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Paradise

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24 Nov '23
15 min read


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Paradise 
If there is a heaven on earth , it is here , it is here , it is here , goes a famous quote .

Kashmir was on my bucket list for a long time and for reasons beyond my control , the trip was on the back burner but not any more I decided somewhere at the beginning of this year . It was time to fulfil those dream destination travels .

Thanks to an ex -colleague , I got to know of a conducted tour and jumped at the opportunity . The first WhatsApp message to the organiser , her reply was waited with as much a bated breath as the day to leave for the trip finally dawned .

A group of twenty two , we were split into various flights , all finally to converge at Srinagar . Our flight to New Delhi had four others from our group , all new faces , names unknown , a call to one of the organisers bringing some semblance in realising who  our co-travellers  were. Introductions across the seats , in the same row across the aisle got us familiar with three others , the fourth behind somewhere acknowledging that he had boarded , to a concerned head count of one of the organisers. We were fortunate to have a flight which we didn't have to  change , only a stop over at New Delhi , the wait to reach Srinagar , palpable . The one and half hour flight to Srinagar took off finally from New Delhi with some soothing in flight music , calming my excited nerves.  The white mounds of snow capped beauties , we saw in a while , was breathtaking to say the least . 
Landing at Srinagar , the hoarding " Welcome to Kashmir" was something that made me grateful for this opportunity , getting through picking our baggage we reached a common place where we finally met our fellow travellers and the other organiser. It didn't take long for the ice to break , a few warm hugs and hellos ,  we were all good to go . Our luggage onto a mini bus , we too boarded and started towards the first few moments of our trip . 
Having reached late afternoon , the first on the agenda was a drive through Srinagar and some shopping .  Our local guide joined us on the bus , the person who regalled us with local stories and anecdotes through the six days we toured .
After a round around the dal lake , some local shopping , we checked into our hotel for the night , a long day , tired us out yet looking forward to what the next day had in store , kept sleep at bay.  The need for an alarm was not felt through the six days ,  waking up early , as early as predawn became a routine . Sleep eluded through the trip !

Day 2 -Sonmarg 
Sonmarg , the land of golden peaks some said , some said it was the golden mustard fields we passed by that gave its name . Watching snow capped peaks as a backdrop against the golden mustard fields just as we left Srinagar was awesome . The journey , about two hours through these beautiful picturesque scenes , snowy at times , golden at times , you realise just why it's called the Paradise on Earth .  Reaching our destination , we had to decide if we wanted to see the glacier for which the only means of transport we had was a pony / horseback ride . Not willing to miss the chance yet a little daunted to get atop a horse , the usual Libra dilemma came to the fore . Finally deciding to take a chance , was in for an unpleasant surprise , being left behind since the horse owners  had a certain number that they decided to take . More unpleasant , since hubby had gone ahead on a horse and I was left behind taking pictures of our fellow travellers on horseback  ! Having come this far , I was not agreeable to get left behind , if we had to see the glacier it would be together or not at all .  Panic stricken , I was calling hubby desperately without realising how difficult it was to receive a call riding a horse . Finally , he managed to receive and know that I was not following and was left behind  . The gentleman that I knew him to be , he alighted after my frantic calls ,  getting help from the helpers and walked back thankfully . 
Getting on to a horseback wasn't an easy task for me when finally a pair  agreed to take hubby and me to the glacier . The helpers took advantage of my situation saying I may need help throughout . Despite several warnings from the organisers and other experienced travellers , I agreed to have help and got trapped in the web that these horse owners /helper guys weave . 
Heading to  see the glacier , the horseback ride takes a while to get used to . The terrain with ups and downs had the pony / horse supposedly firm footed , go through the trenches , edge of  a suicide point as the helper / guide pointed out and needless to say I was totally dry mouthed while reminding him I didn't have suicide in mind and to please let the horse know that , in the language he spoke to the animal ! 
Despite all the reassurance from the guide / helper accompanying , that I should enjoy , that he would not let his " mummy" , " daadi" befall harm , with no access to the phone and knowing hubby was much ahead , not within a hearing distance , didn't actually let me relax . Realising I still had my sense of humour intact amidst this challenge of a journey was my only consolation , when I told the helper / guide that I couldn't be his mummy and daadi at the same time ! He had to decide who I was ! 
With frequent queries if we had reached the glacier , when we finally did , from what seemed eternity ,  I could finally talk to hubby and much as I wanted to take a U turn and head back , the helper told us both , the horses needed rest and it was best to alight . Guilty of my horse having borne my bulk , I did alight although clumsily and believe me it was such a great feeling to find ground beneath my feet ! 
The tourist business that thrives but a few months in a year due to climatic conditions make these local guides try and guile the innocent tourists , sweet talk them and somehow the situations there make one walk into a well laid trap . The guide got joined by another and they made us initially sit on a sledge , when I protested that for a non adventurous person that I am , the horse ride was an adventure enough for this lifetime , the guides said , we can pose for a photograph ,  the photograph crazy me , could not resist . 
Very soon I was told that the horse that brought me had a sprained leg and they had to wait for another horse to come by . If my bulk wasn't embarrassing me enough , it only did more , now . 
As we waited to be taken for a ride yet again , literally and figuratively ,  we went on a sledge down a slope to cover some distance till the horse turned up . The guides all the time sweet talking and making us comfortable , taking pictures and videos , when all the time my mind was occupied with the non availability of the phone network , to reach my fellow travellers who must have reached the start point ages ago . After another few anxious moments , we both got a horse each to head back , also got through one of the organisers to tell her we were stuck for reasons beyond our control . Finally reaching the bus , I could feel the "hangry" gaze of each and every one there , they were all hungry and angry with this" almost senior couple " not keeping up to the time given . As the bus started finally heading towards our lunch place , I said a quiet prayer thanking the Universe  that we managed to get through safely despite the purse being lighter thanks to the guides / helpers managing to psyche hubby and me  with a rather generous amount for all the "help" we got . Having lunch at 5 pm and apologising to all my fellow travellers was the highlight of the second day , seeing the glacier having faded into the background  !  No complaints against the guides , helpers , for they brought us back safe , they do what they do for an earning although taking tourists for a ride isn't quite a nice way of making money . Grateful thanks to the fellow travellers who patiently waited for us , any number of apologies not quite enough in exchange for their patience!
Day 3 Gulmarg 
The" once bitten twice shy " us , getting on the mini bus towards Gulmarg , yet another early day , both of us had decided to play safe , not get taken for a ride yet again . The winding roads up the mountains to Gulmarg are breathtaking , my camera on an overtime since the day we had arrived at Srinagar , I had a tough time from going berserk with the phone camera realising I could not charge the phone till we reached the hotel late evening . 
Queues for the gondola ride were winding and serpentine much like the ones outside any religious place , this was like waiting for have darshan of our favourite deity , no less.  When we got into the Gondola after a long wait , the sight as one goes along the ropeway is amazing , when you pass over the mighty deodars and pines , you feel on top of the world . The gondola briefly pauses to gain height apparently and for a brief two seconds sways , high up in the air , the moment totally like the one you experience when an aeroplane goes through air pockets . I sure didn't like the feeling although to each his own and a fellow traveller said she liked it and told me it was like being rocked in a cradle . To remember how it was in a cradle in your late golden years was expecting more than an elephantine memory ! 
Getting off the Gondola , we experienced snow scenes all around the sheer beauty of pristine white all around you . 
Wary from the previous day , both of us didn't venture into snow-biking , maybe even a tinge of regret later when we heard that it was a wonderful experience from others who didn't shy away . We should have perhaps been wiser , can't compare a horse and a snowmobile ! 
The journey back to the hotel scenic and beautiful and thankfully uneventful .
Day 4 Srinagar 
Finally , we were going to see the Tulip garden ! The morning started with a visit to the Shree Shankarcharya temple atop a hill , we could go up in a vehicle till a certain distance after which we had a good climb of around 300 steps up ! The moment of reaching the top, absolutely exhilarating , the entry to the temple गर्भगुड़ी and getting to touch the Shivling , moving to the very core ! Hara Hara Shambho ! From the top , we saw dal lake a tiny spec , the beauty spellbounding ! 
Most awaited Tulip Garden on the agenda next , the mind already on a loop of देखा एक ख्वाब तो यह सिलसिले हुए , we have been in-tuned with Bollywood songs and the scenarios over the years that we associate certain places with these songs , the songs themselves legendary , thanks to the location ! Now if Amitabh Bacchan and Rekha screen romanced in Amsterdam , we imagined the Tulip garden of Srinagar to be Amsterdam , we did not of course , lie down amongst the flowers  a la Amitabh - Rekha but had enough photographs  to let the song in our minds play on a loop. Next on the agenda was the Shalimar garden , the various levels of the garden manicured and well kept . Here , we got to dress in the Kashmiri attire . Initially a bit hesitant to wear something hundreds of others have worn , later gave in , since this was probably our only chance at looking Kashmiri ! Hubby in the pathan look and I , the कश्मीर की कलि wilted ही सही! Some more local shopping before the piece de resistance , a stay on the house boat and a ride on the shikara . We went across the Dal lake in a Shikhara and reached our houseboats , the houseboats completely furnished having three bedrooms , a hall , kitchen and a dining room . Chandeliers , carpets , cutlery , the works , the houseboat had it all. We missed the Shikhara ride due to inclement weather but were taken around in a motor boat to get a feel of the lake . Not willing to miss an opportunity , hubby and I dressed in matching T ' s !  If that wasn't enough , we had a person come with his ware for us to shop , shopping at the doorstep , a step ahead of online shopping perhaps . The helper at the houseboat arranged for dinner for all the inmates , the entire feel of living on water is surreal ! सोचो के झीलों का शहर हो , उसमे अपना एक घर हो .....truly this , what would we have done without Bollywood and it's apt songs for what we experience ! After many photo sessions and a कावा चाय experience on a boat carrying us back to the shore the next morning , we left , to our final destination Pahalgam . 
Day 5 -Pahalgam 
Pahalgam , the land of shepherds , we had heard , seeing them take their herd to graze was what it takes a place to live up to its name . Another early start to reach the  destination , some shopping on the way to buy dry fruits and beauty concoctions that claimed they were anti aging . A rain drenched Pahalgam welcomed us  , the valleys known by unique names  Chandanwari , Aru , Baisaran  , Betaab , ABC valleys as they are known . The rain added to the chill and finally the warm clothes came of use . The valleys looked beautiful , misty , snowclad , clouds floating around , truly ethereal like heaven . The horse rides down to the valley got cancelled due to the weather and I am sure some horse somewhere must have prayed hard that it be saved from human bulk for a day ! The horse owners disappointed no doubt , a day's earnings lost.  We saw a few valleys from the vantage point above and regretted not being able to reach down , yet thankful for what we got to see , more so without having to get atop a horse ! 
Back to the hotel , a gurgling river just a few metres away tempted us , so did the hot maggi stalls , अब पहाड़ों में गरम मैगी न खाया तो मैगी का मज़ा ,  मज़ा क्या ?  Feasting on steaming hot maggi was lovely . 
Having come all the way to Kashmir , we had to do something extra special , got the ladies in the group agree to do a reel and after some anxious moments if the video and our movements would sync , we got moving to भूमरो भूमरो शाम रंग भुमरो, the Kashmiri song , a few seconds all it was but left us all with a precious memory for a lifetime like many moments of this trip . Grateful to hubby for untiringly being the videographer with more than half a dozen ladies trying to match steps .
Day 6  Departure 
We had to leave early from Pahalgam wishing all the time we had a day extra to breathe in the magic of the hills , take in the snow capped visions , fill our ears with the gurgles of the river , wait for the golden rivulets to flow down with sunrise , the sun eluded us perhaps hinting that we get back soon enough to enjoy the sights that we missed this time  . Reaching Srinagar , to board a  flight to Delhi , our hearts , heavy yet content , we waited , some departing in various 
flights , it was time for goodbye , with a promise to return soon . 
Bidding goodbye to the  snow capped mountain ranges , reached New Delhi , a layover of a few hours , we touched down Namma Ooru , grateful for the trip , the company , that one wish from the bucket list got checked .
Read a quote : Kashmir , where mountains touch the sky and lakes reflect the heavens !  Truly !!!

 

 

 

 

Category : Personal Experience


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Written by Poornima Nalkoor