"Agar Firdaus ba roy-i zamin ast, hamin ast-u hamin ast-u hamin ast"
Emperor Jahangir immortalized Kashmir in this one verse,which translates to "If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”.
There are two feelings one gets about Kashmir,the one seen in the romantic Bollywood cinemas of the 60s and 70s-the picturesque valleys,the Dal lake,the Switzerland of India.the paradise on earth;and the other imagery is that seen in Vishal Bharadwaj's poignant tale of Kashmir as seen in "Haider"-a valley stuck in the wars of two nations,a plebiscite that never happened,a Kashmir that was never demilitarized.
Well,I got to experience only the first side due to my strict schedule but Kashmir is still heavily guarded by the army,and the hostility between the army and the people is clearly visible.
But first let me share the beautiful experience I had during my 12 days of tour.
I travelled to Srinagar by flight,from Kolkata via Delhi on 3rd June.
Many people would be asking me that why I chose the summer season to travel to Kashmir,that's because I wanted to travel to Leh-Ladakh too,and this is the best season.
The most famous spot in the capital city is definitely the magnificent Dal lake.When one sees the Lake that stretches over the center of the city,one can see Sharmila Tagore as the Kashmir belle,rowing the Shikara,while Shammi Kapoor sings "Yeh Chaand Sa Roshan Chehera".The Dal Lake is filled with Shikaras,each one of them beautifully decorated.Once you sit in those regal seats,you feel like an emperor enjoying a stroll in the lake.
Well,I spent the night in a house boat,an experience that is one-of-a-kind.The interiors are heavily decorated and is an example of fine craftsmanship.One can enjoy the entire evening sitting on the deck and devouring the delicious Mutton Roganjosh.
The next day,I went for the local tour.The first spot I visited was the "Shankaracharya Temple" that is located on one of the topmost hills of Srinagar.You can get a panoramic view of the entire city from the temple. The temple is one of the very few Hindu temples in Kasmir and one has to climb 240 and an additional 40 steps to reach the main shrine.
Next in the list was the 3 Mughal Gardens.There are 4 Mughal gardens in fact in Kashmir,but the Tulip Garden remains open for only a month,during March-April.So,I was unfortunate enough for not being able to view the tulips of varied colors in full bloom.
The first garden was the "Chashme Shahi".It is famous for its cool spring water,they say,Nehruji used to carry water from here on his flight back to Delhi.The water is indeed very sweet.The next was the famous "Shalimar Bagh" built by Emperor Jahangir,dedicated to his wife,Noor Jehan.The 3rd one was "Nishat Bagh".
You can shop at "Laal Chowk" for pashmina shawls and stuff.There are government emporiums there.
The next day I set out for Gulmarg.It was once called Gourimarg(after Maa Durga),but was later renamed Gulmarg (The place of roses) by Yousuf Shah Chak.There was nothing much to view in Gulmarg during this time because there were no flowers.
But you can take a Gondola ride to take a aerial glimpse of the valley.The trip to the first spot takes 800 bucks and the trip to the next spot,which is Khilanmarg,costs 1000 bucks.The tickets are available online.
I took a gondola to the first spot but for Khilanmarg,I took a horse.And since horses cannot walk on snow,I took a sledge to reach the top.It was quite fun.But cost me 1000 bucks for the boots,jackets and horse.So,it is recommended you carry your own stuff.
It took 10 hours for the entire thing.So,by the time I reached Srinagar,it was 7 pm.
This is said to be the most beautiful part of Kashmir.It is the peaceful shepherd's village,popularized in Bollywood movies,the most recent being Haider,Bajrangi Bhaijan and Highway.Pahelgam can be explored in depth only if you are keen on riding a horse,that takes you through one of the riskiest routes.But the beauty of the valley and the adrenaline rush,combined,makes the journey worthwhile.
There are 6 important spots you can visit from Pahelgam.
- Baisaran-also called mini-Switzerland
- Kashmir valley
- Pahalgam Valley
- Tuliyan Lake-it is covered in snow almost the whole year
After 3 hours on horse,I returned for a quick lunch.
After that there were 3 spots to visit.
- Aru valley-a small valley about 12 km from Pahelgam,it is the spot where the last scene of "Bajrangi Bhaijan" was shot.If you ask the drivers they will show you the exact location of each and every shot.
- Chandanwari-the gateway to the holi Amarnath Yatra
- Betaab Valley-Betaab valley is situated at a distance of 15 kilometers from Pahalgam.The valley got its name from the Sunny Deol-Amrita Singh hit debut film Betaab.
There is a village called Pampore which you can visit on your way to Pahalgam.It is the only place in India where saffron (also called kesar) which we use in Biryani,is cultivated.There are a series of cricket bat factories too.
You can also visit the apple gardens on your way to Pahalgam.I didn't get to see apples but you can if you visit Kashmir during September-October.
Dry fruits especially apricot are sold in abundance.
Pampore was the face of revolution for a long time,and you can get a hint from the graffitis on the walls that say "India go back", "Azaad kashmir" etc
Soldiers are posted on the roof of almost every house.
4.Kargil-Kargil brings mixed emotions in the heart of every India.Sorrow and pride.Kargil is a very small town located in the Ladakh district.It became a popular tourist spot after the Kargil War fought between India and Pakistan in 1999.The war mainly focussed on the captue of Tiger Hill,that was planned by the Pakistan Army,but was won back by the Indian Army after the most historic battle ever fought in this century.Names of Captain Batra and other soldiers are immortal,and Kargil War is the evidence of the valor they possessed,and the valour that every armed force of our country possesses.I was fortunate enough to visit the Kargil war memorial where there was a soldier who showed us around the gallery and museum.He told us about the lives lost,the battles fought and the weapons they used.
Inside the gallery was a poem written by Harivansh Rai Bacchan,signed by Amitabh Bacchan,and latter presented to the army by Abhisekh Bacchan.
There were excerpts from the diaries of the armymen,letters written to their loves ones.At the end of the tour,we all saluted the armymen with the customary "Jai Hind"
On the way to Kargil there are 4 notable spots.
- Sonmarg-The golden valley.There is nothing much to see in Sonmarg,but you can take some rest on your long journey to Kargil and watch the colours of nature.
- Zero point-It is a glacier in Sonmarg.You can skate there or ride a sledge.
- Zojilla Pass
- Baltal-It is another entry point to Amarnath.
There is a small town called Dras about 62 kms from Kargil.
I will be speaking about the next part of my journey very soon,so,till then enjoy!!
There are people who will be demotivating you regarding the locals of Kashmir.In my experience,they are not aggressive,they are very friendly towards the tourists.There were no curfews or any news of violence during my visit.So,nothing to worry about.Just don't stray away,keep in touch with the military and the locals,if you are travelling alone for your own safety.Jai Hind. :)