Kashmir a heaven on earth
After passing the passports and tickets to an immigration officer at Dhaka airport, I was lost in thoughts reflecting on the last couple of years. Though the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic were over, the stagnant, restricted life was still vivid in my memory.
How we all yearned for a pandemic-free world of unrestricted travelling!
A benign cough from the immigration officer brought me back to the present. "Hello, Covid vaccine certificate please, "he asked, reminding me of the post-pandemic "new normal" rules.
During the pandemic, like many, I too had planned many trips in my mind. An opportunity came during the long Eid-ul-Fitr vacation and, my wife and I took it. We were at the airport for a three-day trip to Kashmir.
We reached Delhi after a two and half hour's flight. We grabbed a quick meal utilising the 2 hours before our next flight to Srinagar.
Delhi to Srinagar was a 1.45-hour flight and an hour into it, Kashmir started to reveal its glamour and grandeur through the window. The views of the majestic Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas from above were superb.
At the parking lot of the airport, Ferdous Bhai, our tour guide and driver, was waiting for us with a smile on his face. To our surprise, he could speak little Bengali.
The beauty of the spring season in Kashmir kept our tired eyes open throughout our two-hour journey to Pahalgam, where stayed for the night.
Located about 100 kilometres from Srinagar, Pahalgam, the jewel of the picturesque Liddar Valley located in the high Himalayas, is famous for its scenic beauty. By the time we reached there, it was already dark. After dinner, we had a walk in the near-empty local market.
The next morning, on ponies, we set out for Aru Valley. 12 kilometres from Pahalgam, many consider this place the most beautiful of all the tourist spots in the area.
We enjoyed the pony ride on lush meadows surrounded by mountains with snow-capped peaks and pine forests.
However, by the time we reached there, the weather turned gloomy and soon, it started raining. This apparent setback was a blessing in disguise. We enjoyed the rain with cups of warm tea. It was wonderful.
Our next destination was Betaab Valley, another popular location among tourists and even Kashmiris, previously known as Hagan Valley. The renaming of the valley happened after the shooting of a hit Bollywood film called Betaab there.
The entire setting was very scenic with the Lidder River flowing right next to it. With crystal-clear turquoise water, the beauty of this fast-moving river is hard to describe.
Unfortunately, we were not permitted to approach Chandanwari, a tourist spot 8 km further away from Betaab Valley, as landslides, a common incident during the early spring season, triggered by rain blocked the road.
That day, we left Pahalgam and reached Srinagar, where we stayed for the night. Our next spot was Sonamarg, which is approximately 80km away from the summer capital of Kashmir.
The presence of the Indian military was noticeable in Sonamarg as it was near the Kargil, a focal point of the 1999 conflict between India and Pakistan. However, other than facing a few regular security checkpoints on the way, we didn't face any adverse situations.
The journey to Sonamarg, a gateway of the ancient Silk Road that connects Kashmir with China, became a pleasure trip as Ferdous Bhai from his driving seat recalled all the famous movies which were shot on this road.
After reaching Sonamarg, situated at an altitude of 2730m with huge Himalayan Mountains in the backdrop, we decided to trek towards Thajiwas Glacier.
It took us almost three hours to trek to the glacier site, enjoying a few moments there and coming back. In the evening, we returned to Srinagar and spent some time at the night market nearby our hotel to collect souvenirs.
On the next morning, we started for Gulmarg which means "Meadow of Flowers". Gulmarg crowns the world's highest golf course and is also a popular destination for skiing.
We hired a local guide and rented ponies to get to Snow Point, where we enjoyed a sledge ride. While returning, we stopped at factory outlets to see how famous Kashmiri pashmina shawls were made.
We returned to Srinagar that night.
Our stay in a houseboat at the Dal Lake in Srinagar was the tour's highlight. With a touch of luxury, we loved our stay at the floating house. We experienced a tranquil, surreal sunrise at Dal Lake.
Later in the morning, we hired a Shikara (boat) to explore the lake. We also embarked on a sightseeing tour in and around Srinagar and enjoyed some Kashmiri cuisines like Wazwan, Kashmiri Biryani – which were distinct in taste and colour due to the presence of indigenous spices.
On the final leg of the trip, we did some quick shopping and then started for the Srinagar airport.
Soon, a sense of gloom engulfed us. Many call Kashmir heaven on earth for a reason.
How to go there: One can go to Delhi by bus, train or air given that you have an Indian visa.
Expenditures: The three-day trip of two cost us around 150,000 BDT.