Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast !
If there is a heaven anywhere on Earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here !
In November of 2013 I found out that I was supposed to attend a weekend family function at my home in Delhi in mid-December. Just when I was booking my tickets, I realized that there is no point of going from Bangalore to Delhi just for the weekend. Another plus point was that I just got free from a massive project in office and I knew that my boss would not hesitate to sanction my leaves. So it was final, I was going to Delhi for a week instead of just 2 days. But then I thought why Delhi, why not some place else. I immediately called up my mom to ask her about an outstation family trip in that week (I do that a lot) and we agreed upon Kashmir. I had to convince my brother and my dad but it didn’t take much time as they just couldn’t say no when they saw the Kashmir pics I flooded our WhatsApp group with (I do that a lot. Had to do it for the Ladakh trip as well 🙂 ). I had a lot of questions in my mind about the trip but was a 100 % sure that I would plan this trip on my own and would not book those rigid tour packages. I started reading up about where to go and whether December is a good time to visit Kashmir and whether it’d be snowing there when we visit etc. etc. I took help from one of my friends who visited Kashmir a few months back and finalized the driver through her contacts. My mom booked a government guest house in Srinagar. We didn’t have many days so I had to get an idea of not-to-miss-places for which I got ample help from the internet and my friend. We shortlisted 3 one day trips to Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam and thought that we can take advice from the driver for the final plan. We packed up lots of warm clothes as we were warned in advance by the driver that it would be very cold. And we were all set to go. As expected, our flight to Srinagar was late due to heavy fog in Delhi. When we were about to land we saw the magnificent snow-covered Himalayas from our windows and that’s when the Kashmir spirit set in. At the airport we met our driver Ali and were instantly smitten by his charming personality. The next few days he drove us around to Sonmarg, Gulmark and Pahalgam. We were lucky to have good weather and snowfall follow us at all these places. This will always be one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken.
It was really hard to say goodbye to Kashmir. The 4-5 days I spent there were so special and will never be forgotten. Apart from the beautiful landscape, I fell in love with the ever-so-sweet Kashmiris. Be it our driver Ali or shop-owners or restaurant employees or hotel managers, everyone was too courteous and it felt like their words were dipped in sugar. They are the most warm and polite people I have come across anywhere in India. And another thing worth special mention is the FOOD. I am a self-proclaimed foodie but I had never heard any mention of Kashmiri food. But Kashmiri cuisine was a pleasant surprise of pure awesomeness. I had the best chicken I’ve ever had. And also bucket-loads of Kashmiri Kahwa. Its made of 11 spices and is a really yum substitute for tea.
Some memorable highlights of this trip included a sunset shikara ride in the Dal lake, panoramic views of the valley from the Shankaracharya hilltop temple, a hot bowl of Maggi during impromptu snowfall at Sonamarg, a back-breaking ski session at Gulmarg, a dangerous pony-ride on the slopes of Pehalgam and many many more ….
Although I enjoyed this trip to the fullest I have made a commitment that I MUST return to Kashmir in spring/summer to witness the Kashmir valley in full bloom. It was dull green or white when I visited in December so my next visit would be dedicated to the green Kashmir, the apple trees, the saffron fields and the famous Chinars.
The frequent mention of tensions in the valley really pains me and I pray for a safe and bright future of all people living in this heaven called Kashmir. I will see you soon. 🙂