Kashmir Diaries (a Travelogue)- Part II
Last month I went for vacation to the beautiful Kashmir Valley. Kashmir is popularly called as 'Paradise on Earth' but sadly the valley has been facing violence and unrest since many years. Tourism forms an important part of Kashmiri economy but was badly affected with the rise in insurgency. However, I found Kashmir to be quite safe for the tourists.
In the previous hub Kashmir Diaries (A Travelogue): Part I, I talked about the famous Mughal Gardens in Srinagar and the scenic Sonamarg. Kashmir is so enchanting and wherever you look, you get a different spectacular view.
I've never seen anywhere in the world as beautiful as Kashmir. It has something to do with the fact that the valley is very small and the mountains are very big, so you have this miniature countryside surrounded by the Himalayas, and it's just spectacular. And it's true, the people are very beautiful too.— Salman Rushdie
Day 3: Pahalgam
We had planned to go to Pahalgam on the third day which is a small hill station. It is about two hours drive from Srinagar. On our way, we stopped at Pampore which is famous for saffron fields.There are various fixed price shops on both sides of the highway from where you can buy authentic saffron. The drive to Pahalgam was quite pleasant with apple orchids on the way and the river Lidder flowing along.
After reaching Pahalgam, we hired ponies to go to Baisaran, known worldwide as the ‘Mini Switzerland’ owing to its long, dark meadows. Baisaran is just 5 km away from Pahalgam but it takes almost one hour to reach there through ponies. The track was quite off-beaten and rough but a real treat for the senses.The thick pine trees that lend the green-carpet look to the glade gives a differentiating hue to snow-topped crests of the encompassing mountains.
Pahalgam is also famous as the site of the annual Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage. Since the pilgrimage was due to start in four days, there was heavy army deployment and frequent security checks. The entry to Chandanwari (base camp for the pilgrimage) was closed during the day as the army was setting up base camp for the pilgrims who come from all over India. So we had to skip Chandanwari and hired a cab to visit Aru & Betaab Valley.
Aru Valley is just 15 kms away from Pahalgam but the drive up to Aru is a scenic one with amazing views of the Lidder Valley. The blue canopy over the head, surreal surroundings, whispering pines & conifers and wonderful green glades make Aru an idyllic destination. Many Bollywood movies have been shot here and the driver kept showing us all the locations.
Next we went to the beautiful Betaab Valley. The Lidder River runs through the scenic Betaab Valley. This valley ascribed its name to the hit Bollywood film Betaab, which was shot in its picturesque surroundings. Sprawling lush meadows with winding streams surrounded by snow-topped peaks form this amazing valley.
Day 4: Gulmarg
Gulmarg literally means meadow of flowers. It is a popular skiing destination, situated around 52 kms from Srinagar. Gulmarg Gondola, one of the main attractions of Gulmarg is the second highest cable car in the world. The Gondola ride gives you the most extravagant views of Kashmir valley and snow-capped mountains. Gulmarg also has the world’s second highest golf course, which is situated at an altitude of 2650 m. It is an 18-hole golf course and is spread over an area of 7505 yards.
We set off early in the morning and on our way, we stopped at Tangamarg. One can hire wollen jackets, gloves and rubber boots from there. The uphill drive from Tangamarg to Gulmarg is beautiful. There are tall pine & deodar trees all around. It was drizzling and the weather was cold and foggy.
On reaching Gulmarg, we went to the Gondola ticket counter to book our tickets. Unfortunately, the Gondola ride was available only till phase 1 as phase 2 was closed due to bad weather. We were a bit disappointed but booked the tickets. The gondola ride to phase 1 Kongdoori station took approximately ten minutes. The weather up there was quite pleasant and the beautiful meadows were enchanting. The local vendors up there told us that there was no chance of Gondola phase 2 that day due to bad weather and suggested that we hire ponies to go up to Khilanmarg. It took us half an hour to reach there and the vast stretch of snow made the ride worth it. Activities like sledging, snow-biking, skiing are available there. The snow all around and a beautiful waterfall amidst it made for a picturesque view.Though we missed on Gondola phase 2 ride, but Gulmarg trip was still memorable.
Day 5: Srinagar
It was our last day in Srinagar. We had already visited the Mughal Gardens on the first day. We started the day with a visit to the Shankaracharya temple. Believed to be the oldest shrine in the Kashmir valley, Shankaracharya Temple is situated on a hill peak, 1100 feet above the sea level and is a beautiful place to catch the majestic nature at its best. The view from the top is truly enchanting.
Our next stop was the Pari Mahal which is a stunning historical monument situated right next to the Chashme Shahi Gardens. Built in the classic Islamic style architecture, this palace is also known as the home of fairies courtesy the six well-maintained terraced gardens it boasts of right on top of the Zabarwan Hills. This place also attracts a number of nature lovers owing to the beautiful views and the lovely gardens.
Afterwards we took a shikara ride in the pristine Dal lake.It is a delight to witness an absolutely splendid view here with lush green mountains in the backdrop and a crystal clear reflection of the sky falling upon the surface of the lake.
Our last stop for the day was Hazratbal Mosque. Standing on the left bank of Dal Lake, Hazratbal is a popular tourist attraction. The mosque sculpted out of white marbles is definitely a captivating watch. The immaculate design and huge dome of the mosque makes it an architectural marvel. It also contains a relic, the Moi-e-Muqqadas, believed to be Muhammad's hair.
Our vacation came to an end and we boarded our flight the next day. It is advisable for the tourists to reach the airport at least two hours before the flight due to the heavy security checkups at the airport. We reached home with memories to last a lifetime. Kashmir is undoubtedly the most beautiful place I have ever been to and I surely want to visit it again. Probably I will visit it during winters sometime as I am sure it will look all the more beautiful with snow all around.
Dal Lake Srinagar Shikara Boat Ride Early Morning Kashmir India
© 2019 Shaloo Walia