Kashmir – A clandestine love affair
In many ways visiting Kashmir is like getting a really bad hangover – even though the alcohol slips out of your system in a day, it’s that long, meandering almost surreal night, the memory of which never really leaves you. (Never mind if it was just plain old alcohol that created that memory). Procrastinators (like me) would seek refuge in its long winding roads, the nip in the air and the “breathe as you live” sound of the azaan at sunset – it's almost like rekindling an old romance – dangerously addictive.
While Gulmarg and Pahalgam would satisfy the touristy cravings you might develop on the course of the trip, what would in fact be the perfect fit for a vagabond’s consumption will be the ethereal, almost dream-like, balmy Sonamarg. Whether you lie in its lap for a luxurious stay for one day like I did or simply stroll around its open meadows for the rest of your trip (again as I did), Sonamarg is a traveler’s paradise (yes the cliché intended). Drive up (around 40kms) of this hill town to reach zero point to witness some more of icy winds, breathtaking views (you can never have enough of them in Kashmir) and endless cups of magi with chai. (Yes, glad Maggi is back)
For those who can’t have enough of lazy mornings and sunny brunches back home, a one-day houseboat stay in Srinagar is a must, never mind the dingy interiors (in most of them) and cramped corridors (in few of them). Choosing one on the Nigeen lake would help you feel “less touristy” than most people and at dawn, the quiet, sometimes cascading noise of the water is only intermittently broken by the clamour of migratory birds as they hustle back to their nests on a cold, winter evening.
Sadly being a herbivore such as me, you will probably only get to relish the “Kashmiri pulao” in all its delicacy. However, couple that with endless bowls of kahwa and a low-maintenance foodie will be put to rest. For the others, there will be (more than ) enough non-veg fare to grub upon.
So leave behind clichés such as “heavens falls here” and visit Kashmir. You will slowly see the thin line between clichés and reality fading away into oblivion. (Stock up on enough warm clothes to fight off his hangover though)