Solo travel in Kashmir amidst curfews

It’s been a long time. Ever since I had posted a few pictures on the social platforms Facebook and Instagram, I did receive many messages for the itinerary and the travelogue. Writing is like meditation to me. As much as I love it, I have to make some quarantined time to focus, relive every moment and pen down the travelogue. And here finally!

My childhood was one among the many reasons I zeroed on visiting Kashmir over Bali, Srilanka and other south asian countries. I studied at a convent and everything related to Christmas brings back childhood memories. Back those days, it had always been a fantasy to play in snow with my bare hands. The plethora of cartoon network fairy tales have been a shielded and un-muddled part of my memory stack that I always cherish. I have a shameless confession to make here. This was it. During my teen years, an impulsive shopper that I was, I had a collection of myriad Kashmiri embroidered kurtas/tunics and the shawls. Many discrete dots in my memory at different stages of life were about snow and sometimes Kashmir. The urge to make this fantasy, a reality was a great gift, I could give to me.

Since this was a plan I had made well in advance, the round-trip flight tickets was Rs. 9389 only. Gulp!? I heard that. “Mint to shop” is the reward you gain when you plan your trips well in advance. I book on Jet Airways to earn the JP miles that will eventually avail me free tickets. Will make a dedicated post on that.

Kashmir from flight window

On March 17th 7:30 am, the flight takes off. I was already feeling lighter with so much anticipation, excitement and restlessness. It was a layover flight at Delhi. I am blessed and grateful for my ability to instantly fall asleep while flying. However, this time I could view the GPS and the countdown in reaching the destination on the screen at my seat. To me, this flight felt the longest. As I neared the destination, I had the bird’s eye-view of the tall green and white snow capped mountains and the road-trails with hair-pin bends on those. I also noticed tents and flags. Many questions on mind about Kargil, Kashmir border, Gulmarg, etc,. Cloud and mists blurred the vision around while the pilot apologized for the minor delay due to weather turbulence. Yes, the flight did shudder multiple times with vibrations, sometimes fragile, and very rarely tough. After 4+ hours of flying amidst clouds in the not-so-clear blue sky, I landed in Kashmir. The weather was hot, as hot in Mumbai or Bengaluru. It is the wind from the alps that make the difference. It was a sunny afternoon.

Friends are blessings in disguise. One such is my travel enthusiast friend for more than a decade. When I casually shared my idea of going to Kashmir for my birthday, she instantly referred me to a guide and family friend Suhail. He sounded like a middle-aged man when I’d called him to enquire about the weather conditions. There are also travel groups online and on Quora via which I had spoken to a few people who were Kashmir natives, travelers or guides. Any day, a friend’s recommendation will unanimously be finalised. Surprisingly, when I met this guy holding the board with my name at Sriagar airport, I was surprised, he is a young man, could be in 30s. 

My first halt was in a Houseboat at Dal lake. It was a 45 minutes drive from the airport to the lake. This lane housed Dal lake on one side while 3-star and 4-star Hotels  on the other side. The Dal lake was lined with a series of beautiful houseboats, each beautiful differently. Few were Duplex, few with huge balconies and porticos, few with pots and flowers at the windows, few with chandeliers and lamps and so on… You reach the houseboat on a Shikara (an aesthetically decorated boat). These boats have colorful, embroidered cushions and velvet carpets.

You must visit this place. I have been to the Alleppey houseboats which cost 4X or more but these 2 are incomparable. In the Allapey houseboat, you are on a ride to another destination wherein there were stops at fish market. You can choose the fish – Salmon, Prawns, Pompret, Shark, Lobster, Crab, Squids and your cook would make it for you in the authentic Kerala cuisine style with coconut oil. Contradictorily, here is Srinagar, the source of fish is either the Dal lake or Nagin lake. Do not forget, you’re in the alps and not at the coast. There are many vegetarian restaurants and they cook boiled rice.

It was around 2 pm when I reached my room. As beautiful as the city, so was my rustic room. After a little tiring schedule, the cozy bed tugged with embroidered spreads and 4 – 5 layers of rugs and blankets was such a warm sight. As the owner was busy explaining me about the pillars and the history, I was distracted by bedspread and interrupted him to ask, if  they were handmade / machine embroideries. He was excited with the enquiry and narrated that they were hand-woven and Kashmir is famous for its unique style of the embroideries on sarees, kurtis, bedspread, carpets, cushions, curtains and everything else that you can imagine. Kashmir has many traders who travel across the country to sell their handmade memorabilia that has achieved a great traction with time. The people here, lead a very simple life. Many earn their livelihood from Tourism. It could be the accommodation, naturally grown spices and raisins or the aesthetic articles.  He concluded citing we could continue this conversation on the dining table.

It was time to freshen up and head out.  Hot water cannot be compromised for, here. Although I breakfast was served on the flight, I was still very hungry. Roti has been my 3-times staple food from childhood. I had ordered for chicken and Roti. The aroma that spread across the spacious houseboat welcomed me to the dining table. And there I was busy yom-noming my spicy and sumptuous lunch. 

Now I began my schedule to spend this day on shikara. Every person I met here was very helpful, be it the guide, cook, janitor, sailor or the vendors. The ride around the lake started while the weather slowly started getting chiller.

Rihaan, the sailor man” unlatched the rope from the wharf to moor away from the shore. The composed shikara, evidently, a pro in rowing the boat, now started swiftly yet keenly moved his practised arms with the wooden oars. Amidst the ride, he stopped and voluntarily offered me the oars to try rowing the boat, Enthusiastically, I did. Thee are the many experiences in life you unveil when you travel. Was worth every moment on the Shikara. Shopping for Kashmiri ornaments, to be made of authentic stones and gems do happen here. A few vendor did try selling clothing, shawls, saffron, gloves, etc. And I purchased the seeds for “Nargis rose” and “Kalavyoth lily”. I could relate these flowers to “night queen” for the strong scent. My uncle is a passionate gardener / parker with numerous pots of vegetables and flowers on the terrace. This was the perfect gift I could give him. I don’t know if he was lucky or the seeds. 🙂 I also bought a fur cap and gloves.

 

Nargis rose of KAshmir
Flora in Kasmir

 

Kahwa of Kashmir
My first Kahwa of Kashmir

Rihaan suggested me to try kahwa at a small floating shop which was like a one-stop tea-joint on the lake for tea, kahwa, maggi, pakodas, omelette, sandwiches, etc,.

While I was lost in blankness, comes a shikara with a Camera for a photograph which most tourists do here with the snow clad mountains in the background and Shikara on Dal lake. The hook to me was not the photograph but the incognito of a Kashmiri woman, “Kashmir ki kali”, as he marketed. The drama-smitten poses, he suggested me were too hilarious. You can see me laughing my lungs out, posing.

Too delved with the taste, I ignored to pose
Omnipresent soldiers in Kashmir
Life in Kashmir
I purchased Nargis rose seeds

 

The almond streaks garnished Kashmir beverage

Am I supposed to look like a dancing peahen ?

 

That’s the remote to regulate the heat

The layers of blankets, the underneath is the electric one.

This day ended with 2 Roti (indian bread) and Dal, my all time favorite. The best part is the electric blankets, you plug and use the hand-held remote to increase the temperature which heats-up your bed. And you have the layer of 4 thick blankets into which I snuggled and slept like a chicken. Next morning was my trip to the next destination “Pahalgham”.

Tariff:

March is an off-season and many houseboats were empty. You would be paying 2X+, after April.

  • The Green meadow Houseboat – Rs. 3000 per night.
  • Shikara – 500 per hour

Your suggestions, opinions, comments are welcome. Will be taken seriously. You don’t believe? Please try.

Instagram : shwethajagannath

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