Heaven on Earth - Kashmir

16th Dec 2013
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 1/17 by Smiti Maini
Dal Lake, Srinagar
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 2/17 by Smiti Maini
The shopping shikara
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 3/17 by Smiti Maini
The first look
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 4/17 by Smiti Maini
Dried up apple trees, Hazratbal
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 5/17 by Smiti Maini
Natural symmetry
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 6/17 by Smiti Maini
Yes I was !
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 7/17 by Smiti Maini
Trying to beat the cold
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 8/17 by Smiti Maini
In the lap of awesomeness
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 9/17 by Smiti Maini
Curved roads and our drive
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 10/17 by Smiti Maini
Snow covered Gulmarg peaks
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 11/17 by Smiti Maini
We skied .. and fell .. and got back up .. :)
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 12/17 by Smiti Maini
Gondola Ride back to Gulmarg
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 13/17 by Smiti Maini
Morning view from our hotel
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 14/17 by Smiti Maini
Apple Orchards enroute Pehalgam
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 15/17 by Smiti Maini
Lidder River
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 16/17 by Smiti Maini
Mini Switzerland
Photo of Heaven on Earth - Kashmir 17/17 by Smiti Maini
Maggi Maggi Maggi

In November end I found out that I have to attend a weekend function at my home in Delhi in mid-December. Just when I was booking my tickets, I realized that there is no point of going from Bangalore to Delhi just for the weekend. Another plus point was that I just got free from a massive project in office and my boss would not hesitate to sanction my leaves. So it was final, I was going to Delhi for a week instead of just 2 days. But then I thought why Delhi, why not some place else. I immediately called up my mom to ask her about an outstation family trip in that week (I do that a lot) and we agreed upon Kashmir. I had to convince my brother and my dad but it didn't take much time as they just couldn't say no when they saw the Kashmir pics I flooded our WhatsApp group with (I do that a lot. Had to do it for the Ladakh trip as well ;) ;) ). I started reading up about where to go and whether December is a good time to visit Kashmir and whether it'd be snowing there when we visit etc. etc. I took help from one of my friends who visited Kashmir a few months back and finalized the driver through her contacts. My mom booked a guest house in Srinagar. We didn't have many days so I had to get an idea of not-to-miss-places for which I got ample help from the internet and my friend. We shortlisted 3 one day trips to Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam and thought that we can take advice from the driver for the final plan. We packed up lots of warm clothes as we were warned in advance by the driver that it would be very cold. And we were all set to go. As expected, our flight to Srinagar was late due to heavy fog in Delhi. When we were about to land we saw the magnificent snow-covered Himalayas from our windows and that's when the Kashmir spirit set in. At the airport we met our driver Ali. He is such a sweet person. Infact all Kashmiris are. The next few days we drove to Sonmarg, Gulmark and Pahalgam. We were lucky to have good weather and snowfall follow us at all these places. This will always be one of the most memorable trips I've taken.

It was really hard to say goodbye to Kashmir. The 4-5 days I spent there were so special and will never be forgotten. Apart from the beautiful landscape, I fell in love with the ever-so-sweet Kashmiris. Be it our driver Ali or shop-owners or restaurant employees or hotel managers, everyone was too courteous and it felt like their words were dipped in sugar. They are the most warm and polite people I have come across anywhere in India. And another thing worth special mention is the FOOD. I am definitely a foodie but I had never heard any mention of Kashmiri food. But trust me Kashmiri cuisine is pure awesomeness. I had the best chicken I've ever had. And do try Kahwa. Its made of 11 spices and is a really yum substitute for tea.

Although I enjoyed this trip to the fullest I have made a commitment that I MUST visit Kashmir in spring/summer to witness the Kashmir valley in full bloom. It was dull green or white when I visited in December so my next visit would be dedicated to the green Kashmir, the apple trees, the saffron fields and the famous Chinars.

To end this note I would like to pray for a safe and bright future of all people living in this heaven called Kashmir. I will see you soon. :) :)

We reached Srinagar airport at around 3 in the afternoon and met our driver Ali there. Instead of going to the guest house directly, we thought of using the daylight for some sight seeing. We went to the famous gardens of Srinagar - Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh and Chashme Shahi. We didn't spend much time there as in the winters there are no flowers and these spots are dull and have less tourists visiting. After this we went for a 1 hour Shikara ride in the beautiful Dal Lake. It was late evening, just before sunset, and the colours were beautiful. We then checked into our guest house and asked Ali to take us some place with good Kashmiri food. He took us to a restaurant which was not very big but was very popular. The food there was awesome and all of us loved it.

Photo of Srinagar by Smiti Maini
Photo of Srinagar by Smiti Maini
Photo of Srinagar by Smiti Maini

On day 2 we started at around 8am. On the way to Sonamarg, we stopped at Hazratbal shrine. According to legend, this place contains a relic which is believed to be the hair of The Prophet Mohammed and is hence considered as one of the most holy Muslim places in Kashmir. It was very peaceful there and we stayed for a very short while. We then proceeded towards Sonamarg and took a quick break for brunch. Sonamarg is a small town which receives heavy snowfall during winters. We had enquired about staying here for a night but all hotels in this town are closed in the winters. There is a Sonmarg Taxi Association and they don't allow outside taxis for sight seeing. So we took another taxi in Sonamarg for 5-6 hours sight seeing. We were the only ones on the roads there. We stopped at some places on the way. The Sindhu River was flowing parallel to the road and the mountains there were barren, slightly snow covered and very symmetric. We visited the starting point of the Amarnath Yatra. Then we went to Sarbal which is the last village of Kashmir and the Ladakh region starts if we drive further. The villages were all empty. The driver told us that all the inhabitants of these villages (including him) shift a few kilometers downhill in peak winters as their entire village gets engulfed in several feet of snow. Next we stopped at a semi-frozen lake and a bridge over the river. Next we went to Thajawas glacier where it snowed heavily and we enjoyed chai and Maggi. The driver then took us to a beautiful spot where many hindi movies including Satte pe Satta were shot. There was a bench and mountains all around. Definitely felt ON TOP OF THE WORLD.

Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini
Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini
Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini
Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini
Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini
Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini
Photo of Sonamarg by Smiti Maini

Next morning we proceeded towards Gulmarg. We packed our bags as we planned tospend a night in Gulmarg. We stopped at a highway hotel for breakfast and enjoyed Kahwa and parathe. The hotel also had a shop from where we bought some stuff. Gulmarg is a small town and assoon aswe reached we started a hotel search. We checked into Hotel Hilltop and after a few minutes at the hotel went for the Gondola ride. We walked from the hotel to the Gondola start point. The weather was fine, not so cold and the sun was bright and shining. We reached the top in a few minutes and as soon as we reached it started snowing. It snowed even heavier than Sonmarg. Me and my brother tried our hand at skiing. The trainer tried his best but I don't know why I couldn't get a hold on it and kept falling again and again. But Raghav was doing good and enjoyed a lot. My parents enjoyed the snowfall and Iwas so happy seeing them playing with snow. The happy snowfall soon turned into a blizzard and there were announcements at the Gondola station to take the return journey as soon as possible. So we went back to the station and enjoyed hot coffee while waiting in the long queue. The return Gondola ride was picturesque. It was snowing heavily and the mountains which were brown and green just a few hours back were covered in white. We reached the hotel soon, spent a nice evening there and slept early enjoying our electric blankets. The next morning we woke up early to catch a glimpse of the rising sun. The sky was clear and the surrounding mountains were all snow-clad.

Photo of Gulmarg by Smiti Maini

We started at 9 am from Gulmarg and proceeded towards Pahalgam. On the way we passed through Sangam which us famous for cricket bat manufacturing and we could see hundreds of bats in the highway shops. Next we passed through Pampore which is known for saffron cultivation. Saffron or Kesar is the world's most expensive spices and is considered as lucky as gold. It wouldn't be difficult to find people carrying 10 gram pure saffron in their bags for good luck. We stopped at a spices shop on the highway and my mother bought Kesar, someother dry fruits and Kahwa mix. Kahwa is a local favourite in Kashmir and is drink similar to tea, made of 11 spices. The shop-owner was very courteous and offered us Kahwa and tea. On he way to Pahalgam we came across apple orchards which were so vast and all the trees were dried up, no apples, no leaves. I could only imagine how beautiful there apple farms would look in fruit season. We then reached Pahalgam by afternoon. We took a pony ride to Mini-Switzerland. It was a steep and dangerous yet memorable ride. AT the top we had tea and Maggi and enjoyed the views. On the way back to Srinagar, Ali took us through a deserted village. There were very few people and the houses looked like they haven't been inhabited for long. He told us that these were houses of Kashmiri Pundits who were driven out of the Kashmir valled a few decades back. Some of the houses were taken over by Muslims but some still remain unoccupied, probably waiting for their inhabitants to return home. We stopped somewhere for garma-garam chai and yummy pakoras. We returned by to Srinagar by night and asked Ali to take us to the same Kashmiri restaurant where he took us on the first day for our sumptous final Kashmiri dinner.

Photo of Pahalgam by Smiti Maini
Photo of Pahalgam by Smiti Maini
Photo of Pahalgam by Smiti Maini

On our last day in Kashmir, we visited the Shankaracharya Temple. It is situated on top of a hill and is a few centuries old. The drive to the top of the hill was very scenic and the entrance to the temple was heavily guarded by the army. We climbed some hundreds of steps (yes we counted but i forgot the number) and reached the temple. The temple structure was built in stone and looked very old yet very strong. The top of the temple gave a full panoramic view of the Dal lake and the entire city of Srinagar. It was strange to see army quarters and a lot of military personnel inside the temple premises. And thanks to our lucky stars we got mild snowfall here as well. After traveling downhill we went shopping on the banks of Dal lake. Finally we proceeded to the airport for our flight back to Delhi. There are a lot of thorough security checks at the Srinagar airport. As expected, our flight was a few hours late and we spent some quality time at the waiting lounge.

Photo of Shankaracharaya Temple, Reserve Forest Road, Durgjan, Srinagar by Smiti Maini

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