#KashmirDiaries: Pahalgam – Of fairy tale gardens and the majestic Lidder

Kashmir is reputed to be heart-stoppingly beautiful.
It’s called India’s Switzerland.
Ghalib famously said if there’s Paradise on earth, it’s Kashmir.

Honestly, after seeing Sringar, I was rather cross with all these descriptions.

Sure the Dal Lake is beautiful and the Mughal gardens are a piece of living history, but it’s a busy, bustling city like any other. Comparing this to Paradise, really?!
{Yes, I realize I equated the city of Srinagar with the whole state of Kashmir, but bear with me. I am only human, after all! I also blame some of the husband’s grumpiness rubbing off on me. Moving on!}

Then we went to Pahalgam. And what can I say? If there is Paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.

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#KashmirDiaries: Srinagar in a day

When you drive down from the airport into Srinagar, one of the first things that strikes you is the army presence. After all, the state is regularly in the news for skirmishes between the army and militants. Kashmiris are quick to assure you “yeh yahaan nahin hota” (this doesn’t happen here). Indeed, skirmishes are often closer to the border or in areas that don’t get much {or any} tourist inflows.

Mughal garden Shalimar Bagh Sringar in a day

The main pavilion at Shalimar Bagh

Then you notice the houses and how they are constructed. Almost all the buildings have gently sloping roofs, and a lot of them – even the big houses – have tin roofs. Most houses are built on a base of stones, with liberal use of wood and tin – to better insulate them during Kashmir’s cold winters.Continue reading

#KashmirDiaries: Romancing the Dal

When you think of Srinagar, you think of the Dal Lake.

And I think of Shashi Kapoor romancing Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir ki Kali. {Yes, yes, complete cliché, but it is what it is.} So it should be no surprise that a shikara ride was right up there on my have-to-do list. I was so eager to experience the romance of the shikara that I dragged the husband to the Dal almost as soon as we had checked in to our hotel.

Dal lake srinagar kashmir sunset shikara ride mughal garden gate

Sailing into the sunset

I had heard that the Dal Lake is dotted with shikaras selling everything from trinkets to chips and Coke, and that they start hounding you almost the minute you get into a boat. That was not what I wanted at all, and I was prepared to tell the boatman that in no uncertain terms. But when we reached the lake, I didn’t see any other shikaras floating around – how lucky was that?Continue reading

#KashmirDiaries: The journey begins!

I’ve always wanted to visit Kashmir.

A typical Kashmiri house with sloping roofs

A typical Kashmiri house with its sloping roof

Growing up, I heard stories about Kahsmir’s legendary beauty from my mother and maasi, who had been there as children. I saw it pictured on the silver screen, as Bollywood stars played out their romances in shikaras on the Dal Lake and in the meadows and valleys of Kashmir.

Then militancy struck the valley in the 1990s and continued seemingly without end, and I wondered if I would ever be able to visit Kashmir. But after over a decade of strife, things have normalized somewhat and tourism has opened up once again. Though incidents do happen in the valley occasionally, they have never, to my knowledge, targeted tourists.Continue reading

{X} Xenodocheinology: For the love of hotels

Have you ever experienced Xenodocheinology?

Part of the travel experience, for me, is choosing the hotel. Our travel philosophy is to utilize the maximum resources on sightseeing and shopping, and keeping a very limited budget for our hotel stay.

If you thought limited budget = seedy little hotel/backpacker’s hostels/soulless hotels, think again. A little research is all it takes to find charming places to lay your head down at the end of a day of hard sightseeing.

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{J} Travel Postcard #4: Joie de vivre

Tango_Class_Central_Park_New_York

There’s something in the air of New York. A certain joi de verve – a love for life. In the many parks and squares that dot the city, you’ll find people sitting around, reading, having a cup of coffee…a group of people skateboarding while the rest of the people watch and applaud…and in Central Park, you come across different sights – a fashion shoot, free tango dancing, rollerblading, musicians, a group of drummers with random strangers stopping and dancing. It’s exhilarating. Vibrant. Alive. Joyful.

And it’s something I sorely miss back home in India. That spirit that lets people dare to be different. To march to their own drum beat.

Which city do you associate with joie de vivre?

{I} Travel Postcard #3: Installation Art – New York

Madison_Square_Park_installation_art

It was a bright, sunny day. I was walking through Madison Square Park, when a 40-foot tall sculpture stopped me in my tracks. Something about the tranquility and other-worldliness on that face compelled me to stop, stare, and reflect. At that point, and every time I look at this picture, actually, I fell a sense of peace wash over me.

The name of the sculpture was Echo, and it was created by renowned Spanish sculpture Jaume Plensa.

From the plaque accompanying the sculpture:
“Inspired by the myth of the Greek nymph Echo, the sculpture depicts the artist’s 9-year old neighbor in Barcelona, lost in a state of thoughts and dreams. Both monumental in size and inviting in subject, the peaceful visage of Echo creates a tranquil and introspective atmosphere amid the cacophony of central Manhattan.”

Peace out!

{E} Travel Postcard #2: Elephanta island

Travel_Postcard_Elephenta_Caves

A short ferry ride away from Mumabi is the Elephanta Island, home to the caves of the same name. The Elephanta Caves are a network of sculpted caves dating back to between the 5th and 8th century. There are two groups of caves—the first a large group of five Hindu caves, the second, a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The statues are hewn from solid basalt rock and were originally painted, though now only traces remain.

The sculptures are beautiful, though a lot of them show signs of wind erosion and are broken in places. The interior of the caves is quite dark though, making photography really difficult. Add the jostling crowds of tourists, and it can be tedious at times. But it is well worth the visit – if for nothing else than the ferry ride and the sea gulls that fly alongside the boat!