What do I say about a trip to the place which has been considered ‘swarg’, ‘jannat’ ‘heaven’ since time immemorial? Today is my first day back after a trip of 7 days. I want to write this blog immediately because I am afraid that I might forget few things so might as well write it when it is still fresh in my mind. Also this hangover needs to end, else I will keep posting the thousand pictures and videos I have for days and not get any work done!
I always wanted to visit Kashmir but I was scared because of the unrest there. Since so many tourists have been visiting, it is common knowledge that tourists are never attacked there since the livelihood is totally dependent on them. I finally decided to take the plunge.
My trip started in Srinagar. It ended in Srinagar also. I visited Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Pehelgam. I stayed in the hotels in all these places so the experience was even more exotic. Many people travel from Srinagar to make a day trip to these places. But I would suggest to stay overnight at these places as you would get the local vibes.
Sonmarg – Fairytale land!
The moment we arrived there, it started snowing! All tourist started getting off their vehicles to get clicked! The driver was getting irritated. He said, “Wahan pura snow hi hai, jahaan ja rahe hain, yahaan rukne ki zarurat nahi hai!’ But who will miss the first sight?
Yeh haseen wadiyan, yeh khula aasmaan. Aa gaye hum kahan,
Since the time that I arrived at the hotel, and till the time that I left, I kept rolling in the snow the way pigs roll in mud! I have been to Switzerland. I have lived in New York. I have seen snow before. But trust me, this place was far more beautiful that any other place I have been visited. It was as if it was untouched, quiet, pristine. The place also reminded me of the movie, ‘The Shining’!!
The view from the hotel room was spectacular.
I could have just stayed inside and looked the view but of course who stays in a hotel on vacation!
So off we went to a tourist spot. This place was not too crowded and it was a blessing. On way we took boots on hire. It is very difficult to walk on plains in those boots because they are very heavy. You would feel like your legs have been switched with an elephant’s! But the boots are a must in the snow.
I did scooter ride at this place.
Sledges were also available but I prefer climbing up on foot. It was very difficult to climb as it was still snowing and the foot would go down a few inches as you take steps. You need to fit to climb up as it requires strength and you may get breathless.
The scooter guy took me to the highest point that he could. He made me get off and clicked photos. He asked me to remove my cap!! It was freezing!! I told him this is fine! I guess when other women get clicked they get all pretty so he was surprised that I was happy to get clicked all puffed up!
By the time all this adventure got completed, lunch time was over. We stopped by a small, local hotel to get a “quick” bite. But since I was so hungry from all the snow activities, I ordered chicken. (The driver had warned us not to have non-vegetarian food other than at the hotel but I was too high on snow to listen to him)!
At night the place was even more mesmerizing. You would see snow everywhere in this quiet, sleepy town. See the pics of the hotel – It is looking so beautiful with the lights and this one hotel is looking no less than a castle! It was as if I had entered a fairytale or a dream.
Even though I spent the entire afternoon doing snow activities it seemed I could not get enough of it. Again, I went back in the snow outside the hotel. I wanted to capture every moment there afraid that I should not even miss a second of the experience.
That night I got sick. I am pretty sure it was the chicken as the only two people who got sick I the group were the ones who had it. But it could also be because of the cold.
The next day was a blur. We were travelling to Pahalgam. It was a long, bumpy drive. Another problem is living in big cities we don’t expect to not have washrooms on way. But here, there were hardly any and even if there were, they were not clean at all. As a result, I did not drink or eat anything that day. There are no CCDs, or McDonalds there to use a decent washroom. So I pretty much slept in the car and took lots of medication.
Pahalgam – An Unexpected Incident
The morning after I was feeling much better. We left our hotel for Aru Valley and Betaab Valley. Chandanwari was closed. We had an unpleasant start to the day. The taxis arrived late and they sent us a car which completely khatara when we had paid for an SUV. (Every place there has a local union so you cannot travel within the towns in the commercial taxis that you have arrived in). Calls were made. There were attempts to switch the cars. There was waiting. There were arguments. And finally we had no option to continue in the car in which every handle , every window and every knob was broken!
Everywhere you look, there was only beauty. Every frame was worth capturing.
But because the behaviour of the travel agency was rude and illogical, it spoilt our mood.
You can be in the most beautiful place but if your mind is affected, then it does not matter where were you. You live in your mind more than any place else.
The way to Aru valley was extremely narrow and I was very scared that this weak car would not be able to pull us through.
Anyway, the moment we entered Aru valley it started raining. We clicked few photos and the drivers started calling us saying one hour was over, although the delay was from their side.
We got inside the car and I started complaining I was upset that they spoilt half our day and they were not treating tourists nicely. Just then, out of nowhere the car coming from the opposite side somersaulted, rolled over and fell off the mountain road!!
It was a sight I will never forget. I have never seen anything like that. It was as if I was watching a movie. It was unreal! Before we could even understand what was going on, the driver got off the car to help. Not only our driver, but every single driver driving on that road got off and jumped right off the slope to save them. I was too scared to get out of the car and see that sight but I did. The car was completely upside down. There were four people including a child. Within minutes, all the drivers managed to pull out each person from the car. The even made a stretcher from one of their cars’ luggage carrier to carry a person who was the most injured! All passengers were taken to the hospital. They were all hurt, but it seemed like they would survive.
It was so unreal – the accident itself and the rescue after that. The rescuers were not trained people! They were just locals. But their presence of mind, and the heart that they had – they put their safety at risk and went to save others. They did not even think twice. I told the driver he is such a brave and good person. He said he lost his father in an accident. He mentioned some place (I don’t know where it is). He didn’t say anything further.
He had seen loss and would not wish that loss upon anyone else. He probably wished that someone could have saved his father the way he saved those people.
All the grumbling I was doing since morning came to an end. The car that fell off was the same SUV that we wanted for our travel as it was a stronger car!
Moments like these just make you realize that nothing, absolutely nothing in life is in your control. There is something called destiny and you cannot fight it. That poor family had also come on vacation like the rest of us. They must have planned for days and bought jackets and they must be so excited. And within a second they faced the horror of feeling themselves fall off the mountain road! So many cars go there everyday, and yet that one car had such a fate?
We complain when we got to a vacation spot and it gets closed because of rain. We complain because we get a smaller car than what we had signed up for. We complain about everything that is less than perfect but in the end, if God has kept you and family, alive and healthy, you are just so lucky!
After that incident I was too scared to go to Betaab valley and just wanted to go to the hotel.
My thoughts before witnessing that accident:
I didn’t get to see the whole Aru valley. How unfair!
What if it rains in Betaab valley too? What a loss!
I should have carried few more coats! All my pictures are in the same pink coat and orange jacket! What a tragedy!
My thoughts after the incident:
I don’t want anything God! Just keep my family and me safe!
Picture – Me getting Betaab for a click with the right background in Betaab valley couple of hours after the incident when I finally got lost in the beauty of the place yet again.
Gulmarg – Gondola and colourful houses
We did the Gondola ride there. Phase 2 was closed. I again climbed a little higher again to go to a peaceful spot where there were no people. I wish I could have stayed there longer. But they kept announcing if you stay there beyond the stipulated time, you are on your own!!
This time they game me pink boots!!
It was a steep walk to the hotel and we had to walk in those boots which made it even more difficult. There were ponies everywhere and where there is pony, there is shit and stink!
Evening we drove around and visited the temple. The view was again beautiful and reminded me again of Switzerland.
Srinagar – Dal Lake and gardens
These pictures from Nishat Bagh look like postcards to me!
Tulip Garden got closed by the time we retuned back to Srinagar. I went to the Dal lake thrice! It is beautiful anytime but I would say if you have time, please visit during the day and night and more importantly during then night as the lights add beauty to the whole place.
The ride in the evening reminded me of Venice. But what was different was shikaras approaching us selling Kahwa, jewelry and what not!! We even stopped by and had steaming hot Maggie! The liveliness and chaos of India makes it truly enjoyable!
The next day evening ride was different. The moment I entered the shikara a guy arrived in another shikara and started luring me with albums of women dressed in pretty firans. He told me to get a photo shoot done.
I asked him how will he manage to take solo pictures of me as I was not alone in the shikara. He said, “Madam, Humara Roz ka Kaam hai, aap bus Haan bolo!”
To my surprise , he made me step from my shikara to his. Within seconds he dressed me, instructed me to imitate 10-14 poses and clicked! This unexpected, unplanned photoshoot became the highlight of my day!
Kashmir ki kali hoon main mujh se na rootho babuji
The whole time in Kashmir, I saw women dancing in public places and creating reels! This is the most reel I’ll ever make! I really don’t understand how people get the guts to dance in public places. I am also not sure if I hate these reels because I find them irritating or because I am jealous that I can’t dance like they do!
P.S. I kept looking at my pictures and I thought something was missing . Then I realized it was bindi! Had I known I would be getting this done, I would have carried it in my purse. #Nextvisitgoals!
Is Kashmir more beautiful than Switzerland?
I see a lot of articles on this question on the internet. I visited Kashmir for the first time now and I had visited Switzerland in 2018.
If you ask me strictly , I found Kashmir more beautiful. There is something natural and rural about the beauty of this place. Switzerland may be picture perfect but Kashmir is real! Or maybe it is just the love for my country that makes me like it more!
It was truly one of the most memorable trips of my life. After seeing the snowfall in Sonmarg, I don’t think any other place will match up. I don’t know where I will go on vacation next but I am sure it will feel not good enough because it will not be Kashmir!
I will never forget the brave act of the local people saving lives. They are good people but because the place has not developed they have been stuck in time with tourism as their only source of livelihood. I also did not see a lot of women outside their homes in Sonmarg, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam although Srinagar was better in this aspect and I saw women there driving too. The Poonch terror attack happened during my visit and there were army personnel deployed everywhere even in the middle of mountains. What a tough life they have!
I wish the people there peace and development. They deserve better!
Wadi ke mausam bhi ek din to badlenge