Saturday, 8 September 2012

Jammu and Kashmir

It was a family trip with my wife and four year old son. It was long due since in the last six years of our married life we never had done any long tour though I myself have travelled a lot for official reasons because of the nature of the jobs which I have taken till date. For my wife and my son it was the first trip out of the state so they were very excited for this trip and so was I since I was going to visit the region of Kashmir for the first time in my life though I had visited almost 20 states till that time. Following is the general experience based on the itinerary. I am refraining from expressing my thoughts since I need to keep it short, sweet and in one post.

26 August
Started from Mumbai by Swaraj Express.
Train taking us to Jammu
27 August
Reached Jammu in the evening 4:00 pm. Journey was long but made good by good company of passengers around and a group of tourist with whom I could share some advises as well as anxiousness. In Jammu, we visited Raghunath Temple. They do not allow cameras inside. The temple complex is worth a visit and claims to have all the 33 crores of Hindu deities. Just opposite the temple there is Amritsarian di Hatti, a restaurant where you can get tasty snacks. Try their piping hot Gulab jamuns. The cyber cafe owner who happened to be a Hindu migrant from Kashmir gave lot of advise about safety, expressed his grief and shared his memories. That was very touching.
Raghunath Mandir view from out hotel in Jammu
28 August
Started from Jammu for Pahalgam at 8:30 am. We had hired a vehicle. On way after about drive of 4 hours comes Peerah, a village with lots of Dhabas famous for Rajma Rice topped with Desi Ghee. I highly recommend to stop for the same. Some of the Dhabas offer beautiful views of a dam and a hydroelectric power plan on Chenab river in the valley. On this highway which connects Jammu to Srinagar, one has to pass through Jawahar Tunnel which is almost 2 km long and it is an experience itself. After crossing the tunnel we enter Kashmir valley and after a few kilometres of hilly road one reaches Titanic View Point. It offers the first view of Kashmir valley and when we saw it with golden coloured rice fields it was just mesmerising. We took a detour to Verinag. This is the place where Jhelum river originates. A beautiful reservoir with clean, cool and blue water with a back drop of deep green forest and garden around it makes it a very serene place. It is one of the most memorable place that I visited in Kashmir. After spending time travelling on a flat road with beautiful double story houses, rice fields, apple and pear orchards on both the sides of the road, we reached Anantnag and suddenly we became uncomfortable with the crowds and chaos in the town. The town is full of bearded men and completely veiled women giving it the feel of an Islamic Extremist town. No wonder they want to rename it Islamabad. The original name Anantnag however beautifully means the place where uncountable number of streams emerge. We continued towards Pahalgam and at one point met white and pure waters of river Lidder which accompanied us throughout upto Pahalgam. At some of its sections between Anantnag and Pahalgam one can do river rafting and facilities for the same are available.
Dam on Chenab river
Origin of Jhelum at Verinag
Lidder river at Pahalgam
29 August
Our hotel offered good view of the Lidder river and the forested hills. In the morning after breakfast of tasty Aaloo Paranthas and tea at the hotel itself, we started for the Pahalgam sight seeing. First we visited Besaran meadow in the morning. Riding on the steep and hilly paths while taking my son on the same pony was quite an experience. It took us almost 3.5 hours to return to Pahalgam taxi statio from Besaran covering some other nearby points. After having a light lunch we started off for Aru valley and Betaabwadi. On these routes there are lots of spots where Bollywood film songs have been shot and we heard a lot about the same from our taxi driver. Aru valley has a similar meadow like Besaran. The other points nearby were not covered by us however since we were tired of our first pony rides. Betabwadi is a nice peaceful place on the side of the river which is one of the tributaries of Lidder. Many locals were also seen taking dips into the river water and it was making me envious of them since I also wanted to do it was not carrying spare clothes.
DSCN1706Besaran Meadow
DSCN1729Pony wallah
DSCN1743Betab Wadi
30 August
We took a taxi in the morning and reached Srinagar. It was my friend Ashraf, who had helped me with the planning and bookings of the tour. Now I just left everything to him. He came in the evening accompanied by one of his friend Mushtaq. They drove us to Parimahal and Chashmeshahi. Parimahal is located at a higher location and offers beautiful views of Srinagar and Dal Lake. Chashmeshahi is a place with origin of a spring and a garden with fountains. After that we spent some time on the banks of Dal Lake snacking on roasted corn. The smell coming from nearby Kebab stall was very much inviting but could not go for the same given the company of my pure vegetarian wife.
DSCN1785View of Dal Lake from Parimahal
31 August
It was the day allocated for Gulmarg. We waited for one of Ashraf’s friend Sajjad who was going to drive us there. I had read some travelogues, searched internet and interacted on web communities for this Kashmir trip. I had listed some places for visit. There were some also on Gulmarg route but with Sajjad coming late, could not cover them. I realised that I had decided to be more of a guest of Ashraf than a demanding tourist and had decided to leave everything on him. After this realisation my itching about the same stopped and I became relaxed. We went to Gulmarg and did the famous Gondola ride, the tickets of which we had already booked online. The second point of Affarwat was the place which we were looking forward too for experiencing snow, especially for my son and my wife who were going to see it for the first time. We got it after a small climb from the gondola station. It was made difficult for me since I had to carry my son and that too in the thin air at that high altitude. The Indian tourists were behaving very irresponsibly by throwing garbage here and there and I could not expect anything different from them. In the evening after return we had dinner with Ashraf and his family. I could taste some Kashmiri stuff which was very much palatable. Tabak Maas, Kaantee Kebab were quite delicious. My wife had to bear with me eating non vegetarian food somehow.
DSCN1914Snow finally
1 September
In the morning till the time we were waiting for Ashraf to come to take us to the houseboat, we visited Pratap Singh Museum. It is a place where we learnt a lot about Kashmir’s history and culture. Not many tourists visit this place but for the interested it is very valuable. Then in the afternoon we reached houseboat. It was just across one of the ghats on Dal Lake. We took a longer Shikara ride after taking lunch and I recommend it highly though I found the pressure of floating vendors too much. But I have to appreciate the fun of shopping while being on the water. After shikara ride, we visited Shankaracharya Temple and the three Mughal gardens viz. Botanical garden, Nishat garden and Shalimar garden. All the sites were just beautiful though it was quite tiring since we covered them very fast. The day ended with very bad food at the restaurant near the ghat on Dal lake. The ambience and nice comfortable bed on the houseboat helped to balance the bad mood which was set after dinner.DSCN1978With a group of Kashmiri girls living in Dal Lake
DSCN1990Habitations in Dal Lake
DSCN2039Flowers at Nishat Garden
2 September
With very boring and expensive breakfast on houseboat, we were all prepared for getting back home. Ashraf picked us up and drove us to the airport. We also did the last remaining shopping for the apples, apricots, walnuts, saffron and traditional Kashmiri rice all under his local knowledge about the good places to buy them. They did not come cheap but we got very good quality products and back at home all people are happy relishing them. Srinagar airport has very long repetitive security procedure so we had to start very early for the airport.

8 September
We are still basking in the memories of our trip and have forgotten all haggling and bargaining we had to do and also the backaches developed because of being unaccustomed to long pony rides on the rough hilly terrains. We are now left with a wish to visit many places we were not able to cover during this trip. Special thanks go to Ashraf for making my trip to Kashmir smooth and easy and for his great hospitality. Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu and Kashmir Police are doing a great job by making the region a safe haven for the tourists and I hope that peace returns to the Kashmir and remains like that forever.

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