Featured Image: Sind river flowing amidst the snow covered banks on the way to Sonmarg.
THE land of misty mountains, streaming rivers, meadows, infectious blue skies and affectionate people. It’s the land where the heaven meets the land, which I have been wanting to visit for several years. But for some reason or other, a trip always got delayed.
I always longed to visit Kashmir, when tulips are in full bloom and there will be plenty of snow! Thus, we at last decided on a trip in April.
Srinagar is not connected to Kolkata directly via air. We took a flight to Delhi and then hopped onto another to Srinagar.
As the flight progressed, milky clouds gave way to snow clapped mountains peeping through the aircraft window. It’s beyond words to describe when you fly over those mountains on a sunny day. We could see some rivers, lakes and hamlets at high altitudes, though not quite sure what places they were.
When the flight touched down at Srinagar airport, a bright sun ushered us into a windy afternoon. Unlike other airports in India that are always buzzing with flyers, here you see more of security personnel in combat gear.
We hired a cab to the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation Hotel Kamposh, which stands for saffron flower in Kashmir’s Dogri language.
The cab driver told us that it was after almost a fortnight that sun had shone over the city. Thanking our luck, we passed through beautiful duplex houses and pine trees on both sides of the road as if to welcome the visitors to Srinagar city.
Kamposh is located in the heart of the city at the Tourist Reception Centre. It’s a high security zone as several government offices and banks are in the vicinity. From our room, we caught views of mountain peaks covered with snow and also a busy road passing by.
After some steaming tea, we decide to make the most of the bright sunny afternoon and took an auto to the famous Dal Lake.
There aren’t many who haven’t seen this world heritage lake either in some movie, travel magazine or newspaper photographs. But I must say, it’s much larger and beautiful than what we had seen till then.
We hired a shikara ride that reminded us of the famous song cast on Sharmila Tagore and Shammi Kapoor in Kashmir Ki Kali. As one sails through the serene waters of the Dal, boatmen selling corns, Kahwah, saffron, costumes and silver ornaments keep on approaching.
With the dusk slowly setting in, the evening lights offer a mesmerising view of the lake. There are several houseboats on the Dal Lake that serve as accommodation to visitors and are very popular with tourists.
Soothed by the shikara ride, we got on to the bustling Boulevard Road for a stroll along the bank of Dal. Steaming hot cuppa of Kahwah re-energised us on the way back. Kahwah is a famous beverage in Kashmir made with dry fruits, saffron, cinnamon etc.
Back in our hotel, we opted for an early dinner. Call it our luck that a bright morning woke us up for a trip to Pahalgam.
Driver Mudassar arrived with his Scorpion right as scheduled. Pahalgam is about 2.30 hours from Srinagar. En route, we came across several cricket-bat manufacturing units, mustard fields, apple and pear orchards, tiny villages and of course the mighty Jhelum river.
Pahalgam serves as the base camp for Amarnath Yatra. It is 7,200 feet above sea level. To visit the tourist sites around Pahalgam, one is required to take a horse ride, which at times might be nerve wrecking. You need to bargain the cost of your ride wisely as the operators tend to demand exorbitant rates.
Our horse ride was much more adventurous than it usually is, as the snow had begun to melt, making the ground very slippery. On the way, we crossed tiny streams and dense pine forest to reach a sprawling plain fondly called Mini Switzerland because of its breathtaking view. Anushka Sharma had shot here for the popular song Jia jia re jia re in the film Jab Tak Hain Jaan.
After visiting a few other tourist sites around, we started descending. On the return leg, you realise that riding up is much easier than climbing down.
On way back to Srinagar we visited Betaab Valley, Avantipura Temple Ruins, Baisaran hills and got to see the Lidder river.
Our destination the next day was Sonmarg, which again, is a day trip from Srinagar. We travelled through National Highway-1 which travels to Kargil, Drass up till Leh. We could not reach Sonmarg as the road was blocked by thick snow.
But the journey along river Sind was incredible. We got down on the river bank and took a ride on horseback visiting a glacier point and sledge spot. I couldn’t resist myself negotiating down through rocky banks to the Sind river and fetched its ice cold water and sipped.
When we returned to our hotel in Srinagar, darkness had enveloped the shivering cold city. But Kashmir is not over yet: Gulmarg and Yusmarg are still left!
(Debapriya Bhattacharjee is an assistant editor at Newsmen. All photographs by author.)