Kashmir: The journey through serene beauty and paradise

 दुनिया में अगर कहीं जन्नत है तो यहीं है ,यहीं है ,यहीं  है - Jahangir.



He said these words centuries back and I witnessed it. A much needed vacation which took over 7 years to come meant that my brain needed a break. Away from the tried and tested names of Goa, Mumbai, Himachal , this time I chose kashmir. A place whose beauty is world famous and also the beauty of the ladies. :-) . With no network coverage for prepaid cell connections, it was god`s way of telling the world “ DO NOT DISTURB”.

I was counting the days down much eagerly than any NASA shuttle launch. A 4 day break and the city of delhi ceased to exist for me the evening before the flight. On the morning of the departure I left one general status announcing my going on facebook and only some close friends on twitter knew everything. After this I forgot everything. At the airport I was sqweaking like a little child, boarding my flight I was looking forward to Srinagar- My stay for the next 4 days. The 50 min. flight passed in a blink and miss. The beauty of the mountains and the landscape could only be captured by the eyes. Things were moving too fast to take in the beauty. 


The scene from the flight


The flight landed and I took in the scene- mountains, tall trees, cool weather, a blazing sun and then I noticed- BSF, IAF patrolling the airport. An IAF Mi 17 took off just then from the airport right before my own eyes leaving my spell bound as if welcoming me to J & K. We were mesmerised by the beauty at the airport itself. My mother exclaimed , “ बहुत सुन्दर  है "... A CRPF person who was patrolling inside the airport asked her with a smile, सुन्दर है  न ”? हाँ  बहुत...was my reply.

The smile of the man was my first brush with Kashmiri hospitality. My next destination- the houseboat in the Dal lake. Decided to stay in that and experience a totally new thing. Along the way I saw security- police and paramilitary keeping vigil in battle fatigues all armed with the advanced automatics normally seen with elite units or pc games. I knew I was in a sensitive zone but safe. With security on the road, IAF with eyes in the sky- was not atleast scared. Scare and fear would come later on, in a form not imagined.



The view from Dal 


Reaching dal, just took in the beauty. The houseboat was beautiful- furnished and carpeted. Giving the bodies just enough time to recover from jet lag, it was time to head for a ride in the shikara. There was a strike that day- for 2 days. Damn this disturbance in Shopian although it was well over 120 kms away but nobody was taking any chance. As the shikara went ahead, me and my sis went absolutely beserk with the cameras, clicking and capturing every scene, gathering in the eyes with my mother saying “ दोनों पगला गये हैं ”... :-).



Our first stop was Nehru park- a small park filled with colourful flowers offering a wide range of shots of the mountains, lake in the background, it was breathtaking. Next by we passed by the personal property of Karan Singh- a small cottage called as “कबूतरखाना ”.He used to breed pigeons there, out of bounds for us.

Seems like a moon na?? But its not


At that moment I captured 4 shots of the sunset- all beautiful...seen only in paintings and sceneries in books. Water, greenery and the setting sun. 



Sunset


The next stop was more beautiful- Char Chinar. A small island in the middle of dal which has 4 chinar trees. This tree is abundantly found in kashmir, is a declared national heritage. To cut this down you need special permission from the High court and it takes around 4-5 centuries to grow..yep 400-500 years for a chinar tree...they are that old. Our photography took us there in fast dwindling light but we were determined to capture the scenic state of kashmir even in the faintest light available. Along the way our Shikara man Ayaz plucked out water lillies and made beautiful garlands out of it. He told us about the various movies shot there- Mission kashmir, jab tak hai jaan, kashmir ki kali etc.

Char Chinar

I had a taste of Kahwa- the kashmiri tea. It was good..a kashmiri version of the green tea with dry fruits. The last stop was the floating market. The place was a market on houseboats.. you name a thing you need and you get it. The monlight in the lake made the surrounding quiet, serene and not to mention romantic. Back on the boat I had the first taste of Kashmiri cuisine- the kashmiri dum aloo. It was awesome, so soft, melted in the mouth. All over the rest of india the so called dum aloo dishes are all fakes, they dont even come closer to the original thing. Right throughout the stay the principle of “ पेट भर गया मगर नीयत नहीं "  was enforced throughout in terms of food. The next morning started with the views of ducks in the dal and the various shikaras loaded with goods, flowers etc. rowing past.


Today the stop was Pahalgaon. The day when I was prepared for my doom. The distance from Srinagar was around 60-70 kms. Along the way saw saffron (kesar) fields, all ploughed and ready to sow the kesar. It takes a lot of effort in that. A flower, purple in colour gives only 3-4 strands of saffron. To get 1 kg of it, 3 lakh flowers are used. Now imagine it all, the quality unmatched. The season starts from october and buying straight from the fields can cost you as low as 125/- per 1 gm, shops sell these at 250/-.

The route to Pahalgaon was mystic. Green trees, flowing river, houses in hut shapes just like we used to make in our drawing sheets. We clicked pics of walnuts (अखरोट ) hanging from the trees. 
Walnuts


On reaching the place, it came down to horse riding. The 4 places in the package were up on a hill, accessible only by horses. Everything was ok till the start..all road. The climbing had my heart in my mouth. The way was wide enough for the horses but still it was scary ( understatement). The horses were nevertheless intelligent. In wake of a recent rainfall and the ground having gone all slippery and muddy, they moved only on places which were dry and offered grip. With 2 people managing the 4 horses of us, I was a bit skeptical in case of some need. 





One was taking care of my sister and one of my mother. Things were ok during the climb , fear crept in whenever I used to look down, one slip and I would be history. One ghodewala had the camera , said “ सामने देखो फोटो" and I was like murmuring “ अबे तुझे फोटो की पड़ी है,मैं तो जिंदा रहने की सोच रहा हूँ" . After some 3 small stops we reached the pinnacle point also known as “Mini Switzerland”. It was nothing spectacular in my opinion. A lush green ground with trees and mountains in the background. Rain started with a drizzle and the air got freezing. Felt the same just like someone opens the freezer on a cold january night.


Pahalgaon

We completed the scenery snapshots. After sometime we started our desent and the path became more dangerous. The recent rain making things tough on the ground. My horse mastana was searching for the driest route to go down all the while. I was holding on to the saddle with the bit head (लगाम ) in my hands. One ghodewala was walking besides my sis saying , “ बेटी आप चिंता मत करो, हम  है  न ”.
The one behind me with mummy was saying , “आंटी जी घबराओ मत ”. And here I was all by myself managing a horse...i said “ एक ने बहन को पकड़ रखा है और एक ने माँ को ..बेटे को बीच में लटका दिया.अबे कुछ हो गया तो  ..?? .


He said, “ भैया आप चिंता न करो , मस्ताना समझदार है ”..i said “अगर मस्ताना को मस्ती सूझ गयी तो मैं तो गया काम से ..”.



At one point, Mastana stopped, slipped, recovered and I had my eyed closed in utter fear thinking, “ अब तो स्वर्ग में ही आँख खुलेगी , मौत निश्चित है and I loosened my grip on the saddle, let go of the bit head a bit and was waiting for my end. The only thing which saved me was a tree on my left which hit my shoulder and saved me from falling. That was instant death. Shouting and screaming could disorient the horse and he might make a mistake. I opened my eyes thinking I was at the gates of heaven or hell but saw the familiar sight and thought..हैं ?? अभी जिंदा हूँ ?”.

On reaching the base camp ( starting point) I said “I`ll fly a Sukhoi at Mach 2 through heavy anti aircraft fire, will ride the scariest coaster but will never ride a horse”. Taking in the view from ground zero just marvelled at the weather. On the way back we went through the roads leading to the apple orchards and it was magical. Dangling from the branches, the apples looked so red that the photography team again swung into action. The rest of the day, we had a hearty laugh about the horses. 

Apples


The next day was Gulmarg. The main attraction being the Gondola or the ropeway. Today was the first day after the strike and the whole place was burstling with activity. On the way I saw the famous Lal chowk- mostly remembered due to the other reasons. It was beautiful, adorned by red buildings and busy as hell as any traffic point in any busy city. When we reached Gulmarg, the weather started changing like a chameleon. Strong winds first. In the meantime got the bad news- Gondola closed for maintainence. Not wanting to waste a day picked up a few points again it was time for a horses once again. Thank god this time it was a levelled road. Then all of a sudden it was a lashing hailstorm, rain. After some 4 mins it was bright sunshine. All these changes took just some 11 mins. The ghodewala said , “ बॉम्बे का फैशन और गुलमर्ग का मौसम , दोनों बेइमान " . We went through a scenic round of the places. Filming for the Bobby song, हम तुम एक कमरे में बंद हो ,  Bumbroo from mission kashmir, Jab tak hai jaan, Mann..all shot there. Too much movie trivia bored me and then I saw one thing which interested me. HAWS.





The High Altitude Warfare School had me fasinated.. Its the pinnacle institution of the Indian Army, training soldiers in mountain warfare. A smile crept up and I was way too happy inside. Defence and me somehow get a chance to meet. One visit to the Shankaracharya temple completed the trip. The same temple where the Rajesh Khanna song काँटा लगे न कंकर was shot. The temple offered awesome view. A whole field being covered by rain, clouds and sunshine in between. I liked Gulmarg more than Pahalgaon. 


Gulmarg


The next and last day before departure was all for local srinagar. The shankaracharya temple was awesome. Felt like I was again a part of history. Some 200 steps to the temple in silent and serene surroundings offered amazing peace of mind. Too bad mobiles and cameras were not allowed. On the way down, had a talk with a smiling and friendly CRPF jawaan. I find ways to interact with these people ( military and the paramilitary). Cant keep me out. :) .


Chashme shahi


The next stop- Chashme-shahi. The most beautiful arrangement of flowers in a garden and the chashmeshahi- the spring water-cool and natural. Two more beautiful gardens- Nishant bagh and Mughal garden marked the end of the garden tours. The final stop – the Hazratbal dargah. 



Hazratbal 


Its beautiful and sense of calm prevails there. I wanted to take a pic so hesitatingly asked a armed security person, “ इसकी फोटो तो ले सकते हैं न  ?. Smilingly he and his colleague said, “हाँ जी बिलकुल , passage की ले लो ,बस अन्दर की मत लेना ”. Snap clicked. This marked the end of my kashmir trip, little did I knew that the action would unfold the next day. In the evening we came to know that we might have to depart early, trouble was brewing and police might barricade routes to keep off trouble.

In the morning heavy deployment. The moment I reached the Airport, I again witnessed a Mi 17 chopper taking off- welcoming me once again on my return trip.




 The fun started when the security man detected a box of Tic Tac mints in my pocket. He asked me, “यह क्या है ?”. I said, “ Mouth freshner, आप रख लो मेरे पास और भी है  . He opened up and some 8-10 mints popped in his hand. Realising that the box was nearly empty, he put 4 back. The same thing happened with the 2nd security. Asked me to have 1, the officer kept 5 for himself- orange flavour जो था - all with a smile. अरे ओ cadbury वालों दोस्ती का शुभारम्भ dairy milk की जगह एक छोटी मिंट की डिब्बी भी करा देती  है .



While waiting for the flight, there was a delay and I heard a security person saying, “Fighter है , Boarding में देर होगी ”. I was talking to my sis and the moment I heard the word “Fighter”, motioned her to be quiet, while scanning the runway for that mean machine. Saw a Indigo flight on the taxiway with the whole runway clear. After an agonising wait of 90 secs my eyes picked up the fighter only when it was halfway down the runway- in full afterburners. Picked up the assortment of missiles under the wing hardpoints and a centerline tank. A chopper on arrival, fighter and chopper on departure. Felt like the IAF was showing me the toys which I love, the bait to come back again. This was the end of my trip but I felt and noticed a lot of things which never travel to our part of the country.
  1. If a newspaper reports curfew in kashmir, be assured that everything is ok there. But things can change in a split second.

  2. The kashmiri hospitality and cuisine are awesome. The houseboat owners will make you feel at home. A smile goes a long way.

  3. Visit kahmir in the Aug- Sept. off season to see the real beauty in terms of natural colours and greenery. If you want to see only snow, pick the season.

  4. The normal kashmiri wants calm, tourists and business. Now no one gives a damn about strike calls much.

  5. The Ghode wallahs at Gulmarg talk like gunda mawaalis. They practically call the shots there. Even the security people are helpless. So be a bit careful there. Bargain on the rates for the horse rides.

  6. Its a known fact that all famous places- Lal chowk, Anantnag, Hazratbal are known because of the incidents there. This hurts the people. They want the places to be remembered for the good things associated with it.

  7. Militancy never solves anything. When the people realised that only tourism can revive the city, the houseboat owners went to Jammu, offering tourists packages as low as 500-1000/- inclusive of food per day. The efforts and the improving condtions have repaired things to some extent.

  8. The youth of Srinagar realise the importance of education. You can easily spot them with books in hands enjoying the company of friends. Just like any city. :)

I went there as a tourist exploring a whole new state and city. Neither I am interested in the politics there or the internal matters as reported by the media all over the country. I really want it to be remembered as the Jannat written about in history and books alike. The girls can beat all competition from the various apsaras. The eyes speak so much. The children are sooooo cute, so innocent. I complete my round as a tourist, waiting for my round as an adventurer to Leh, Ladakh, Kargill- places which would tell me the rest beauty and the chance to meet the real heroes- the soldiers.

Maybe this one line from the movie Yahaan might sum up the turmoil of every Kashmiri, “ कितना खूबसूरत शहर है ,क्या बढ़िया लोग हैं सर जी ..मगर यह बेचारे भी पिसे हुये हैं सब तरफ से ..”

Enjoy the chinar leaves, the kahwa, the beauty of the Dal Lake and the beauty of Kashmir.


The chinar leaf
3 months after I visited Kashmir, Fox Life aired an episode of " Soundtrek " where Dualist Inquiry headed to Srinagar to collaborate on his song Isoterra. The episode reminded me of Srinagar and the heaven everytime and whenever I listen to Isoterra, it instantly reminds me of this. So enjoy the music, episode and Kashmir...





Kashmir: The journey through serene beauty and paradise Kashmir: The journey through serene beauty and paradise Reviewed by Shwetabh Mathur on 3:03:00 PM Rating: 5

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