Heavenly Kashmir

 Welcome every onlooker's eyes
   The Restless desire flapped its wings
    I called you lovingly, and at last, you heard me
    Oh, Kashmir, without banging an eyelid
    I wanted to make a snowman
    I wanted to glide through the flakes
    So, let's visit the paradise on earth.  

Kashmir, a land dedicated to water, is unique by every means. The weather, landscape, snow-capped mountains, lakes, culture, cuisine, and fantastic people make Kashmir the country’s finest.

From Srinagar airport, we went straight to Dal Lake. The magnificent view was just breathtaking. We stepped into the houseboats anchored at the Dal Lake near Shikaras (wooden boat). Dal lake is the summer capital of J&K, enclosed by majestic pirpangal mountain and Mughal gardens. The mercury plunged to minus degrees. The one-night stay in the houseboat was marvelous, except for the frequent power outage. The houseboats were different from the ones we are used to in the backwaters of Kerala. Shikkaras cruised quietly, and the houseboats stood still with perfect poising. The one-night stay in the houseboat was a unique experience, a remarkable memory of a lifetime.

After breakfast, we proceeded to Pahalgam. On the way, we witnessed the beautiful chinar trees, the signet of Kashmir. The leaves were golden in colour. Besides walnuts, cherry, berry, pine trees, and willow trees were also seen. Some of them had already shed their leaves and looked naked to greet the arrival of winter. Fun fact, cricket bats are made out of willow trees, and bat-making manufacturers were also seen on the way.

Nearing Pulwama, every 50mtrs on the road saw CRPF men and Trucks loaded with army personnel guarding rifles on the highway. Of course, the region is under the army’s control. But, for the residents, it seemed normal. Everyone had to face the strict security check in the army camp while returning to Srinagar airport.

Saffron is the most expensive spice known to man. It takes 70,000 saffron flowers to make 400 grams of saffron spice. Pulwama is famous for its production, a vastly exported product of the region. Besides Saffron, Pulwama is renowned for producing milk and has surfaced as the Anand of Kashmir, with dairy cooperatives operated by women and youths transforming milk production in the Kashmir Valley.

First, the people are impeccable and attractive. One can easily assume the secret of Kashmiri beauty lies in the amount of Saffron and walnuts used in Kashmiri cuisine. It was fascinating to encounter walnuts in food and drink. It looks like Saffron enhances the skin’s glow and improves skin tone, and consuming almonds enriches beauty. Time to supplement our eating habits with more spice and nuts! 

We visited a shop near the saffron field. Purchased Saffron, Saffron oil, and dried fruits of different varieties. We tasted Shahi Qawah, a herbal tea mixed with Saffron and minced dried fruits. The taste and aroma were exquisite. They are perfect for our health. The rate also seemed more affordable. It was a sure thing to purchase.

The roads were narrow. Common people were using small vehicles, and buses were rarely seen. Roads were only good on highways. On the way, we visited the Avanthishrava Temple ruins in Avantipur, under the control of the Department of Archaeology. Tourism and agriculture were the primary sources of income. 

Our stay in Hotel Milan in Srinagar was alright. A visit to the Aru Valley and Betab Valley added a delight to the nature of Kashmir. Pine trees and snow-capped mountains surrounded the place. Silver lakes were turned gold in the light of the dawn, and the jewel blue river was the soul of the ice-cold mountains.

A visit to Apple valley was ever unforgettable. Apples are everywhere, and we can pick and buy them. Moreover, at a more reasonable rate, we could purchase fresh apple juice and other apple preparations like jam, pickles, etc.

Gulmarg. The visit alighted us to some unknown world. We were lucky enough to experience the sudden fall of snow. Words were not enough to explain. Gulmarg is a must-see place. Once in your lifetime, you should visit. 

All four seasons are apt to visit Kashmir. However, as a precaution against accidents, only small vehicles with chained tires are allowed into the mountain area. On the way, we changed into boots and coats on hire to sustain the ice-cold atmosphere. Roads on either side were snow-covered, snowflakes were falling like rain, and a meadow of snow led us to a more heavenly zone.

Surrounded by lofty snow-covered Himalayas, meadows of flowers, deep ravines, and evergreen forest valleys, Gulmarg also had the world’s second-largest Gondola. A ride in the Gondola offered us a beautiful scenery of pine trees covered with fully embellished snow. Gondola riding was the top attraction of Gulmarg.

A word of caution to the tourists, out of our bad incident with the local sled pullers. They appeared poor and helpful, but they were tricky. While completing the small distance through the ice, they loot us with more than double the amount they initially agreed to. Cheating tourists out of their helplessness was not suitable for a place where the primary source of income depends on tourism. 

The Shikkara ride in Dal lake was enjoyable. While riding, many small boats approached us with loads of elegant accessories for trading. On the shore, shops were seen with intriguing handcrafted items, dress materials, woolen goods, etc. Samovar ranging from 7000 to 4000, was an excellent item to purchase for keeping as an antic lifelong memorial. We visited Nishat and Shalimar Mughal gardens. A visit to this place was worthy of seeking peace of mind and happiness.

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam heavily influence Kashmiri culture. The original hand-woven pashmina clothes occurred as a signature of Kashmir. Pashmina shawls are created from the finest cashmere wool from Ladakh. A single shawl requires thread from about three goats. It sustains a temperature of minus 5 to 50 degrees Celsius – costs starting from ten thousand to lakhs – Kashmiris gifted pashmina clothes to the bride during marriages. It lasts for about fifty years without damage. Pashmina shawls, blankets, carpets, traditional jewelry, silverware items, and samovar for making tea were specials in Kashmir. They usually drink salt tea made in the samovar to suspend cold.

They had developed the art of cooking to a very high degree of complexity, quite distinct from any part of the world. Basmati rice dishes of different varieties were served in the restaurant along with Rogan Josh, Goshtaba, Dum Aloo, Rajma, Naat Yakni, Arabgosth, etc. These were recipes from Kashmiri pundits of the Mughal era. The rich aroma and flavours tantalize the palette and stay in mind. They preferred dishes made out of lambs. Different types of rotis were also seen in the way-wide shops, and the smells were tempting to a foodie like me. A paradise of mouth-watering dishes also awaits those who visit there.

      The distance saw longer
      I am away and away
      But you have always been
       In a thousand ways
       Adieu beautiful Kashmir 
      My dear beloved
       I always remember your fragrance
      That the garden offered me
       Not just in memories
      It would grow old together with me.
Follow K. Syamala

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