Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spice Girl Caravan To Gulmarg Kashmir

"You’re going to Kashmir? Are you sure it’s safe?"

If you’ve lived in India or followed Indian affairs, you know that’s precisely the reaction planning a trip to Kashmir will evoke. This sparkling jewel cradled in the Himalayas has been clouded by years of political unrest and even violence. Kashmir has been the battleground for decades of religious, political, military and diplomatic war. It's a land where Indian soldiers and civilians have shed many drops of sweat, blood and tears. Despite reeling under this history of turmoil, one cannot deny the urge to set foot on India's final northern frontier.

When you land in Srinagar, expect to be observed suspiciously until proven innocent. Don’t take that personally. Our first stop was legendary Dal Lake, which has been immortalized in Indian films, including Kashmir ki Kali and Mission Kashmir. It's just as breathtaking as it appears on screen. Amidst lush green, snow-capped mountains all around with their reflections dancing in the lake water, you find elegant wooden houseboats lined along the sides and shikaras floating along with boatmen effortlessly rowing and selling jewelry, flowers or Kawah Kashmiri tea. For many locals, life is lived on these waters.

The houseboats we stayed in were nothing short of luxurious, elaborately decorated with intricately carved exquisite designs and an eager caretaker to serve us the best authentic food. We set off on a Shikara ride across Dal lake, a must-do while in Kashmir. The Shikara floats along the lake for an hour, giving you a chance to soak in the quintessential sights and sounds of Kashmir valley: sunset on Dal lake, women dressed in traditional attire and rowing boats to bring children back from school, floating flower markets, and emotional conversations with patriotic fervor in Urdu-influenced Hindi
about protecting Dal lake and Kashmir.

We explored Srinagar’s handicrafts like traditional Pashmina shawls and embroidered sarees. If you love meat, you cannot miss the Kashmiri Wazwan – a multi-course meal filled with red meat delicacies. We were lucky to find the Tulip gardens of Srinagar in full bloom during our visit. Rows of red, white, yellow, pink and orange tulips, set against the backdrop of mountains, painted a perfect image in my memory. Plus, what better way to end the evening than being greeted by the State's Chief Minister himself. We were trying to strike pretty poses against the flowers, when the Chief Minister and his family walked through the gardens and in front of our cameras, saying “Sorry, we’ll get out of your way!”

From basking in 31 degrees of Srinagar sunshine, we headed straight to 0 degrees and snowfall in just four hours. Gulmarg – India’s popular skiing destination covered in snow for most of the year. Every time we looked out of the window enroute, we laid eyes on a slice of heaven. White water gushing over stones and whistling its own tune, mountains and mustard fields on both sides with a chill breeze in the air. These are scenes you just have to close your eyes and remember, because no camera could do them justice. Incessant rain dampened our journey, but Gulmarg thrilled us with a greeting of fresh snowfall as we entered. We layered up to fight the biting cold and headed straight for the snow. A cable car ride took us to the mountain top and the beginning of the ski runs. We danced, pranced, rolled and jumped around like children – only too glad to get our noses and fingers frozen. A few brave souls, including me, decided to try some skiing. What followed was a series of outlandish falls, childish screams and a new found respect for the sport, plus some hilarious videos for future entertainment.

On the long return flight from Srinagar back home, I closed my eyes to recapture the images of Kashmir valley. The tranquil sounds of a stream we stumbled upon during an evening walk, those Kashmiri women and children with rosy pink cheeks that we photographed at a Mosque, the majestic snow-capped peaks all around, and Dal Lake peacefully making memories for so many visitors. It’s no wonder Emperor Jehangir once said, “Agar Firdaws ba roi zameen astu, hami astu, hami astu, hami astu.” If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.

Archana Srivatsan is an accountant and a spicy Indian girl. Unlike the famous British Spice Girls, she's not a ho and speaks comprehendible English. She's now on a sabbatical better described as a soul-searching exploration to tick off unfinished items on her dream checklist. From back-packing across Europe and trekking in the Himalayas to rafting in the Ganges and more, travelling makes her eyes sparkle like nothing else. She also has a keen interest in painting, poetry, and strumming guitar. Having dabbled with travel writing for national newspapers, Archana is ever-ready to embark on the next journey to discover the next story.


  1. It does look like a beautiful area. When we think of Kashmir here, it's the conflict that first comes to mind, but as a mountaineer, I'd love to get into that part of the world.

  2. I so have to go there! I, too, always hear how dangerous it is (I live in McLeod Ganj), but whenever I speak to my Kasmiri friends, they always grow misty eyed as they describe how beautiful it is there...totally in keeping with your own descriptions and photos. It really does look like a kind of paradise. Thanks for sharing.

    thanks for sharing your information about kashmir trip. thanks again :)