Home to breathtaking beauty, Kashmir is an adventurous ride of nature’s greatness.
Kashmir. Just the mention of this seven-letter word throws up vivid images in one’s mind. Beauty, purity, pristine, calm… one conjures many images in mind and heart but then, also that of unrest, bloodshed and terror come running in simultaneously.
They say that even the moon has scars and perhaps this magnificent place too is a pure dichotomy between the serene and tumultuous at times. But then, it is hard not to be captivated by Kashmir’s exquisiteness and relish what it truly stands for — its splendour and exotic beauty.
Since I was a child, I have wanted to visit the place and lapped up the chance when a short trip to Srinagar came along. I boarded an early morning flight from Delhi and the temperatures were as low as zero in Srinagar.
We touched down at 11.35 am to be precise. The airport was small but very busy. The locals seemed to be in control of everything and I got a hint of it when someone called out my name as I waited on the baggage belt. It was the man who had come to fetch me.
“I will manage everything. You just relax now,” he said, handling my luggage as we made a swift exit from the airport and headed into the heart of Srinagar.
The city generally sees a lot of snow in February but the driver informs me that it was the first time in many years that there has been no snowfall. “Sab kuch sookha padha hai, dekhiye (everything is dry, see),” he says pointing to the endless pine trees on the roadside as we crossed Jhelum river.
My first impression of the city isn’t something spectacular. There is construction work going on for a flyover, the trees are bereft of leaves, the locals appear busy on account of it being a weekday. This was unexpected and I kept wondering what lay ahead.
After a smooth check-in and sumptuous lunch, we headed to the Dal Lake for a shikara ride. It is 2 pm and still quite cold, but the glorious sunshine makes it worth every penny — the driver says we are lucky to see this weather. We chose a shikara with beautiful motifs in white and set out on what is considered the most famous activity in Srinagar. Just a minute into the heart of the Dal Lake, and the enchanting beauty and peace captivates you. It is pristine, vast and very pleasing to the eye and ear.
It’s the off-season and we enjoy our half an hour ride listening to the oars going into the water and the stillness of nature. The majestic mountains in front, the calm water, and glint of rainbows in the water ripples … I sit back and soak in the beauty.
Soon, I see someone waving at me from another shikara and I return the gesture. They ask, “Madamji, handicrafts lenge? (Ma’am, fancy some handicrafts?) All home made?”
“A floating market? Are you here to sell me goods?” I ask, waking up from my “pleasant dream” as I am suddenly brought back to reality.
I buy a blue tray and bid a quick goodbye. But then, soon there are many of those selling kesar, flowers and dry fruits. I say no to them all and get back to nature — just the Dal and me. It was too precious a moment to be lost.
The evening is spent visiting the famous Nishat gardens and a 100-year-old factory shop that specialises in carpets and Pashmina shawls. There is not much to do in Srinagar after sunset and we decide to get back to our hotel.
We decide to call it a day after wazwan dinner and as I surf the internet, I am shocked to read about a terror attack in Srinagar a few hours ago. It says two policemen were killed in a terror attack in Srinagar that morning.
I am taken aback and intrigued at how calm and normal things were as we went about our day. It seems as if the people in the Valley had learnt to take the beauty and the occasional disturbances in their stride, with both existing in a strange, oxymoronic way.
The next morning we head to Gulmarg, which is around 58 km away from Srinagar. Clear skies and a white blanket of snow as far as one can see, it is beauty at its peak.
We reach Gulmarg at 10 am and head for the Gondola ride, a ropeway that goes up to the height of 12,293 feet — the second highest in the world and the highest in Asia. The nine-minute ride is smooth and offers breathtaking views. Beautiful, glorious mountains, chilling winds and glorious sunshine... words fail to describe this beauty.
There are many professional skiers here from all parts of the world and a few of them take a helicopter ride to the peak and then ski their way back. We try out some snow games — snow scooter, sledge and even savour the kahwa and corn at that height — before making our retreat.
As our plane soared above the sun-kissed, snow-laden Himalayas, my mind went back to the beauty and memories of these two days. It is not without reason that they say, “Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto – hamin asto – hamin asto” (If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here).