When we first decided that we would celebrate our 3rd anniversary in Kashmir it was a decision driven by budgetary constraints. The unrest in the region was never at the forefront of my mind until we actually started telling people we were planning to go there. Most people only asked us questions that fell into the category “But is it safe to go there?” It gave me some unease and I did begin to go online and look up news. There had been a violent incident just a couple of days back and an unexpected bout of rain and snowfall. To put my mind at ease, I called our driver in Kashmir who was going to take care of things. He assured us that, as tourists we would not be affected by these things.
It was the first time I had booked a flight with only 40 mins between connecting flights. I was a little worried when the first flight from Pune to Delhi was a little late getting in. Luckily it turned out the same airplane was going on our onward flight to Srinagar. So we just had to wait outside the plane for a while as it under went maintenance.
While long haul flights can be uncomfortable experiences, short ones are a breeze and this one afforded us some additional pleasures like the view of snow capped mountains as we began to descend into Kashmir.
Flora and Food
After we were picked up at the airport by Mr Bilal our driver and semi guide for the rest of our trip we started towards our hotel. We saw scores of Chinar trees along the way. The Chinar (maple) a tree with a lifespan of 500 to 600 years was once unique to Kashmir in India. Numbers have fallen in the last few decades.
It was about lunch time once we had checked into the hotel and we decided to order Dum Aloo Kashmiri which is a dish that is available almost everywhere in Pune. We were curious about how it might taste here. Turns out, quite different and much better than the version we get back home. Our local version tends to be on the sweet side while the Kashmir version was bursting with flavour.
The First Temple
Post lunch we headed to the Shankaracharya temple where photography was not permitted. Below is an photo from Wikipedia.
Roughly 250 steps lead up to the main temple. After arriving from 38 C temperatures in Pune the cold breeze blowing at the top, the amazing view of Srinagar and the silence offered us some much needed respite and peace.
Taking a Shikhara ride across the massive Dal lake is an essential experience. After negotiating a good price with the owner we set out on our ride at about 5 in the evening. As soon as your boat begins to float away the first thing you will experience is vendors on their own boats trying to sell you various items like jewellery, souveniers and saffron. With tourism having dropped so drastically in the state it can feel a bit cruel to wave them away. However once you are clear of them is when you truly enjoy the beauty of the lake.
You can easily spend 2 -3 hrs on the ride revelling in the views and the silence of the lake. The Shikhara ride covers a few designated points spread over the lake. We took our time at each.
We stopped at this floating cafe to pick up some tea and pakodas. Having both while floating gently across the lake was a great experience.
One of the other interesting points is the floating market. Consisting of a handul of stores selling mostly garments and handicrafts your Shikhara stops beside the one your wish to go to and you can step off for a while to do a bit of shopping.
Lining the side away from the land are scores of houseboats where you can choose to spend a night. Surprisingly, most people, including our driver advised us against staying in a houseboat owing to the smell and general hygiene issues you are likely to face.
Before heading back to the road we chilled out for a while at a point called Nehru Park which is a small park in the middle of the lake. It also houses a small book store /coffee shop in a small building.
While we started the ride in daylight towards the end of darkness has set in completely. With the lights from houseboats and the edges of lake surrounding us it felt different yet as nice as the day time. Drifting slowly towards land as it went dark, with nothing but religious chants to break the silence, was a truly sublime experience
The next post covering our day spent in Sonmarg is here