Kashmir Diaries IV: Srinagar – Paradise; lost and regained!
Bidding goodbye to Kashmir, even virtually, is a herculean task. And now that I’m almost at the end of the road, perhaps I need to start preparing myself for the fact that this is the last of the series of blogs. So then from where the last one ended…
After the utterly indescribable time that we spent at Gulmarg, we headed back to the city of Srinagar. The next morning, after an early breakfast, we left for city sightseeing. The city of Srinagar, is built around the Dal Lake – the main tourist attraction of the place. The Dal Lake, meanwhile, comprises an area of about 21 square kilometres including its floating gardens and the wetlands that it is a part of; the Lake in itself covers an area of about 18 square kilometres. Around 15 kilometres of the shoreline of the lake are lined by boulevards, pretty gardens, and naturally-growing vegetation of colours of almost the entire spectrum. The Dal Lake, in itself, is nothing short of wondrous!
We began our day-long trip with a visit to the Chashme Shahi, the Royal Spring – in other words, the Mughal garden that had been built around a spring. The water of the spring is believed to have certain medicinal qualities, so much so, that the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru had got the water of the spring flown to Delhi on several occasions. The locals, however, quote a higher number - according to them, Nehru used to fly the water of the spring to Delhi every day. Debating the veracity of that, however, can find its place elsewhere. Chashme Shahi – all of Kashmir, for that matter, in the season of spring, is a pure visionary delight. The other Mughal Gardens in the city – Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh – are beautiful to say the least. A blast of colours, fragrances and everything good, the Mughal Gardens account for the maximum number of tourists in the city, right after the Dal Lake.
Other tourist spots include the Royal Springs Golf Course, which overlooks the Dal and is one of the finest golf courses in the world. The temple of Adi Shankaracharya is one that dates back to the 2nd century BC. However, the current temple was built somewhere around 900AD. The Hazrat Bal Shrine, that contains a hair of Prophet Mohammed, is another place that draws tourists to the city in flocks. Considered of extreme religious importance, the Hazrat Bal Shrine had been the rallying point of massive discontent and protests when the Mo-e-Muqaddas (the hair of the Prophet) was announced to have disappeared from the shrine on December 26, 1963. Eight days after the disappearance, the relic was restored on January 4, 1964.
The Dal Lake, which we had been seeing from different places ever since we stepped on to Srinagar, was finally there in front of us – uninhibited! We boarded a Shikara and in a moment, we were afloat on the Dal! Aptly endowed with the sobriquet ‘Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir’, Dal Lake still shines steadily – a witness to the many injustices that the place and its people have been meted out to for so long. The atrocities that history has refused to document, this lake is a silent spectator of them all. The mere thought of Kashmir and the brutal tug-of-war that it has been subjected to for so long is enough to make one shudder with pain. Beneath the apparent facade of peace, there still is discontent simmering away somewhere. Someday, perhaps, justice will answer them.
Anyway, jolting myself back to the Shikara and the Dal... The Dal sustains an entire way of life – on water. There are shops – proper Bazaars at that – selling merchandise ranging from dry fruits to wooden handicrafts to pure Pashmina. There are kids ferrying handmade jewellery – all on the move. I remember buying myself a few pairs of earrings at dirt-cheap prices, and no, I wasn’t disappointed! There are ice-cream vendors, ones selling Maggi, soft drinks, other eatables – all while you are comfortably nestled in your Shikara-seat. One has to experience that in order to grasp the actual meaning of that feeling. There’s a post office, too, which is situated on the Dal and which caters to the communication needs of the ones who live on the lake. House boats line the shores of the lake, and the tantalising calls of the same are better answered to – that too, is another experience-of-a-lifetime! There are floating gardens on the lake, fields of radish and other vegetables – go see it in order to believe it!
That night, we stayed in the houseboats - those floating structures which are at once extraordinarily delightful and extremely scary. The Shikaras ferried us to the houseboats and left. And then, we were almost water-locked! The night descended upon the Dal - deep and dark and beautiful, and enveloped us in its embrace. The dense fog on the lake and the starry sky above – the Dal was a dream that night!
The next day, we left for Pahalgam. Located on the banks of the Lidder River, Pahalgam is a place where nature has probably not left any stone unturned in beautification. Endowed with every sort of describable and indescribable beauty, Pahalgam leaves a visitor hankering for more. After the late Yash Chopra decided to film his swansong ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ in the lush valleys of Pahalgam, the tourism of the place has seen a phenomenal rise. One of the first films to be shot in the Valley in the recent times, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ has been instrumental in re-assuring people of the fact that Kashmir is truly paradise on earth, and no amount of violence can usurp that title from it. Chandanwari, the place from where the steps leading to Amarnath begin, is another sacred place. The Betaab Valley and the Aru Valley in Pahalgam are the major tourist attractions. The former has now been converted into a park of sorts, and owes its name to that eponymous Sunny Deol-Amrita Singh film. And it wouldn’t exactly be surprising if Aru Valley is renamed ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ Valley, considering the fact that parts of the film have been shot in that location.
During spring and summers in Pahalgam, one can take part in the many adventure activities that the place is famous for. Rafting and trekking activities apart, Pahalgam also provides an excellent golf course for players.
After Pahalgam, our destinies took us to Jammu through Patnitop. And then, fighting fierce battles with my insides, I boarded the train back to Delhi. The short span of eleven days that I spent in the valley has sure overshadowed everything else in my memory. Kashmir is one experience. One unforgettable experience.