A dream come true!
Can’t even use these words in spite of finding myself in a place I never ever imagined even in the wildest of my dreams. Yes, I am referring to the paradise on Earth – Kashmir. This is because I am not a travel person.
I am one of those who are happy to be at home trying to balance work and home every moment. The credit of making the impossible happen goes to my ‘bachchas’ (children) who are passionate about travelling, so much unlike their parents. I take this opportunity to thank Pramod, Sakshi and Kshitija who made this ‘never ever on my list’ travel happen.
To add to this, there happened to be many more uncertainties which put a question mark on whether or not I would be able to make it to the trip. But God was on our side and made sure that we got a break from the challenges the pandemic threw before us. I suppose there would hardly be any soul on the planet, untouched by its uncertainties and we were no different. Neither can I underestimate the intentions of our children who were desperate to take their parents away from the four walls of home and workplace.
The countdown began only when we were a week away from D-Day. Yes, we were going. The circumstances were changing for the better around that time. It was now kind of confirmed that we would make it to our destination. For the first time, it started sinking into us that we were really going to Kashmir.
With hardly a week left it was high time we needed to prepare ourselves to equip for the cold climate of Kashmir. It was a daunting task as we have hardly used a sweater even in Hyderabad. Here people generally take out the woolens only when it rains. Winters here are pleasant. However, the process of acquiring the winter wear suiting the Kashmir climate was made easy as Sakshi had forwarded the list of the clothing to be packed. Believe me, her list was so comprehensive and all-inclusive that we were able to survive the -8° C temperature of Kashmir very much comfortably.
The day arrived.
Pramod and Sakshi were with us! They travelled all the way from Bangalore so that we could embark on the first-ever family trip together after Sakshi’s wedding in 2017. For Sanjeev, my better half, the trip was even more special. He was going to visit the place he spent his childhood after nearly five decades.
A very special window seat
An hour and a half of the flight provided us with a breath-taking view of the mighty snow-capped Himalayas. What an unbelievable sight it was. It looked as if we were an arm’s distance from the mountains. The scenic beauty was as picturesque as ever. It looked as if the photographs of the Himalayas we had seen in encyclopedias and the National Geographic had come to life before us.
This was only the beginning.
The sight before us on landing was an unbelievable one. The path on either side of the runway was covered with cotton-like heaps. Very soon we realised that the white mass was nothing but snow!
This was our first rendezvous with snow!
Within no time we were to have another new experience. A not so pleasant one of course. We were in a queue waiting for the Covid test, the clearance of which would ensure our entry into Kashmir. The sight of the snow had heightened our spirits so much that we were determined not to let them be dampened by the cotton swab inserted deep inside our nostrils.
From this moment onward our guides were Pramod and Sakshi, our Journo travellers. The passion and perfection with which they had done their homework on the History and Geography of the place researching on the minutest of details just to ensure that we enjoyed every moment of our stay in the snow-covered wonderland for the next five days.
The first day saw us through some sightseeing in Srinagar which included the famous Jamia Masjid and Khanqah-e-Moula. We had a quick brunch at Shamyana, a restaurant close to Dal Lake. We relished some kebabs, chicken biryani and Kashmiri delicacy Rista (mutton balls) from Sakshi and Pramod’s menu.
Very soon we were enjoying the views while our Shikara ride on the Dal lake, the star tourist destination in Srinagar. What an amazing experience it was. The snow-covered Himalayas surrounding the Dal lake provided an amazing sight. The lake had floating markets where every now and then shops housed in Shikaras reached out to our Shikara to sell hand-crafted Kashmiri artifacts. Shopping in the waters of the lake was one of a kind experience for us. We have all taken a cab shopping. But reaching a market on a boat.
After some more of sight-seeing, we soon headed for our houseboat on the Nigel lake. The houseboat was a marvel in itself. It was a kind of ancestral home having a bygone history dating back to more than 75 years. The owner of the boathouse was a passionate Kashmiri who has been trying hard with his extended family to conserve the dying legacy of his forefathers in the form of the boathouses. All thanks to the effort he has been putting every year in terms of time, money and energy so that the Boat House culture continues in the valley.
The boathouse true to its name was a majestic house with a tastefully decorated living room, a dining place with the chandeliers giving a rich look to the place, three bedrooms and a balcony with an overview of the frozen lake. Yes, the temperature was as low as – 8° C. The view around the boat of our boathouse was a sight to behold.
We spent a memorable time there with vivid memories etched in our minds far away from the hustle-bustle of the madding crowds. We were in the midst of the serene ambience of the lake with ‘shikaras’ seen every now and then ferrying people from one place to another.
We soon realised that the ‘shikaras’ were not just a fun ride for tourists like us but the day to day mode of transport for the locals there. In fact, most of the residents have their personal ‘shikaras’.
Bidding farewell to the place which was our abode for the last two days was a touching one. Tiptoeing on the snow to reach our cab taking one last look at the breathtaking view of the boathouse behind us was so heartbreaking.
The next day we were en route Pahalgam. It was a long drive from Srinagar. As we inched towards our destination of the day, the view increasingly got stunning. Another lifetime experience was waiting for us.
The horse ride.
Goodness me, what an uphill task it was for me to climb ‘Suzie’, the horse. It was a slow and shaky climb upwards initially but soon I saw myself galloping all the way up. I had conquered my fear. The scenic beauty of the place was enthralling. For the first time we witnessed green and white combination in the nature around. The tall pine trees stood there before us with blankets of snow covering them. What a sight it was.
The place was ultimate.
It was then that I started wondering could there be a more beautiful place than Pahalgam in Kashmir. What would Gulmarg offer us. Pahalgam’s natural beauty had already captivated our hearts.
The next day I got my answer.
As we made our ascent to Gulmarg the view was all white. The snow-capped mountains, white clad trees, everything around us was white. What a heavenly place! We were in paradise! The chill in the weather and the warmth of the place was a mesmerising experience. We were literally in awe of the place.
Yet another unique experience was in waiting.
We were soon on the first phase of Asia’s highest Cable Car. The view from top was absolutely magnificent. The hot and steamy Maggie with lemon tea in the snow covered Pahalgam, snow fights, the snowman making competition: so many memories to cherish. Not to forget, how I managed to have a fall on the slippery snow. These memories and many more of them we made in Kashmir will remain forever with us.
They will always occupy a very special place in our hearts.
And all this was possible because of Pramod, Sakshi and Kshitija.’Thank you’ is too small a word for this wonderful gift. It is the most precious gift I have ever received. I wish them all success and may they travel and explore every nook and corner of the world. I am confident that their dream will turn into reality one day knowing well how passionate they are about travelling.
I feel so proud to share that I may not be a travel person but my children are!
To find out more about our Kashmir trip, click here.