Kashmir Trip

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Kashmir is a state everyone should visit… I know so many people who have it on their wish list. This year, we decided to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary here. Wow!!! It has been 5 years already. For me birthdays, marriage anniversary and Valentine’s are special… I like to do something special on these days.

After a lot of research and planning on my part… (I still don’t know if KC even read up on anything), it was decided that we would visit Srinagar, Gulmarg and Pahalgam. We had only 4 days and so it was to be a short trip. There are people who have spent even 15 days in Kashmir. You can either plan to stay in Srinagar and travel to Gulmarg/Pahalgam and back or stay overnight at Gulmarg.. travel to Pahalgam and then back to Srinagar. I decided the former was easier… simply because I won’t have to look for hotels in 3 locations.

We took an early morning flight from Delhi on Friday and it was obviously delayed. We had a hectic Thursday… I finished my gym… and then we went for a swim… packed our stuff and then I had to wash utensils because my maid decided to bunk… took our print outs… went to bed and then woke up at 5 am to thunder and rains. Great!!! It was raining when we reached Srinagar. We had booked a guest house called Oasis which is run by a couple- Neelofer and Manzoor. Neelofar is an Australian who met Manzoor in Australia… married him and then shifted to Srinagar. She has converted to Islam and looks the part… she was wearing a hijab and covered from head to toe. We had to remove our shoes at the door and then enter the house. Weird!!!

But Manzoor and Neelofar were very hospitable and soon made us comfortable with some Kawa. Kawa is Kashmir tea, it has green tea, almonds, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron. I loved it a lot and bought a bottle of the powder home. What a wonderful way to have green tea. Lunch was home cooked… and after eating awesome chicken we snoozed for an hour. The plan was to stay over at the houseboat but because it was cold and raining, it was suggested that we shift to the houseboat once the weather gets better. We decided to visit the gardens in Srinagar instead. The city has 4 gardens- 3 Mughal gardens and Tulip garden. Tulips bloom only in April and the park is closed prior to that. We went to Shalimar garden which has superb trees. Nishad garden is ok… it gets boring after a while.. and we skipped the 3rd Mughal garden. All of them have the same trees and plants. Tulip garden was so awesome that we decided to come again on the last day and click some good pics since it was raining.

After another superb dinner- we had lamb yakhni, it was time to snooze. We were given hot water bottles to keep us warm and I am a fan now… will definitely try it next winter. Next day we left around 8.30 am for Gulmarg. Gulmarg is visited for the snow… there is a cable which takes people to the snow… there is also a 2nd level which is quieter and less visited. People mainly go there to ski. I had booked the cable tickets online (Rs 400/head for level 1 and Rs 600/head for level 2). The plan was to visit both levels. There is also a time on the tickets… we had to reach the gondola/cable by 11 am. We stopped right before Gulmarg to rent snow boots and jacket. Very important. I also bought a pair of waterproof gloves. Renting charges are 800 bucks for two people. I am sure it can be brought down to 500-600 bucks if you negotiate. We reached Gulmarg and I was speechless. There was snow everywhere. The place has the highest golf course in the world… and it was completely covered with snow. We took the gondola to level 1… and guess what… it was snowing. We had fun in the snow… the view is to die for. Thinking about it still makes me happy. Unfortunately, level 2 was closed and we could not go further up. There are fun activities on level 1- snow mobile, skiiing etc. After 2 hours, we left for Srinagar. I wish we would have stayed there. Imagine waking up to snow all around you. Maybe… next time.

On the 3rd day, we left for Pahalgam… it took us 3.5 hours to reach the place. Traffic in Srinagar is torture… it is as bad as Mumbai. We hired another cab for Aru Valley and Betaab Valley. It was anti climax. Gulmarg was so beautiful that I found the valley to be ho hum. It was beautiful, no doubt…. but there was nothing there. The snow was dirty… the road to the valley had a better view than the actual valley. There are 3-4 points even in Pahalgam but we skipped those due to lack of time. The town deserves a stay to explore it completely.

On the last day, we visit Tulip garden again and went for a shikara ride on Daal lake. I had expected a 1.5 hour in a shikara to bore me but it was so relaxing. I would gladly have spent another 2 hours on it.

All in all a superb trip… there were no glitches… everything was well planned and more importantly, we had a great time. We explored a lot and yet spent enough time relaxing.

A few mentions for travel to Kashmir:

– Srinagar is a conservative place… it is like another world… an Islamic country… all women wear hijabs and are covered in head to toe. Very few of them are employed and women drivers are 1 in 1000. There is army presence everywhere which is very creepy. Imagine seeing army people with arms and ammunitions everywhere. My sympathies are with the Kashmiris. Our government has failed them… democracy has not reached them… the army can and has gotten away with many atrocities… when we reached there, our driver told us ‘freedom fighters’ (militants) have declared a ban on voting. I was shocked… He said they don’t want to be part of India. I asked him ‘What do you want?’ I thought he would say… ‘We want to be a part of Pakistan’ but he said; ‘We want to be independent’. Fruitless dreams, hopes and ambitions. Reading about these things in the newspapers is very different from actually seeing and feeling it. I am still reeling from all of it… it is going over and over in my mind. What if I was born there??? What options would I have? I wouldn’t be free.

– If you are planning a long trip, it is better to stay 1 day in the houseboat in Srinagar… then 1 day in Gulmarg and maybe 2 days in Pahalgam. There are also other good places that can be visited.

– There are prepaid taxis in Srinagar which are convenient but I would suggest getting all your bookings done through the same operator or hotel. You won’t have to worry about safety. Our cab driver was very polite and helpful. We didn’t have to deal with pesky drivers/tour operators.

– A good hotel is very important. You can either stay in the commercial area in Srinagar but you won’t get a good view or stay near Daal lake or stay away from the city (like we did) and have a good view from the room

– Do try Kashmiri food, it is awesome. I have tried the cuisine in Delhi and been sorely disappointed.

– Carry sunglasses on the snow… the sun ray’s or reflection are very strong and burn the eyes. It took us sometime to adjust to it.

– The best time to visit Kashmir is April onwards… the earlier the better since the snow is fresher and cleaner.

– Dress conservatively… this ain’t the place for skirts and dresses.

And here are some pics:

Tulip Garden

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View from our room

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Shalimar Garden

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Tulip Garden

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Gulmarg

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On the way to Pahalgam

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Aru Valley

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Betaab Valley

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View from the shikaara

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My shopping haul- woollen kurta, kawa powder and plant seeds. No kidding… I hope atleast one of the seeds sprouts some plants.

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