The first part of this series can be found here.
The second part of this series can be found here.
On the way to Pahalgam we stopped at a dry fruit shop that sold almonds, walnuts and saffron. The almonds that we tried here were different from the ones we are used to. They could almost be described as juicy, oily and really fresh. We ended up buying way too many expensive and tasty dry fruits. By the time we paid up and were ready to leave the total weight of them worried me a bit. I’m the kind of guy who is always worried about his luggage getting tagged as overweight at check in. We also tried some authentic Kehwa tea that is a Kashmir specialty. It might not be to everyone’s like but don’t leave Kashmir without trying it atleast once.
Though me and my wife have absolutely zero interest in cricket, another couple in a car tagging along with us wanted to buy a bat. So we made what is considered an essential stop on any trip to Kashmir. This particular road had scores of shops lined up on either side of them. The Kashmir willow tree, whose wood is used to craft these bats is what makes them special.
The district of Anantnag that falls on the way to Pahalgam was once known as Islamabad. As with our previous ride to Sonmarg we had another river the Lidder to keep us company along the way.
On reaching Pahalgam we checked into a small hotel with a beautiful view of the same river. While there are other better hotels available in the main town area we preferred this one one which was right inside a little village.
Pahalgam has two different sections that you typically visit from there. The first one takes you uphill and after another negotiation for a pair of horses we set off again. This particular ride is a tough one for the horses as well as their guides. It was hard not to feel a little guilty riding these gentle creatures as they slowly and made their way up some pretty steep slopes.
The ride consists of a few designated points along the route and we stopped here for a bit of Bhajji by the river.
When you reach the top most point you can enjoy some truly stunning views. We took a break here to do a small photo session in traditional clothes that you can simply wear over your regular clothes.
One of the last points is up at the top where you can find a large flat piece of land. This serves as a skiing start off point for tourists when it is covered with snow in the winter months.
There were some points during the ride that our guide would point out locations where scenes from some famous classic Bollywood movies were shot. Me personally not being too familiar with these movies made it hard to relate.
The entire ride can take easily take 2 -3 hours which gave us plenty of time to chat with our guide who was a fairly young guy who had just started college. We learnt that horses names were Dharam and Veer. One was a little older and always took a longer and carefully calculated route while the other one always took the shortest one possible. Descending the slopes while on your horses can seem a little scary initially. It requires that you put complete faith in the horses and their guide.
He also asked me about my profession. When I told him that I worked as a game designer he responded by telling me they love playing Teen Patti on their mobile phones to pass time during the cold winter months.
When we made our way back to the village below one of the locals casually asked us where we were from. When we mentioned Pune he immediately said Keshavnagar Mundhwa which is the exact area where we stay. He said that he loves that place and it’s people and invited us to his home for tea. We were too tired and just a little bit sceptical to accept his offer.
In a tourist driven city when a local mentions that he knows the city you came from it’s easy to assume that he is only saying that to entice you to spend some money on his wares or some other experience. However in this case we had to assume that he was telling the truth because it was highly unlikely that he could have guessed correctly the exact area that we stay at in the vast city of Pune.
We had a nice dinner at a place called Nathus in the center of the town. There were only 3 -4 other tables occupied in an otherwise fairly vast restaurant. To truly understand how much tourism has fallen in Kashmir, Bilal our driver told us that there was a time that you had to wait an hour to get a table in this very same restaurant.
As we settled into the silence of the night the only sound that lulled us into sleep was the Lidder river.