Saturday, November 13, 2010

Our trip to S-r-i-n-a-g-a-r

In recent times, when we hear the name of our northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir in the media, we link it to conflicts, curfews and stone throwing incidents.  In spite of this, tourism goes on. albeit at a low ebb. Contemplating a tour to its beautiful (summer) capital city Srinagar was not without risk, because of what we read and heard in the media.  The travel agent convinced us that tourists would be safe.  It was further vouched by those who had just returned from their tours. So we dared to go. Asking about climate was secondary.
On landing there, we saw why many Hindi and Kannada movie scenes were shot in that part of the country, even though it was probably not half as beautiful as we had seen in them esp. in the 1970s and 80s.  In earlier decades it was not easy to reach Srinagar from the south due to the long distance and time taken on the journey which would be really arduous.  Now even air services are more frequent and cheaper.  As such, people are easily reaching distant places the same day!

Let me deviate a bit. My first visit to that state was in 1983, to Jammu, but I could not make the trip to Srinagar as in those days tour-aspects were hard to organize beforehand esp. for such a long journey that itself took three nights from Mysore! That trip was my first long train journey and still remains the longest.  I was traveling with my team-mate who joined me from Bangalore. I had wanted to see the apple tree there but could not.  But then, we had the great satisfaction of shaking hands with the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Dr. Farooq Abdulla who was the chief guest that inaugural day.  "How do you do?" he went on saying that to each and every participant as he shook our hands. There were about 80-100 players!  It was a rare opportunity for us as he posed with our team for a picture too!  I'll not go into detail of that tour, but we used to eat apples every day in our rooms and carried back the dream of seeing an apple tree unfulfilled, but had brought walnuts and apricots along with memories and experience of losing our first match after going all the way!  

Back to the present. Last week of October 2010.

After a stop-over at Delhi it was about 65 minutes flight to Srinagar that afternoon. This is the beautiful scene from my window seat as we neared Srinagar.  Look at the lovely Himalayan ranges with snow-capping!

I've included more photos than reading matter in this blog. 

Ours was a short, 5-day trip and many colleague-families were also traveling (by air). We were taken from the Srinagar airport to the famous Dal Lake.  Shikaras were waiting for us.  A 'shikara' is this boat with comfortable cushioned seats and a shelter on top.

It took 5-10 minutes for us to reach our Houseboat.   Beautiful scenes such as these are enchanting and so calming in the clean waters:

It is renown as a "Venice-like".

Houseboats on Dal Lake - thousands of them are lined on the vast lake as this is their main tourist attraction and business.

This was the Houseboat booked for our families (2).

 The interiors of this beautiful houseboat was lovely.  The boat itself is made of Deodar Wood which has the capacity to float on water for decades without rotting - a unique quality.  The carvings and decoration is from walnut wood. It is harnessed by ropes and poles fixed to the land behind and beside, so that it will not sway or move away!

Meet our care-taker on the Houseboat, Mr.Tanveer, who did a real fine job for the two days we were on it.

Day 1:
After we settled down in the afternoon in our cosy, cool rooms on this houseboat, we were taken to the famous Mughal Gardens. First was Chashm-e-shahi Gardens.  The Zabarwan range of hills make a beautiful backdrop!

More photos in my facebook album here:

Next garden was Nishat Bagh.  The fountains were sleeping.  While browsing, I came across a picture someone had posted.  It showed all these fountain heads jetting out water.  What a sight!

More photos of this garden here:

The sun was sinking by the time we had walked the pavements on the stepped gardens.

The tranquility of Dal Lake that evening belied what was being projected in the media. 

The third Mughal Garden was Shalimar. It was getting dark by the time we were here.  The area is full of Chinar Trees and they are very huge as you can see a couple of them here.

Standing in one of these Gardens, Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, said in Persian "Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto" .  If ever there is paradise on earth , it is here.. it is here.. it is here!  

Day 2:
Gulmarg.  It was about 45 kms from Srinagar and about 90 minutes drive. Dream of seeing the Apple tree was to come to fruition as it was on the tour schedule. We were to stop by an orchard on the way, which we did!

 Green apples and red apples - there were many varieties grown there.  Actual harvesting was already over the previous month and these had been left for visitors like us to fulfill their dreams!

 Entry was Rupees five/head.  Penalty was Rupees twenty/apple if we plucked.  But apple was theirs.  We got two when my daughter felled two ripe ones accidentally!

This is the Almond tree.

Soon after, we were in Gulmarg.  We were made to hire thick jackets and wear gum boots before we reached the place, from a shop that serves people on the way.  A pony ride becomes necessary in difficult terrain.  It was quite an experience sitting on horse-back and our backs and spines shaking!  I had got down to take photos of our group.

When they stopped us after a half an hour ride, we found ourselves landing on snow that seemed to have fallen the previous night in that area.

There were snow-throwing incidents witnessed here while I was busy shutterbugging. But the media reports 'stone-throwing incidents'!

In Gulmarg, there are a few 'postcard' scenes like these. It's an absolutely fantastic place. Not for nothing Hindi movies were shot here.

My pony and my shadow.

Gulmarg Gondola was closed at that time.  It was in preparation for the ensuing 'real season' that commences in December when there will be more snowfall and foreign visitors who also come for skiing.

 The trolleys were removed. These looked like brand new ones arrived from Europe.

We were content with looking at the wheels and ice-pillows on the seats of the gondolas, all resting on the ground!

The route where he took us up was like this.  He had taken us through Khilanmarg. 

After returning our borrowed  materials we journeyed to our Dal Lake Houseboat.

Day 3: 
Sonmarg tour. Today's was a longer journey of more than two hours.  The lady sailing here saw me taking a photo and said in English "Good Morning."!  She is probably going to buy some vegetables for the day from one of the 'shop-boats'!

Our Shikaras would wait at our houseboat at the stipulated time and pick us up and take to the road where our vehicle would be waiting.

Before our Shikara reaches the 'port', businessmen in their shikaras would come and attach theirs to ours and try to sell their products.

Sonmarg ranges are visible. 

Again, we had to borrow shoes but they said the jackets we were having would suffice. 

 It was pony-ride again.  More snow was seen here, much to our delight.

Postcard scene in Sonmarg.  The blue sky, the gray hill and the shadows its uneven peaks showed up in such sunlight was brilliant.  More brilliant to the eye.

Lots of snow.  Some wanted to see 'snowfall'.  This is 'snow-already-fallenl'!

We loved this place for its vastness - it was like being in the bottom of a cool basin covered by hills on all sides.

A small snow-man comes up.

Snow-throwing incidents were reported in Sonmarg also.

How I wish we had the time to climb up those higher hills!

The Holy Shrine of Amarnath is only a few miles from here and Sonmarg is the base camp. The smaller ice-capped mountain in the centre is the Amarnath range.

Shoes and ponies return to their places.

We had bid goodbye to Tanveer at the houseboat as we had moved to the nearby hotel in the morning.  From a very enjoyable trip to Sonmarg we returned to 'Dawer Heaven', our hotel which was just opposite to where our Shikara anchors at the steps just beside the road.  Due to curfew, shops were closed but in the evening, a few were open.  The family made the most of it.

Day 4:
Pahalgam.  It took nearly 3 hours to reach.  We were hinted by our driver Mr.Shabir that this place is renown more for its greenery, its natural beauty and a bit of snow.  He was right. 

Crossing River Jhelum.

Today, I could not take satisfactory shots from pony-back.  The terrain was too uneven and the ride was very  shaky and sometimes scary due to the unevenness of the path, slope and slush. 

We were shown the Pahalgam valley (background) as we stopped for a picture together. 

They call this place green stretch of lawn 'Baisaran' and 'mini Switzerland'.  We must have seen this spot in many Hindi movies. From up here, the slope is beautiful.  I had left the group and walked all the way up to take their photos.  Our horses have begun the walk back to Pahalgam. 

I found this rock amidst snow and a little butterfly being frozen.

There was a bit of snow to play with.

On request, we were taken on a different route back to Pahalgam.  This looked a bit easier.  But I got down mainly to have a trek to feel how it would be and also to take photos.  Walking was tough.  The ground was uneven due to the hoof-marks. The ponies too walk faster.  They left me behind!  Sitting on the saddle of a pony it would have been impossible to shoot the party on the move!


 "Glimpses of India" published in 1895 has this photo (below).  I was wondering how these trees (Poplar Trees?) could grow.

 Now I was going through such a 'green tunnel' myself on our way back!

 Kashmir Willow is famous.  (The above picture - they are not willow trees.)  There were dozens and dozens of these cricket (and sports goods) manufactories all along our route back to Srinagar. I had stopped our vehicle, entered one and took a few pictures.

Of course, we never wanted to miss seeing with our own eyes, the saffron flower (Crocus sativa) and the field where it grows.  We were not disappointed.

But the harvesting season was over and only a few remained here and there.  Otherwise, a purple carpet! Our driver got down at another field when he saw a man plucking his yield and got us one flower which we brought home to show others.

We had bought a few grams of this costliest spice in Pahalgam. 

The evening was free.  And a stroll along the Dal Lake with its lovely houseboats glittering in the night presented a great sight.

Day 5, last:
The last thing... we did not want to go without going up the Shankaracharya Hill.  It was just a few furlongs away but the temple is 5.5 kms up the hill.  

A beautiful Shiva Linga is worshipped on this holy spot where Saint Shankaracharya is known to have visited and did penance. It is a fantastic spot.  The place has a very long history even before his visit in the 8th century AD. The following two pictures are not mine - they are recopies from the ones I bought at the site as cameras were disallowed inside the entrance.

A view of Dal Lake from a 'view point' mid way up the Hill. Can you see houseboats?

 It was time to have one last look at the lovely Dal Lake beside which we took a picture with our driver Mr.Shabir,(centre) a graduate in B.A.  His driving the Toyota Innova was an absolute thrill.

 There was curfew that day also.  Our vehicles were allowed further only after they checked and we had to show our air-tickets to the securitymen. There was more elaborate security checks at the Airport in Srinagar.

Fortunately, nothing untoward was reported while we were there in that "troubled area".  One thing we all were convinced.  People were very nice.  May be it was typical Srinagar hospitality, certainly not hostility as we read in the papers!!

On our return flight, I could not get a window seat.  But from the aisle I could see the play of colours that evening as the plane left Delhi in the evening and this show continued for nearly 20-30 minutes! 

We were up there on Shankaracharya Hill in the morning in the northernmost state capital and at night, we were back home. Time flies! 

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1 comment:

jothi's jottings said...

Well done, Dinu! Looks like you and your family had a rollicking time!