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Enchanting Kashmir – Green Thoughts in a Green Shade

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By Sucheta Pai, Shimoga [ Published Date: July 24, 2011 ]

Pics: Dr P K Pai

We were looking for a hiatus in the dreary intercourse of daily life. The sultry days of May provided no respite from the heat.  Like the sun-baked earth, we yearned for cool showers.  Kashmir beckoned us with its infinite charms. With the passing of sheshur, the season of sonth had awakened the valley from its hibernation. The sweet-scented yamberzal or the narcissus had already heralded the arrival of spring. The white and pink almond blossoms in badamwari had put on a spectacular display of ‘badamphulai.’ Fresh green leaves adorned the boen, the shady chinar and the veer-i-kul, the Kashmiri willow mirrored in the waters of placid lakes. Visions of cottony clouds and snow-capped mountains welcomed us, as our plane entered the skies of Kashmir. The words of Ali Sardar Jafri echoed our sentiments-
         
            Aabaad hain khwaabon ki tarah vaadi-e-kashmir 
            Fanoos hain taaron ke to phoolon ke chiraagaan
            Daaman mein pahaadon ke latakti hain bahaarein
            Patthar ki hatheli pe mehakta hai gulistaan
             
       The ancient city of Srinagar is sustained by the waters of the river Jhelum. The Kashmiris call it Vyeth, a variation of the Sanskrit Vitasta -the sacred river of Kalhana’s ‘Rajatarangini,’ which begins its journey from Verinag at the foot of the Pir Panjal range. Gabled houses of burnt bricks and rows of doongas dot the banks of the river. The doongas are the forerunners of the houseboat. Nine narrow kadals or bridges connect the two parts of the city which has earned it the sobriquet “Venice of the East.”

For centuries Srinagar attracted royalty with its pristine beauty and cool climes. The Mughal vision of jannat or paradise finds its metaphor in the symmetrically designed gardens of Srinagar. The Nishat Bagh was envisioned as a garden of bliss by Asaf Khan, the brother of Noorjahan. Originally the garden comprised of twelve terraces for the twelve signs of the zodiac, one rising above the other. Now the lower terraces have given way to a ring road around the Dal Lake.

A panoramic view of the Dal Lake on one side is rivalled by the magnificent backdrop of the Zabarwan hills enveloped in blue mist. Cascading fountains in the middle of terraced lawns played a summer sonata, while the eyes feasted on a carpet of emerald embroidered with spring-awakened flowers in full bloom. Nesting birds warbled from the green canopy of the chinar and the cypress lulling the weary traveller to reverie. The innocent laughter of little children filled the air as they splashed water on each other. No wonder that the healing hands of nature inspired the Kashmiri poet Lalleshwari to write these lines –

         Some have their life-partners like the cool chinars
         Go to them and bathe in their cool shade.

 The Shalimar Bagh was the summer retreat of Jahangir whenever the emperor desired to escape from the heat and dust of Delhi. The mountain fresh waters of Harwan feed the fountains of this abode of love .The water from the nearby Chashma Shahi or Royal fountains are reputed to have healing properties. The tulip garden of Siraj Bagh is a recent addition to the plethora of gardens. Unfortunately it was closed to tourists during our stay in Srinagar.

The road to Gulmarg was picturesque -- avenues of trees interspersed with green fields of paddy. The gradual ascent to ‘the path of flowers’ after Tangmarg took us through narrow roads winding through hills clothed in coniferous trees. Snow peaks stood like silent sentinels in the distance. A blanket of rain clouds covered the horizon, enhancing the chill in the air. Gaurimarg, or Gulmarg as it is called now, is a favourite skiing destination of the world. It also boasts of the highest golf-course in the world.

Vernal showers greeted us as we walked past the meadows towards the ‘Gulmarg Gondola’-the ski-lift that would transport us into the magical world of snow.  When the blanket of snow melted, the meadows would burst into a riotous celebration of summer, a kaleidoscope of rainbow flowers. We could see gigantic trees of fir and pine rising from the lowly earth .The highest and longest cable car project in Asia took us to Kongdoor station at a height of 3050 m. A short walk on a cobbled pathway led to a spectacular view of the mountains. The sun had woken up from his siesta and the snow peaks were apparelled in celestial white. The skiers on the snow were tiny colourful specks moving down the slopes.

The vision goaded us on to ascend to Affarwat at a height of 3950 m. A gust of cold air chilled us to the bones as we came out of the station. We quickly beat a hasty retreat but the cable cars were not working. After an hour long wait in the biting cold, we snuggled into the warm comfort of the gondola. A hailstorm broke out just as we entered our car. Nature surprised us with her caprices every day.

The journey to Sonamarg, ‘the meadow of gold,’ had hidden gems along the way.  There were manicured gardens which nestled in the foothills with little bridges spanning the sparkling rivulets that mingled their sweet songs with the Sindhu. Sonamarg is the gateway to Ladakh and the road to Ladakh across the Zozila pass opens in the summer after the snow is cleared. It is also a base camp for trekkers who explore the surrounding hills and valley. The majestic Thajiwas range fringes the wide expanse of verdant earth.

We set out to conquer the green mountains but were soon overwhelmed by the arduous climb. The melting snow created little puddles in the mossy grass and the ponies trotted in the splashy earth, carrying their riders with gay abandon. Toboganners slid down the treacherous slopes of snow on flat wooden sledges. Eddying currents of the river polished the dark craggy rocks into smooth pebbles. As we stretched our weary limbs on a rock, local sellers heckled us peddling their wares of saffron, shilajit and sundry other things. The shrill sounds of commerce had finally intruded upon our Elysian fields.

Pahalgam, the village of shepherds, was our next destination.

We passed the little village of Pampore with its fields of saffron. The delicate strands of the purple flowers- which lend their fragrance and colour to the Kashmiri pulao, Kashmiri tea called kahwa and various other delicacies-are harvested in October. Walnuts which are indigenous to Kashmir and other dry fruits such as almonds and pista are tempting buys. A quaint spectacle awaited near the village of Sangam. We saw huge stacks of cricket bats made from the Kashmiri willow lining both sides of the road.

We passed through the green tunnel of tall trees whose overarching branches wove a canopy of foliaged lattice. Before the timeless wonders of nature, man’s creations were shackled in the confines of time.  The ruins of the ninth century stone temples of Avantipora are reminders of a bygone era when Hindu kings like Avantivarman ruled the region. Shaivism, Buddhism and Islam blended into the syncretic culture of Kashmir until militancy shattered its peaceful harmony.

Pahalgam, the village of shepherds, was a pastoral heaven. We followed the sonorous Lidder meandering through the valley creating a soulful symphony with the cataracts rolling down from the icy glaciers.  Scenes of white water rafting and trout fishing enthralled us. We traversed forests as ancient as the hills that nursed them, to arrive at the idyllic spot where our hotel was located. A wooden bridge spanning the gushing waters led us to a haven far from the madding crowd of tourists.

The place presented a breathtaking view of the mountains and the river. The silent morning clothed the pinnacles of ice in veils of mist. Fleeting crimson shadows gleamed through the silver clouds. Little mountain bulbuls perched on the tops of lamp-posts and the branches of fir trees.

We travelled to the cool sequestered vale of   Aru, where the mountains had opened out to make a hidden valley of their own. The green pastures merged into the quiet of the blue skies. Cattle grazed in the fields and flocks of sheep made their way home under the watchful eyes of the shepherds.

‘Betaab’   valley was the perfect location for a film shoot. It is named after the Hindi film ‘Betaab’ in which Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh made their debut.  A paved pathway among tall trees leads to a wide expanse of green lawn set against the background of a serene stream and lofty cliffs. This was clearly a favourite spot for school picnics and family outings. School girls played hide and seek, and chased colourful balloons unhindered by their uniformed salwar suits and traditional hijab.

Our sojourn in Kashmir ended with a stay in a deluxe houseboat moored along the Dal Lake. Graded according to the facilities they provide, these houseboats are constructed out of walnut wood with intricate carvings. The Dal Lake is a labyrinth of waterways fringed by patches of land growing flowers and vegetables.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Shikaras decorated in bright colours ferry tourists to and from the houseboat to the nearest jetty. The shikara floated like a dream on the tranquil waters of the lake. Occasionally a gentle breeze ruffled the surface of the water with a soft caress. The evening sun wove threads of gold in the translucent lake.

The takht-e sulaiman and the hariparbat loomed in the distance. The ancient Shankaracharya temple crowned the takht-e-sulaiman or the Gopadri, as it was known earlier. Driving through a lush forest, we arrived at the base where a security check reminded us of the harsh realities of Kashmir. A steep flight of steps led to the summit where the great guru of advaita stayed during his visit here. Looking down, Srinagar opened out into a panoramic view of its riches- the shimmering lake, the azure mountains, and the sloping tin roofs of houses resplendent in the twilight.

The blanket of the night covered the lake. The Dal slept peacefully like an infant cradled in the arms of its mother. The lights on the houseboats came aglow to weave a diamond necklace. The world of silence spoke a language more powerful than words---

  Phir zara zara mehkega
  Khushboo ke mausam aayenge
  Phir chinar ke shaakon pe
  Panchhi ghar apna banaayenge
  In raahon se jaanewale
  Phir laut ke wapas aayenge.


Sucheta Pai is a postgraduate in English Literature and has served as a lecturer in Kuvempu University. She has contributed articles to various magazines and newspapers.

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Sajjad, India :
Thanks Sucheta. Its wonderful portrayal written in lucid and rhythmic style. I enjoyed reading your impressions about my homeland.
A. S. Mathew, USA :
In an impeccable language, you have written about the beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful land called Kashmire. I have not seen such pictures of Kashmire, they are totally awesome. Please keep on writing because you are a naturally talented author.
Kavitha , India :
Dear Sucheta, reading this "poetry" on Kashmir, I felt like I am surrounded by those valleys and mountains. Beautiful description! You have done justice to the beauty and natural splendour of Kashmir, Suchi. The Pictures taken by your dear husband, Dr. Prashanth Pai make your article complete. Thank You both, for showing us our beloved Kashmir.
Rajanikanth Shenoy, Kudpi, India :
Just returned after an 8 day holiday in Kashmir. This time with a difference, for snow has melted almost completely over the mountains and Srinagar touching 30 Degree Celsius during day.

Mr. Nelson Lewis, thanks for appreciating this article by my niece. I have a different way of expressing myself, and you will get a first hand report in my sequel or two to this one regarding food, culture and way of life in Kashmir.

Since Kashmiri food is popularly known as Wazwan essentially including meat, my niece and her husband both being hard core vegetarians may not be able to express their thoughts about that here!

I have my own experiences to share, and may come out with my article before August 15.

What Sucheta has tried to prove here, is that Kashmir is still a heavenly place, and safe enough for anyone to visit and indulge in a holiday with family.
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain :
Dear Ms. Sucheta Pai,

As per your writings, I am led to believe that you have visited Jammu & Kashmir twice.

I am sure, you may have tasted Kashmiri cuisine. How do you rate it? I am given to understand that Kashmiri cuisine is quite good. Is that true?

Your feedback will be appreciated.

Regards,
Nelson Lewis
J M Bhandary, USA :
A wonderful travelogue with superb pictures. Suchetha Pai, your poetic voice resonates in perfect harmony with the stunning beauty of the landscape that you described. My congratulations and thanks to you and Dr. Pai for sharing your experiences of Kashmir..place is a paradise.
Sucheta Pai, India :
Thank you Mr.Nelson for your compliments. The photos were taken by my husband Prashanth. The camera-NIKON D3000 with TAMRON lens(zoom lens 18-250).
Thanks Ms.Pereira & Mr.Bhandary. Kashmir is moving towards peace. I hope you will be able to visit it someday.
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain :
Mr. Rajnikanth Shenoy,

Your niece has written a fantastic travelogue and I am sure, you are proud of her achievements.

I wish both of you all the best.

Regards,
Nelson Lewis
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain :
Ms. Sucheta Pai, I felt very privileged to read your article, because you have written it very well and have given an apt and postive description of Kashmir which, I feel, is the most beautiful tourist destination in India.

I felt if you were the Tourism Minister, you would have show-cased India in the most positive light and given a spurt to tourim. I have always felt that India has never had a dynamic Tourism Minister or else India would have been one of the most leading tourist destinations in the world.

The pictures that you have clicked have come out very well. I wonder which camera have you used for taking these photos and what is its magnification and megapixels. I would appreciate if you could give me this information to satisfy my curiosity.

I wish you all the best and do keep on writing.
Shaly Pereira, India :
Beautiful travelogue.....enjoyed going through the narrative and pictures. I would definitely like to visit Kashmir some day!

Keep writing Sucheta....hope to see more of your travelogues on m.com.
Gokuldas Bhandary, India :
Nice article Sucheta: Lovely photographs too :)
what I can say is:
"Kitni khoobsurat yeh Kashmirl hai, Mausam bemisaal benazir hai,
ye Kashmir hai, ye Kashmir hai :)
Sucheta Pai, India :
Thanks to Cdr Mallya, Mr.Vasanth Pai, Mr Drona and Mr. Pinto for their words of appreciation.
My first visit to Kashmir was in the eighties when Kashmir was peaceful and Punjab was burning. The security at the Delhi airport was very stringent. In Srinagar, a Kashmiri Pandit friend took us to the house of a Kashmiri Muslim doctor. We were served a sumptuous dinner though we were strangers.
This time, we had to undergo 4 security checks at the Srinagar airport. Beneath the stunning beauty of Kashmir lies a story of pain,violence and brutality. As we admired the beauty of the Betaab valley, a local Muslim woman-a complete stranger- expressed her pain and insecurity because of the violence. I had no words to console her. In many ares we drove past CRPF barracks which were in a pitiable condition. The Kashmiri pandit friend has been exiled from Srinagar long back and lives in Bangalore.
Rajanikanth Shenoy, Kudpi, India :
Sucheta Pai is my sister's daughter and is a perfectionist in her field of literature, if not in home making.

I'll be going on a holiday in Kashmir soon and also adding a sequel to this in my own way. I must confess that my article may not be comparable to hers in sense of literary abilities but I'll come out with one in lay man's language with in depth analysis of Kashmir and the way of life there.

That may encourage our Mangalorean friends to explore the 'Heaven on Earth' as Vasanth Pai and Cdr GP Mallya have described in their valued comments.

To add, Aamchis migrated from Kashmir long ago, and the love of motherland still persists in our blood! We also embrace the culture of the land where we settled down over the centuries.

I also feel good to see reports in media that Kashmiri Pandits are being encouraged to go back to their home land and co-exist as before. This is a positive move.
Cdr GP Mallya (retd), Korea:
Great picture...straight from the heart narrative..and lot of passion ...is what can be described about this travelogue in a nut shell. Welcome Sucheta to Mangalorean.com. Kashmir is variously described as the paradise on earth, Venice of the east..but this travelogue has captured in vivid detail the natural beauty enshrined in Kashmir. An excellent effort accentuated by the superb photographs...
Vasanth Pai, India :
Well written travelogue and stunning pictures. Reminded me of my visit to Srinagar in 1966. I went by road from jammu and the beauty of the valley emerged as we came out of the Jawahar tunnel in the Banihal pass, the weather, the landscape, people, flora and fauna, everything changed. It was as if we were entering heaven as Jahangir is said to have remarked \" If there be a heaven on earth, this is it, this is it\" or words to that effect. Unfortunately, the day I was in Srinagar there was infiltration by mujahideen from across the ceasefire line and some of the intruders were caught and there was furore in the city. However, we saw the Shalimar Gardens, Dal Lake and other tourist spots in the city but could not go to Gulmarg.
My Kashmiri neighbour here in Bangalore tells me that he was surprised to hear Sri Sri Ravishankar telling the students he addressed in Kashmir yesterday that Kashmiri pandits migrated to the Konkan in the 15th century(referring to GSBs) and there is similarity in the customs and traditions of the migrants and their forebears. I explained to him the trail of migration via Trihotri, Bengal and Goa.
Concluding with the mystic poetry of the 14th century Kashmiri poetess Lalleshwari

Holy books will disappear, and then only the mystic formula will remain.
When the mystic formula departed, naught but mind was left.
When the mind disappeared naught was left anywhere, And a voice became merged within the Void.
John Pinto, India :
The world of silence spoke a language more powerful than words---

Thought provoking words. wish you all the best .wonderfully written. We would like to read more form you.
Drona, India :
The world of silence spoke a language more powerful than words---
-
This has beautifully summed up the article. Very nice photos. Lucky are those who can visit this heaven on earth.
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