YEH KASHMIR HAI

Many plans, strategies and ideas had made us saturated after the outcome of all being not so effective. But it was the last summer, when all these broken plans were linked up and I made my first trip to Kashmir-The Land of The Great Lakes. Nothing but sweet and evergreen memories, though with a little discomfort, made the entire journey quite successful & memorable.

Basically, Kashmir was derived from Sanskrit, whose meaning being “The part which evolved from a vast lake or sea”. It fills up parts of The Sapta-Sindhu region. I hope you don’t have to turn down the pages of your history books, folks. The state of Jammu&Kashmir has three major districts whose capitals are Jammu, Srinagar and Ladakh respectively.  “Bombay ka fashion Aur Kashmir ka mausam; Kabhi bhi badal sakta hai “-one of the colloquial verses used by the Kashmiris, certainly proves that you get to feel all the seasons in a day. Such is the versatility of the weather. Mostly, the state being under-developed and poor in varied fields, the people out there depend heavily on tourism and small industries of willow (cricket bats),walnuts and saffron( dry fruits), boat making, shawls and woolen garments etc. Men in kurtas and pyjamas, women in covered salwars covering their head with dupatta or in burkhas, children inheriting the same from their elders is seen everywhere. On a satirical note, Kashmir also sounds true with “Cash More”-as the local markets being much costly and luring to the tourists.

My journey started with my flight to Kashmir from Delhi with my parents accompanying me and being too much reflective and thoughtful of their yesteryears trips. Reaching the Srinagar airport, we were received by our driver and our tour guide. The guide, Yasir, was knowledgeable, polite & friendly to all our companions. We were taken to the famous Dal Lake, which was one of the prime attractions of the city. Reaching by noon, we had our first night stay at the houseboat named Alaska, which was totally wooden. The houseboats were given birth by the Britishers primarily, who wanted foreign names. Lunch being good, we had  an hourly-ride on the eminent Shikara(small wooden-furnished  boats used in Dal Lake) mainly through the Meena Bazar( market place).Right from Sharmila Tagore to Anushka Sharma , none is an exception here. wpid-dsc02367.jpg The lake, being not maintained by the government, has been dying and declining its beauty. Algae, herbs, weeds etc. has filled its heart, making the water filthy and impure. I wonder, if it’s not aided now, it may lose its beauty forever. Not being exhausted, we went for hiking. I looked out for some of the spots which we missed in our Shikara ride like Hazrat-bal shrine, Char Chinar, Nehru Park, Floating gardens etc.  Slowly, it was around 8 and the sunset had just filled up the horizon. Late sunsets and early sunrises were common in Kashmir. The hawkers started winding up and we also had our tea done at Nathu’s Sweets.  Taking a Shikara, we reached our houseboat and started preparing for the dinner as our guide had already instructed to be ready by 8:00 am, the next day. Having our dinner, we introduced ourselves to the other companions and tried to get infused together in the true spirit of travelling. They were from Southern Delhi and Rajasthan. Slowly, night dawned upon heavily. The view of the Dal Lake was magnificent with all the houseboat glowing bright, reflecting in the splashes of water. Though the night went darker, the atmosphere seemed more beautiful. Having our dinner, we winded our first day & had a fine sleep at the houseboat.

The next morning, was really amazing. I just had a raw view with my eyes of the Lake, at the very beginning of the day. Oh, Mercy…the view of the lake was divine. With there being no Shikaras, it was really clear, peaceful & vacant by the side of the lake. Slowly, as we were about to leave the place, a jeweler –seller along with the shawlwala, made their last try of making their stores lighter & I guess, they were successful. Another one came with beautiful flowers and their seeds. Last one presented with some handicrafts. But, it was time to move on in the journey, and we were in a hurry  Thus, having a swift breakfast, we just made our way to the traveler , along with the other tour-mates, bidding adieu to the Dal Lake and proceeding towards Gulmarg-ths Sanskrit meaning being “The Valley of flowers”. We had expected a long journey of about 4 hours and it went true. I, being sleepy, made my way into the dreams, quite quickly. Suddenly, there was a hush-a-rush buzzing of my companions, with my dad criticizing me to wake up and glance at the snow, far out there. It was just thin strips of snow, slowly dropping down from the peak. We reached a store for getting the jackets and gum-shoes, before I could click a few. Slowly, taking a much steepy road, we reached Gulmarg. We were divided to hotels, we being in Hotel Alpine Ridge. In the very beginning, we were instructed that we would be leaving for the cable-car ride(the gondola) at a particular spot with a local guide and reach the first phase known as Khilanmarg(at about  10000 ft.) and then , move higher to the second phase being 14000 ft. (from sea level). So, having the hungry lunch, we made our way to the Gondola station.

On the way, I was swayed by pure beauty and nothing else. Lushed green meadows, golf courses along with ponies and horses for the distant travelers were what my eyes were going through. I was really depressed after we heard that many of us couldn’t get the tickets for the second phase as the tickets were limited. So, we started off for the first gondola ride, taking five of us at a time .wpid-dsc02505.jpg It wasn’t a peaceful ride as there was a line cut-off in between. I was just about to shiver seeing at the elevation at what we were. But, nevertheless, we reached the first phase and were advised by the guide to take a pony-ride to the snow bearing spots of Khilanmarg. So, we were all on ponies on our way to snow. The regions being steep, undulating and rocks all over, it wasn’t easy at all. I was more or less, unbalanced throughout the ride but reached the spot somehow. Getting the essence of snow, I was just out of bounds. But my joy was immediately turned to irritation as a youth started continuously requesting for a sledge ride. Actually, sledge over there is just three wooden pieces tied with a rope, sliding over the snow. But we were not at all in a mood to have a sledge nor a snow bike neither ski cycles. Most of us went afoot on their boots and started rising up. But after sometime, slushhh…..one of us just slipped and rushed down. And we all got it that the snow is slippery, fragile and powdered form. It isn’t hard at all with least friction. Creating the balance was really difficult. But still, my mom headed us with me being behind her. A little overstepping and unbalance, Oouchh… this time it was my mom herself. But, thank God, I was behind to give her some gravity and controlled her from being blown away. It was the end of her with no more adventure. But I still made my way up and had an enjoyable time making snowballs and intentionally slipping past the snow.  The waterfall, from the top, flows under the ice making its own way. It’s too cold. The view was extremely beautiful with snow-clad peaks at the top and meadows around along with stony path. I clicked a great deal and I was offered to shoot a few other families, on the way back as I didn’t take the pony. Shouldn’t say, but I collected much praises for my snaps.

I understood by then, that our pony ride was totally nonsensical as it was around just a kilometer walk down the stones. Then it was around four and we thought of coming back to Gulmarg by taking our gondola. Some sadness crept in of not being into the second phase, but it was overshadowed by the fun I already had.  Slowly, we had a fine walk down the alley. Having some tea, by the streetside, I noticed bunch of madrasa kids, returning home, all so happy and blooming. Slowly, it was being colder and rains crept in to play the monster. Though, we were inside our hotel, but we could understand the terrible weather outside. It was damn cold by night, reaching 6-7 at night. I just sat beside the fireplace and checked my internet. Given the updates, it was time for us to be prepared for Pahalgam, the next day. We were told that we would be having a six hour long journey to Pahalgam, which made many faces blunt. But in a trip, you should to flexible to whatever it come. So we had our first halt at an ART AND CRAFT BAZAR, which covered carpets, rogues, wooden handicrafts and artifacts, Pashmina shawls etc. The most interesting thing was that, I was going on counting how many times my mom gives verbal exclamations and raised eyebrows hearing the prices of all. Butwpid-dsc02711.jpg seriously, they are expensive. Slowly, fine music of Arijit Singh & KK made the journey bit comfortable along with packets of Lays, Kashmiri cherries and dry fruits. We covered around 100 kms. And then we had our second stop. It was a huge saffron (kesar) wholesaler emporium along with walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds, Kashmiri pickle etc. Besides, we also had a stall outside selling Kashmiri Kahwa- strong saffron-mix milk less tea. Out of hurry, we missed it though. Mr. Yasir gave regular tour updates along with other schedules. So, it was by noon, that we reached Hotel Green Heights. It too had an ecstatic view with Lidder River flowing chantingly in front. It could be highly sensed from the balcony itself. A snow-clad peak along with few far-off hotels was notified. Most of us were too keen to grab and it was a splendid lunch with the dessert talking the lips. It was a free day but nobody wanted leisure. So few of us planned to go to Baisharan valley by pony ride and also get the view of Mini-Switzerland. But I was lost in the beauty and didn’t have made any extra effort to make it to Baisharan. Instead, I was alone.

On the armchair with a mug of coffee, I was observing nature and got fused to it. Generally, it was impossible for a city lad like me to get nature-blessed and there I got that wonderful opportunity, which I didn’t let it go. The Sunset over the peaks was something unimaginable. All such stories from the very old books seemed true. But then, it was slowly time for dusk to reign. The small tents were lighted up, on the hill slopes with the moonlight shining over the waves. “Hey, Buddy, Its dinner time. Come On, don’t do much, dreaming time is soon “, said Fayaz, one of the hotel -staff. I just waved and made my way to the restaurant. Still then, parents didn’t make their way back and I didn’t usually have my supper without them. So, went beside the fireplace, I had a game of cards with Zayed and Fayaz . They told me about how they pass their lives throughout the year, how difficult it becomes in winter, which films them love and their love for rasgullas and Bengali sweets. All of us have a wrong notion about the Muslims but, in reality many of them are innocent and want to dream high, live lives and not pass it. They too, get upset on different militant and anti-social activities that go on in and around Kashmir like we do. They are no aliens , who always want to hunt down people but has hearts which are as loving, kind and peaceful as the meadows of the place. But then, I rushed for the supper where Kashmiri recipes with kebabs were handful to grasp. Hoping for an adventurous day at the valleys, I just made my way off to dreams.

The next sunlight was something extraordinary, with me capturing it behind the lenses. But it was time for us, to leave. Taking a seven-seater, we just kicked off for Chandanwari valley- one of the major starting point for the famous Amarnath Yatra. It was too high with steep, rocky curves making the adrenaline-rush. The snow-melted rivers were continuously flowing beside.wpid-img_20150623_102154.jpg                 The walnuts, willows, chinar made the valleys evergreen and blooming. Within hours, we reached our destination which was fully snow covered along with continuous army regulations for the safety of the Yatra. Getting on my camera, I took a short interview of a soldier and had a nice chat with few others there. It’s altogether a special life to go on a mission, have sleepless nights at the borders and finally knocking the door of heaven or Bharat Ratna award.  Life really gives everyone, what it deserves. But it wasn’t time for me to get emotional. Hence, we moved on and respired ourselves in the arms of Betaab Valley- name coming after the movie “Betaab “being shot here. Stretches of illiteracy might cover the clouds of Kashmir, but its beauty immerses in everything,Subhan Allah..Subhan Allah.This valley was not any exception though. Said to be the river flowing down from Amarnath peak, the water was as cold as its purity. No wonder, you can’t bear it more than a minute. Eyes didn’t go beyond the greenish valleys. It was surely a heaven’s touch on the country land. The air had such a freshness which re-energizes you from deep within. But long journey and higher-altitude oxygen fluctuation made mom dizzy. She too, had much time beside the chilled waves. Here, as well, I was given the responsibility to click some “pose and smile” and I guess, I went at it really well. Then filling our heart, we proceeded towards the Aru Valley. Not a long journey, we were moving along the rafting course. But I had to control my excitement, as we were late and had to return to the hotel within afternoon.

After reaching the valley, we got the view of many prominent shops with Kashmiri handicrafts, ladies goods, hats, fur jackets etc. along with many horses to take the tourists to the caves, far from the valley. But we weren’t such interested. So, we just had a long walk along the deep forest of pines, deodars and willows. I found lots of kids of a government school, playing near the valley .They were blooming in true sense. Para-gliding was really fun out there. Gradually, black clouds started to wander and it was clear indication for us to switch our gears back to Pahalgam resort. Finally we returned back and had our lunch. Parents, being too exhausted, but I had something else in mind. Having some rest, I went out for hiking alone. The sun had just set in and it was ideal to go and breathe on the bridge: the same bridge which had few shots in JTHJ. The bridge, joining the two parts of the city, was worth its beauty. Continuous flow of Lidder, made an amazing feeling.wpid-dsc02603.jpg I just had peace time sitting alongside the rocks and playing with the pebbles. There are just no words left to describe its fragrance! But again, drizzles started and I had to jog away up the resort to keep me dry. At the end of day, while gulping my supper, I was really very happy and went off to sleep, with heavy lightning and thunderstorms playing hide and seek outside. Rain was totally up on its feet.

The next day, we had to return to Srinagar. The thought made me upset, as there was no better place in the world for me then, except Pahalgam. But there was no choice either. So, I bid adieu to my new buddies out there and to Pahalgam as well. Going along for three hours, we reached Srinagar by twelve. But again, rains played the spoilsport making us worried and disgusting. Nevertheless, we kicked off in the rains only and set for The Grand Mughal Gardens- Shalimar Bagh & Nishat Bagh. The Gardens were so extensive that it seemed they had descended from the mountains it.  Emperor Shah Jahan had his drawing room at the far-end of the Nishat Bagh, from where the Dal Lake could just be viewed . wpid-img_20150624_163511.jpg Our craziness made us buy two umbrellas as well. Though rains couldn’t keep me from clicking the exotic locales and roses, tulips, lilies etc along with various bonsai all around. For more than two hours, we were dripped in rain and none could sustain more. But still humans don’t give up so early. Mom had some shopping time with the other ladies .So, it was evening and we returned and spent the rest of the night at Hotel Royal Batoo. It was not too far away from Dal Lake also. Being bit worn out, I just rested and was thinking about the days that had passed in the trip. I was thinking about this travelogue as well!! Kashmiri chicken along with scrambled egg, lemon coriander soup, paneer and desserts were quite common. But I left most of them as I already started suffering from fever. Actually, mild fever is quite compatible on my body and they run at cent percent efficiency! Far away, near the reception, nice Sufi songs along with Bolly melodies were heard from our room itself. I was really enjoying it with hot coffee. Later on, I understood that some sort of party was going on up to midnight. Thus the penultimate day of the trip also met its end.

It was time to leave for Sonamarg-The Meadow of Gold. We had a long drive alongside the Dal Lake and it seemed like a sea, going on for numerous miles. We went for few hours and reached a place from where the local traffic was available.wpid-img_20150625_135101.jpg It was really cold up there and the peaks were totally covered with thick clouds. Making a sound deal, we, eleven of us, went to a huge fish reservoir first and then to the last village of Kashmir-Sarbal. Both these zones belonged to the Ganderball district, which hosts the Indian Army base camps. So, it was high security zone. Lots of armed soldiers covered the helipad also. But I being ill with fever and cold, I was missing the thrill. On our way, the driver showed us many film-shooting spots, which just deserved to be, specially Haider.  Suddenly, drizzles, continued with heavy shower and hailstorms started on our way to the glacier of Sonamarg. It was really being difficult for us to walk along the steep rocky paths, which were muddy and slippery.  But, we three of us managed somehow to get past whilst others weren’t notified. Being less than 4 degrees, we couldn’t wait for anymore without Kahwa and biscuits. Hands were totally numb and body pain was on its way. Sighting the heavy rains into consideration, parents didn’t let me go closer to the glacier. So, with a heavy face, I had to return to the Local sumo stand.  We were late, for our companions being heedless. But then, without wasting much time, we returned back to our traveler taking us to Hotel Rah Villas for our lunch. Oh…Goodness! It was much more kind of dreaming than living. What an exotic place with just grace, grace and grace. The lunch was as good as expected. Thus, at 4:00, we left for Srinagar.

Some sudden gossips and exclamations made my sleep converged. We were on our way to the Shankaracharya temple, but owing to our sheer carelessness, we couldn’t make it through. I was really very enraged as this visit to the temple was made in the morning itself. But time lags of others, made us pay as well. So, then we headed towards the ChesmaShahi Bagh – the last of our last day schedule. Tremendous greenery with different unusual flowers gave me some respite. Taking a bag of key chains and some eatables, we came back to the hotel within seven. Parents, being still in the mood of shopping, went out in the night. But I just had the needful-sleep. But by then, I was slowly being emotional as such a wonderful trip came to its end. Had some glimpses on my phone and TV, all of us gathered for dinner. Sharing all our thoughts, singing and games, gossiping made the end of the day really well. I just went off sleeping being optimistic as a new thing won’t start unless the previous one ends.

Having breakfast, we heard that six of us have already left for their sweet home. They had early flights. Slowly, it was our time to wrap up as well. Saying good bye to the hotel staff, waving to the two left, we went on. But much before, police, security, army, all were geared up to give a humongous welcome. Security checks, luggage scans were done. Then again, proceeding for some time, we had our second security check. And then, we finally had our entry into the Departure arena. There was no compensation inside as well. While waiting inside, I was just wondering how militants and assailants make their way into the country, phishing away all these people. Truly intelligent!!! Though there was flight-delay but still finally we were back to the Capital after a week-long trip.

A week had just passed and it didn’t feel like. But we were back on our way home to Kolkata- In my city. Though Kashmir was chanting “Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna “,  I surely agree it’s worth to spend few days of your life there to make it “Those were the best days of my life “. I just have few smiles while I chalked out the whole travelogue and shared to all of you. Because it’s just

SWEET MEMORIES UNLIMITED…

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