Saturday, 31 October 2015

Kashmir Damaka

When we announced our plans to combine a tour of Kashmir with our visit to Delhi, it met with a mixed reception.  Our relatives were apprehensive in view of reports of firing in the border and of local unrest.  My niece with whom we were to stay in Delhi put it neatly as ‘It is okay for you if there is no problem.  But while you are enjoying your holidays, here we will be worrying about you.  So why don’t you choose some other place like Gangtok?”  We took time and trouble to allay their fears and took off to Srinagar by Indigo flight 6E-435.  We were received at the airport by the local contact of Goibibo, Riaz.  We had booked our tour with Goibibo, modifying their package, “Festive Damaka, Srinagar”.  Riaz introduced the driver, Mansoor, who is to be with us the whole tour.

First day of the tour we spent in the house-boat, “Morning Star” which is moored in the Dal lake.  It is a big boat in which more than one family can stay at any time.  But as it was off season we were the only family staying there. That evening we went on a Shikara ride in Dal lake.  Shikara is a long wooden boat which is a cultural symbol of Kashmir.  It is paddled from the rear and it is used for multiple purposes.  The ones used by tourists have a bright canopy and have cushioned seats with back rests. To ride in the placid waters watching the sunset and the moored houseboats on either banks and the floating shops selling all kinds of merchandise was a pleasant experience.  The multiple boats peddling various wares that criss-cross your path, distant mountains and the fountains at the farther end of the lake all these add to the charm of the ride. As we retired to the houseboat after the ride there was a slight drizzle, which later turned into a steady shower in the night. Photos of day 1 can be viewed in Flickr album “Dal Lake Houseboat,Kashmir” @

The next day braving the showers we shifted to Hotel Royal Batoo where our stay had been arranged for the next three nights.  In the afternoon as the rains had slowed down we went out to visit the Mughal gardens.  On the way we equipped ourselves with an umbrella each, so that we can go round the gardens even in the rains. But still our movements were restricted as the grounds were slippery. But what little we could see was quite impressive.  Shalimar gardens and Nishat gardens together are referred to as Mughal Gardens as they were built by Mughal kings.  We have such gardens in Delhi and Agra as well among other places.

The third day the rain had eased considerably and there were only drizzles now and then for a short spell.  So we could make the scheduled trip to Pahalgam without any problem.  Though we carried the umbrellas as a matter of caution there was little need to use it even in Awantipura, which was our first stop on the way to Pahalgam. Here we explored the ruins of Avantiswamin temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, built by King Avantivarman. We can still see the relics of beautiful carvings, big colonnades, and vast courtyards and could visualise mentally how imposing the temple would have been in its heyday.  On the way to Pahalgam we again halted briefly at an apple garden.  We could only see the rich ripe fruits hanging in several trees from a distance and we could not venture near the trees as the ground was very slushy and slippery.  Pahalgam is a hill station on the Lidder River and is a Bollywood favourite as it abounds in scenic spots. Here we can go on horse-ride ride to a nearby valley or a meadow.  We did not venture due to the uncertain weather, though there were no rains in the afternoon. We went round the place, which is also called “shepherd’s village” admiring the fast flowing river and the gorgeous mountains around. We returned enjoying the sights of the scenic valley in the emerging sunshine signifying the end of rains.

Next day we were greeted by glorious sunshine as we made our way to Gulmarg, another hill station.  This is within few miles of border with Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Gulmarg is in a different direction and also of a higher altitude as compared to Pahalgam.  In fact it had snowed in The Mountains of Gulmarg on the day when there were rains in Srinagar. Luckily thanks to the changed climate it was not that much cold as we feared. Here there is a Gondola ropeway connecting Gulmarg to Apharwat peak that runs in two stages. We only took the ride to the first stage, which is at a height of 2600m, and did not go further. We went on a horse-ride from car park to Gondola station. Photos taken during Pahalgam, Gulmarg trips can be viewed in Flickr album, “Pahalgam, Gulmarg” @

Next day was Bakrid and so the driver came only in the afternoon for our local trip.  Further there was an air of tension in the city in view of the agitation on cow-slaughter.  So as a precautionary measure internet connections had been cut from previous day itself and there was also visible presence of troops in street corners. It seems that there had been an incident of Pakistan flag-waving after Bakrid prayers that morning, in one place, which did not spread and of which we came to know only later.  The security was also tight in Shankaracharya hill which we visited that afternoon.  Shankaracharya hill is also alternately known as Gopadri hill and Suleiman hill.  There is a temple dedicated to Lord Siva at the top of the hill which is about 1000 feet above the ground.  We can go by car up to a stage and then climb 243 steps to reach the vicinity of the temple.  Another 10 steep steps have to be climbed to reach the temple. Not only for the temple but also for the magnificent view of the city and the Dal Lake the climb is worth making. There is also a small cave near the temple where Adhi Sankara had performed tapas. There is a security post near the place where cars are parked and no camera or mobile phone is allowed beyond that point.  Photos taken of Mughal Gardens and Shankaracharya  hill can be viewed in the Flickr album, “ Srinagar stay and sights” @

Next morning we left Srinagar by Indigo flight 6E-436 and reached Delhi safely with a load of memorable experiences, to the great relief of my niece and her husband.