Welcome to Pahalgham, a paradise that has blissfully retained the tranquillity of a grasslands and the snow flaked mountains.
Day 1 : The short on-road journey of 120kms approx towards Pahalgham started around 9am. Many things surprised me here. At Srinagar, it was the number of soldiers outnumbered the civilians. Here it was the sheeplikedogs. Yes! When you live in a place like this where your breath smokes and fingers are cold eternally, you’ll learn to nurture the nature’s gift. The dogs here have thick overcoat, the blanket that keeps you warm. You may mistake the dogs for sheep like I did.
Suhail being the pro on these roads knew every bump and shortcuts. I was often surprised with the frequent surveillance of the giant SUV by the traffic cops. Suhail being street smart was very cordial with the cops. At one of the checking point, Suhail had to walk till the toll. The Cops generally enquired me about my native, reason to visit, etc. They were shocked I was traveling alone and unmarried, after knowing my age. I expected that reaction. I received some unsolicited advice, as always.
The drive continued with Kishore kumar and Rafis’s retro melodies, apt for the landscape and people I could view from the window. How beautiful life is!
Suddenly I noticed a queue of shops on both sides of the highway. And all these shops sold the same thing. And this was on my purchase checklist. “DRY FRUITS” and “KESAR” (saffron). Out of the 300+ shops, I randomly chose one and we stopped there. A long list to choose and shop –
- Kahwa powder
- Walnut scrub
- Kesar winter cream
- Condiments like Cumin, Fennel, and so on…..
This was the best shopping where I splurged shopping for family, friends, relatives, new niece, colleagues, flatmates and neighbors. It wasn’t chocolates on this birthday. 😛
Secondly after around 50kms, there was a long trial of Trucks and Lorries on the highway. We waited for around 20minutes to move 200 metres, and we stopped again. This repeated a few times. Since we were on a race against time, took a U-turn followed by shortcuts into villages. Lot of children were playing on the mud-streets with a ball and a book. The aroma of chicken curry by the locals made me hungry again. It was 2pm, but we had to continue.
I had 4 nights and 5 days. Initially, the plan was to cover Srinagar, Pahalgham, Gulmarg and Sonmarg. In a past 2 years, I had realized I don’t need a checklist on a vacation. I told Suhail that we stay at Pehalgham and reach Gulmarg on 20th March, to celebrate the BIG day. So that was how the “Final destination – Gulmarg” for the occasion was decided on-the-run. Sonmarg was called off. Around 3 pm, we had a hefty lunch at one restaurant that served no menu but they served yummy brown rice and mutton curry. The observation was here, the locals enjoy eating half-cooked meat. The mutton pieces were chopped big and had to be chewed for longer to be able to eat. It did taste good. Then I reached the Pahalgham Inn a new hotel to freshen up for a round-trip around.
I must admit, it is an incredible me-time watching the valleys, people, mountains, horses, mosque, hairpin bends, as the chill air kisses your skin and play with your hair while “Jeena isi ka naam hein” (Embrace life as is…) melody plays in the background.
And the other wish to visit a Dargah was also fulfilled. I was only asked to tie my hair. They welcome tourists.
It was time for an early dinner. I ordered egg curry, roti and needless to say, one kehwa. The quiet floor till then was greeted by an energetic hippie group. Since I could speak in 3 south Indian languages and so could the lady who greeted me, we realized we were cohorts and had a long conversation. The epiphany of traveling to me was long conversations I could drive with the senior citizens. And incidentally, the travel enthusiasts I met were definitely 50+. I was more a listener in this case to the group of sequence story-tellers. “All stories were real stories” based on their experiences in Travel, photography, wildlife, mountains, friendship, marriage, food, etc. And we ordered our dinner, all special dishes in Fish, egg, chicken and mutton. A hefty dinner, I must say.
“We exchanged contacts, hugged and departed to meet again someday, somewhere.”
Day 2: I had decided the previous night to visit the valley where I had seen the horses. When I reached, there were the guides, photographers, vendors who come to you with their business pitch. It could be to sell a keychain, photoframe, photos and all other usual things. The guide said “I can show you SCOTLAND of India“. I will take you on this horse atop this hill. You have a beautiful view there. You can view the valleys, tall trees, many horses and many tourists. Once you reach the flatland there, you can ride the horse by yourself.” I did not take time to think. I instantly agreed and there it started.
“B E A U T I F U L” is less.
To finish something that I started and left incomplete, I have to go back to Pahalgham. “What do you think it is ?”