Part 1 in a series of posts on Kashmir.
The extraordinary, almost unearthly beauty of the Kashmir valley made it a strange conflict to cover. In the morning, the window of my houseboat on the Dal Lake would be open, and as I lay in bed I could see the reed cutters and fishermen. The shikara canoes would be in the foreground; behind were the bridges and waterways, the willows and poplars, and the orchards of apricots and almonds. There were children paddling in the shallows and girls carrying brush-wood bundles on their heads. Beyond stretched the old Mughal watergardens and, above them, the mulberry trees of the silk farmers. Crowning all this were the jagged snow-peaks of the great Himalaya.
- William Dalrymple- Kashmir, The Scarred and The Beautiful
A Short Visit During Kashmir’s Golden Season
We chose Kashmir at the onset of Autumn season last year around Pooja season(Oct 2nd week).
It is said to be Kashmir’s Golden season, hence perfect to catch the valley in shades of brown, which provide a startling contrast to the snow-capped mountains. The calendar year in Kashmir is divided largely in seasons (of Tulip-March, April, Apple- September, October, and Snow- Dec to March). Snow can be seen throughout the year however snowfall is only there for few winter months.
Planning The Trip. “Is it safe to visit Kashmir?”
We packaged this as a short visit to some of the key places in Kashmir, a place that was on my list for quite some time.
The question everyone has when you mention Kashmir, is “But is it safe?”. Fielding such conversations and clarifications, we created a high level itinerary of 4 days, with the objective of having some breathing space between checking out the picturesque spots and attractions like navigating through lakes in houseboats, shopping, and checking out some street food and Kahwah (also written as Kehwa), characteristic of the region.
As with all trips, this one too was full of few surprises and few upsets, but on the whole, I look back at Kashmir as a brush with tranquility and colors.
Day 1: Pahalgam
- Landed at the Srinagar airport and were greeted by a lovely chilled morning, comforting sun and clean and crisp air.
- Took a cab from the airport to Pahalgam.
- Beautiful houses on the way, smooth highways, picture-perfect views with pine trees standing tall.
- Crossed villages to reach Pahalgam, with Jhelum flowing swiftly all along. Lovely round pebbles marked its path. Locals, wearing pherans (traditional Kashmiri attire, two-layered loose upper garment) and kids playing cricket in the open playground were a happy sight.
- It was difficult to imagine how would this place change or withstand the threat of terror and civil unrest.
- En-route was a spot, in Anantnag district, where Amarnath Yatra pilgrims queue up.
- Mountains felt like they have queued up in order of their height, full of coniferous trees and right in the middle, perched the snow-clad peaks, alluring us all.
- Shepherds guiding their flock of sheep can make you wait, but a wait like this never hurts. Sheep were marked with blues and reds, probably for identification.
- We stopped for a break, in our 3-hour ride to Pahalgam near Apple orchards at Bejbehera. What a sight it was to see the trees loaded with so many fresh and ripe apples! The orchard owner was kind enough to allow us access to the roof, giving a closer look at the fruit-laden treetops, with the mountains in the backdrop.
- Being the election day, most of the shops were closed. A handful of them opened in the evening. Some selling souvenirs, others Kashmiri woolens and embroidered clothing material.
- After the evening stroll to the river Lidder, we stopped by for piping hot tea and pakodas at a nearby shop. The temperature was around 6 degrees.
- This concluded our eventful first day in Kashmir.
Srinagar, Shikara and Kehwa