A trip with 12 crazy women from Calcutta travelling to the Land of Unimaginable Beauty- Kashmir & we are so glad we did it! We got to know about an All Women Group Kashmir Tour being promoted by a leading travel agency named “Holiday Tripster” and we booked it. I was found day-dreaming about the pristine waters of Dal Lake, the pearl white mountains and the excitement of finally being able to make it there.
But making it there wasn’t an easy feat. Merely 4 days before we were to depart, all flights to Srinagar had been stalled due to the heavy snowfall and unprecedented weather the city received this year. Yet, most of us held on to a ray of hope. And it worked like magic! Just one day to go, and the news flashed – Srinagar flights fly again!!! Our happiness knew no bounds.
We flew to New Delhi and took an onward flight to Srinagar on the 8th of January,2021. It was a trip of many firsts, my first time to travel during Covid, my first time visiting Kashmir and my first to experience snow all around me. The trip turned out to be everything I dreamed of and much more.
On reaching Srinagar airport, we had to get a Covid test done before venturing out into the snow-capped mountains. I must say, I was shitting my pants just thinking about it, but as soon as it happened, it was up and forgotten. Just in a couple of minutes. It gave me and my fellow travellers the satisfaction of not spreading the virus to others during our journey ahead!
DAY 1: GULMARG
We headed for Gulmarg from Srinagar at 1.30 pm in a Mini Van, stopped on the way for lunch, drove through the beautiful city and villages to reach the base of Gulmarg- Tanmarg. That’s where we stopped by and rented some boots and coats ( At just Rs 100/day- only if you can get your baniya bargaining skills to work.
Onwards, our van wouldn’t go uphill into the snow, so we hopped into a jeep. The views just kept getting better as we drove into the winding roads and reached Gulmarg.
After almost a day-long travel, we all were exhausted and so took time off at leisure, warming ourselves up in our rooms and sipping on hot Kahwa. Our hotel was completely covered in snow and looked so beautiful from our rooms. The heater became my best friend!
The next day was indeed full of adventure. We reached the Ski resort for our Gondola ride up to Apharwat Peak (14,403 ft- phew! ) and both phases where we played with snow like little kids and could see the clouds closest to us. The Gondola ride gave us one of the best views I’d ever seen and thereafter we savoured onto some Maggi and pakoras with hot coffee, kahwa and hot chocolate! Afterall, it was -15° up there. Lastly, on our way back we took a sledge each and left the place, all happy and pumped about our journey ahead.
Day 2: PAHALGAM
Next destination was my favourite! Oh, and I wish I could describe to you in words the beauty of this mesmerizing village. The Resort had such cozy rooms, quite like a wooden cabin- I fell in Love! The view was out of this world! The clouds, snow-capped mountains, the Lidder River and the villages around made our stay so memorable.
Next morning, we took off for Betaab Valley & Aru Valley. And Oh boy! I had never seen anything that fascinatingly beautiful. It looked like a picture out of a postcard, don’t you agree? Moving around in those little sledges, snow fights and making a heart out of the snow will be the best thing for me on the trip.
After our fun in the valleys, we sat in our van and moved towards what they call the Summer Capital of Kashmir- Srinagar. What an interesting place! On our way to our hotel, we stopped by at a dry fruits shop where the ladies shopped like there was no end, while I was warming myself with the local Kangri.
Soon, we called for some hot Kahwa and tea. I was then told about the Kashmiri man who owned Saffron fields and had their house right in their backyard. His wife was the one who made us their special Kahwa! I was even invited inside to see how they made their traditional drink. It completely felt like at home! There on, we bid adieu to the family and continued our journey to reach our hotel. The rooms were clean, big enough and comforting after a long road journey.
Day 3: SRINAGAR
This day was all about seeing the beautiful Capital city of Kashmir. Our first stop was at Mughal Garden, which was obviously covered in snow yet, I managed to click a few fancy photos with the stunning backdrop. While the ladies of our group got ready in their Kashmiri avatar and got their pictures done amidst the beauty of the Dal Lake waters and mesmerizing mountains.
Next stop was Hazratbal Mosque which was so soothing to look at. We were to cover our heads before entering and visitors were not allowed inside the mosque. Mask too had to be worn at all times inside. After coming out, some of us even shopped for souvenirs and other pretty handicrafts. We even stopped at a handicraft emporium (Govt owned ) to buy pashminas, sarees, and other handicrafts.
Later that day, some of us went for lunch at Mughal Darbar for Kashmiri wazwan while some of the vegetarians-like me headed to the prettiest tea room I’d ever been to! Chaijaai was a quaint little cafe just on the banks of Jhelum river with views to die for! We ordered for cheesy pizza, paneer ke pakore and shirmaal along with hot chocolate and hot Kahwa! Everything was lip-smacking!
We ended our sightseeing tour with a shikara ride at Dal Lake. The waters were frozen, chilly wind hitting the face and setting sun! It was just so hauntingly beautiful. What interested me the most was how the vendors sold their products so differently on their little shikaras. I too joined the bandwagon by dressing up as a Kashmiri and getting myself clicked!
I couldn’t stop smiling even though I felt extremely cold! We enjoyed our one-hour long shikara ride and thereafter visited this french bakery( Le Delice), right across gate no.9. I cannot explain how yummy everything was. I’d never imagined I would’ve gotten to eat such fresh cakes with so many varied flavours. After the extensively long day, we all hopped onto our van and reached Lal Chowk. I couldn’t shop much that same day as the weather had become very chilly and many shops had already closed down. Thus, I ended up deciding to come back the next morning.
The next morning I came back to Lal Chowk as decided, and shopped for dry fruits, honey, saffron and Kashmiri apples. I rushed back to the hotel, checked out and then travelled towards the airport to catch my flight. I was having bitter-sweet feelings while leaving this beautiful place and going back to my mundane life in Calcutta. Yet, I was happier than ever and went back with truckloads of memories and a hundred over photographs.
I experienced a lot in these 4 days, and I feel unfortunate that people miss out on such a beautiful travel destination because of a fear about the place and the tensions created here. I can guarantee that if you head out with people who you know are well informed and connected, the way Swati Kapoor Saraogi, from Holiday Tripster, is, it would be a safe and exciting trip.
You will get to see a place that was always on your bucket list but yet could not visit! The travel with Holiday Tripster was smooth and with no hassle, what so ever. It was nicely arranged and turned out to be one of my favourites trips ever! So what are you waiting for? Just have faith in yourself and get yourself booked with Holiday Tripster!!!
The author is a second-year Integrated Mba undergrad student and has an evolving passion for travelling. She is a baker, trained kickboxer, a Finance & Fashion enthusiast and an aspiring CA! Spread the love