Alarms in phones went off simultaneously at 1:30 AM. Got up and had an early morning cup of tea with a couple of bread slices. Very strange that I am eating at this early hour, but that’s okay once in a while….Got ready, all the things were already sorted out yesterday. Kundan woke up 2 AM, I hugged him. Started around 2:20 AM from home for Mumbai airport.
I reached Terminal -1 of Domestic Airport at 3:15 AM. Checked in at the Indigo counter, and went through the security clearance and arrived at gate # 18, 2 hours before flight departure. Thought of taking a nap. But could not and then took a stroll around the terminal for a while. Boarding started at 5:20 AM and the flight was fully boarded by 5:45 AM.
Flight landed at 8:30 AM at IGIA Delhi. Inquired about how I can go to terminal 1-D and understood that it is a short walk, next building and first floor. I reached terminal 1 – D around 9 AM and went through the security clearance. I collected all items like camera, lenses and laptop, which were removed for security check and met Chandrakant, Pankaj and Lalit. Everyone was hungry, we got into a Punjab Grill outlet and had our breakfast and coffee
On Way to Srinagar
The flight landed in Jammu on time, in about 1:15 hours after takeoff from Delhi. Almost 2/3 of the passengers got down at Jammu. The flight captain announced that Jammu is a Defense Airport. A few passengers boarded the flight. Flight captain announced that the flight to Srinagar will take 25 minutes and we landed at 1:30 PM, 20 minutes before our ETA. Got the bags, came out and booked a pre-paid taxi to Hotel Sadaf.
Enter Srinagar; a beautiful place and a complete contrast, to what you are used to seeing in Mumbai (a sea of people everywhere) to almost empty roads. Thinking about a comparison of Kashmir with Switzerland, Kashmir’s beauty is more rustic and natural, Switzerland is more developed. This is a region where one sees influences of three religions Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. There are few such places, and Bihar in India, sees the influence of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Hotel Sadaf & Our First Day
The hotel is centrally located, in the area of Kothi Bag, which is close to Lal Chowk the main area of Srinagar. The hotel is in a narrow lane, but a car can easily go to the hotel. The rooms were clean and spacious enough to accommodate 2 adults comfortably. This hotel serves vegetarian food – though the menu showed some egg preparations. The hotel staff was helpful, they advised us to go to Ghat # 12 on the Dal Lake and do a shikara ride and then visit the Gardens
We booked a rickshaw at Hotel Sadaf, and 4 of us got inside the crammed space…. and reached Ghat # 12 at Dal Lake.
Kashmir is called the paradise on the earth and it really is even today.
Amir Khusrau on Kashmir:
गर फिरदौस बर रूए ज़मीं अस्त, हमीं अस्त ओ हमीं अस्त ओ हमीं अस्त।
(If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this)
The Dal Lake is a part of it. A sprawling lake in the backdrop of Zabarwan mountain ranges. The beauty of the lake cannot be described here …. It needs to be experienced. After a short discussion, we settled down for an hour of shikara ride.
During the Shikara ride you realize the importance of Dal Lake in the life of residents of Srinagar. This lake is indeed a way of life for them. See around and you realize that there is everything – people live here, there are small restaurants, cloth shops, and meat shops. People grow vegetables in the lake. Lotus flowers are grown in the lake and the stems of the plant are cooked as a delicacy in local Kashmiri cuisine. People buy and sell goods on the lake. There are houseboats everywhere on the other side. Most of the places in the Srinagar city are reachable by a boat in the Dal Lake in 30 minutes.
Mehrajdin, the owner of the Shikara showed us the Gulfaam, a houseboat – that was used for the TV serial Gul Gulshan Gulfaam, in the days when you had only the Doordarshan. Mehrajdin also told that a houseboat easily costs 3 – 4 Cr, as the wood used for making it is very costly – wow 😊. A lot of bollywood movies have been shot in and around the Dal Lake. One such movie in recent times is Haider. During Shikara ride a young smart boy came close to sell artificial jewelry and necklaces. The shikara ride in the Dal Lake is an experience in itself.
Oh, yes but until now I did not tell you about the weather here. The weather in Srinagar @ 31 Deg C, was hotter than that in Mumbai and Thane.
Mehrajdin was very friendly, quite knowledgeable and is doing this work for years together. The one thing that I realized, during the conversation was that, everywhere people first need basic things such as, clean and enough water, infrastructure, education, peace, employment, and medical facilities. One thing is for sure; if this region is developed then the ecology and inherited beauty of this region must be preserved.
During the winters the lake freezes partially, Mehrajdin told us that the complete lake had frozen only in 1988. The coldest part of the winter is called “Chillai Kalan” in Kashmir.
Other areas of Srinagar
After finishing the Shikara ride, we all were hungry and wanted to eat something. We called Javed, the rickshaw driver and he came happily to pick us up at ghat # 12. We found near the Chasma Shahi Garden, a small street side restaurant to eat, and had Manchurian with noodles. Baskar had also reached Srinagar, I called him and understood that he had already started for solo sightseeing. I then called ROML team to inform them that we have reached Srinagar. I was connected with Manish (who was going to be our ride captain). Manish informed me about the next day’s plan and gave directions for reaching the Crown of India houseboat.
Later we went to see the Chasma Shahi Garden. Srinagar is a city of Lakes and gardens. Most of the gardens here date to the time of Moghuls, who retreated to Kashmir to escape scorching heat in Delhi. Chasma Shahi seems to be the most prominent garden in Srinagar. Mountains in the back drop, a fountain, an artificial water stream and you see a fabulous sunset from the garden on the Dal Lake.
End of the day
We decided to stop for the day after seeing the Chasmashahi Garden and started back for the hotel… all of us were tired from a night long journey. On the way to hotel, I was lucky to find the battery for the remote control of DSLR and the cameraman at the Shop happily showed the remote settings. People here are courteous and willing to help.
We had placed order for dinner in the afternoon with the hotel staff. Upon return the kitchen staff told us that the food is ready and they will serve it in 10 minutes. Had the food – it was tasty and good, that was the end of the day.
To me Srinagar seemed like, India’s answer to Paris and Venice. A great potential for revival of tourism with combinations of everything at the right place – the Dal Lake and Nigeen Lake, several gardens, a floating vegetable market, places of worship, the Jhelum river, and Dachigam National Park, Pahalgam, Doodhpathri and Gulmarg in the vicinity. Srinagar, with these gifts of nature is really beautiful.