Continuing my exploration of the beautiful valley of Kashmir, my second visit was more like returning back to my second home. The enthralling beauty and the warmth of the people haunted me long enough to make me revisit Kashmir and I boarded the indigo flight for a 5 day visit.
Although not normal, this time around contrarily to summers in May, Kashmir witnessed a spate of altered weather conditions in the form of lashing rains and low temperatures. Its said our former prime minister Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, often quoted May and September are indeed the best of months to visit the valley when its in its full grandeur.
Our close family friend, Dr. Wani, had planned my entire visit meticulously, so that I could take back some wonderful memories with me to cherish for lifetime. And yes, it was so…the memories I brought back will remain in my heart forever!
My visit was spaced out in such a way as to incorporate most of the places I had missed during my earlier visit in November last year. Thus started my mesmerizing journey, the first day destinations being: Chashmashahi, Harwan Garden and Badam Wari.
It is smallest of the three Mughal gardens of Kashmir. Meaning Royal Spring, this garden measures 108 m by 38 m and is above the Nehru Memorial Park. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan set up the Chashma Shahi Mughal Gardens in 1632 AD. The garden is quite famous for spring of energizing digestive mineral water inside it. It offers a striking view of the scenic Dal Lake and the neighboring mountains. The garden has a number of terraces, with several fountains built right through its center.
Apart from the three terraces and fountains, the other attractions of Chashmashahi include an aqueduct and some waterfalls. The water for the fountains comes from the spring. This water then goes through the floor of the pavilion and falls over to the lower terrace, over a polished black stone chute. Also, a number of fruits, flowers and chinar trees grow in the garden, adding to its appeal. It is said by the locals, our former prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru relished this fresh spring water.
It is a beautiful garden, situated at Harwan, about 18 km from Srinagar. This huge garden lined with flower beds and Chinar trees, is an ideal spot for picnickers. The picturesque Harwan Lake is behind the garden. The canal flowing through the middle of the garden is fed by the lake.
Supplied by the runoff from Marsar Lake, it is 278 m long, 137 m wide and 18 m deep. Nestled amidst mighty mountains and scenic locales, the lake is a major source of water supply to Srinagar. The reflection of the lofty peaks of Mahadev in its dark green waters provides a sparkling sight.
The almond garden, is awe inspiring when in its full bloom. It was laid during the Afgan rule. The area was developed as a horticultural attraction by the rulers by planting almond and pomegranate trees. A special attraction is the ‘Waris Khan Chah’, a deep water reservoir of the yore named after an Afghan governor Waris Khan. Badam wari is located on the foothills of Kohimaran and banks of Nullah Amir Khan (an outlet of Nageen lake).
While it started raining when we entered the garden, the beauty could not be expressed in any words, the lush green garden washed by water and the redstone entrance leading to the interiors of the garden are bound to make ones heart skip a beat! The rains washed the leaves even more green, the flowers even more colourful, and the fragrances even more divine!
Since the weather God was partial to me, we headed for Pahalgam in an SUV the very next day being a good sunny day. Enroute we came across lush green forests, as the sun rays dispersed through the fresh dew drops, the varied hues of greens, the barasinghas or the “hanghuls”, called in the local kashmiri language, the vivacious water body, the lidder river flowing through the entire stretch…nature appeared to be in its full bounty …I kept on thinking all through….”this indeed is real jannat”.
As we neared Pahalgam, the beauty just kept on accruing and the serenity of the place exuberated can only be felt once one is there in person.
Amidst thick pine forests and green pastures inlaid with brilliant flowers lies Pahalgam (“Shepherds village”) about 95 kms north-east of Srinagar. The mountain town along the bank of river Lidder is known for its trout fish, both rainbow and brown and is the starting point of many a trek, excursions to glaciers like Kohaloi and Hindu shrines like Amarnath and other scenic places.
River Lidder is a snow-fed river which originates from the glaciers in the high mountains of Pahalgam. This river is the main source of water supply for the town of Anantnag and to its nearby areas. Some of the tributaries of the River Lidder are the streams of Aroo and Chandanwari.
The area situated on its bank is called the Lidder Valley, which includes the town, Pahalgam. This valley is surrounded by mountains and glaciers and is enriched by many streams.
Our next destination while way down was to Kokernag which is situated at a height of 2,020 m, Kokernag is approximately 70 km from the district of Srinagar. Blooming gardens surround this spring, which bubbles at seven places at the foot of the forested mountain.
The water of Kokernag in Kashmir is believed to have medicinal and digestive properties. And because of these properties only, the spring is also known as Papashudan Nag or the sin-cleansing spring. There is also a botanical garden and a rose garden near Kokernag, overflowing with fragrances of flowers and shrubs. It is also the largest fresh water spring of the Kashmir valley. The spring of Kokernag comprises of 300 canals, 129 canals for garden purposes and 171 canals for forest area.
Achabal Botanical Garden:
Further down we visited Achabal botanical garden. Once the pleasure retreat of Empress Nur Jehan, Achabal (1,677 m) has a fine garden in the Mughal style, with its own special charm and character. It was in Kashmir that the Mughal Garden was brought to perfection, and Achabal is one such masterpiece. Situated at the foot of a hill with a row of majestic chinars framing it, the Mughal garden is a visual delight with their stepped terraces, formal elegance, ornamental shrubs, sparkling fountains and falling water. Achabal is 58 kms from Srinagar, via Anantnag.
The third day satiated my spiritual thirst. We visited the Shankaracharya temple , Hazrat Bal dargah and drove through the Dal lake in the symbolic shikara.
The Shankaracharya Temple :
It is located on the top of the hills, southeast of Srinagar and is commonly known as the Takht-i-Sulaiman. This temple is situated at a height of 1100 feet above the Srinagar city and is devoted to the worship of lord Shiva.
This ancient temple dates back to 250 B.C. It is believed that the saint Shankaracharya stayed here when he visited Kashmir ten centuries ago to preach the Sanatan Dharma. The saint popularized the worship of lord Shiva in Kashmir.
The Temple is built on a high octagonal plinth approached by a flight of 240 steep steps. The summit of the hill is crowned with a picturesque edifice. In the ancient times this temple was known as the Gopadri. The main shrine has a circular cell inside. An inscription in Persian inside the shrine indicates that the origin of this sacred place dates back to the reign of emperor Shah Jahan.
The panoramic view of the valley in early April when the snow is deep on the mountains, or after rains on a summer day from the summit of the hill is one of the best that could ever be witnessed. The mountain ranges on the south, west and north rise one above the other and the peaks, varying in height from 13,000-15,500 ft.
Hazrat Bal Dargah:
This famous Muslim pilgrimage is located just opposite the Nishat Bagh on the banks of Dal Lake, reflecting its glory and holiness on the pristine water. The surroundings around the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar also known by the names Assar-e-Sharif, Madinat-Us-Sani and Dargah Sharief is not only tranquil but also has breathtaking beauty.
The fame of the Hazratbal in Srinagar lies in its association with a strand of Prophet Mohammad’s hair known as Moi-e-Muqqadus. When the hair came to Kashmir during the rule of Aurangzeb in 1699, then at first it was preserved at shrine of Naqshband Sahib. But the shrine was small and therefore not capable of every day handling of the huge crowd that thronged to visit the Prophet’s hair.
Therefore, Aurangzeb ordered the strand of hair to be preserved at the Hazratbal shrine at Srinagar. The architecture has the unique blend of both Mughal and traditional Kashmiri styles.
The Dal Lake:
A dream come true for most of the tourists, for me it was one of the best experiences. Navigating through the Dal Lake with kurta pyjama clad local men harvesting lotus stems, the sight of floating garden, the grand Hazrat Bal dargah, the cacophony of the sea gulls, the floating maroon lotus leaves, the undisturbed serene water, the mist laden distant mountain peaks…nothing can be as wonderful and tranquil as the Dal. The serenity of the shikara ride was indeed captivating, one could feel how naive human is in the vast expanse of nature, one could just get lost in the ambience and not want to get back…
The next day was planned to visit “the most sort after destinations during winters”, the intoxicating Gulmarg. The day was marked with thunderstorms and incessant rains, but that did not dampen our spirits and we headed for Gulmarg in our own vehicle.
Here I got the chance to drive through the valley and cannot for sure describe the feel of things, since haven’t driven through hills, I drove only till Tangmarg. The drive in itself was a real “adrenalin pumping” one! The mists followed us through the steep mountain terrains, it appeared as if the rains were chasing us and we were chasing the sun God…so naturally I got to witness an amalgamation of various hues of clouds, rains, sun, green leaves, brown rocky mountains, ivory white mists…I was just spellbound!
How magnificent can our mother nature be adorned with all the imaginable colours and moods! The elegance of the valley cannot be barouqued in words, it was so alluring and welcoming, it appeared God had taken time enough to paint the beautiful valley with all the available colours and bounties. No words to express how I felt while nosing through the exhilarating terrains
9100 ft, about 50 kms away from Srinagar, Gulmarg (“The meadow of flowers”) is a dreamland in the sky.
This is world famous golf course (highest in the world) in summer and a lovely skiing resort in winter. It boasts Asia’s highest and longest cable car project, the Gulmarg Gondola. The two-stage ropeway ferries about 600 people per hour to and from Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Afarwat Peak (4,200 m (13,780 ft)).
The ropeway project is a joint venture of the Jammu and Kashmir government and French firm Pomagalski.
The first stage transfers from the Gulmarg resort at 2,600 m (8,530 ft) to Kongdoori Station in the bowl-shaped Kongdori valley. The second stage of the ropeway, which has 36 cabins and 18 towers, takes skiers to a height of 3,950 m (12,959 ft) on Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Afarwat Peak (4,200 m (13,780 ft)). The second stage was completed in a record time of about two years at a cost of Rs 11 crore and opened on May 28, 2005. Skiing is normally offered from mid-December to mid-May.
My farewell destination was the allaying and exquisite Mansbal Lake, where there is no other sound but birdsongs. Manasbal has often been described as the bird watcher’s paradise, and as ones shikara glides through this mirror of tranquillity, one experiences yet another facet of Kashmir.
The Lake is located about 30 km north of Srinagar. It has predominantly rural surroundings with three villages, Kondabal, Jarokbal and Ganderbal overlooking the lake. Manasbal is considered as the ‘supreme gem of all Kashmir lakes’ with lotus nowhere more abundant or beautiful than on the margins of this lake during July and August.
It is the deepest lake of Kashmir valley. As one nagivates through the serene waters of the lake, one is bound to get entranced by the opulence of nature, everywhere the eye goes one can see a new hue of nature, the misty mountains, to the cacophony of the rapturous seagulls, the lotus plantations, to the reflection of the azure skies in the ethereal waters…everything was just divine!
Thus my trip this time around to Kashmir brought me more close to nature and left a soothing imprint of the real “jannat” which would not fade off till my days on this earth and with a desire to return back to the valley every year…