Paradise Regained: Day 1 & 2

15-May-2012 – DAY 1

Our trip to “Paradise on Earth” began with an adventurous note. I had booked our onward journey to Delhi from Pune through Air India. I was warned about Air India, but I threw caution to the winds! The delays, the strikes reported in the newspapers always happen to others right? It never happens when we travel … well that’s what I thought! I could experience firsthand what was being reported in the newspapers. The flight that was supposed to take off at 7.45 am was rescheduled several times and eventually to a state where I could have missed my connecting flight from Delhi to Srinagar. I have to do last minute cancellations and re-bookings at the airport that set me back by 45k. Our aviation regulations are still at their infancy. Airlines should be made to pay for their follies. Anyhow, the silver lining was the ease by which I could quickly book seats on different airlines without impacting my overall schedule.
My story dates back to January’ 12 when I along with my college friends of yore, started planning for the Kashmir trip. As we did not have a clear understanding of the security situation in Kashmir and the fact that we were travelling with families we found it prudent to take the services of a travel company. After talking to a few travel agencies we zoomed on to Sachin Travels who have been providing Kashmir tours for last twenty five years. The tour itself cost us Rs.23,000 per individual.

Some of us decided to pursue air route while some others took a more adventurous route of going by train and road to reach Srinagar. While waiting to board the flight at Delhi for Srinagar we heard “choice” words being used against Air India. Looked like some others had tasted the same medicine I had! I found out that they were also taking the tour through Sachin and were part of our larger group. I joined the group to vent out my feelings against AI. Ahh… felt good … Now I was ready for the “Paradise on Earth”.

As the plane made its descent in Srinagar, green carpeted land embraced by the beautiful Himalayas greeted us. As the plane made its final descent little cottages and the dotted cattle idly grazing on nature’s carpet came to focus. The snow on the hills was literally the icing! If my camera had “emotion feature” built-in it could have probably done justice to the scenery. I was yanked back to reality by the “ooohs” and the “ahhs”, excited voices of the children and the swaying of the necks of the passengers from one side of the plane to the other.

Aerial snap of the mountains


As we walked out of the plane, the sun was just setting. The cold evening air was a welcome change against sweltering weather we were briefly subjected to, at Delhi. The route from the airport was equally lined with army personnel as with trees! The presence of army has definitely brought peace to the valley. The locals have taken the presence of army as part of their lives. I felt the mood was generally upbeat amongst the locals as they look forward to the tourist season. I felt secure.

We were put up at Grand Habib – a fine hotel with all the modern amenities. The travel agency goofed up our reservations. They booked a room short and for the first two days we had to adjust. As we settled for dinner that night, our tour manager informed us that our trip to Gulmarg next day had to be deferred as the Gondola ropeway to Khilanmarg has snapped. We had to change our plans on the fly and decided to do local Srinagar sightseeing the next day.

Grand Habib

Roses at Grand Habib

We retired for the night eagerly looking forward to a memorable trip.

16-May-2012 – DAY 2

The entire tour group comprised a total of 80 people. To ensure that the group stuck to the timings and to make the overall process efficient half the group was put up in a different hotel. Cooks from Sachin Travels were available at all the locations we visited and dished out delicacies throughout the trip. At times, this was a pity as we missed out on the local culinary.

We commenced our tour with a visit to the Sri Sankaracharaya temple. It is situated at a height 1100 feet above sea level. One has to climb 270 steps to reach the temple. The view is spectacular from here. Unfortunately, the security is very strict about cameras, cell phones etc. We just clicked the view in our memory and moved on. The temple was built in the 1600s but still stands tall and overlooks Srinagar. The small cave within its precinct houses a Shivling.

The morning was spent following the footsteps of the ancient Moghuls who had the foresight to design beautiful gardens like Chasmeshahi, Shalimar and Nishat Baug. It has been truly an era of creativity. The sheer range of their creativity from small intricate carvings on wood to magnificent mega gardens is mind boggling.

There is magic in the air! These formal gardens of the Moghuls are definitely a treat for sour eyes. I have never seen roses and other flowers of such different colors and sizes before! I am not in to floriculture but it definitely left me mesmerized looking at the wave of hues gently swaying in the breeze. I am positive that the beauty of the region is largely due to mineral rich water flowing from the Himalayan ranges. Our guide insisted that all of us taste the cold water from the flowing water in the garden. Let me assure you that it is nothing like the water we drink in our cities. The richness is hard to describe.

Flowers at Chashmeshahi

Flowers at Chashmeshahi

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Indian tourists in Kashmir. This also reflects the changing perception about the security situation in this region and it would make any Indian proud. We were not fortunate to see the Tulips in full bloom as it was not the season.
The epicenter of this lovely place is the Dal Lake. With the House boats lining the banks of the lake and the Shikara’s idling on the lake, it’s a picture perfect setting. The evening sun played cat and mouse with the clouds creating a magical effect over Dal lake. As the odd boatman winding his business for the day slowly rowed past, one could hear the sound of oars gently pushing the water as if not to hurt them! The sun rays glided on ensuing ripples creating an image of crimson Kashmiri carpet urging the onlookers to take out their cameras to capture the ethereal beauty.

At the Mughal Gardens

At the Mughal Gardens

Over Dal Lake

Dal Lake

Dal Lake


We ended the day with a stopover for shopping. Kashmir is famous for dry fruits, saffron and handicrafts. The carpets of Kashmir are famous but surprisingly there is no formal industry. The carpets are made at home with the secrets passed from generation to generation. We tasted our first “Kawa”, equivalent of Kashmiri tea. It’s made of herbs and Saffron and is served hot with no milk added. It was energizing and refreshing after the exhausting day. The shoppers in the group satisfied their initial appetite with some frantic shopping of dry fruits, saffron and Kashmiri handicrafts.

The next day had some exciting events in store. We will be visiting Sonamarg to catch the retreating snow. In the evening we would be shifting our base to houseboat. A great day to look forward to!

18 Comments

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Dear Sunder,
    Marvellous Very good writing, nice photos. Kashmir is so beautiful. I donot know why India asking from Swiss to give certificate . As swiss give this for Khajjiar Chamba .
    Thanks a lot.
    Best Regards,

    • Sundar Shastry says:

      Dear Surinder,

      Thanks for your comments. I consider myself fortunate to have made this trip to Kashmir. I was completely awed by its beauty. Nature has bestowed India with this certification… We don’t need it from anybody else :-)

  • Subodh says:

    Hi Sunder , Great start to this travelogue for a beautiful Kashmir … Heaven on Earth … Good to know that tourism is growing in the valley and the local people are cooperating in the growth.
    I belong to the school of thought who don’t trust in the doing a package booking with a travel company . This I feel restricts your Ghumakkari and with the boom in information technology every details are available on internet . It will be good if you can share your experiences about the travel company with us.

    Looking forward for the forthcoming posts…

    • Sundar Shastry says:

      Hi Subodh,

      Thanks for your comments. I subscribe to your thoughts about Travel companies. The only source of information we have about Kashmir is the media. The risk of getting caught in an extremist situation is best mitigated through a Travel agency especially when one is travelling with family. Retrospectively, the Travel agency decision helped when we had to change our plans to Gulmarg when the ropeway failed. I may have dropped the plans to visit Gulmarg, if I had been on my own or worse I would have gone there and returned back wasting a whole day. I believe traveling on our own and going through a travel agency has its own merits and demerits!

  • Naman says:

    A great post! Eagerly waiting for the next post! :D

  • Neelesh says:

    Sunder ,
    It was the great experience to be there i9 The Heaven on Earth, You had narrated very nicely about the trip, As mentioned by by yes there are Merits and demerits abt the Travelling with Travel Agencies yes but whn u r with ur family and at a such Sensitive area chosing the travel agency is the ultimate option.
    For others I was with Mr Sunder in the same trip of the Travel Agency. The best merit of travelling in a group that we have created one more Friends Circle and that is what are the additioanal advantages from such trip, We have named our group MADHUBALA ( As Fresh As Beautiful As Everlasting Young Like our Loved Actress MADHUBALA was).
    Sunder Waiting for your next Post …. So hurry Up

  • Dear Sunder

    A wonderful post on Kashmir . Pictures are very beautiful .specially of those flowers.

    Waiting for next . Keep travelling and posting.

  • Mukesh "Ghumakkar" says:

    Sundar,

    If you are Sundar, your post is Atisundar. Both write up and pictures are awesome.

    Thanks.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Long time Sundar. Nice to see your story.

    I was not aware that water is so clean/pure that one can actual drink it. wow. It indeed must be a paradise. Now that we have warmed up, we are looking forward to rest of the journey. Also please tell us more about Grand Habib hotel.

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Thanks for the lovely, virtual tour of Kashmir. Your pictures are superb and they have done justice to the ethereal beauty of that place. May I suggest that the watermarks be made smaller so that they do not distract the viewer?

    My commisserations for your bad experience with Air India. I too had a similar experience with them in May and lost a lot of money in the process. Thank God that we have alternatives like Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Indigo.

    Disappointed that photography is not allowed at the Shankaracharya temple. Now that the situation is almost back to normal, maybe those in charge of security should start lifting such restrictions.

    • Sundar Shastry says:

      Dear DL,

      Thanks for your comments. It is indeed unfortunate that you had to face the brunt of AI as well. I hope you got the refund. My followps are still on!

      I acknowledge your comment on the watermark. Since, I have already sent my posts to Ghumakkar, will take care of it in the future posts. Just wanted to be doubly sure in the era of IP rights!!

  • Mahesh Moharir says:

    Beautiful(sundar) post on Kashmir. In fact when I came back home I was really frustrated with the climatic conditions at Dombivali as compared to heaven on earth & ULTIMATE Kashmir . I still remember & will continue to remember the ultimate taste of Alu Parotha & Rajama chawal I had, on my journey from Jammu to Shrinagar. Our journey to Sonmarg, Gulmarg & Pehalgam enjoying old Hindi film songs with our friend circle… I think these are the joyful moments which we will always remember.

    • Sundar Shastry says:

      Dear Mahesh,

      Thanks for your comments. You were one of the lucky few who made most of the journey by traversing the valley twice (!) while the lesser mortals like us where languishing under the “inhospitality” of our dear Air India! I have to make a separate trip just for the “Rajma Chawal” :-)

  • Very well written post. “We just clicked the view in our memory”… your writing style is very good. Looking forward for next part.

    • Sundar Shastry says:

      Dear Deependra,

      Thanks for your encouraging comment. The place is so picturesque that even people like me become poetic :-)

  • Yogita says:

    Hi Sundar,

    Beautiful travelogue..Wonderfully described..

    just makes you wish that we could revisit this HEAVEN again..

    not with travel company but just explore its raw beauty on our own…

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