When I first googled Kashmir, the video that came up had this question as its title,
“Why are India and Pakistan fighting over Kashmir?”
I could only guess and not fully know the answers to this until I visited the place myself.
Kashmir is every bit of the heaven, people have always claimed it to be. Every panorama etched in front of my eyes was a poem in itself and every frame was a painting which seemed too surreal to be true. However, there’s so much more to this place than the magical blue skies, sun-kissed snow peaks and breathtaking valleys. This place has stories that you can only read through your hearts, a history that you can only unfold with your eyes and a mysterious charm which you can only feel with your senses.
Since It was impossible to sum it all up in one article, I will be writing about my trip in three parts, starting from it’s chaotic but mesmerizing capital – Srinagar.
THE CITY OF LAKES, GARDENS AND MOUNTAINS.
First of all, let me tell you that I’m a Mumbaikar. So traveling to a cold destination is always a good idea for us. What made it even more exciting is that the flight journey to Srinagar offered us a magnificent and up-close view of the Himalayan range from my window. Yes, I was literally in the hills! White, gigantic mountains that I had only ever seen in movies or geographic channels were suddenly so close to me. Kashmir, you had me right there!
A four-hour long journey later, we landed in Srinagar, the summer capital or I would like to say, the heart of Kashmir. We were greeted with a pleasantly cool atmosphere coupled with landscapes of endless greenery. Since we had planned the trip with the help of a travel agency, it turned out to be hassle-free. Our driver, who was Kashmiri, was already waiting for us outside the airport. He definitely knew the city in and out and kept telling us about the landmarks as we passed them on our way.
TIP: Doing some research before you plan your trip gives you an idea of the place. You can also search for smaller travel agencies online, call them and get to know their packages and itinerary like I did. I found them to be much more reliable and affordable than the bigger, known ones.
Srinagar has its own charm. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained city with colourful houses, buzzing markets and people with the warmest smiles! While the city’s centre boasts of a happening neighbourhood around the lake, drawing tourists into its contemporary life, the outskirts dotted with historical Mughal Gardens placed beautifully within the mountains bring back the old world charm, making this side of the city perfect for romantic getaways.
Getting back to our arrival, we drove towards the interiors of the city and soon reached the shore of the famous Dal Lake. Got to know that our first stay was on a Houseboat. And how do you reach one? By a Kashmiri boat.
Boating is one thing but rowing on a Shikara? It’s one hell of an amazing ride. Too bad it ended just as quickly because it didn’t take much time to reach our houseboat named ‘The Ambassador’. How fancy! Just like its name, this masterpiece was both a royal house and an elegant boat.
From the moment we stepped on it, I and my brother wanted to explore every corner of it. We just couldn’t wrap our minds around what we were experiencing. We were tired but couldn’t sleep. Such was the joy of the idea of living on that fascinating houseboat. Every element here added to its grandeur, be it the dazzling chandeliers, the vintage furniture or the luxurious carpets.
“The Britishers were fond of all things fine”,
said the owner of the houseboat who was happy to have us as his guest.
DAL LAKE – THE CALM AMIDST THE CHAOS.After spending some time on our houseboat, we went on a proper Shikara ride as we couldn’t wait to explore Dal Lake and it’s beauty. The breeze was turning cold and the sun was setting, leaving behind a golden tinge in the atmosphere.
If I were to define this evening in one word, it would be peaceful. As we started moving away from the houseboats towards the middle of the Lake, the evening kept getting darker and the views, better. Tracing a dimly lit city and faded mountains, the lake’s reflection game was indeed a specimen of nature’s work of art. For all I remember, this wasn’t just a ride, it was a mood, a beautiful state of mind.
Since we couldn’t finish the entire lake tour that evening, we came back again the next morning to visit the floating market and other attractions in and around the lake. The morning views didn’t disappoint as well. Apart from the colourful scenes of Shikaras and city banks, this is what I was able to capture.
The floating market was full of shops that introduced us to the craftsmanship of Kashmiri artisans. From Sarees with delicate embroidery to cozy winter coats, these shops had them all. The best part of this market (apart from it being floating) is that there are a lot of vendors and varieties of designs to choose from. Couldn’t find the colour you want? The next shop might have it. Couldn’t find something unique to gift someone? The next lane might be full of treasures.
OF FEISTY FOOD AND GORGEOUS GARDENS
Srinagar is home to one of the tastiest cuisine of India – The fiery Kashmiri Cuisine. Here, we got to relish meat like never before. While on our expedition to the gardens of Kashmir, we stopped at a local restaurant to get our hands on Kashmir’s traditional dishes like Wazwan and Goshtaba. Unfortunately, I was so hungry that clicking pictures completely slipped my mind. However, the memory is still very fresh and I can clearly remember how delighted each one of us was at the end of that grand lunch.
Jaw drop and hands down!
One cannot help but marvel at the wonderful creations that are the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir. It’s crazy how big and beautiful they truly are. I had never seen such precisely planned and intelligently constructed gardens in my entire life. How could they not be? They are the living examples of Persian style architecture brought by the Mughal Dynasty in India during their reign.
We started off with the beautiful Nishat Bagh, a state-of-the-art garden which resides on the Eastern Bank of Dal Lake. Once inside, expect to see a series of fountains surrounded by rows of Chinar trees. When you climb up to the higher levels, you start to realise that this garden is made up of terraces, each overlooking a beautiful view of the Dal Lake. When you reach the top, you’ll also notice that the lowest terrace is in fact connected to the lake. Genius!
Next up, we visited a similar (yet unique in its own way) garden called Chashma Shahi which is built around a natural spring. Water from the spring falls and forms the first level, which then continues to pour into a pool with fountains at the centre, forming the second level. We went to the source of the spring and drank the cold, clear water. To our surprise, it was really pure. Just FYI, even Indira Gandhi had visited this fountain to drink the spring water because it’s considered to be full of medicinal properties.
Surprises, I found out had just begun for me. The garden I visited after this i.e. the Shalimar Bagh was undoubtedly the finest of all. Built by Jahangir, this one exudes royalty on every level. As you keep going higher, it feels like walking into a Mughal Darbar made up of multiple Diwans. That’s because this garden has some architectural gems built at the edge of every terrace, setting it apart in terms of design. Huge pavilions that create mesmerizing shadows in the fountain water were the highlight of this place, at least for me. This isn’t just another garden, it’s a fine example of how the Mughals mastered the art if merging architecture with nature and built an experience out of it.
Writing the first part of this article has definitely brought back some fond memories of my trip. However, my journey and my quest to find out more about Kashmir has just begun. So stay tuned as we’re about to travel deeper in the next chapters.