When I was in twelfth grade and about to complete my exams, my parents decided to go on a summer vacation to Kashmir. This was the biggest trip I ever had with my family. We planned to stay in Srinagar for three days, the following three days would be spent in New Delhi. Initially we had setback when sister’s exam got postponed and was scheduled in between our trip. We later decided to go ahead with our plan leaving my dad and sister behind, they would will join us on our last day in Kashmir.
On 9th April 2016, we caught our flight from Bangalore to New Delhi. From there, a train took us till Udhampur. The homestay which we had booked in Srinagar had sent a vehicle to get us to Srinagar from the station. I saw Indian army soldiers playing cricket with the local kids and when they stopped us for checking, they were humble, polite and wished us a safe and enjoyable holiday.
It was an 11 hour drive from Udhampur to Srinagar. On the way we saw the damage done to vehicles that had fallen from atop of hill, this worried us a bit. These mountainous roads can be treacherous to travel. For the first time I saw snow-capped, they were miles away framing the horizon. We also saw shops selling cricket bats, I really wanted to have one.
We reached our homestay at around 9:00 pm and were greeted by the owner Mr. Ashraf and his family members. After dinner, we interacted with Ashraf bhai and his family. They were kind and loving people. We discussed the political situation in Kashmir and later took the opinion of Ashraf bhai regarding “must go places” and planned our itinerary for the following day. Being south Indian, I had never ever experienced 3 degree temperature in my entire life. I wore three t-shirts, a pullover and two heavy blankets in the night but the cold won over me. And this was in summer but felt like winter!
The following morning we started our journey to ‘Sonamarg’ where my family and I encountered snow and touched it for the first time in our life, it was such an incredible feeling! Sonamarg means meadow of gold and it is a hill station in Ganderbal district, 87 kilometers away from Srinagar. If someone loves having fun in snow, then that’s the place to be. When visiting Sonamarg, it is advisable to get waterproof boots, jacket and gloves. If you are unable to carry them, or have forgotten, you can get them on rent at a cheaper price. We had an incredibly amazing driver cum guide Umar, who took us around. One can also enjoy adventure sports like skiing, sledging, and river rafting.
The second day was reserved for sightseeing. We made our first stop at Dal Lake and opted for a ‘shikara ride.’ ‘Shikara’ is a long boat that is a common sight in Kashmir. The view we get of the mountains and the landscape while riding on a shikara is amazing. Vendors would come to us on their boats, loaded with Kashmiri traditional dresses for both men and women along with a cameraman to take pictures of us in traditional attire with snowcapped mountains in the background. The lake also has shops built on top of lake itself which was a unique shopping experience for my entire family.
After Dal Lake, we visited Shalimar garden and later we went to the largest tulip garden in Asia. Later we went to Lal Chowk and spent some time shopping. In the evening, we visited Hazatbal, a white mosque, built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Ashraf Bhai’s 12 year old son Toufiq was also accompanying us. I played cricket with local kids nearby. We visited Ashraf bhai’s mother and brother who lived on a boat in Dal Lake. It was quite surprising to see people making homes out of a boat and spending their entire life on a boat.
On our third day, my dad and sister joined us. It was their first and final day in Kashmir. I introduced my dad and my sister to Ashraf bhai and his incredible family. We quickly had our breakfast, packed our stuff and left for one of the best ski resorts in Asia, ‘Gulmarg’. Apart from enjoying the snow sports, one can also enjoy the beauty of valley by taking a ride on a helicopter or a cable car.
It was our last night in Kashmir and we were all sad that this wonderful trip was ending so soon. On my way back to New Delhi, I kept thinking about Kashmir which is in the media for all the bad reasons, thanks to our elected politicians and the separatist organizations. The people of Kashmir are some of the most loving and kind hearted people I have encountered. I can be sure that nobody can love any stranger like Ashraf bhai and his entire family loved us.
Best time to visit:
In the summer and spring seasons
How to reach Kashmir:
- By road. Kashmir is well connected by road from several cities in North India
- Take a flight to Srinagar International Airport
- Srinagar railway station or Nowgam railway station
Best places to visit in Kashmir
- Dal Lake
- Tulip garden
- Shalimar bagh and many more.