It was 5:30 in the evening on the clock. I started to pack my stuff and leave the office premises. It was my last working day in this office as I had plans to expand my own business that picked up well in the last couple of years giving me desired benefits. There was still a time of 15 days before I was supposed to indulge in my own run firm, so there was a plan already on my bucket list to go on a solo trip but, the destination was yet to be picked. As I sat down in my office cab for the last time, I started browsing my social media accounts, and it was of course! Facebook that made me finalise my destination resort which was Kashmir! As seen in scores of movies and some pictures on Internet, I was always mesmerised by it, the thought of high snow covered mountains, lush green valleys, crystal watered lakes, shikaras, houseboats, shrines, temples and much more had always fascinated me.
I quickly booked the tickets and arranged for my stay, pretty excited to commence the journey to paradise. I boarded an early morning flight, it was a short flight but, the views were enough to thrill anyone. The sight of majestic mountains was nothing less than scenery for me. The plane started to descend towards the runway surrounded by the lofty mountains, the glimpse of the alluring city from the top could take anyone’s breath away! I wondered if this is what I see from far, how wonderful it would be to get closer to it. The moment I got out of the airport, I was arrested by the magical mountain air that I stood there for a while to sniff some dose of freshness. The prepaid taxi took me to the hotel, where I was welcomed warmly by the staff wearing the most genuine smile carrying a cup of freshly made traditional drink “Kiawah”. After finishing the check-in formalities I was taken to my room on the top floor, the minute I enter the room, I could smell a woody fragrance amalgamated with the mountain breeze. Ah! Satisfied enough, I toured the room and approached towards the balcony, it was huge, fitted with comforting low sitting and a small table ideal to have a cup of hot tea any time of the day. The best part about the room was the view of sublime Dal Lake bordered by shikaras and houseboats.
After all that happiness, I decided to freshen up and take a small nap. In the evening, I planned on taking a stroll around the nearby area; the market was full of rosy faces, pleasing enough to make you smile. I browsed some of the local shops full of handicrafts, traditional jewellery, pashminas and Kashmiri wear, from where I picked some souvenirs for my dear ones and dry fruits to keep myself warm. Since it was evening time and it started to get chilly, I headed to a local restaurant to try some of their local delicacies, the ambience of the restaurant was very cosy, decorated with traditional stuff. I ordered mutton rogan josh with naan, the aroma of it filled my mouth with water, every bite of it showered burst of flavours and spices. After finishing up the meal, I started to walk towards the hotel to surrender myself in the lap of nature’s abode.
The next morning was scheduled for a trip to picturesque Dal Lake, which was quite closer to the hotel, on reaching there, I was gathered by the number of boatmen to offer a ride. I started to walk towards my Shikara that I could see from a distance embellished with sparkling mirror work on a Kashmiri embroidered cloth, I sat on it with the most dreamy feeling in my mind, and with every drift of it, I could hear the sweetest sound in my ears. After a soothing shikara ride, I headed towards the famous Mughal gardens, influenced by Mughal architecture designed in Persian style. Laid with terraced lawns, flowing water streams, dancing fountains and colourful flowers, the gardens are anything that you can ask from nature. What adds more to their charm are the nearby hills topped with a blanket of clouds. The place is so heavenly that it will remind you of saying “If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!”. Some of the most attractive Mughal gardens are Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Chashme Shahi and Pari Mahal.
The next day was bright and sunny. I woke up to the most astonishing view anyone could see. With every step getting closer to the window, it was getting prettier and prettier as if the colours played around a trick. All energised, I was geared up to roam around the stunning Tulip strips. I reached Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden at around 9:30 in the morning, and trust me, every inch of it was covered with a spread of spectacular rows of Tulips; similar to the one in Holland; it made me watch the most magnificent site of my life. Such a brilliant arrangement of widely spread tulips in different colours and sky-high Zabarwan hills in the backdrop are frame-worthy; the true colours of nature held in one place! After creating memories in the breathtaking Tulip garden, I decided to shop for some local handicrafts while satisfying my taste buds with Kashmiri street treats. My friend told me about a place called “Challi Point”, so I dropped down there to try some smoking hot chicken and fish accompanied with chutneys and naan including a sweet savoury to complete the meal! In Spite of full stomach, I could not resist myself from hogging onto “Lala Changram” a sweet prepared by blending sugar, semolina and flour and then deep fried in ghee to serve incredibly sugary treat.
As the evening started to get darker, my excitement began to grow even more as this night was booked to stay in a Houseboat. I began to walk towards my hotel with a mind full of all those beautiful things, on reaching the hotel, I collected my belongings, from where a staff member escorted me till my houseboat which was booked by the Hotel only. The glimpse of houseboat carried me to another world, how I wish to stay here forever, such a quaint place with everything right is where I want to be! The lavish dinner was served, with delicious Kashmiri dishes and naan. The best part about hills is that your body starts to function so well, the heavy lunch was digested quickly, leaving enough space in my stomach to hog again! I started with a cup of Kewah, which was served in the open area of the boat amid chill air. The main course included “Matschgand” a dish prepared with minced meat balls in thick red spicy gravy, naan and “Modur Pulao” a sweetened rice dish prepared with milk, ghee, cinnamon and saffron; a portion of real food for your soul. After finishing delectable dinner and before calling it a day, I sat outside for a while to catch the glance of sparkling lights seen in chunks all over the town, like the dust of stars.
Next morning, I woke up with the chirpiness of birds and rays of golden sun falling on the floor. It was 7 in the morning and tea was already served. After spending a little more time at a happy place, I packed my things and got ready for my last resort, Pahalgam, a small town situated at a distance of 95 km from the capital. My idea was to revive and relax in Pahalgam, unleashing myself in the middle of apple orchids, pine trees, flowing ice water streams and everything that nature can offer. I reached Pahalgam by noon, checked in to the hotel and had a simple lunch made of rice and lentils with a bowl of curd. After lunch, I was ready to head to Baisaran, also called as mini Switzerland, to spend some time with the thing which could not be found in a city. I opted for a horse ride to reach the place due to its long distance from the site where I was staying. On reaching the place, I could not believe my eyes, I have been to several places on hills but Baisaran was explicitly unique, the landscape was in high definition, perfect postcard picture location it was. There were many leisure activities for the tourists like ball ride, getting clicked in Kashmiri traditional attire, play around with fluffy rabbits and sheep. I got some pictures clicked with snow-white rabbits, then grab a bowl of soupy maggie from the local shop and sat on the grassy land to capture all that I can with my eyes. It was such a peaceful time spent with nature, just staring at high snow clad mountains and grassland filled my heart with great pleasure that I wondered do we need all that digitalisation and modernisation to know the worth of life. It was my last evening in evergreen Kashmir and it was so magical that I never wanted to leave, with this though I reached my hotel and got off to sleep.
The next day, after having a hearty breakfast, I sat down in my cab to the airport with a bag full of loads of unforgettable memories and bid goodbye to mind-blowing Kashmir!
By Ramneek Kaur.