Kashmir…….Yes it is very rightly said….it is a heaven on Earth. The state is blessed with exquisite natural beauty – snow clad mountaintops, exotic orchids, lush green pastures, forests….& much more than you can think of….
It was our 3rd anniversary & we chose Kashmir for celebration. The decision could not have been better… We went in Dec and it was really chilly winter in Kashmir. I must say one should visit Kashmir during winters (which is considered as a not so friendly season for travelers). In Dec, you would see more foreign tourists than indian. This added great advantage for us. Wherever we visited, we got exclusive service. No long queues nor traffic snarls..we made a really good decision to travel in so called- off season.
Well here goes our plan…. We booked everything in advance, selecting what to do, where to stay..etc . Luckily we got best deal for hotel stay across different destinations we traveled. Which otherwise would have been pretty difficult during peak summer season when most Indians travel (due to school holidays here) & of course to beat the scorching heat season in city with with chilling Kashmir beauty of flora & fauna all around. Winters, however, offer different experience altogether.
We planned for 3N & 4D vacation. One night each in Srinagar, Gulmarg & Pahalgam. Our total expense was just notch above including stay, airfare, lavish food, exclusive cab for local sightseeing & all its charges. We had a pretty luxurious trip…
Day 1 – We started from Delhi & reached Srinagar in noon. At Srinagar Airport, our exclusive cab was waiting for us, which was there with us for next 3 days at our disposal. Having your own vehicle makes a lot of difference & you can just enjoy without any hassles. You can take breaks the way you want at your leisure. You are not dependent on tour operators or fellow travelers.
So upon arrival, We feasted on very famous “Rajima chawal’ and then visited – famous Shankaracharya temple, Mughal gardens – Nishant bagh, Shalimar bagh, Chashma Shahi, pari Mahal, harwan. We covered this in less than 3 hours which otherwise would have taken 4-5 hrs (During peak summers & peak of flora & fauna). But nevermind, we saw the gardens & they were beautiful. I had some ‘Kasmir ki kali’ photographs – wearing the typical Kashmiri dress
Enjoying sunset in Dal lake though Shikara ride was mesmerizing which ended our first day of this magnificent trip. Overnight stay at houseboat was even fabulous. It was luxurious boat with a big drawing room welcoming its guest alongside a balcony. Although it had 3 bedrooms… to our luck…we were th ones on the boat & so were pretty much treated like king & Queen.
This luxurious houseboat, which we were told was mostly opted by foreign guests, we got good rates. Earlier we were little skeptical about booking a houseboat, we had almost decided not to stay in houseboat & book a hotel instead. But thank god we booked a houseboat, otherwise we would have really regretted that going to Kashmir & not staying in a houseboat. It is an experience in itself. We were thinking that it will be too cold staying in an houseboat, there will be mosquitoes etc. But it was the most cozy experience ever… with a ‘sigdi tandoor’ right in middle of the room with hot water & warm blankets. It was just perfect. It had everything which one could think of with added advantage of its location at little secluded place. All other houseboats were looking very congested with very little water. But ours’ was better located with full of water at our side. We got really delicious food on the houseboat. We also enjoyed the famous tea- called ‘Kawa’. Must say… a wonderful start of our journey.
Next day morning we again got a shikara ride to reach to other side of the river on the road to continue our journey to our next destination Gulmarg.
On the way to Gulmarg, the whole road was filled with snow. It was the first time I saw snow on road which I had seen in most Hollywood movies. The journey itself was an experience. It is really difficult to drive on snow roads. Pretty difficult to move forward…but thanks to our skilled driver, we could move ahead without much hassle.
We reached Gulmarg by noon. Our hotel was located at the best possible location. It was located in the middle of the snow. Beautiful scenery outside our hotel. Again the hotel was not situated in the city, hence, best location. The next thing which we did was to walk down to take a Gandola ride, which was just a walking distance from our hotel.
We hired some boots & overcoat as walking in the snow needs special kind of shoes.
Our guide took us to Gandola. There were two levels. At level one- all the activities like skiing was done for amateur tourists & first timers. At second level- just enjoy the beauty of nature & you could also take a glimpse of LOC from here.
Not many people opt for second level during winters, as snow is available on level 1 itself. During summers going to level 2 is must if you want to see snow.
Also, we did not have stand in queue for waiting for our turn in gondolas, otherwise, it takes couple of hrs for your turn for the ride with lot of hoch-potch around. We were the lucky ones as we went to level 2 first, ohhhhh…..it was so chilling at that level. But it could have been no better.
Earlier we were thinking of skipping level 2, but thank god we did not skip. It was beautiful up there. We walked on the snow, played….And then we came down to level 1, where we tried our hands on skiing, we had hot maggi there. It was magical. Entire day was spent on snow only to come back to hotel in the evening. We were so exhausted & realized this when we came back to our room but playing in snow was so much exciting.We had our dinner & went to sleep.
Next morning, after having our breakfast & few photographs, we started our journey to Pahalgam, most beautiful valley. It was chilling on the way to this location as well.
We started with sightseeing instead of checking-in hotel. We hired popular ‘pony-ride’ and visited valleys like – Aru valley, Chandan valley, Baisaran & Betaab Valley. It seemed easier to ride on horses, but actually it was very very difficult. I always liked to sit on horses. but that day, it was very scary, I just couldnt’ understand how these horses trekked on those hills. Even one single wrong step by these creatures & we would directly reach real heaven.
But then I just kept the fear away, and stopped looking down. Instead I looked up & enjoyed the entire view, which I was missing due to scare.
Horse riding on snow was a real fun. Alongside we visited shoot location of Shahrukh Khan’s – jab tak hai jaan whish was shot here couple of months back. It was quite thrilling to see Betab Valley which is known as “mini Switzerland’. Very true & as it refreshed my memories of my Switzerland trip. It was very beautiful. You are walking on snow, standing and watching Himalayas all covered with snow. difficult to put this experience in words. Post sunset we came back to our hotel & then we rested our day.
All in all it was a mix of both relaxation & activities with lot of fun.
Day 4 – last day of our trip. post breakfast, we went for some shopping (saffron, apricots..etc), as we had some time, before heading to airport.
One thing I really liked is that there is lot of security in Kashmir which is required. One should take 4 hours in hand while reaching airport so that during security checks you have enough time in your hand.
Again, just to reiterate, we went in off season, then also, it took lot of time to get security clearance. But during peak season, it will take hell lot of time to reach Airport.
No wonder- our not so famous neighboring nation- is envious of this place. It is so beautiful.
Another thing I liked about the place is- it is not commercialized yet & has preserved it pristine beauty & culture for years. One must travel here before it falls in the hand of commercialization.
And of course, I would like to visit again in Kashmir in Summers, when it is covered with greenery. and that time , we would like to visit Sonmarg – another popular landmark with golden meadows.
This part of this maddening world is so beautiful & unexplored…. I haven’t seen heaven but after visiting this place I feel like been there to have a experience of lifetime…which I am going to cherish for long time…