Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A piece of Heaven - Pahalgam, Kashmir - Part 3 (Concluded)


After the hectic adventurous time in Gulmarg, Pahalgam was to be a laidback sightseeing trip. At this point, I would like to inform all tourists visiting these places by public transport that you will have to take local taxis or horses for sightseeing (done to promote local livelihood). So after checking in The Regency Hotel in Pahalgam which is situated in a very scenic locale with a river running by, we set


out for a general walk around the market place. This was the time to shop for shawls, stoles, dry fruits and dresses for the ladies to be kept or gifted.


Two guys from our group decided to take a horse ride to ‘Mini Switzerland’. These horses and taxis 


are available in the parking lot, which is the point where the taxis/vans/buses that you have reached the destination in, have to be parked, and you­­ take local transport.

After a couple of hours of gallivanting around town we returned to the hotel and rested as we had scheduled the sightseeing tour for the next day.

Our 1st point to visit was the Aru valley. This place is a page out of a fairy tale! The tiny bridges over


the now dry river against a backdrop of magnificent snow-capped mountains and the feeling of being hugged by nature is amazing.

Our next stop was the Betaab valley. This valley got its name after the famous Hindi movie ‘Betaab’ was filmed here. Betaab Valley lies between the two Himalayan Ranges – Pir Panjal and Zanskar. 


There is an entrance fee of Rs.100/- to enter the vast landscaped gardens inside. We skipped that and instead spent time taking pictures along the Lidder river which was flowing past and had some 


yummy omelettes and rotis and Maggi noodles in the shack by the river. Washed it down with the famous Kashmiri Kahwa (Kahwah is a traditional green tea preparation consumed in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, some regions of Central Asia and, in northern India especially in Kashmir Valley.)

After this we moved on to Chandanwadi which is the starting point for the Amarnath yatra. There 


was still some snow lying around and it offered a lot of photo-ops which we gratefully accepted and called it a day.

We were done with Pahalgam and had to carry on to Sonmarg the next day. The highlight of this


journey to Sonmarg was the sumptuously delicious meat feast – Wazwan, in Pampore, organised specially for us by ScoutMyTrip.  Wazwan is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. Almost all the dishes are meat-based using lamb or chicken with a few vegetarian dishes. It is popular throughout Kashmir. As we approached Pampore, the weather Gods decided we had enough of good weather and it started raining leading to a drastic drop in temperature.

Plenty of mustard fields enroute.
By the time we reached Sonmarg, the gloomy weather dampened our enthusiasm and we had barely checked into the Glacier Heights Hotel and there was a power failure.  Not a very good sign as the Hotel Generator could not support room heaters in all the rooms along with the electrical blankets. 

Hotel Glacier Heights, Sonmarg.

But the Kashmiri hosts did not let us down. In the restaurant they gave us a corner where they brought in a huge heater supported by a LPG cylinder and we sat around it nursing our drinks and snacking on yummy chicken tikkas and veg. pakodas, pretending the heater was a bonfire. In the ensuing discussion it was decided that we get back to Srinagar the next day as the weather prediction for the next day too was not favourable and we were not inclined to spend our time in the cold rooms. Our organisers ScoutMyTrip were told about our decision and they gallantly offered to accommodate us in Srinagar in lieu of Sonmarg the next day despite this being a case of force majeure.

So we headed back to Srinagar and spent a pleasant evening in Pride Inn Hotel, glowing in the aftermath of the beauty that is Kashmir and Kashmiris.

The day after we flew back to Mumbai – back to base with plenty of memories to last a lifetime.

In conclusion a few observations:

All over Kashmir, in all the hotels, the buffet breakfast was Upma, Poha, Parathas and Eggs (boiled or Omelette).
The locals are fed up of politicians across the board. They are trapped in between the devil and the deep sea. If they inform the Indian Army of the hideouts of militants they will be killed by the militants and if they don't inform, they face the wrath of the Army.
The tourists are welcomed with a lot of love. The locals are warm hearted, extremely hospitable and will go to any lengths to make the guest comfortable giving credence to the phrase ‘Athithi Deva Bhavo’ - Guest is God.
For the vegetarians, there are plenty of Vaishno dhabas/restaurants all over the place, serving excellent vegetarian food. So no worries.
Despite having read in the print media and seen on the Television, we did not witness a single incident of violence during our stay and travels there.
The only way to bring about total peace in Kashmir is to overrun it by tourists. So guys pack your bags and get a move on! Kashmir is waiting!