My first acquaintance with Kashmir was in 2007, when I was but an innocent teenager who had never ventured out of her country.
At my classmate’s house one day, I stumbled upon the most beautiful painting; a serene and picturesque lake surrounded by lush green grass with snowy-capped mountains looming in the background also reflected in the crystal clear lake water.
It was love at the first sight. My friend told me that it was a paintibg if Kashmir which her dad brought back from his business trip in India,
I promised myself that one day, I would go and see the beauty of Kashmir with my own eyes.
The pre-trip dilemma
The opportunity came when I decided to quit my full-time job after three years of hard work and go for a little adventure trip for a month in India.
To fulfill my promise ten years ago, Kashmir was definitely in the list of places to visit. I must admit that it was a gutsy decision. I’ve seen many news reports of the civil and political unrest in Kashmir. Some of my Indian friends who heard about my trip to Kashmir even advised me not to go.
Despite those factors, the calling from the scenery in that old painting was still too strong for me to say no. I tried to reassure myself that if Go Air let me board the flight to Srinagar, things would not be too bad for tourists right? So I packed some warm clothes in my backpack and took the flight to Srinagar.
Srinagar – The city of protests and violence or the city of prosperity and peace?
Srinagar welcomed me with cool winds from the highland and lush green scenery with far distant snowy mountains in the background.
Only a mere 40 minutes flight from chaotic (and extremely hot) Delhi, Srinagar in the summer was a completely different world with cool weather, fresh air, green grass, snowy-capped mountains, summer flowers, cherries, clean streets and Kashmiri people.
Although it was a domestic flight, I spent more than 30 minutes at Srinagar airport to fill up compulsory additional forms and underwent three rounds of security checks (with female staff frisking me in a covered booth) and passport/visa verification.
As a foreigner, it is a must to have your accommodation booked in advance and your hotel’s staff will pick you up at the airport. The locals are required to have a permit pick their foreign guests from the airport.
Most tourists in Srinagar stay in houseboats on Dal lake, but my backpacker’s tight budget would not allow me such a luxury. Instead, I booked my room through Airbnb in a small guesthouse which is only 3 mins walk to Dal lake.
On to my guest house from the airport, Srinagar wowed me with its peacefulness and serenity. Although Srinagar is a summer capital city of India’s state Jammu and Kashmir, the city was quite laid-back with quiet streets. It appeared to me more like a town than a city.
In contrast to the tranquility, soldiers carrying guns and riot shields patrolling along the streets or standing in front of shop-houses. It made me wonder what was the city’s true color under that calm and peaceful exterior.
So what is really happening in Kashmir?
I guess you must have numerous questions as you follow my story. So here’s some brief background information which I learnt from my pre-trip research and from the Kashmir locals, about the current situation in Kashmir.
The native people of Kashmir valley are Kashmiri. They have fair skin, prominent noses, and lighter eye color compared to their Nothern neighbors.
Kashmiri’s are mostly of the Muslim demographic and they speak in their own language. They have been urging for their independence from India for years, with the support of Pakistan and China. They’ve done so not by diplomatic means but through violence.
This pretty much sums up the current political situation there (although if you need more accurate details, I would suggest to do a litte Google-ing work).
My first night in Srinagar happened to be the night of the World Final Cricket match between India and Pakistan. Considering their political relationship and cricket being a national sport in both countries, this match was a huge deal for the two nations.
Sadly, the Indian team played a rather disappointing game of cricket that night and lost. My whole night was full of the sound of fireworks and people cheering for the loss of the Indian Cricket Team.
Dal Lake – Jewel in the crown of Kashmir
Stretching to an approximate length of 15 kilometers, Dal Lake is definitely on any tourist’s “to-do-list” when visiting Kashmir.
Quoted directly from The Lonely Planet and their reference to Dal Lake – “Dal Lake is Srinagar’s jewel, a vast sheet of water reflecting the carved wooden balconies of the houseboats and the misty peaks of the Pir Panjal mountains.”
The water was so clear and still that it made me confused between real objects and their reflections.
You can take a shikaras (gondola-like taxi boat) which is beautifully painted to skiff around the lake as you watch fishermen casting their nets or passing by the delightful houseboats inspired by originals from the Raj era.
You can also wake up early for a view of the sunrise and experience the floating flower and vegetable market. In my opinion, the lake is in all its glory during sunset, especially so when you can hear the soothing chants from the nearby mosque.
Sirnagar is famous for its green gardens and parks, but the largest and perhaps the most popular Mughal Garden in Srinagar is the Shalimar Bagh.
Located along Dal Lake, it was laid in 1619 by Mughal emperor Jahangir for his beautiful wife Nur Jahan. Divided into three terraced parts, this garden is lined with trails of chinar and carpeted with colorful flower beds. Exquisite arched niches called chini khanas are the highlights of this garden.
Costing a mere 10rp (20 Singapore cents) for the ticket, you can visit for the amazing view of the lake, or partake in a small picnic under a tree’s shadow. The garden is a popular haunt for local families to have a picnic and they are really friendly (Some invited me to sit with them even though they did not speak a single word of English).
You can also find kids swimming in the pond or playing cricket. They even showed me a big, gaping hole along the back wall of the garden that people could crawl through without paying for the ticket!!!! It’s just 20 cents though, don’t be cheap!
In my next post, I will share more with you about other destinations that i visited in Kashmir, which are Pahalgam and Gulmarg specifically.