Kashmir had always been that one place which, ever since I learned to travel, had been sitting pretty on top of my bucket list. As a child, I never could imagine that I'd actually be able to set foot in that paradise. Envious of my parents and grandparents, I would always lament why I was not born a generation earlier, when cross-border strife had not completely engulfed the state's peace and security. But miracles do occur, and so did a trip to Kashmir.
The vast stretches of green, dotted by deodar and pine trees and the snow-capped Khilanmarg range at a distance completely blew our minds. The gondola (cable car) ride (Rs 600 for the first level and 1,400 for both levels) was an experience that someone with a terrifying altitude sickness like me will savour for the rest of her life.
What added splendour to the already magnificent view of the town were the hotels and shops, all built of wood. I go weak in the knees whenever I see wooden or red brick architecture, and Gulmarg was no different.
The windows of our room, curtained tastefully by white Kashmiri handwork, opened to the vast space of lush green outside. The view itself was a treat for your eyes, a medicine for your soul.
Our hotel had a fantastic selection of staff, the most hospitable and helpful that I've seen in a good while. Not only would they stand by us throughout the time we would be having our food (and don't forget, it is Ramzan month), they would also make us privy to the quintessential home recipes that were popular in Kashmiri households.
On our way back from Gulmarg, we stopped by at the Fruit Orchards and loaded ourselves with boxes of cherries, apricots, plums and green apples. I got myself 3 boxes of cherries and a box each of apricots and plums (click here to find out what happened to them)
Now if you are in Kashmir, missing out on the traditional wazwan fare is a crime. So every night during dinner the traveller in me would take a backseat and the foodie/food blogger pounce out. And what a feast we used to have. Here I must mention the stupendous company of T, irreplacable food and travel buddy, (read more about her here) who made every wazwan experience memorable. So whether it was Tabak Maaz, Maithi Maaz, Rista, Gushtaba, Rogan Josh, Mirchi Kurma or Dhaniya Kurma, the gluttons in us refused to get buoyed down and sampled and relished one delicacy after the other. :)
On arrival to Sonmarg, we had to change our vehicle and in a Scorpio, operated by local drivers/agents, set off for a long and winding uphill journey that would take us to the zero point glacier, crossing the Zoji La pass, India Gate and the last village of Kashmir...Sarbal. On the steep side lay Baltal, studded with tents that had been erected to house the batches of Amarnath yatris who flew often on helicopters from the Sonmarg helipad.
Click here for the Pahalgam leg of the journey and our experience at the Srinagar houseboat. And also what happened to the cherries!