Monday, October 14, 2013

Mystical Kashmir

It's been a long time since I have been at this space. Actually, it's been so long that I have had any personal space. Ever since, we have moved to Mumbai from Bangalore, life has been crazy. The work pressure, commute and just the challenges of living in a metro. We needed a vacation desperately and we chose Kashmir as our preferred destination for the 15th Aug long weekend holiday. Parents were not very happy about the decision because of the violence in Kishtwar making headlines. We still decided to go ahead with the plan and take it as it comes. We were travelling with another couple and all of us were pretty excited and counting days for this vacation and nothing could stop us. We took a direct flight from Mumbai to Sri Nagar, where we had arranged for a driver to pick us up from the airport and take us directly to Gulmarg. Though, the loos at the airport are not very clean, it's advisable to use them before embarking on a long journey as you don't get restrooms on the way to Gulmarg. The sight once we were out of Srinagar was very beautiful. The streets were lined with beautiful cottages with red or green roofs. We were enthralled by just the expanse of the houses, the space and the clean air after living in a space crunched city like Mumbai. We made a stopover at a restaurant for lunch. We had heard so much about Kashmiri cuisines from friends and didn't want to lose any opportunity. We ordered for Rista and Yakhni. The food was so yum that we all were grinning from ear to ear like satiated cats and were licking our fingers. Since it was Aug, we were told the weather would be warm. However, it started pouring that day and the weather got quite chilly nearer to Gulmarg. Thankfully, we had carried warm jackets, just in case. We had to change into jackets at Tangmarg. The drive to Gulmarg was so scenic, majestic hills, beautiful flora, curving roads, clean and sharp air. It was just mesmerising. I have never seen a place as beautiful as Gulmarg. It was really heavenly, beyond description.
We checked in at Gulmarg resort and just chilled there for the evening. Next day, we had booked gondola rides but because of the weather, the operators said we could ride only upto phase 1. However, we were lucky and by the time we reached phase 1, the weather cleared and we were taken to phase 2 as well. The view from the gondola was awesome. Somehow, it reminded me of the 1st scene of jurassic Park, when the plane lands :)
It was very cold at phase 2. we had to hire jackets and boots. There was a small patch of snow as well, where the locals were taking people for assisted ski rides. We had the yummiest maggi ever for lunch at phase 2, before we came down. The next day, we got up early in the morning and went for a walk till the temple. After the trek, we had no energy to walk back to the resort so we hired horses. It was my 1st time and I was a little scared. However, it turned out to be a good experience except for the sore back for 2 days.
we had to return to Sri Nagar that day. On the way back, we went to an apple orchard, though the apples atill had 15 more days to ripen. Sri Nagar traffic was quite difficult to negotiate. After a tedious drive, we reached Gorkha house boat at Naginn Lake. We were taken till the house boat on a shikara. I had just seen shikara rides in movies till now and our energies were restored seeing the shikara. The shikara rower was singing a Kashmiri song and he also gifted me a garland made of lily. It's a tradition as they give the garland to the lady riding in the shikara.
We didn't like the rooms in the houseboat at first glance as they looked too gaudy, decorated with carpets all over. Also, it was smelling a little musty because of the rains. The guys went out in search of liquor. It's very difficult to find liquor in the state of Kashmir. There are only 1 or 2 stores and is mostly available in army canteens. We girls went for a stroll in the adjacent garden and the store selling carpets, pashminas, etc. It's very important to buy this stuff from the right place as more often than not one tends to get cheated in terms of quality and price. We bought a carpet from a cottage emporium near Nishat garden the next day. The shop owner spent good amount of time explaining the intricacies of carpets and showing us carpets, ranging from INR 4000 to INR 7,00,000/-. The carpets were exotic and felt so soft. Kashmir is full of gardens. We chose to visit Nishat and Chasm-e-Shahi. Nishat garden oversees Dal lake and has 12 terraces, representing 12 zodiac signs, 11 of which are open to public. The garden is well maintained and looks very beautiful.
We woke up at 3:30 in the morning to visit the floating market as it opens at 4:30. The shikara ride to Dal lake, where the vendors sell vegetables ans flowers was very beautiful. It's something else to see sunrise Sri Nagar, riding in a shikara. One has to experience it to understand the glory.
Naginn lake, unlike, dal lake is still very quiet and not too commercial. People are very friendly and hospitable. I just enjoyed sitting in the balcony of the houseboat and gazing at the lake. I just couldn't get enough of seeing the lake and going for shikara rides. The attendant, we called him Chacha (Hindi for uncle) was very hospitable. He served us yummy, home made breakfasts in the morning. The gobhi paratha was to die for. I especially loved the Kashmiri cuisine, Mirchi Korma, Goshtaab, Yakhni, Rogan josh or just sipping Kahwa (kashmiri tea), sitting in the balcony of the houseboat. It was heavenly.
I would love to go back just to gaze at the lake and enjoy what nature has to offer, away from the madness of the city!!


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