Kashmir : Heaven on Earth Through My eyes

By Izifiso
22 Min Read
Kashmir : Heaven on Earth Through My eyes

Our journey to Kashmir began on April 4, 2024, with a flight from Kolkata to Delhi. We then travelled by train to Jammu and embarked on a road trip to Srinagar. The drive along NH 44 included several tunnels, offering a glimpse into the changing landscape. After a stop for breakfast in Udhampur, we navigated some rough patches due to construction work but reached Srinagar by 1:30 PM. The sight of Dal Lake shimmering under the afternoon sun was a sight to behold.

Kashmir – Entering heaven on earth..

Entering Kashmir through the Banihal Pass was even more magical. Vivid yellow mustard fields, lush greenery, and snow-capped mountains painted a breathtaking picture. In Srinagar, we indulged in a delicious Kashmiri lunch, checked into our hotel, and enjoyed a leisurely evening by the lake with a cup of local kahwa. Our adventure continued the next day with a trip to Sonmarg.

The journey itself is a highlight for me on any trip. Reaching a destination and appreciating its beauty is wonderful, but the travel leading up to it holds a special charm. The 79.6 kilometers between Srinagar and Sonmarg is a perfect example. This route winds through some of Kashmir’s most captivating landscapes and valleys, offering a feast for the eyes. The Sindhu River, a major tributary of the Jhelum River, flows alongside you for much of the way.

Sonmarg – The land of snow and breathtaking vistas

After a relaxing evening by the lake in Srinagar, we woke up early and set out for Sonmarg at 8:30 AM. The weather was beautiful, a complete contrast to the rain forecast we’d seen before leaving Kolkata. Lush fields of yellow mustard flowers stretched as far as the eye could see along the scenic drive. As we neared Sonmarg, the snow-capped mountains emerged a breathtaking sight that defied imagination. The scenery was a constant reminder that Kashmir is a true paradise.

Sonmarg itself was a wonderland of snow. Unlike Switzerland, Kashmir boasts a unique beauty that defies comparison. The snow was so plentiful that we needed snow bikes to get around. The first ride was a little scary, but we quickly got the hang of it and had a fantastic time. Renting snow boots, jackets, gloves, and hats required some serious bargaining with the locals, as did the snow bikes. After much negotiation, we finally agreed on a price.

Riding our bikes up the mountain felt like entering another world. Surrounded by pine forests and endless stretches of snow, we were immersed in nature’s beauty. The snow was so deep in some places that it reached our knees. We spent hours exploring this enchanting landscape, taking in the breathtaking views and the serenity of the surroundings.

Leaving Sonmarg after our unforgettable experience, we descended the mountain and returned to our car. As we drove away, we were filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty we had witnessed. Our next stop was Gulmarg, another snow-covered paradise. We were excited for the thrill of staying in a wooden hut amidst the snow-covered forest – the anticipation was building!

Gulmarg – A spectacular gondola ride and mesmerizing valleys

The sky darkened unexpectedly over our bright morning in Gulmarg. We had just checked into our JKTDC hut and were heading to the gondola station when a light drizzle began. Inside the station, we heard whispers of snowfall in the first phase. Our good weather streak might be ending. We boarded Asia’s highest cable car, pushing aside our doubts.

As if on cue, a miracle happened within ten minutes of reaching the first phase. The dark clouds vanished, replaced by radiant sunlight. The vast expanse of snow-covered terrain sparkled under the sun’s rays, creating a breathtaking spectacle beyond words.

Our driver had advised us to leave Srinagar early for Gulmarg, warning us about long gondola lines and potential bad weather. We also planned to shop for groceries along the way since food options were scarce in Gulmarg. We intended to cook our own meals in our JKTDC hut. Sticking to the plan, we bought chicken, potatoes, onions, spices, and other essentials for a cozy evening of cooking and enjoying the Gulmarg scenery.

Everything was going smoothly until the sudden change in weather. We had seen forecasts for snow, sleet, and rain in Gulmarg for April 7th, but we had tried to ignore them. As we approached Kashmir, the predictions for other places improved, but Gulmarg remained stubborn, showing snow and sleet, albeit for a short period.

Despite the concerns, we were thrilled to board the gondola. The first phase offered stunning views of snow-covered landscapes, and we decided to skip the second phase, which we hadn’t been able to book tickets for anyway.

After a day of enjoying the gondola ride, we returned to our charming wooden hut. The huts were beautifully spaced out amidst the pine forest, and ours had a stunning view of the snow-covered landscape.

As planned, we cooked our own meals that evening. After a long day of exploring, we started with hot coffee, accompanied by snacks we had brought from Kolkata. For starters, we prepared chicken angara, and for dinner, we had chicken banjara (names given by my friend) along with masala Maggi during the cooking. The temperature outside had dropped below freezing!

We started cooking our dinner in our JKTDC hut in Gulmarg, but our gas cylinder ran out in the middle of preparing the chicken starter. We were in a predicament, with marinated chicken for both the starter and dinner, and the temperature dropping below freezing.

We decided to call the caretaker of the hut, who was fasting for Ramadan. We were hesitant to disturb him at night, but he answered our call and came to our rescue. He brought a new gas cylinder and even agreed to join us for dinner. However, he had to go for his prayers and said he would come back if he could. We waited for him, but he didn’t arrive.

Despite the gas cylinder crisis, we had a delicious meal of masala Maggi and chicken. We then wrapped up the remaining food and went to sleep under our electric blankets.

Heading to Pahalgam

The next morning, we received an early call from our driver, Irfan Bhai, who was ready to take us to Pahalgam, another beautiful destination in Kashmir. He arrived half an hour early, contrary to our expectation of him being late. We were impressed by his punctuality and his genuine concern for our time.

Irfan Bhai was a well-educated young man from Kashmir’s new generation. He shared his modern perspectives with us, which we found refreshing.

Our journey to Pahalgam was scenic, with mountains, rivers, and lush green valleys. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel and immediately set out on horseback riding to Baisaran Valley, also known as Mini Switzerland. We were determined to avoid comparing Kashmir to other places, as it is truly unique and incomparable.

The valley was breathtaking, and we returned to our hotel feeling content. The next day, we planned to explore the remaining sightseeing spots in Pahalgam, including Aru Valley, Chandanwadi, and Betab Valley. For now, we sought warmth from the electric blankets, as the temperature in Pahalgam was very chilly.
Oh my gosh, it’s so cold! I’ve experienced cold in Gulmarg before, but not so much in Sonmarg. However, the cold in Pahalgam is something else, especially in the mornings and after evening. The river flowing near the hotel adds to the chill. But once the sun comes up, the day is quite pleasant. Today, we’re visiting Aru Valley, Betaab Valley, and Chandanwari. We’ll have to hire a car from the local taxi union as Irfan Bhai’s car isn’t allowed here.

Roaming here and there in Kashmir…

Yesterday, we went to Baisaran Valley on horseback. It was a few hours’ journey, and my back hurt afterward. I’m glad to know we’ll only be traveling by car today. After returning from Baisaran, I noticed tears in the horse’s eyes—poor creature must have been in so much pain! That’s why I didn’t ride the sledge in Gulmarg, and I don’t ride hand-pulled rickshaws in Kolkata either. No way am I riding a horse today!

One side of Pahalgam is lush with green valleys and trees, while the other side is quite rough and rocky, especially on the way to Chandanwari. The road to Aru Valley is beautiful. The snow has melted, and the surroundings are green, though somewhat dull. The greenery will become more vibrant soon. I really liked Aru Valley with its huge mountains and beautiful green valley. Each spot has a fixed one-hour limit by the taxi union, with a 500 rupee fine for delays. After seeing Aru Valley, we headed to Chandanwari, planning to visit Betaab Valley on the way back.

Chandanwari, being at a higher altitude, still has quite a bit of snow. In July, the Amarnath pilgrimage begins from here. For now, we just looked at the path and then headed to Betaab Valley. It’s well-organized, but I liked Aru Valley better. Overly artificial enhancements to natural beauty don’t appeal to me. You need a ticket to enter, costing 100 rupees per person. No other park in Kashmir charges this much. Anyway, now it’s time to head back. We’ll go to the Pahalgam market and have lunch around 4 PM.

Even before coming to Pahalgam, I heard that trout fish is available in the Lidder River. I had decided to try trout here since I last had it many years ago. After searching, I found a restaurant that serves it. Oh, the taste! If you come to Pahalgam, you must try it, or you’ll regret it!

Tonight is our last night in Pahalgam. Tomorrow we’ll return to Srinagar. Irfan Bhai said that by 7 PM today, we’ll know whether Eid will be tomorrow or the day after. Even though the calendar says the day after tomorrow, if the moon is sighted today, Eid will be tomorrow after a month of fasting. If that’s the case, we’ll see tomorrow what the experience of Eid in Srinagar is like! For now, we’ll stroll by the Lidder River, do some shopping at local stores, and then head back to the hotel room to get under the electric blanket. As I mentioned earlier, the cold gets quite intense after sunset! Imagine if people from other states visited Kolkata during Durga Puja on Ashtami—they would surely immerse themselves in our joyous celebration. That’s exactly how it felt for us in Srinagar on Eid. As soon as Eid was announced after a month of fasting, the atmosphere changed instantly! People in new clothes, with fragrant food and smiling faces, were all immersed in joy!

Today, we were supposed to check out from our hotel in Pahalgam and head to Srinagar to see the largest tulip garden in Asia. We had planned to have breakfast and tea before leaving, but there was no one at the reception! Everyone had gone to the mosque for prayers. We had to wait to settle the hotel bill before leaving.

Back to Shrinagar..

I had talked about visiting Aru Valley and Betaab Valley in Pahalgam. Today, we were returning to Srinagar to visit the Tulip Garden and Mughal Garden, and stay in a houseboat tonight. It’s our last night in Kashmir, as we have a flight back to Kolkata tomorrow morning. But today is still ahead! Our driver, Irfan Bhai, mentioned that since Eid has been declared, all major shops and restaurants in Srinagar would be closed for the next two days. We had planned to have the famous Kashmiri dish Wazwan in Srinagar on our last day. Seeing me worried, Irfan Bhai said, “Madam, don’t worry. If all the shops are closed, I’ll take you to my home and treat you to Wazwan today!” The warmth of the Kashmiri people’s words truly touches the heart!

We arrived in Srinagar, where most shops were closed. After much searching, we found a Punjabi dhaba for breakfast. Once we reached Srinagar, traffic started building up with locals celebrating Eid. It felt wonderful to be there on their happy day. Although we were a bit late, the joyous atmosphere made us feel very happy too. We reached the Tulip Garden, an expansive garden filled with millions of tulips in various colors, along with 46 other species of flowers from Holland.

We visited the Tulip Garden then went to the Mughal Garden, Shalimar Bagh. Another beautiful garden. After exploring, Irfan Bhai took us to a large field surrounded by trees where locals were enjoying themselves, singing Bollywood songs, bursting firecrackers, eating ice cream, chatting, and having fun. It felt just like Maddox Square in Kolkata! Nearby, we finally had Wazwan at a restaurant. Is it really a garden made by Mughal Emperor Jahangir? It’s hard to believe. Reading about the powerful Mughal Empire and its emperors in history books as a child, and now walking in a garden built by Jahangir felt special. Then, having the royal Kashmiri dish Wazwan for lunch after visiting the Tulip and Mughal Gardens made me feel even more excited. On top of that, we found ourselves in a luxurious houseboat with exquisite décor! How much more could we see in one day?

Exploring Shrinagar and spending a memorable night in a houseboat

The day started in Pahalgam, then we visited the Tulip Garden in Srinagar. Today is Eid, and everything is filled with joy! After exploring the Tulip and Mughal Gardens and having lunch, we headed to Ghat 8 on Dal Lake. From there, a shikara took us to our booked houseboat. Spending the night here was planned. On reaching the houseboat, we were amazed! Such a beautiful floating boat with exquisite carvings and luxurious interiors! Every room had an attached bathroom with a full-sized bathtub. There was a grand dining area, a beautiful drawing area, and a wonderful seating arrangement on the balcony.

Leaving our luggage in the houseboat room, we went for a shikara ride on the lake. The sky was a bit cloudy in the afternoon, and it started getting very cold with the wind blowing. We bought some hot coffee and kahwa to warm up. Floating around, we visited the Golden Lake and a park, and finally arrived at the floating market, Meena Bazaar. Rows of bright shops floated on the lake, much like Kolkata’s New Market, except this market was on water.

At one of the shops in Meena Bazaar, we did some shopping. Suddenly, we heard a storm coming. The sound of strong winds was everywhere. The shopkeepers reassured us with the famous saying, “Mumbai ka fashion aur Kashmir ka mausam, kab badal jaye pata nahi.” Indeed, it was hard to tell earlier that a storm was coming. The shopkeepers served us special Kashmiri salty tea. It tasted different, but I liked it.

As our shopping was done, we saw that the weather had calmed down. Who would have thought there was a storm just a while ago! We took a boat back to the main road, had some food, and returned to the houseboat. At night, the lake was illuminated with beautifully decorated houseboats, looking like something out of a picture. We stayed up late, chatting and reminiscing. It was our last night in Kashmir. Seven days passed like seven minutes!
The next morning, the alarm woke us up. I went to the houseboat balcony and saw shikaras floating on the calm lake, with flower sellers moving around in the gentle morning sunlight. Such a serene morning! Today, we’d be back in Kolkata, stuck in traffic and honking horns by evening. I felt heavy-hearted. The caretaker promised us a good kahwa for morning tea, and he delivered! It was an exquisite drink, a perfect end to our stay.

Time to say goodbye…

Then came the usual routine—checking out, taking a shikara to the main road, and loading our luggage into Irfan Bhai’s car. After several security checks, we were at the airport, waiting to board. Memories of the past seven days flashed before my eyes, treasures for a lifetime! Irfan Bhai bid us farewell with a smile. This sweet Kashmiri guy, who had been with us every day, also seemed a bit sad. He said he had to head to Sonmarg with a new group right after dropping us off. He had been planning to spend the second day of Eid with his family, but now he had to work again. He didn’t know when he would return home.

This is life! We learn to adjust with what we don’t get and try to live fully with what we do have.

Written by: Swati Hazra 
Translated by: Izifiso
Check out other blogs:
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Meghalaya Bamboo Trek: The Most Adventurous Trail in Meghalaya
Kashmir, The Land of Wonders : A Travel Guide
Ladakh: Not just a road trip, an adventure of a lifetime

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