘Junglee’, which immortalized the Dal!

 
The Serene Dal

 

 

 
 

 

Enchanting Dal
 
View from the Boulevard 
This being my second visit, I was determined to trace the hotel in which we resided on my first visit some 30 years back! Certain that my efforts would be thwarted, I told the boatman to scout for ‘Hotel Leeward’ at the banks of the Dal and surprisingly he complied. With guidance from other boatmen, we finally managed to sail to the long lost place!!
What a nostalgic moment it was when I caught sight of the place where I as a child, I had spent a week with my family! 

 

Although Hotel Leeward has lost the charm it once possessed, the place now being occupied by CRPF Jawans, I was surely excited as I recalled the lawn on which we had our morning tea, and the dining hall that hosted a few college girls, who by now would be expecting their own grandchildren!

 

We perched atop a nearby hill for yet another captivating view of the Dal Lake! 

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.  
A tree laden with white blossoms..or are they snowflakes on the tree?

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers dotting the Hills

 

Keekar Flowers which abound in the valley are certainly a sight to behold, but equally dangerous too; smelling these would result in you catching the cold it seems!
The sweet fragrance that permeates the air is so refreshing that you’d have to restrain yourself from going anywhere closer, lest you catch a cold!  
The Prettiest of the Lot ―Horsechestnut!
The Prettiest of the Lot ―Horsechestnut!
A flight of about 100 steps takes you to the famed temple, built by the revered Hindu pontiff ―Shankaracharya, who is known to have peregrinated from South India to Kashmir, many moons ago.
A simple and austere temple with a gigantic Shiva Linga, this consecrated shrine made of brick and mortar has a vantage point that offers panoramic views of Dal Lake and Srinagar. Unfortunately, cameras and even cell phones are not permitted.  
A spectacular Sunset by the Dal
While descending, we stole a few moments for the best shot at the numerous vantage points that offer a seamless vista of the valley.
 
A View-Point ―with the road leading to Shankaracharya Temple on one side and the enchanting Dal on the other.
 
The Sun sets at the Dal-View from the Boulevard  

The summer sun lingered well past 7.30 p.m.
Our stay was at Hospitality Home near Nigin Lake. The owner Mr. Riyaz Baktoo, who has transformed a part of his bungalow into this holiday home accorded us a warm welcome. Spacious and neat rooms with modern amenities, home cooked food and warm hospitality make Hospitality Home definitely a viable option.
Post supper, we snuggled cozily, recounting the day’s experiences, & looking forward to soaking in this fairyland, which seemed more and more surreal!
Day2
We began our day with a visit to Shaarika Devi Temple. Perched on Hari Parbat Hill, this temple enshrines the Mother Goddess Shaarika Devi.
 
Hari Parbat on which stand the temples and a fort
 
BADAM WARI
Our next halt was at Badam Waari or ‘Garden of Almond Trees’. A recent recreated addition to Kashmir’s renowned gardens, Badam Waari is a must-visit and if you ask me to rate it, I’d say it’s one of the most gorgeous gardens around!
The plaque above says it all. But, you need to see it to believe. 

 

 

 

A carpet of green, stippled with Almond Trees and sprinkled with blossoms in myriad hues and with the Zabarwan Hills at the backdrop, Badam Wari is indeed a delight! 
A glimpse at these and I couldn’t help recalling, “Ten Thousand I saw
at a glance…”
 

 

As buzzing bees, flitting butterflies, chirping birds and the echoing laughter of little kids fill the silence, your heart with mirth is bound to join in the jollity.

 

 

A Beautiful Bouquet Bestowed By the Almighty

 

 

Pink and Purple 

Climber Roses Climbing their way to Glory

A Lone Tree Graces the Spot
Pansies also known as Monkey Flowers
Beatific Buttercups  
 
Wildroses Amid the Flaming Yellow
 
 

Creamy Chrysanthemums 
 
A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose 
Snow-White Flakes
 
Most gardens have a roofed viewpoint in the centre, which offers a seamless shufti.
 
Housed within this gazebo, is a well with a sitootery where visitors can take a breather and behold the breathtaking backdrop!

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 inner circular rim encloses a well. The well of course was an eye-sore with plastic bottles and packets strewn all over the meshed lid. 
Thankfully, the place was deserted and we could admire the carvings on the panel and pillars.
 

 

Awesome  Asters 

 

A plinth housing a sacred bastion
 
 
Hari Parbat from Badam Wari
 
Balloons Amid the Blooming Dale
A log house with slanting roof and wooden fence stands amid a lush green lawn, surrounded by swaying Poplars and Willows.
The humble cricket bat is made from the wood of Willows. While the Poplar proudly gathers its branches and looks skyward, the Willow with its slender branches droops earthward, like a bashful bride!

 

 
Many hands go in making this a better place. You’d find gardeners quietly mowing and tending to saplings.  
Date Palm
After taking in the beauty of Badamwari, we finally bade adieu to this awesome place ―albeit reluctantly. 
Hari Parbat-Taking a Peek At The Scene Below
 
The Dal and snow-clad Gulmarg beyond
 
SHALIMAR BAGH 
Largest of the Mughal Gardens, Shalimar Gardens was built by Jehangir for his wife Noor Jehan. 

 

With a green carpet of sward sprawling over 31 acres, awash with rare blooms and towering Chinar (Maple) Trees, Shalimar Gardens has stood witness to scores of Bollywood scores, including the latest ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’!

 

 
 
Catch a glimpse of this delightful delight on the scenes of ‘Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi’ and ‘Mere Yaar Shabba Khair’, which showcase Shalimar Bhag.

 

 
 
 
 

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.

 

 

 

 


Chinar Tree


Carvings on a Pillar 










 

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. 

 
JAMAL CARPETS
 
Carpets among other things feature in the expertise of Kashmiri craftsmen. A visit to any carpet factory cannot and should not be missed. Ask to be shown an authentic shop or factory where you can watch carpets being woven. 
From Nature’s grassy gardens, we stepped onto soft, velvety rugs woven by creative and dexterous hands of humble artisans. 
 
Having been to many other carpet shops in Jaipur, Udaipur and Sikkim, I was able to discern the difference in design and motif of each. Here was a spread of Mughal motifs.  
 
On smooth floors were laid scores of carpets in different sizes, and in corners were more carpets rolled and stacked. While each was being rolled out, the exquisiteness, intricacy and uniqueness unraveled and vied for our attention, as we gasped in awe! Each carpet bespoke themes reflecting Nature and its loveliness. It was indeed a magical moment!
Carpets doubled up as window drapes, for there was no room for more carpets!

 

 

 

Some take more than a month and some even 6 months to weave it seems. Most are fire-resistant! The owner struck a match and hurled the flaming stick onto a carpet, as we stood amazed watching the dying embers, while the carpet remained unscathed! 

 

A Carpet Weaver at Work

The best if yet to come, assured our driver Fayaz Bhai, for Nishat Bhag the best, prettiest and the most romantic was yet to be explored!

 

NISHAT BHAG
 

 

 

Situated on the right bank of the Dal, Nishat Bhag or’Garden of Gladness’ is veritably a honeymooner’s haven!
 
Dotted with dainty blossoms in resplendent hues, punctuated with Willows, Cypresses and Chinars, Nishat Buag is a beauty spot, whose beauty is further accentuated by cascading waterfalls and fountains springing a cool delightful spray!

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
These flowers are commonplace by now you’d feel and of course these can be found in any garden spread out in the topography of Kashmir. But what sets Nishat Bhag apart? 
 
The 12 terraces with cascading waterfalls represent the 12 signs of the zodiac! This is not found in any of the other Mughal Gardens.
Built by Noor Jehan’s brother Asif Khan, it was considered to be ‘Firdous’ (paradise) on Earth!
Choose a strategic point and drink in the beauty of cascading waters that copiously rush down the topmost terrace only to merge with the Dal! 

 

 
 
 
Stroll along the lawns and pause for a moment! It was on this very place that Joy Mujherjee swinging his Guitar, had swayed to the beats of ‘Lakhon hai Nigah Mai’

Undoubtedly, it is the charm of Nishat Bhag that lent a gleam to Joy Mukherjee’s already naughty eyes!

Perhaps it is this bewitching milieu that boosted the Bollywood bandwagon to bounce merrily, to compose teasing numbers, and the heroines to sway blithely to their hero’s serenading! 
PARI MAHAL (GARDEN OF FAIRIES)
Pari Mahal Offering a Panoramic Peek at the Dal Lake Below
 

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. 

 
 
Built by Dara Shikoh, this was created as a retreat for Sufi scholars. Little wonder then, that this wondrous place is so wonder-filled! 

 

 

 

 
 
 

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.  

 

However, given the way the locals pronounce, ‘Pari Mahal’ is hurriedly enunciated as ‘Parimal’! Nevertheless, the allusion is apt, for the fragrance of wildflowers suffuses and lingers, as though fairies have waved their wand, sprinkling the place with a heady scent!

 

 

 

 

CHASHMASHAHI GARDENS (GARDEN OF ROYAL SPRINGS)

 

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. 

 

The gurgling sound is audible as soon as you enter the precincts and casts a certain inexplicable joy.
 
You’d find people filling up cans with the spring-water known for its medicinal properties. 
 
 
 

 

This garden I felt, provided more space to amble around. At the backdrop are the Zabarwan Hills overlooking this emerald green carpet speckled with ‘corals’, ‘rubies’ and ‘pearls’! 



 

It’s not uncommon to find a nubile bride standing under the flowering tree & shaking the branches laden with white blossoms & waiting to get captured on the lens by her ardent young lover! 

 

 

 

 

 

ZESTHA DEVI MANDIR



 

Situated atop a hill with a flight of steps leading to the shrine, the temple of Mother Goddess sits amid lush greenery, with only the nippy breeze for company. 

 

The Main Sanctum Stands Amidst a Pool 
It was a windy evening and an unfathomable contentment filled the space as the gleaming festoons embellishing the sanctum, swayed to the tune of the cool breeze! 
In absolute silence, we could hear the tinkling of tiny bells, the soft rustle of festoons and the swaying of leaves. A few devotees staying in the temple lodge made a quiet appearance and spoke in humble whispers, without disrupting the austerity of the place. All of a sudden, the temple bells began to peal, signaling the commencement of evening ‘arti’.  Solemn chants and familiar hymns rent the air. 
We spoke to the friendly temple trustees, who enlightened us about the history of the temple. 

 

Another flight of steps leads to the lodge where pilgrims are lodged. Private kitchens are provided and devotees can avail of the common kitchen service too.



 

Temple Lodge for Pilgrims 

 

 

 

Sated for the day, we returned to our ‘home stay’. At the end of the day, it’s hard to discern which one of these gardens is the prettiest. At night as I closed my eyes, I couldn’t but escape the slide-show that began to unravel. Delving deep into this dreamworld, I recaptured the sights and sounds and scents of these pleasure gardens till I wandered to the place of nod..
Srinagar has a number of gorgeous gardens no doubt, but for peace and solitude, don’t miss the gardens of Verinag and Sonamarg. Avoid weekends as far as possible especially in Srinagar. Not only does it get crowded, but the local men thronging the gardens of Srinagar openly ogle at women. This is a disappointment and perhaps would be a deterrent to tourism in Kashmir, but certain harsh facts do need to be addressed. 
Day 3
AVANTIPURA RUINS
 

 

Our journey to Kokernag and Verinag began with a drive to the famed Avantipura Ruins, just 29 kms from Srinagar. The ruins, which were excavated in the early 20th century cannot be missed. 
 
Avantiswamy Temple in Avantipura, built by King Avantiverman in the 9th century, lay buried in the wings of time till archaeologists excavated the site and unearthed hidden treasures! 

 

Our guide ―a Sikh, posted here undertook the responsibility of showing us around and explaining the history of the place. 
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!!

 

Carvings on the Pillars 
The striking spectacle of scattered stones
 
I stood transfixed as I let my mind wander to another period to savour the spirit of a bygone era.

Our Guide

 

River Jhelum with floating boats ―bang opposite the temple

 

En route to Kokernag, we halted at a temple, whose flowing waters are known for their medicinal properties.

 



 

 

The weather in Kashmir is akin to English weather it’s said, and in no time dark clouds loomed large and a mild drizzle began to trickle and the village scene along with apple orchards looked so incredibly pretty.

 

 
Apple Orchard

Can we pass by forbidden fruits without at least looking out for one? But it seems the Apple Season starts from September. Our driver averred, “Come back in September Madam. When the trees are laden with pinkish red apples, they look so pretty, and the green fields dotted with pink look so eye-captivating, that I bet, you will extend your stay here!”

 

Believe me, that piece of information has got us mulling over.

 
Apple Blossoms
Apple Blossoms (flower of an Apple)
What lies at the bent, we know not!
 
VERINAG GARDENS

 

 

It would be an unpardonable sin if you miss Verinag Gardens!!

 

A mantilla of mist hung over the place..

 

The world at our feet
 

 

 

The highlight here is a natural spring, which is the source of the River Jhelum.

 

 

With wet winding pathways and green leaves glistening with raindrops, Verinag seemed to be the most romantic place on Earth! 

 
I’m sure, such was the scenario when Jehangir had first set his sight here, for so enamoured was he with this place, that he built this garden here!

 

 

This vacant garden bench seemed to beckon us with a ‘come hither’ look! 

 Pine Tree Laden with ‘pine-cones’ ―Iconic of Alpine Counties
 
Like sea-shells on shores, pine-cones on hilly expanse make for quaint collectibles..
The fragrance of pine-cones is so invigorating that whenever you inhale the scent, a certain ecstasy is sure to course through your veins.     
A Chinar Tree lending Grace
The octagonal pergola under which gushes the spring, is iconic of Verinag Gardens.
Believe me if you miss Verinag, you haven’t seen Kashmir in its entirety!
Choose a weekday to avoid the crowd and if you’re lucky, you too like us would get to experience a slight drizzle, for, the allure of a misty day on a wet garden is matchless! 
KOKERNAG
 
 

 

Verinag and Kokernag go hand in hand, given their proximity and of course their rhyming scheme!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The drive to Kokernag along winding paths and vales and verdant fields and gushing silvery streams is indeed a memorable one.  
 
The sight of simple village belles shepherding their flock is not uncommon and their chiselled features would make you wonder if they even knew how pretty they look! 
 
JKTDC’S HOTEL ALPINE 

 

 

 

It was in the evening that we reached Kokernag and shifted to JKTDC’s ‘Hotel Alpine’. Dearth of good hotels in this belt makes JKTDC’s accommodation the most sought after and I must say you’d never be disappointed, for you’d give it a ‘thumbs up’ for its strategic location.
 
Located at the foothills with raging rapids at its feet, ‘Hotel Alpine’ nestled amid luxuriant vegetation awash with rare blooms, seems most idyllic!   
 

 

 

 

The bridge that allows a cross-over to the hills yonder

 

 

 

 

The gurgling cataract shatters the silence even in the dead of the night!
 

 

A quite eeriness did pervade this forested place, but our hotel bellboys reading our mind, exclaimed, “You and your family are safe here; although this is a forest, you needn’t worry. No beast would dare stray here!” His assured assertion did allay our fears.
Needless to say, cocooned in warm blankets, we slid into deep slumber, with only silence for company. At a distance, we could still hear the babbling brook…

Day 4
It had rained all night. The scent of wet earth mingled with the moisture laden greenness of grass to lend crispness to the already frosty morning air.      
The chirruping of rare, tiny birds which fluttered on the grassy meadows completed the picture! We were in the enchanting woods!
We had Daksum in our itinerary for the day and my parents had already vouched for its extraordinariness. 
DRIVE TO DAKSUM 

 

 
 
The drive to Daksum was so wondrous that we wondered if we’d reach Dakshum on time. But, the words, ‘The woods are dark and deep, but we have promises to keep’ made us inch further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAKSUM 

Whatever ‘Daksum’ means, I know not, but to us, it meant ‘Seventh Heaven’! Daksum is Nature at her brilliant best!

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! 

 

 

 

Daksum ―a quiet hamlet allows you to soak in the essence of Kashmir village life.  
A picturesque village― the scene seemed to emerge straight out of an old Hindi movie, where the soaring Deodars and Fir vied with snow-clad peaks and when after a brief pause, there appeared flashes of Pine, Cedar and snow and a gushing cascade dancing to the tune of a flute and spellbinding mountainous music. 
 
The picture was perfect! A few village belles balancing firewood on their crown and a pot on their waist, nimbly strode on a log of wood oblivious to the babbling brook below! 
PICTURE PERFECT DAKSUM
 

 

Cut off from townsfolk, Daksum’s small populace leads a quiet and contented life. Even today, you’d find woodcutters, shepherds and farmers going about their daily chores. There’s perhaps one small restaurant selling tea and baked cakes. Daksum is also Nature at its innocent best ―unspoilt, virginal and blissful.

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.

ACHABAL GARDENS

 

 
Laid out at a site known as Akshavalya, that was previously sacred to Hindus, this current picture owes its existence to Noor Jehan. The spring Achapal Nag that spills forth throughout the year finds a mention in the ancient Hindu scripture ‘Nilmat Purana’ and the place is known to have been ruled by a Hindu King Achshan.  
 
 

 

Located at the foothills, this green carpet stretches forth clutching multi-coloured flowers and spurting fountains, mighty Chinars and delicate lanterns. 

 

This green velour with tiny flowers strewn about is an ocular treat, the mingling fragrance of which ―a titillating pleasure for the olfactory senses. A birdsong completing Nature’s sonata, heralds a message that all’s well with the world!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

View-points located ‘as the crow flies’ give an unhindered view of the precincts and are also stopovers to take ‘that perfect shot’. The ‘Pinjrakari’ or lattice work on wooden barricade adds to the loveliness, denoting an eye for beauty and detail that artisans of yore possessed.    

 

 

 

Achabal Springs  
 

 

 

 
The Hills-Spellbound at the Sight below 

 

The sights, sounds and scent and the shady Chinar all certainly play on the senses and Achabal Gardens provide the much needed privacy for canoodling couples too, which is a rarity in Srinagar.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

It was on one of these patches that we had a scrumptious meal that day before marching forward. Achabal is about 8 kms from Anantnag and makes for a heavenly retreat.  
HOW’S BOAT?
Can a Kashmir trip be complete without a stay in a houseboat?? 

 

 

 

These floating fairies with floral drapes that peer through glass panes, and their delicate wooden carvings have never failed to entice tourists. 
A quality houseboat grabs your attention from near and far, for its ample size matches its ample space too. 
 
Intricate wooden carvings with elegant Kashmiri floral drapes,
 

 

an ornamental chandelierwall to wall carpeting,
 
plush bedding and futons,
 

 

Cozy Interiors 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and exquisitely upholstered suites, clean baths with a tub, a spacious kitchen with a variety of victuals and a spacious dining hall are hallmarks and we were glad we chose this one.

 

We were told about the incredible view of sunrise that can be had but unfortunately the following morning heralded a cloudy day. 

 

Nevertheless, to be perched atop the deck sipping the morning cuppa while watching the world ‘float’ by, is a rare event.

 

 

I must’ve spent more than an hour gazing into the loch, sighting a rare bird. Vendors in shikaras sailed by, pressing me to buy their wares.

 

 

 

 

The wooden panels in the balcony were profusely carved & lolling on one such deck & admiring the surroundings certainly lends a fillip to the day.. if given a chance, you mustn’t miss.

 

 

 

 

Mind you, some folks may dissuade you from a houseboat stay! Our own driver tried doing that, but we ignored him. 
But these floating fairies succeeded in holding us in their sway and we’re glad that we weren’t swayed by silly but well-meaning folks. 

 

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.

 
You may do your research well in advance and book, or take a peek at a few to discern.
You have a choice between those moored at Dal and those at Nigin Lake. We chose the second as Nigeen Lake is a quieter lake with fewer tourists and touts. 
All suites come with a sweet concierge, and an ‘in-house’ cook who caters to your choice and appetite. 
If we were disappointed with anything, it was with ourselves, for making the mistake of not spending more days on board!

Day 5
GAURIMARG (GULMARG)-VALLEY OF FLOWERS

 

Earlier known as Gaurimarg, Gulmarg needs no mention, for every tourist and every tout would want this included in their itinerary. And I’m sure there’s none who hasn’t sighted Gulmarg, thanks to Bollywood!

 

 

It’s said that Gulmarg’s weather can be gauged right at Srinagar! One look at the horizon yonder and one becomes the weatherman! As the day dawned, grey clouds had gathered over the hills and we knew luck wasn’t with us. Nevertheless, greyness and the chill have their charm and we went all out to embrace the weather as it was.

 

 

A straight highway leading to Tangmarg, from where we hired snow-wear, took us through winding hairpin bends bordered with Pine, Deodars and Fir, heralding the next magnificent scene on our itinerary.

 

 

‘Gaurimarg’ was the name given by the original shepherd inhabitants in praise of ‘Gauri’ an incarnation of Goddess Parvati. The place is indeed steeped in divine beauty. 

 

 

En route, the sight of sheep-a gentle reminder of the keepers of the name..

 

 
Draped in velvety lushness, with spots of fluffy white fleece; sporting thin streams of silver as ornaments; the mist for veil; a glistening diamond diadem and with a dash of heady scent, Gulmarg from afar gave us a ‘come hither’ look!  
Soon, as sights of ponies and people began to pop up, our excitement knew no bounds. There was slush all around, worsened by horse-hooves. With the cable–car ride scheduled only for the next day, we decided to explore the meadow on our own. And we commenced with a visit to Maharani Temple, which I’m sure you’d recollect having seen on the silver screen.

 

MAHARANI TEMPLE(MOHINESHWAR SHIVALAYA)-GULMARG
 
 
I’m sure none could have missed this temple at least on screen, for it was here where Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz tapped their feet and nodded their heads to the beats of ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ of ‘Aap ki Kasam’ fame!

 

Built by Mohinibai Sisodia, who was the wife of Maharaja Hari Singh ―the former ruler of Jammu & Kashmir, this temple lies at the summit of a small mound and can never be missed from any place in Gulmarg!

 

The view from the temple precincts

 

Interestingly, after the Pandits were driven away from Kashmir, this temple has been looked after by Gulam Mahmood Shiekh! He took over the job from his father, who was the sentinel here, and being well-versed in the Gita as well, got him the job of being in charge. 

 

 

To be able to have a bird’s eye view of this green meadow bounded by the western Himalayas, was indeed an exhilarating moment! As the rain trickled through a layer of grey clouds, I didn’t know if my goose bumps were due to the chill in the air or the result of this breathtaking scenery, which offered a 360 degree unhindered view of the meadow!  

 

We waded through the slush and clambered aloft undulating hillocks, captured the sight of pretty wildflowers but abandoned the snow for the time being.  In the process, we jumped across raging tarns and fell on our fours on the grubby turf. But we avoided insistent pony-walas. Remember, ponies are fine when you want to sight-see. But here in Gulmarg with another day at our disposal, all we wanted was space to bond. 

 

Post lunch and after a cup of Kashmiri Kahwa we returned to Apple Tree Resorts, where we were booked for the night. A flourishing lawn, badminton court, carom boards and a souvenir shop, made the resort a pleasant experience.


By sundown, we crept back into our electric blankets and it was only a roaring appetite that made us crawl out looking for supper. 

 

The sweet scent of Attar roses wafted through every nook and cranny of the lawn.

 

 

 

Day-6
The cable-car (Gondola)ride is divided into two phases―to Kongdoori(10,500 ft) and, Kongdori to Aparwat(13,450 ft,) which was the day’s challenge with the weather painting a gloomy picture. The drizzle was relentless but we went with the flow.
 
Excitement was palpable even as hordes thronged the gates, the weather notwithstanding. Once we huddled into the cable car, the sudden silence that suffused seemed a blessing. The silent ride was interrupted with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, only to be again stifled, for the scene that floated below was simply stupendous! 

 

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 .   

Through the looking glass of our cable car
Booking online shortened our wait. A volunteer’s guidance certainly eased the waiting process. We were swaddled in layers of winter clothing ―a rubber overcoat, galoshes, cap and gloves but these were no match for the chilly hilly weather. 
Kongdori was our first halt but due to weather turbulence, this halt extended to almost an hour. It was here that we heard a guide explain to a newly wedded couple perhaps on its honeymoon…”Sirji, Kashmir ka weather wife ki mood ki tarha hota hai. Pata nahin kab accha hoga kab bura!”
Amid muffled laughter, we stole a glance at the harried husband who was starting life anew with his bride.

Once services resumed, we glided to Aparwath too! As soon as the door swung open, a gust of frosty wind flogged at our face and we realized it was snowfall!!  

We dared the blizzard & were game for skating. To everyone’s amusement, my umbrella came to my rescue. As the skates were yanked and shoved on sheets of powdery snow, our teeth chattered and hands shivered. I salute the helpers who did their job bracing this blizzard without much ado.
Despite the whiteout, the guy was ready to click our snaps but I politely declined his suggestion. Balancing the ropes, stopping his gum-booted feet from sinking into the snow and clicking a snap wasn’t going to be easy and for heaven’s sake, I had to muster sympathy and be contented.  
We called it a day and returned to Srinagar that evening.  

Day-7
YUSMARG

 

 
Yusmarg- a name eclipsed by the renowned Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam found its place in our itinerary because we preferred to chart our own course. Believe me, it’s a sin if you miss this place! 
Yusmarg according to some legend owes its name to Jesus Christ! Yes, it’s believed that Jesus had spent a few of his years here. 

 

Yusmarg’s proximity to Srinagar (about 46 kms), makes it a day trip. Our driver drove us off the beaten track so that we could chance upon picturesque landscapes filled with rare blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onion Saplings
 

 

 

 

A quieter place compared to its famous cousins Gulmarg and Sonamarg, Yusmarg, provided us with the tranquility that we so longed.

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.

 

 

We chose just 3 ponies and were once again left to ourselves.

 

 
Cloaked in verdure, the rolling meadow seemed like a sea of green with an all-pervading stillness that was pierced only with the sound of a babbling beck.  
Beck and Colt
 
A hill-station should spell of peace and quietude and Yusmarg had us wound in its spell!
 
Except for the twitter of a bird or two and the tick-tack of horse-hoof, the silence was all that we had for company! And in this silence came alive the indomitable loftiness of Deodars and Firs that rose to touch the cerulean sky that stretched ―speckled with silvery clouds.. 
 

 

 

The ponies nimbly crossed gorges and rivulets, carrying us across glens and mounds, deftly dodging thorny shrubs and soaring firs.

 

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. 

  
Literally chilling on a boulder, with the cold spray of the gushing waters, I felt instantly refreshed..it was indeed an invigorating moment! It was just the three of us and the two ostlers. Time seemed frozen!

 

This boulder as the horsemen informed us, is sacred to the Sikhs.
  

 

 

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 Village Garden
 

A Blooming Dale

Prayers Go Up and Blessings Come Down

 

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.


Day-8
SONAMARG

Sonamarg-An Unrestrained Terrain of Tarn, Turf and Tor..

Sonamarg or ‘Meadow of Gold’ is perhaps called thus, for, the goldmine of treasures it holds. 

                    The Sind River signals the trail to Sonamarg

 

 

 

 

Stretches of the sinuous Sind allows you to dabble in white-water rafting, which most tourists would await, mainly to stretch their limbs after a long drive.
 

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 Sind follows you till a point where it takes a different shade, stiffening into powdery snow, signalling the start of Sonamarg.  

 

With emerald turfs & dazzling diamonds on its gushing tarns, sapphires on its young tor giving way to silvery snow, Sonamarg is truly a treasure trove filled with Nature’s bounties! 

 

 

We checked into our hotel which offered a view of the snow-swathed pinnacle.
Tajiwas Glacier is the most prominent point and no trip here is complete without skiing to Tajiwas.
 

 

The spot where the ‘Satte Pe Satta’ barn once stood
Along the way, our jeep driver determined to showcase Sonamarg as a Bollywood haunt, showed us some fantastic points which included the spot where the famed ‘Satte Pe Satta’ barn once stood! It was wiped off it seems, when an avalanche in recent years razed it. 
 

                  Skiing Base

The highlight of this visit was Salman Khan’s shooting for ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’! Isn’t it said, ‘News spreads like wild fire’? This was no different even in a remote hill-station, for even before we started off for Sonamarg, news of Salman’s impending visit was the talk in Srinagar! 

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!

 

                   Tajiwas Glacier

The onward journey is for the intrepid traveller.
Unfortunately, his paranoid bodyguards threatened to confiscate cameras and cell phones, if anyone tried capturing the ‘larger than life’ portrait of their onscreen hero. After we waited with bated breath, the hero emerged, with tomato sauce smeared on his temples ― an indication that he had fought a reel battle.

 

 

As the sun set over Sonamarg, the meadow was bathed in a golden glow and it seemed as if the mountains -― mute witness to this grand spectacle could not hide a blush!

 

 

 

 

The view from our room
 
Day 9
The sun rose heralding a new day, albeit with its feebleness apparent on the cloudy day. The crisp mountain chill sent a few shivers running down our spine. 

 

 

 

A Nearby Garden

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!  

We drove away bidding Sonamarg an adieu.  

 

The woods are dark and deep, but we had promises to keep… 

The Hills―Laden with Coniferous Trees
 

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.

 
Cheery Cherry Trees Along the Way
 
 
MATA KHEER BHAVANI TEMPLE

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.

Strewn within the premises, are several alpine blossoms in countless hues!
Cotton trees lining the precincts showered upon us white fluffy plumes, which at first we mistook to be snow! 

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.  

 

 

 


The Garden ―Abloom with Colours Sprinkled from His Brilliant Palette!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The divinity pervading the temple precincts was further accentuated by the presence of these divine creations. 
Mata Kheer Bhawani Temple has an interesting occurrence too. It’s believed that the waters in the temple tank changes colours, where a blackish tint portends imminent calamity! 
 
Shops selling Kashmiri wares do merit a visit

 

It was a ‘flowery’ day, for, en route to Srinagar, we captured more such pretty flowers and tendrils adorning the many row houses. 
 

 

The Lovely Anarkali

 

The Anarkali or Pomegranate blossoms in resplendent orange are a delight to behold. Their slender cup like shape gives a certain grace that’s delicate yet ostentatious.  
 
These pretty little white flowers have the power to bring a smile upon your face, each time they’re eyed at.
 
Wild Roses
 
NIGIN LAKE & GARDENS
 It was our last day in Srinagar because Pahalgam beckoned. So we spent the evening at Nigin Lake, which is close to Hospitality Home. Believe me, the wondrous evening walk along the Nigin Gardens situated on the shores of the lake, was a magical moment, which would be etched in our memory for years to come.  
Nigin Gardens
Most tourists inadvertently give Nigin Lake a miss, opting for the Dal instead. But equally charismatic is Nigin Lake and also the gardens on its shores.
A walk through a by-lane leads to a gate that opens onto the garden, beyond the lawns of which lies the placid lake, lined with Shikaras and houseboats.   

 

The lush lawns dappled with tiny blossoms in glorious hues, the Chinar Trees strewn about; wrought iron benches and delicate lanterns that come to life at the behest of dusk, all lend a charm to this place. A quiet evening spent here will be truly memorable!
Sitting under this Chinar Tree, gazing at the snow-capped crest yonder, with the grass for carpet and inhaling the greenness of the dew-drenched sward, we relished every moment of our ‘transcendence’! 
 
The sun swathed summit―a view from the balcony of Hospitality Home
Late evening saw us visit a ‘Papier Mache’ manufacturing centre, which our host’s friend has set up. A part of the house has been segregated for making these attractive merchandise and hence the wares are sold at wholesale rates. It was hard choosing what to bring back home! 

A 75 year old sandook(box) made by the artisan’s grandfather

Day 10

 

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.

MARTHAND TEMPLE

On the route to Pahalgam, we stopped at Marthand Temple, which is a Sun Temple. Interestingly, even Muslims are known to pay obeisance here! 

Mattan is derived from the word ‘Maccha’, which means fish and Bhawan means ‘dwelling’. The temple ponds abound with a plethora of fish that are fed by devotees frequenting the temple. 
 
PAHALGAM
Across countrified pastures and a surging river with the mighty Himalayas at the backdrop, lies a quaint little town, whose charm and bucolic existence are sure to steal your heart and caress your soul. 

 

Pahalgam derived from the words ‘Pahal’ meaning ‘shepherds’ and ‘gao’ meaning village, is still a small town whose inhabitants were and are shepherds. 

 
Like village children who sprint along a tourist vehicle upon spotting it, the River Lidder frolicked along with our vehicle, with its waters spouting in leaps and bounds, as though welcoming us to Pahalgam ― assuming the role of a guide!

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.
 
Pahalgam is a town full of ‘palaces’, you’d soon realize as the hoardings raise their head. Bombay Palace, Pahalgam Palace, Moon Palace, Silver Palace are some, to name a few.
Pahalgam’s charm is distinct with the pebbles that line the Lidder.  
If tall titanic mountains stood majestic & encrusted in snow, then right below, were blue mountains, which proudly held on lofty Pines and Firs, rendering a blue-green tint. The glistening white Lidder pranced along the ravines, as the sun-kissed dell stole a glance at the blushing skies!
Aru Valley
 

 

 

 

 

Sleepy Hamlets Surrounded by a Drape of Pines and Firs―Aru Valley
 

 

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. 

 
 
 
BETAB VALLEY-PAHALGAM
With time in our hands, we headed for Betab Valley, but a chilly drizzle forced us to beat a hasty retreat. We returned the following morning to drink in the beauty of Betab Valley.
Earlier known as Hagan Valley, the vale got christened as ‘Betab’, thanks to the Bollywood flick ‘Betab’, that was shot here and the name stuck on. Even as we were at the gates, we could hear someone croon, ‘Jab Hum Jawan Honge, Jane Kahan Honge’ and the self-appointed guide briefed us about Amrita Singh’s and Sunny Deol’s reel rendezvous that was shot here.

 

 

This vast stretch bears an enigmatic allure that’s so tangible, that it’s hard to ignore. The pall of ‘evening mist’ that hung over the place lent an irresistibly romantic feel.

 

Day-11
We kick-started the day with a revisit to ‘Betab Valley’.

 

 

Pebbled Shores―The Quintessence of Pahalgam

 

 

As we stepped indoors, the mystery only deepened. A pebble-lined river soon led to a bridge that in turn opened into a vast stretch of paddock spotted with tiny wildflowers and suddenly we came face to face with the Himalayas in all their splendour! 

 

 

This image conjured up lines from the film ‘Sheen’, “Ye Toh Kashmir Hai, Iski Fiza Ka Kya Kehna”..

 

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.

 

A Beautiful Billabong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meadow is crisscrossed with fords and runnels and one would be tempted to tread barefoot.

 

 

While most tourists vacated the place, we lingered on looking out for undiscovered nuggets along uncharted pathways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pristine Waters of Betab Valley
 

 

BAISARAN (MINI SWITZERLAND)―PAHALGAM

If there’s any place you mustn’t miss, it’s this, it’s this, it’s this, it’s Baisaran! Known as Mini-Switzerland, Baisaran is a beauty spot on Kashmir’s topography. 

 

 

You can either trek or take a pony. Turning left from Pahalgam bus-stand, your pony would take you high up the slopes, going higher, higher and higher, crossing becks and brooks, averting rising pines and Deodars. 

 

‘Titikitatoo’ Treading Along
Among the many equestrian adventures we’ve had, we’ve encountered names like ‘Badal’, ‘Bijli’, ‘Toofan’ and ‘Rani’ as names for horses, but this was the first time we heard one of the ponies christened as ‘Titikitatoo’! Even today, the name, ‘Titikitatoo’ never fails to evoke a smile🤗.
 
This fascinating sylvan wilderness suddenly gives way to a grassy expanse hedged by the mighty Himalayas acting as spectators & the Pines and Deodars serving as cheerleaders. 

 

 

A Rapturous Squeal Is Bound to Escape Your Lips! 
With the whole meadow to yourself, your first reaction would be to explore every nook and cranny and perhaps roll over this undulating grassy sprawling stretch. Little wonder then, that our yesteryear heroes did that effortlessly.
However, persistent ponywalas and hawkers would relentlessly pursue you till you give in and buy their wares. Unlike Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh which we visited long back, Baisaran is filled with pesky peddlers. Despite the ample space, it’s impossible to evade them.  

 

 

This tree was our momentary resting place from where we sopped up the scene. The noon-day sun was a blessing as we basked in its warmth, inhaling the icy-cold, salubrious mountain air.

 

Very reluctantly we tore ourselves away from this ethereal place, promising to make a revisit very soon.

 

Note: Baisaran is unmissable but surprisingly, even popular tour agents side-step this place, given the tortuous passage on the uplands. So you need to ask to be taken here.
 
It was in the evening when an acquaintance booked via a popular travel agency informed us that they were taken to another spot, which was flaunted as Mini-Switzerland!  

 

MAMALESHWAR TEMPLE-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. 

This temple may seem quite unobtrusive but once inside you’d feel the divinity and sanctity that only ancient temples boast of. 
It’s believed that this was the place where Ganesha was asked to guard the place while his mother bathed. Mamaleshwar is derived from the words ‘Mam Mal’ meaning ‘Don’t go’ or ‘Don’t Enter’. 

The tweet of birds and the warm glow of the evening sun pacifying the nippiness, lent bliss to the already tranquil ambiance. 

GAURI SHANKAR TEMPLE-PAHALGAM

Ensconced amid the woodland and against the snow-cloaked Himalayas, is the 800 year old Gouri Shankar Temple.   

Legend has it that Lord Shiva had left his bull here! 
A simple temple, with Spartan surroundings, the towering Shikara seems striking as it stands against the Himalayas, lending a quaintness to the shrine.  
 
Pahalgam Market 
The evening was spent rambling along Pahalgam Market, which has a surfeit of good shops selling Kashmiri handicrafts, clothes, attar et al.  
 

A mild drizzle had us cowering into shops and each time the rains abated, we indulged ourselves with more shopping.  

Day-12

 

 

The early morning sun crept over the crags, colouring them with a tint of crimson and the flowing Lidder mirrored the splendid spectacle as it raced forward on its course. We too had to follow our course ―our tryst with Kashmir soon coming to an close. 
Walnut Treats 

 

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. 

And all I could think of, was the song penned by Sahir Ludhianvi ―Dil Kahe Ruk Ja Re Ruk Ja, Ruk Ja Yahin Pe Kahin; 
Jo Baat Is Jagah Par Hai, Kahin Pe Nahin 
 
The air was filled with the fragrance of freshness as the sunlight filtered through the foliage of Walnut Trees and mingled with the soft dew-kissed grass. 
The only sound that could be heard was an unsung birdsong of an unseen bird. We remained rooted to the spot & were loath to leave the place, but we had dates to keep…we had a flight scheduled for Jammu.
 
With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to Kashmir Valley and headed for Jammu.
 
Pampore-Saffron Fields
Kashmir is an ‘all-season’ destination. Come winter and Kashmir is blanketed in white; in fall she wears a golden garb and mid-summer madness finds her dressed in all her flamboyant finery. But if there’s one place that dons a vivid violet, it’s Pampore or the ‘Saffron Town of Kashmir’.
 
Close to Srinagar on the right bank of Jhelum, is Pampore. Come October and this green expanse changes to violet as thousands of violet blooms perform a pirouette to the tune of autumnal breeze. Concealed within these violet blooms is the dazzling saffron! When used in cosmetics, they’re known to promise fairness!   
 
River Jhelum
It was as if the Himalayas had gathered to bid us farewell as we took off for Jammu. And we made a silent pact that we’d return soon.
Note: To and fro flights between Jammu and Srinagar are a blessing in disguise if you want to save time and energy. 
 
TRIKUTA HILLS-KATRA, JAMMU
  It felt as if we landed from an igloo onto the frying pan in about 45 minutes flat. Mid-summer in Jammu is indeed madness. An hour’s drive brought us to Katra.
 
Day-13
 

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.

The town of Katra is teeming with hotels and you needn’t even book online, the season notwithstanding. You get the best amenities at a throwaway price. 
Despite the harsh heat outside, the shower spouted ice-cold water and we thirstily soaked in the coolness. It was just the next night that we began our ascent to the famed shrine.

 

An Aerial View of Katra Town from Trikuta Hills
 
From up above the world so high, we saw glittering diamonds in the night!

 

7 years ago, we had scaled the Trikuta Hills and the stretch spanned an overnight jaunt and this time too, we were determined. 
 
The hill-route bustling with devotees, vendors and ponies reverberates with sanctity and the echo of ‘Jai Mata Di’ is music to the ears.
 
A humbling experience, you’d all at once feel one with the multitudes swarming the place. Devotees from different parts of the nation with desires and cares but with implicit faith that their wishes ‘would be fulfilled’ throng the place and a festive spirit imbued with piety is what you’d encounter.
 
It was for this reason that we chose to trudge uphill instead of resorting to a helicopter ride. The nip in the night air is always tangible, given the mountainous locale and May’s weather just proved right.
 
We started our ascent at 6:30 p.m. and reached the shrine at 3:30 a.m. and after an hour’s halt queuing up to deposit cells and cameras, we were allowed entry. 
 
Pindi Darshan lasted a few seconds only but ‘that’ glimpse was an ‘overwhelming one’ as always. One glimpse and you’d forget all your desires, for, desires are replaced by just gratitude!
A holy communion with the Mother Goddess is all that you’d desire; you’d be willing to relinquish your mortal garb too!
 
Bhairav Temple
 
The nearby Bhairav Temple merits a visit, more so, for spiritual reasons.

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.

Day-14
 

AMAR MAHAL PALACE

 

The following day, saw us visiting the renowned Amar Mahal Palace, built by Raja Amar Singh the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir. The palace was designed by a French architect, hence this ‘castle’ like look!

Model of Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu

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.

 

The patio offers a glimpse of the Tawi River and the Trikuta Hills beyond. 

A shop within, sells books authored by the handsome Raja Karan Singh, whose abode is somewhere within the confines. 

Day 15

From Cloud Nine, we landed onto Mumbai with a thud! 
 
Some Queries Upon Our Arrival
We’re often asked if we traveled with a tour operator.No! 

Like all our other holidays, this one too was chalked out by us, for us and consisted this time only of us! 
If you’d like to venture alone, then read on..

So, carry costumes to match the season. But heavy woollens will be needed in most places.
 
A well-fitting canvas shoes and socks are preferable.
 
Anoint yourself with sun-screen always.
 
Being armed with an umbrella is a good idea.
 
Despite being an evergreen tourist destination with well-fed streams, you’d be dismayed to find toilets devoid of water and latches. I wish JKTDC takes sanitation matters seriously.
 
Stock up on calcium supplements. A network of stairways takes you to different tiers of any garden and there’re scores of gardens all around.
 
It’s wise to carry your identity documents even while traversing.
 
Finally, load your camera and mobile phones with memory cards.
 
Astute readers might’ve noticed there’s no mention of Leh and Ladakh in this post. That’s because it’s wise to take one step at a time, especially if geographical conditions are drastically different. Leh and Ladakh are definitely in our bucket list but as it requires major acclimatization, this plan is stashed away for the moment. 

What Should Be The Duration Of Your Visit?

A fortnight may seem ‘too much’ for some. But with a penchant for gallivanting, we’ve always enjoyed soaking in the essence of a locale. To truly experience the culture and scenic diversity, one needs to spend quality time in the place. Ironically, there’re still some places we weren’t able to cover! 
 

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.  

PS: My parting words ―I request you to include our dauntless Jawans in your daily prayers. May they live long!  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. the moments you captured are penned down as it is , just loved reading it

  2. Thanks Raj, for taking the time to read it. You must visit the place sometime…

  3. Excellent and Captured very well. I am sure we would visit this beautiful place again.

  4. Swapan Kundu

    Thank You Shubrata for allowing us ro take a peak into your Kashmir blog.
    Reminds me of a story of a bangali saint who led her ailing old mother to his backyard pond and asked her to close her eyes and she could see the Gangasagar and also had a holy dip into the sangam! That was the divine power of the saint.
    You have come very close. Sitting at the comfort of our home we had a very detailed darshan of Kashmir. Lovely commentry! Never had a doubt about your writing skills and command on the language. And the photographs were all telling us stories of their own!
    Not shure if you mentioned the photographer's name. Father or Son!
    OVER ALL – ABSALUTELY STUNNING!
    Thank You!

  5. Thanks a lot Swapanji & mainly because your comments came voluntarily!! That was a sweet gesture because you took time to read and took time to comment on your own. Thanks a lot!

  6. Anonymous

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Kishore Kumar

    Shubhrata, your travelogue is mind- blowing ! It rates amongst the best I have ever read ! In fact, first I thought you should send it to J and K Govt for their use to promote tourism….then I realized they shoud not do it, because just reading it is as good as going there, and people may confine themselves just to the former !!! Wonderful, really !

  8. Thanks a lot Kishore Kumar…I
    'm happy it's being well-received. Haha! I really hope I'm instrumental in promoting these places as destinations. Thanks and do keep reading. On the top right tab are other places I've visited and some queer or wonderful experiences I've had..

  9. Anonymous

    Great and fantastic writing . Captured very well.

  10. Thanks for liking my work. Would love to know who I am interacting with :-)…This would inspire me more. Do watch out for more…

  11. Anonymous

    Today my work at office is very hectic. Just took a break and saw the photos of Baisaran . Brilliant it is . Keep up the good work.

  12. Thanks..keep reading..:-)

  13. Rajesh

    Shubhs… Again an Amazing Travelogue… No words to express the effect the writing and the pictures had on me…. Super stuff..

  14. Thanks once again Rajesh. Do visit the place, if you haven't already. Do read my Himachal experience. I'm sure you'd love it more. It's an awesome place.

  15. Anonymous

    Thank You Shubrata for allowing us ro take a peak into your Kashmir blog.
    Reminds me of a story of a bangali saint who led her ailing old mother to his backyard pond and asked her to close her eyes and she could see the Gangasagar and also had a holy dip into the sangam! That was the divine power of the saint.
    You have come very close. Sitting at the comfort of our home we had a very detailed darshan of Kashmir. Lovely commentry! Never had a doubt about your writing skills and command on the language. And the photographs were all telling us stories of their own!
    Not shure if you mentioned the photographer's name. Father or Son!
    OVER ALL – ABSALUTELY STUNNING!
    Thank You!

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