“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”,
repeated Jahangir, after Amir Khusro, when he saw the scenic beauty of Kashmir.
My friend recently visited Kashmir. See her experience unwind in the serene towns like Srinagar, Yousmarg and Gulmarg as she has a unique description for each one of them-
“I have always been fascinated by Kashmir, its blue skies and the stories of its beauty. I was told that my parents took me to Kashmir as a child but not that I remember any of it now. And, recently I got a chance to visit Srinagar and Gulmarg with my parents, again. It was a trip of 6 days and 5 nights.
Days I will never forget,
Nights that still breeze on my cheeks.
It must be the charm of that morning,
And I fell in love with Kashmir-
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen…
We spent three and a half days in Srinagar and the other two and a half in Gulmarg (I remember that our trip advisor suggested that we spend one day in Gulmarg, but we gladly spent two), the best decision ever, for its beauty, can’t be seen in a day according to me. Initially, I was totally unaware of the actual presence of romanticism in Kashmir. All the information I had was either googled or someone else’s perspective distorting my vision of Kashmir. In this way I felt twice removed from reality. The first day, we landed at Srinagar International Airport and took a taxi to our hotel, Metropolis, in Srinagar.
It was in the ride from airport to hotel,
The one I could translate in prospects.
And all that I could feel was breeze ,
Flowing gently on my cheeks.
The birds chirping up on the trees.
Sun rays kissing my bodice.
I had transcended to a dream,
No car- no hotel came in between.
And bang, we were there. My enigma was disturbed, but soon warm acquaintance of people, and the Kahwah they offered embraced me back. All I needed to do was to crash in the comfy bed of hotel for some time to regain all the energy to explore ‘Jannat’ on Earth.
After having an absolutely delicious breakfast of Kashmiri breads called Girda & Choat, omelettes, some more Kahwah and fruits like cherries, peach es and apples; we went out to see the gardens around our hotel. The nearest was Tulip garden, unfortunately closed in June. Tulips bloom best in April and May and I was a little sad that we came in June. But then we went to other gardens, Chashma Shahi Garden, Botanical gardens and many more that showcases the equally serene landscapes. We walked to these places and I was busy collecting different types of wild weeds and flowers along the way.
In the evening, we went to Dal Lake where my jaw dropped to my shoe when I saw Shikaras dressed in colours, flowers and mystique. It felt like I already knew this place.
We floated in Dal, with several other Shikaras,
Reds and blues and yellows and greens,
I wore blue, and others were drenched in sun-set beams.
He hummed a song I couldn’t understand,
But his smile, voice and rhythm put me at peace.
Chattered a woman, and another, and a third,
Selling and sailing together.
He hit another splash, and we moved forward,
Soon we were in the middle of Gods shower.
“Neeche utar lo didi”, said he.
The most commercial Shikaras are available near Ghat 2 that take you to other side where there are restaurants, bookstores etc. While my parents moved to some handicrafts shop, I entered a bookstore called, Gulshan Bookstore, a one of its kind bookshop-library on the famous Dal Lake. It turned out to be the most interesting place for me. It was a hub of Kashmiri literature along with others. It is a perfect place all book lovers. We spent a good time in the market around.
When we came back it was already night and after dinner we had a sound sleep in the comfy quilts of our hotel. My wish of having some Kahwah before going to bed was fulfilled by the ‘kaka’ there, who was also pleased at my request.
Next morning we took a taxi to Yousmarg, a valley two and a half hours away from Srinagar. The last half hour of our drive was most scenic,
Mountains, peaks, trees and my friend breeze.
And then there was a green field,
Spread wide below the blue sky: I shouted,
Wait, atleast let me try.
I stepped down into an Almond farm. I requested the farmer there to let me take some almonds and he was way too pleased. He took me inside and had me choose almonds myself. I took a handful and we moved ahead. I didn’t forget to thank and bid farewell to the farmer.
In Yousmarg, there are three treks- Cherry Field, Doodh Ganga Lake and Nilnag Lake. One can either take horses or can walk up to them. My father and I decided to take horses and my mother and sister walked and we only went to Doodh Ganga.
(If you go there too, ask for the horses named Hira and Dhanu. They have the sweetest caretakers. One of them is old and another one young. They will keep you engaged in talks and are extremely careful. Or maybe I am just being partial to my experience (blush).)
On arrival at the Doodh Ganga Lake, I was astonished at the purity of its water, so clean that one can actually drink from it, as I did. “The water supply of Srinagar goes out from here”, said the horsemen seeing me awestruck by the beauty.
My mother and sister reached after us. And we sat there in solace,
Sharing fruits, Kahwah and almonds we plucked on our way.
It was the picnic spot of my dream.
Blue and Green,
Just like a dream.
I wished we could have checked out the other two tracks but my mother had a back pain. After a while we went back, down to Yousmarg and then to hotel. That night I slept without supper. I wanted to dream!
Next day I woke up curled up in sunlight that stretched from the window to my bed. It was time to move to Gulmarg and however beautiful Srinagar was, Gulmarg was where I wanted to reside. We dressed up, ate, packed and went to Lal Chowk, the most famous market of Srinagar. We bought Pashminas, Kesar, gifts for our family and drove away to Gulmarg, a ride of two hours from Srinagar.”
Wait, I have to stop you here. The journey to Gulmarg will begin in the second half of the article. Let the beauty of what you read be in the waiting for it.
Please do continue with the rest of the travelogue to get the different perspective that my friend has towards her experience in Gulmarg as I have equal inclination to portray it in the best way.
Let us together make it worth our while.