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. It was a trip to Kashmir. I didn’t need to pinch myself to believe so, for I have never felt more awake. 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. This trip to Kashmir brought out the happiest version of me.
Our explorations on this trip to Kashmir 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 Dal Lake, a stillness that feels as if you are staring at a painting on a larger-than-life canvas, casts its hypnotic spell on you. Nature, after all, is the most skilful artist. The customary Shikara ride is an experience unto itself, as you feel like these tiny wooden boats are pushing their way through a liquid mirror.
Your experience of wading through waters of the Dal Lake is incomplete until you soak up the fun and excitement of shopping at the floating markets propped up in the midst of the lake. I made several 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. Catching these shifty boatsmen setting up shop in their canoes is truly a one-of-its-kind experience, especially considering that the Dal Lake is one of the few water bodies around the world to have sustained this unique concept. This market is set up right in the middle of the Dal Lake early morning, so you’ll have to head out at the crack of dawn to experience this first hand.
The best way is to plan it during your houseboat stay on Dal Lake to cut back on travel time. Once you have wrapped up your shopping spree, you can head out for a relaxing two-hour ride on a shikara, exploring some of the innermost canals of the Dal Lake even as the rising sun turns its waters into a hue of liquid gold.
Our next stop was Sonmarg. I have some secret, soul-stirringly beautiful memories of the place. The journey Srinagar 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. Srinagar to Sonmarg distance is about 80 km, and it takes roughly two-and-a-half hours to get there, thanks to the steep, hilly terrain. The best way to travel from Srinagar to Sonmarg is in a taxi, which will cost you in the ballpark of INR 2,000 if your haggling skills are on point.
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. Sonmarg, one of the most popular destinations in the vicinity of Srinagar, is best known for its picturesque natural setting. The Thajwas Glacier, Zero Point, Zojila Pass, and a few tranquil lakes are the biggest drawcards for tourists here. You can also try your hand at adventure activities such as river rafting, sledging, and trekking.
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 you just cannot miss on your trip to 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 makes for soothing imagery. The highlights of the Gulmarg visit during our trip to Kashmir 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 trip to Kashmir 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.