I stepped my foot on the greenest grass, the sky overhead the colour of the finest blue eyes and mountain peaks wrapped in a blanket of snow. The air was cold and also the freshest I have ever breathed. Where was I? You bet I was in heaven indeed.
No, it was not a dream. I didn’t need to pinch myself to believe so, for I have never felt more awake. I was in Kashmir. I can never forget the moment I first stepped foot in this land of mesmerising beauty.
As we ventured out, there was a nagging sense of fear somewhere in the mind, given the ground-reality of the place which is a striking contrast to its pristine beauty. I kept the windows rolled up and covered and even dressed like the locals with the hope of fitting in. My fears didn’t stand a chance to survive in the face of such a beautiful adventure.
I felt completely at home, revelling in small joys like feasting on juicilious hand-plucked apples. The place brought out the happiest version of me.
Our explorations began with Dal Lake, the most iconic spot in all of Srinagar, and arguably the most famous in all of Kashmir too. As you arrive, the serene, quiet atmosphere of the destination, a stillness that feels as if you are staring at a painting on a larger-than-life canvas. Nature, after all, is the most skilful artist. The Shikara ride is an experience unto itself, as you feel like these tiny wooden boats are pushing their way through a liquid mirror.
The floating markets all around stir in an element of fun and excitement. I made several pit stops to buy goods from these shops-on-boats just to see what it feels like to shop while constantly trying to keep your balance.
Our next stop was Sonmarg. I have some secret, soul-stirringly beautiful memories of the place. The journey to Sonmarg was gorgeous too. Zipping past picturesque landscape, crisscrossing our way on the road meandering through the hills, taking in the tranquillity, the drive to Sonmarg was exhilarating. It was here that I first saw a colossal snow-lathered mountain so close that it felt like it was staring me in the face. I had to throw my head all the back to try and see the top of it, but the zenith remained out of sight. In that moment, it felt like it was all there was in the world.
This is a destination closest to my heart. The locals claim it is the deepest lake in all of Kashmir. The amazing thing about this lake is that its water is warm during winter and cold during summer. The lake and its water are considered sacred by the natives of Kashmir. As you sit on the periphery of this water body, you can’t help but marvel at the thought and detail nature puts into its creations.
Gulmarg, the hottest tourist spot of Kashmir, is a large stretch of meadows. I like to call it the largest green carpet I’ve seen. In winter, it turns into an enormous blanket of snow. Even in the peak of summer, you can see snow-capped mountains in the distance. The lush green stretches juxtaposed with pristine white snow and clear blue skies make for a soothing imagery. The highlights of the Gulmarg visit for me were the horse and cable car rides.
It was my first time mounting on horseback and the very idea filled me with a sense of nervous excitement. I secretly spoke to the animal and stoked its face gently before hopping on. The horse seemed to welcome my arrival and gentle trotted all the way to a small freezing water body, which was still a mix of clear water and snow. The cable car was an exciting experience too. The elevation gives to an unimaginable panoramic view of Gulmarg and you have to see it to believe just how beautiful and soothing Kashmir is.
My journey to this ‘heaven’ was spectacular and memorable. I can travel back to this land of unbridled pure scenic beauty whenever I want. I just need to close my eyes and my mind transports me right back there. I feel the chill in the air.