They always said Kashmir is a true paradise on earth. Being a decently acquainted Indian traveller, I always assumed they were exaggerating, probably to promote travel. I was wrong. Kashmir today and forever, stands as a dreamy land, one filled with exquisite wonders, an old-world charm. The tales of the Kashmir experience always begin with the sensational cold winds that hit your face just as you exit your aircraft at the Srinagar airport. Well, mine began right before that.
It was this exquisite view from inside the flight that took my breath away. That is exactly when I knew, this is heaven right here.
My travel diaries were always filled with solo experiences and trips taken with friends. But this one was truly special to my heart for it was my first trip to Kashmir. It was a novel experience; the joy, the fear and the excitement. So was Kashmir, and my-my, I must say, I was in for a surprise.
This story will, as it must, talks of a heavenly paradise; home to the mighty Himalayas, of saffron fields and apple orchards, of streams along snow-lined roads and majestic pine trees, littered perfectly amidst the snow-capped mountains!
I arrived in the mesmerizing city of Srinagar, making my way through the cobbled streets. The charming weather, the charismatic people, and the brilliant culture were nothing short of astonishing. Bearded men huddled in groups chatting away to glory, women with scarves and apple cheeks and a natural magnetism; that is Kashmir for you.
A perfectly appetizing Kashmiri lunch alongside the Dal lake awaited my taste buds!
Visiting the Nishat Garden of Srinagar left me absolutely awe-struck.
I always wondered how a travel writer had the power to look at places for its golden sandy beaches and pristine snow-kissed valleys. Being one, Kashmir gave me a lot of the latter. The power to smell the fresh air, to see compassion in the eyes of men and women who belong here and to witness life slowing down amidst the shadow of a torrid past.
Kashmir has always boasted of elegantly designed houseboats on the Dal Lake, the cable cars and skiing in Gulmarg and snowboarding and horse riding in Sonamarg. It truly is the land of the Gods and a heaven for travelers. Couldn’t miss out on these experiences, could I?
The Shikara Ride on the Dal was a peaceful allure to my city soul. It could not have been any more perfect than this chilly evening to embark on this lovely ride. While I witnessed the sun setting on one side, my senses were in for a surprise as the moon rose from behind the mountains on the other side.
A perfect song playing on my phone while watching the sunset; life, right here, was perfect.
The day ended perfectly and it was time to say hello to a new day!
An exciting day trip to Gulmarg was waiting for me and my enthusiasm was over the roof!
Gulmarg! What a heavenly experience! Greeted with this exquisite view, my Kashmir experience was truly legendary. Driving my way to the top through the beautiful winding roads lined with snow, every turn welcomed me with spectacular views while every path was lined with unexpected surprises.
The sledges were an extraordinary delight and one must admire the effort put in by the locals here to give travelers the best experience they could ask for. It might come as a surprise to many but I have never witnessed snow before. This was my first experience and it was truly magical.
The Cable Car Ride was a romance-filled sight. As I made my way through to the top, my senses were enlightened with nature’s glory as I witnessed skiers swishing their way past me below, amidst the virgin snow paths dotted with pine trees.
Standing atop 13,000 feet and experiencing a view so magical, how could one resist a plate of Maggi and hot Kahwa?
My journey back was tiresome yet made refreshing by the haunting memories of the day I carried back. A vision I would never erase from my mental picture, the Kashmir experience was as brilliant as I had hoped for.
Another freezing February night followed a beautiful sun-kissed morning and off I went galloping into another paradise!
Sonamarg awaited me with open arms. Although the journey was not as picturesque as the road to Gulmarg, the local sights of timid villages, quaint alleys, and smoky kitchens made me feel culturally charged. And then it began, another day like no other, as I arrived at our destination and my life was changed forever.
Another first is what I call it. The 2-hour horse ride beat any other experience, except the fantabulous view of course. The narrow roads that were lined with the mountains on one side were equally met by a deep dip on the other end, where the frozen river flowed. And in between was a view of the perfect snow-clad hilltops, the silence of the valleys only broken with the horses’ galloping!
What is it about horses that make human hearts go swishy inside? Is it their loving eyes or their graceful walk?
The viewpoints left me speechless. Crossing a narrow bridge below which the river flowed, I entered a paradise of sorts, a truly enigmatic reflection of heaven of my Kashmir experience.
From building a snowman, all adorned with a cap and sunglasses to joy fighting with snowballs, I did it all. Life slowed down and harmony dawned upon me, like a slo-mo movie, but too real to explain! All in good time, this was it. It was time to bid adieu to this heavenly meadow.
Kashmir without houseboats is like chai without samosa! If you think you know Kashmir, try your luck with the Kashmir Quiz. A special trip requires a special stay and I loved the centrally-heated houseboat suite I was upgraded to on the Nageen Lake. The view was painfully pleasurable and I wished it would never end.
But it did. The feeling dawned upon me with sunrise, it was time to go back home. The people of the valley – taxi drivers, shikara drivers, sledge riders, horse owners, hoteliers, and shop keepers – they all made me feel at home. They stole my wanderlust heart with their simplicity and love, and they were so cordial and friendly, it felt like they were just like me, yet different.
With such pristine views, the experience of the friendly locals, the absolutely delicious food, the charming cool winds, the snow-clad mountains and memories of forever, I already wish to go back again!
Such was my Kashmir experience and that is how I discovered this land of paradise. Now it is your turn, to let nature entice you and allow yourself to be charmed by what it has to offer. After all, you only live once.
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