Centuries back Amir Khusrao had written a couplet which was repeated by Mughal Emperor Jahangir after he was stumbled by the beauty of Kashmir.
“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”
This roughly translates into, “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”.
And no wonder he was right, the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has a beauty of its own which enchants you towards itself. I was lucky to visit this paradise last April when my family decided to spend the summer at Kashmir. We began our trip with hopes of an enthralling vacation and after getting down at Jammu Railway Station, we booked a car to drop us to Srinagar 300 kilometers away.
The journey from Jammu to Srinagar cannot be described in words. Travelling across the Himalayan Mountains, cutting through valleys, passing by the Jhelum River were some fantasies which I had always dreamt about and these were becoming a reality for me. As we descended higher in altitude, the temperature started to drop and we could feel a nip in the air.
We were welcomed with snow clad mountains once we entered the Srinagar valley and the cold winds with the most picturesque backdrop was a sight one could even die for. Lines of Chinar trees dotted the highway just outside Srinagar and once we reached our destination, we witnessed a completely new world. Houses of wooden architecture with tilted roof so that snow could not settle on it, people wearing a heavy ‘Firan’ with a wooden pot underneath them to keep them warm and locals speaking in a different dialect, it was as if I was in another country.
Though the city was heavily militarized with Indian Army officials all over the place, the beauty of the city could not be hidden. Sitting beside the Dal Lake on a shikara, I couldn’t help imagining how the place would be once the winter season set in. The frozen lake would obviously shun the livelihood of the shikara owners, but watching a frozen Dal would be a treat to one’s eyes. I vowed to visit Kashmir during the winter season once in my life.
We travelled to Sonmarg and Gulmarg in the next few days and both these places were the pinnacle of beauty. It is rightly been said that Kashmir is India’s Switzerland and Gulmarg was the prime example of its beauty. The mountain resort of Gulmarg was covered in knee length snow when we arrived there and we had to climb with great difficulty to reach the top of the mountain. From there, one could see only snow. We started playing with the snow, made shapes out of it and threw balls of snow to others. I even volunteered and did skiing there and that in itself was an experience of a lifetime.
Our next destination was the hill town of Pahalgam, which is known for its pristine river and beautiful landscapes. Upon reaching Pahalgam, I was in awe of the surrounding. Ice cold water gushed by me and gave me a certain chill in my body. I felt I could stay there forever and ever. We visited the local market where we found the handicrafts of Kashmiri’s who were just earning enough to feed their family. Tourism certainly has helped them make a livelihood of their lives.
Our final destination in Kashmir was the Mughal gardens in Srinagar. The Shalimar Bagh and the Nishat Bagh were examples of marvelous Mughal architecture. One could just watch the carvings on the walls of these gardens and be amazed at the talent of the artisans of that era. People of all ages were enjoying themselves to hilt at the gardens. Children playing by the trees and the elder generation sitting by the stream of water were a sight to withhold.
Kashmir was a wonderful experience that happened to me, and even as the years pass by, each day of that amazing vacation is fresh in my mind to narrate and live it.