As another eventful year draws to an end, I want to reminisce and remember the best trips I took this year before the much awaited winter vacation (I don’t want to talk about it right now and take away the glory of this post). We will wait for January 2019 to read about it 🙂
One of the life changing, best trips I took this year hands down has to be Kashmir, which was a trip I gifted myself during my birthday in March. I knew this was coming for a while and there was no auspicious time than the birthday month to do it. I love Kashmir and Kashmiris. Period. Anyone who knows me, knows for a fact that this blog exists cause of my romance with Kashmir that started back in 2012 when I went there for the first time and the trip inspired me to start blogging. So I follow a photographer, Aamir Wani who is now a dear friend, based in Kashmir and I have been following his instagram page @kashmirthroughmylens for a while now. He is a poet, photographer and supports a lot of causes in Kashmir and I have been doing as much as I can to support it too. He started organising trips for people who’d love to explore Kashmir the way he does last year. I was really looking forward to witnessing Autumn in Kashmir when he did the first trip in September 2017 followed by a winter trip in January but I couldn’t due to work commitments. I was really sad that I’m not able to be a part of these trips but he kept promising that’ll organise one again and I should be a part of it. So when he put out the post for his Spring trip, without thinking twice I signed up for it.
My parents were a bit averse on me going on a trip with a bunch of strangers but I assured them about its authenticity and told them it’s all going to be safe after making them go through the itinerary in detail. I was quite thrilled and anxious to go with 10 new strangers, for the first time in my life. Being a finicky person, I was just hoping that we all blend well. Here’s a tip for people traveling to Kashmir for the first time- always, always take a window seat cause the view of the snow-capped mountains when you are about to land is one of the best views that you’ll ever see.
The first day was a day to know your fellow travellers since all of us had arrived at different times so after a quick lunch, I was assigned a room with a girl, Niveditha from Hyderabad. We left our room immediately to proceed for an evening Shikara ride at Dal Lake, which was a 5-7 minute walk from our hotel. All of us got acquainted with each other during the ride.
It was a beautiful sunset evening where we crossed the floating market, met interesting saffron, flower sellers who find the most interesting ways to sell you their products that one can give-in to their pitch due to their sheer innocence and cuteness. One thing that I missed doing is experiencing the vegetable market that opens at 6 am in the morning and shuts around 8-9 am. It is supposed to be India’s only lake vegetable market.
After the initial introduction, we all walked to Zero bridge which is this wooden arch bridge running over Jhelum river. It was calm, beautiful and we were still getting used to each others’ company. We decided to head to our hotel and played our favourite coke studio songs. Little did we know that this was soon going to become an evening ritual for the remainder of the trip.
After a sumptuous breakfast we left for Gulmarg, which is one of my favourite places in Kashmir. I have been there twice and got to enjoy the Gondola (cable car) ride once during summer which is also one of the best cable car rides in the world. When we reached there, the atmosphere was quite different from what I have witnessed before. Seeing a big group, the local guides who ply the sledge started hackling us insisting that the walk we wanted to do can be done on sledges only and when we told them we wanted to walk, they refused to comply blaming Aamir and his friend accusing them of being tour guides who were taking their money away. We still started walking and a bunch of 10 sledge carriers kept following us and refused to let go until we decided to finally leave the place (we also took the sledge ride for some time so they could back off but didn’t help).
We finally decided to go to Drung which was around 20-25 mins from where we were. It’s another beautiful spot with icy trails which has not been discovered by everyone yet. I think we must’ve trekked for an hour and a half crossing precarious frozen pipelines to climbing steep hills, slipping on the way, getting drenched in ice water while crossing tiny rivulets to finally reach the beginning of a river.
We were like this one big group helping each other while crossing the river, looking out for one another. It got us all closer and the fact that there was nobody there except us, made the trek special, exclusive and beautiful.
We left really early in the morning to go to Pahalgam. We were supposed to stay at Aru Valley for the night which again is a small trek from Pahalgam but unfortunately the cottage we wanted to stay in was not available. So we decided to stay in Pahalgam. After checking in and having lunch, our driver dropped us to the beginning of Lidder river in Pahalgam from where we started our walk to a secluded spot in Aru Valley to catch the beautiful sunset over the Lidder. With so many interesting people forming company, the hour and a half walk seemed like a breeze. When we reached uphill, it was calm, pleasant and meditative. I remember finding a spot inside a conical tent and sleeping there until the rest of the people reached. I could only hear the birds humming and the sound of the river, which gave me so much joy that it’s hard to describe in words. We stayed there for about an hour until sunset and began our descent.
Infact during the walk, we stopped at various points just to admire the beauty of Lidder river. The sunset from Aru Valley has to be one of the best sunsets I have witnessed.
It got dark by the time we descended and even then the view was gorgeous.
We returned to Srinagar around afternoon and after having a hearty wazwan at a Kashmiri restaurant in town we headed for a walk around the Old Town. The old side of Kashmir is raw, simple and very different than what the other side of Jhelum has to offer. We visited the Khanqah mosque situated on the banks of Jhelum built by Sikander Butshikan built in the memory of the Persian preacher Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who is responsible for the spread of Islam in Kashmir. The spire of the mosque was under repair from a fire that broke out a couple of weeks ago and an interesting trivia about the mosque is that the shrine has caught fire multiple times since 1480 AD but somehow has always been rebuilt and managed to hold its original charm.
After this we headed to another beautiful mosque, Jamia Masjid.
After this, Aamir took us to a secluded spot at Dal Lake to witness the sunset, all away from the crowd and again it was just us who were left alone to enjoy the magic of the colourful rays of the setting sun.
Today we were supposed to go to Sonmarg and Naranag but due to some tension there and roads leading to Sonmarg being shut and vehicles asked to return midway, we decided to go to Doodhpathri in Budgam district since we didn’t wish to risk our last day and it was quite a drive. Sometimes things are just meant to be and I am glad that Doodhpathri happened. It has been the highlight of my trip. I couldn’t get enough of that place. The drive was beautiful and we met so many interesting people on our way.
Doodhpathri literally means valley of milk and the river actually resembles like one, it’s so white. It was quite a walk of around 4 kms that too in thick sheets of ice to reach the river. Every time we were tired, we used to simply sink into the ice sheets and cool ourselves. Once we reached the river, it was beyond beautiful. The famous bridge, which since then has been seen in a lot of Bollywood movies become our spot for the next two hours where we were just sitting, chuckling, breaking into snow fights and everything in between. After every few minutes one of us would just go, “Oh my god! Isn’t this too pretty. Can we just live here?”
It started to snow and rain while we were walking back and the colour of the sky, though a little dark was gorgeous and every now and then I was slipping into the thick sheets of ice, wanting to forever get lost in the solitude that had engulfed me. I couldn’t stop admiring the beauty of Doodhpathri and feeling gratitude for this beautiful world that we live in.
After returning to Srinagar, we had our farewell dinner and continued playing coke studio songs until late at night, saying goodbyes and promising to be in touch. Those 5 days were genuinely the most beautiful days I experienced with people who are now my best friends (I took a trip with few girls I met on the trip recently to Uttarakhand). I was initially skeptical about how I am going to feel in an alien group but we were like a house on fire. And to all those thinking if it is safe to plan a trip to Kashmir, a big YES to that. If you’ve been planning a trip to Kashmir for long, it is never too late to just do it. The place and the people will surprise you with their beauty, goodness and warmth.
All images © Kainat27