Bhagyashree recalls her recent holiday in Kashmir
Nature has been truly biased towards Kashmir. From the apple orchards and tulip gardens in the summer to the vast expanses of untouched snow slopes, no matter which time of the year you go it is always beautiful. I wanted to remember Kashmir like that, running away from the realities of the war torn state it had become.
I was going to Kashmir after 25 years, and after the vagaries of terrorism I was skeptical but my hubby convinced me that it was all okay. I argued about the safety and security of it all but we had with us the IG of Operations Kashmir -Nalin Prabhat. “Apne ghar mein jaane mein kya dar?” he said, with the fervour, swagger and charisma of Bruce Willis… and somehow, I trusted him.
My hubby had planned it all – an exquisite hotel, painstakingly made with ultimate luxuries in the valley of Gulmarg. The Khyber Resort and Spa was picture perfect – wooden interiors that enthused a cosy warmth, a balcony for each room to enjoy the view, the L’occitane spa that can boast of the finest treatments, the heated swimming pool that you can enjoy whilst surrounded by 3 feet of snow.
A quick flight direct to Srinagar and then a 2 hour drive to Gulmarg and we were in the heart of paradise. One look at it and I was floored. The service was impeccable and staff was extremely courteous. Sipping piping hot kawa (Kashmiri chai) against the Venetian windows that encased the spectacular snow clad mountain, dotted with fir trees, I waited as our rooms were allotted to us. Not that I was in a hurry at all, with the silken twirl of honey, the fragrance of saffron, and the delicate shavings of almonds that weaved their way in the golden kawa… I could almost taste paradise. (My friends couldn’t stop “Ooohhing” and “Aahhhing” as the bout of selfies started against the beautiful backdrop.)
I was always a little wary of winters – getting frost bite or staying indoors to avoid it wasn’t really my idea of a holiday but Gulmarg opened up the possibilities of fun. We had got the perfect weather and the effort to wrap yourself in all that cumbersome clothing wasn’t needed at all. Besides, the snow-covered golf course that Khyber overlooked was perfect for all the sports that we could engage in. I learnt to ski from the ever zealous instructors there, after a number of free falls that were fortunately cushioned by the cottony snow. We even went on sledge rides and had crazy fun screaming our lungs out while snowboarding and snow bobbing on inflatable tyres. Within 5 minutes of the hotel was of the most fascinating ski-lifts that took you to an expanse beyond imagination – the Kongdoori mountain. At 13780 feet, it is the 7th best ski slope in the world.
With our amateurish skills we couldn’t even dare to attempt the slopes there. All we did was engage in some snow fights and slide down the snow like they did in all the old Bollywood films. Midway through the ski lifts at the first base are snowmobiles that you can hire to ride out with the same panache as James Bond. With the BSF General Vijay Paul’s hospitality, we had the opportunity to ride on “Ranvijay”, a huge tanker-like snowmobile that is used to access the highest peaks and is, ofcourse, used in case of emergencies such as landslides. What a beast it was, climbing the steepest slope at an almost 75 degree angle was an experience of a lifetime as we scaled the slopes of untouched snow.
We were pleasantly surprised as we returned to find a picnic arranged for us by the BSF personnel. Umbrellas set up to shade us from the dazzle of the sun against the snow; we sat sipping hot kawa, with piping hot pakodis in the middle of the snow-clad plateau. I was so glad that I hadn’t lost out on this wonderous vacation. “Haan, jannat yahi hain, yahi hain.”
As we returned to the warmth of Khyber we realised that the adrenaline rush had got us exhausted. It was time to rejuvenate ourselves at the Spa. The therapists were well trained and had me intoxicated into a glorious sleep in no time. By the time the massage was over, I got up ravenously hungry. The chef had specially prepared for us the most delicious Yakhni (a gravy dish of curd turmeric and chilli powder which can be both vegetarian and non vegetarian), Gogji Nadir (lotus stem) and Kashmiri Rajma. We were soon licking our fingers clean. It was indeed a meal we shall remember, with the new aromas and flavours that we discovered that day.
The next day we visited the CRPF camp, heard their stories as they allowed us to experience handling some of their weaponry. It is indeed a gruelling life that they live, facing the nature’s wrath many a times, battling the terrorists, as they secure our borders. It’s their pride that gives them the strength. “Hum toh khushnuma vaadiyon mein kaam par jaate hein, aap dhue aur cement se guzara karte ho… bataiye who is more lucky?” I saluted Nalin’s spirit and attitude, now these are the real men! I looked at my hubby and he read my expression, “Yeh hein mera dost! He is the original… Bruce Willis is what he is on celluloid.” I smiled away shyly as Nalin broke into loud infectious laughter that had all my friends teasing me through the evening.
As we bid adieu to Gulmarg I knew this was just a beginning as I was definitely coming back for more. Srinagar was more of a city after the bliss of Gulmarg. But we all wanted to do all the touristy things of riding on the gondola singing, “yeh chaand sa roshan chehera” as Shammi Kapoor did in Kashmir Ki Kali, visit the char chinar and replay Shashi Kapoor and Nanda’s scene, “Kitna Khubsoorat hein ye….” All the couples suddenly got all romantic, I think the Dal Lake represents love in some movies that we are stuck with that in our head.
But we had a longer agenda… of course, the women wanted to go shopping. Most of it was the spices, walnuts, saffron and khajur, but then who can resist the artistry of the hand woven shawls? Though we in Mumbai rarely get an opportunity to use them, it would be a crime to be in Kashmir and not own one of the finest works of intricate art we implored, as the men rolled their eyes.
The Taj in Srinagar situated on a mountain top has a spectacular view of the Dal Lake and once again its infinity pool got the cameras out for photo-ops. The individual cottages spaciously designed were extremely comfortable but I think I had left my heart behind in Gulmarg. As we had breakfast enjoying the mist gradually clearing to the morning sun, I promised myself, “I will be back, after all ghar aane se kya dar, Kashmir toh humare ghar ka hissa hain.”