May 27 2009

Nearly Bees Saal Baad: Eight Days In Heaven And Back

Well!…If you wish the pictures from the Srinagar holiday visit, And if you wish experience a little more of what we did in these 8 days … continue!

Is it possible to have a dream that last for 8 days or more….? I DID! I had a 8 day dream starting 12th May 2009 to 20 May 2009 … Believe me , I just woke up today! … eight days in the Heaven and Back!

View of Apharwat, from Gulmarg Valley

View of Apharwat, the end of the Gandola ride

Earlier this month , When I told a few folks that I was off to Kashmir for a week long holiday, I got mixed expressions … including some who jokingly said that I had a death wish. For me, who had once been to this so called “Heaven on Earth” called Kashmir , turned into “Hell on Earth” , when it was at its possible peak of acute militancy and terrorism, the conditions in Kashmir now was no challenge… and I had told myself, 18 years back that I would visit again someday!!!

Before I continue narrating my dream in detail, I just would like to quickly summarize my experience…

Vista of Gulmarg shot from Highlands Resort at 7pm

Vista of Gulmarg shot from Highlands Resort at 7pm

Kashmir cannot be summarized … but let me try … “Experience of the lifetime and beyond, for those who believe in a mystery called NATURE and as Frank Lloyd Wright ( American architect / 1869-1959) rightly said “I believe in God, only I spell it N A T U R E.”  And I strongly agree with the quote Agar Jannat Baroway Zaminast, Haminasto haminnasto haminasto…and believe that Kashmir must be the abode of Gods…

Dream Day 1, 12th May 2009:
We left Mumbai with an excitement that we had never felt before. In a few hours we would land in the Valley of Flowers. The last 20 minutes of the 2 and half hour flight from Mumbai to Srinagar took us over the white peaks capped mountains of Northern India … The “AWE ing” that started then came to an end only on yesterday after out flight took off from Srinagar…
The purpose of my trip to Kashmir was served just as I came out of the Srinagar Airport … I meet Arshad in person, after 18 long years. What came for me in the following eight days was just extra bonus!

The drive from the airport to the place we were supposed to stay (Arshad’s house), brought back memories . Things dint seem pretty normal and as 18 years before, there seemed to be more CRPF Jawans lining the road, than there were people. On inquiry with the driver, we learnt that there was a BANDH called for, hence the thin traffic and hardly a soul at sight! My sweet dream seemed like turning into a nightmare even before I could get any sleep, Not that I worried about getting a stray in some cross fire or being taken hostage… really! else I wouldn’t have visited Srinagar 18 years back either. My prime objective was to meet Arshad , unlike rest of my family who had come with a set frequency of having a snowball fight and a lazy ride in a Shikara on the Dal. No activity could have been a disappointment them my folks … ALLs WELL FOLKS! The bandh was just a precautionary, impending the polling day in the Baramulla District on the 13th… Cool!

18 years later, Srinagar was different. Like last time we were not alone, As I saw on the Nishat-Harwan Road, There were tourists in their thousands, walking along the Boulevard, waiting for Shikaras, bargaining with the shawl sellers, having Corn on the Cob. The biggest change for good very few CRPF guards patrolling the drive … Kashmir, Im back and this time in the right weather , literally!

Arshads house in Nishat had metamorphosed. The plain vanilla garden was now a Sundae with rainbow sprinkles. Truly the work of GREEN Fingers, his garden is compliments to the already beautiful Kashmir. The annex near his house was complete with a veranda and his HOME had extended too with three new members, Arshads better half Maroof and his chubby twins, Basif and Baheen…

Arshads house & Annex (on the left)
Us enjoying the hospitality

My Dad , Mum & Arshads Dad
All of us , Arshad & Maroof

Basif & Baheen

Dream Day 2 : 13th May 2009

Thajwas Glacier

Thajwas Glacier

Our Day 2 was Gulmarg… and as it was the first day out in the heaven we all were fresh and excited , got up earlier that we could imagine possible. Geared up with a some warm clothes and off we went for our first experience in the Meadow of Flowers… Kabo00oom!!!! Went our excitement just half an hour after leaving base (Arshads House) , Our dream was interrupted by CRPF … “ Aap log vapas jao , Aajey Khatra hai … Raasta Bandh Hai, Kyon risk uthatay ho..etc ” … all sort of negative phrases rang our ears. The memories sped back 18 years , when we were given the dose of these comments almost 5 times every day, like religion… Seemed not mach had changed after all. No not exactly! This time this was an organized bandh , as it was polling day in the Baramulla District…

Arshad , our Commander in Chief, back at base , guided us that we head towards “Sonmarg” … and that he could take of our cottage bookings in Gulmarg and get it moved to future day… The drive to the Meadow of Gold , Sonmarg was spectacular …. Throughout we were meandering in opposite direction to the River Sindh … every turn, every straight was a magic moment … It was like you would miss something beautiful , if you blink your eye.

@ the foot of Thajwas Glacier

@ the foot of Thajwas Glacier

Entering, Sonmarg brought that expression of “AWE” to all our faces, our eyes couldn’t be peeled enough. At a height of 2,740m, Sonmarg is the last major point in the Kashmir valley before the Zoji La pass into Ladakh and also another base camp for Amarnath yatra . Sonamarg is thus not only a good base for treks but also a jumping off point for trips into Ladakh. The one thing that will put one off ( which is common to most popular tourist places across India for that matter) , are the service providers to tourists , like the Pony walas, The rental clothes & shoe walas, the Sledge walas, the tourist guides who just hound you all along. They walk with you like shadows, constantly murmuring their service records into your ears… Phew!

Since it was past 12:00 hours, we decided to have our lunch first and then plan the rest of day ahead. The lunch at Snow Lands Hotel, Sonmarg, was probably the best food we had, among the few meals we had outside Arshads dinner . Especially the Rogan Josh …

Pony Ride : Akshat & Akanksha

Pony Ride : Akshat & Akanksha

There are quite a few places to visit in and around Sonmarg. The one that took our breath away was the “Thajiwas galcier”. Vishansar and Krishnasar lakes , I was told were worth a visit , but we decided to skip as we all were turing into “Sourasus” after an hour long on the pony to Thajiwas. Oh yeah! We did pass the Bollywood destitations like the small vally in which Satte-pe-Satta, Asmaan se Ooncha, Elan –E- Jung etc. etc. seemed to have been shot … Not that I cared much … but the pony walas kept repeating these facts into my ears. A part of our family did venture up the glacier on a man powered wooden sledge . I decided to skip, As I’m am a bit of environmentalist ( overweight and with a bad back), I felt beauties like glaciers must be enjoyed at distance… thousands of people per hour touching and breathing near them , will make them melt faster … Yeah! I might be nut, but I it’s a fact …

By the time we returned to the parking lot on the pony, where our tourist taxi was parked. I could feel the blisters on my backside… It was enough, for me at least.

Dream Day 3 & 4 : 14th May 2009

@ JKTDC Cottage in Pahlgam

@ JKTDC Cottage in Pahlgam

As per our travel itinerary, so diligently chalked out by Arshad, Our day 3 and 4 was to be in Pahlgam (Valley of Shepherds). Unlike the previous day, we made a lazy start, catching enough sleep, charging ourselves to enjoy what was in store for us for the following day. After a heavy breakfast, comprising of an assortment of Kashmiri roti’s, oven fresh from the local bakery, that Arshad used to get every morning and delectable freshmint-egg omelets that Maroof (Arshads best half) so kindly prepared for us before she left home at 7:30am for work, We left the bounds Arshad’s cosy home, not knowing that later that night, we’ll be getting the bitter taste of the cold Kashmiri weather. It will be our first night away from Srinagar.
The drive from Srinagar to Pahlgam as any other in Kashmir was picturesque.

View from our Cottage

View from our Cottage

Though according to Arshad’s itinerary, we were supposed make a at Akkad for Kashmiri Kehwa ( Saffron Tea), we took a break at a small high stall at place called Lethpura (place of Safforn Fields) as per Sahil’s ( who had been driving us around since we arrived into Srinagar) recommendation. He swore by the quality of the Kehwa at this stall, to be the BEST in KASHMIR … (and he proved to be right, as it was THE BEST of the all the Kehwa’s we consumed in the following days around Kashmir) … At first most of my family was a NO NO for any Tea without any cream or milk … but after the first Kehwa, there were its fan. After dilly dallying on the way and making a few photo stops along the way, we reached our cottages in Pahlgam at around one the afternoon.

Lounging @ Senetor Pine & Peak Resort

Lounging @ Senetor Pine & Peak Resort

After a few gasps over the breath taking view of Pahlgam our cottage had in offer, over a well made cup of tea by our personal care taker at the Hut/Cottage, we headed back to Pahlgam for another round of Kashmiri cuisine. This time I favored the real Kashmiri Wazwaanstuff “Gustaba” … It was Yumm!!!! It dint suit much the palate of rest of my family, which came as a blessing to me … more for me! The Kulchas were out of this world too … Oh Yeah! And for your knowledge , the name of restaurant was “Heena”. After our scrumptious royal Wazwaan, we headed for next destination according to our Itinerary, Senator:Pine & Peak Hotel. It was probably best thing to do, to laze on Loungers lined on top of Rajwas Plateau, facing the gushing Lidder River and The Pahlgam Amusement Park in the valley below … We sat basking in the sun, breathing in the fresh air among the pines, Sipping our Kehwa Chai for almost 3 hours. On our decent back into the town ,we gave a break to kids at the Amusement park… We were back at our Huts by 18:00 hrs.
The chill was beginning to set in… we started looking for the luxuries like Electric Blankets Bed Warmers, Hot Water Bags, Electric and Gas Room Heaters that we had so got used to at Arshad’s house … NONE! The horror started setting in and our spine got colder. We would probably need to huddle like penguins to keep ourselves warm… Well! We had not realized that no proper heating was available, the rooms still were provided with enough blankets, almost at the rate of 3 per person. It was more than enough to barbeque our selves under it … The night passed good and I must say, with a Kashmiri Experience.

Our itinerary for the day was to reach back to Srinagar by evening, visiting a few the places and monuments on the way…

By the side of Aru Rd.

By the side of Aru Rd.

Akshat enjoying the slight drizzle at Aru Rd.

Akshat enjoying the slight drizzle at Aru Rd.

First Stop: Aru Rd, We made a halt at a picnic spot, which Sahil claimed to be his family fav, Little wind-chil , a slight drizzle and the mild morning sun, the weather was perfect(ly English). It was just us and no one around between two close mountains, a road and the parallel running Lidder River… Oh! Yeah, and some icing on the cake … a Bhel Puri Wala… As if God sent! … After an hour or so, we set to move out of Pahlgam.

Next Stop: Mattan Gurudwara/Temple , Anatnag
Gurudwara Mattan Sahib, Mattan, Anantnag, Jammu & Kashmir`s present building of the gurudwara was constructed in the last half of the 19th century, substituting the old one built by Sirdar Hari Singh Nalwa. Within the gurudwara complex, there exists a Chinnar tree believed to there from the time of Guru Nanak Sahib. The kids too had fun feeding the fishes with Channa and puffed rice. Wanted some light meals, post the heavy Wazwan previous night from the same restaurant (Heena) in Pahlgam , so had some Chola-Bhatura for lunch just outside the gates of the temple.

@ the Cricket bat factory in Anantnag

@ the Cricket bat factory in Anantnag

Next Stop: Some cricket/willow bat factory, Anatnag
I was constantly telling my nephew ( Akshat) , that we will buy him cricket bat from Srinagar , Also we had to buy a good seasoned one… So! Though not decided earlier, I asked Sahil to take was to one of the Cricket Bat Factories that are all along to main road in Anantnag.
Though I’m not into Cricket, I can hardly name a few Indian cricket players, It was an experience watching thousands of cut pieces of Kashmiri Willows kept in stacks to get seasoned. The process of carving the willow blocks into finished products was fun too. We also were given a high-octane demonstration of how sturdy the full seasoned Kashmiri Willow bats are… This guy planked a bat between two blocks of bricks and stood on it, He asked me to try it too … and I did … Impressed, “I’ll have one please ….”

Ruins of Avantipura Temples

Ruins of Avantipura Temples

Next Stop: Avantipura Ruins. These ruins comprises of temples built by Avantivarman, the first king of the Utpala dynasty bacy in the ninth century. These ruins excavated in the 20th century are located in 29-km Southeast Of Srinagar in the Anantnag District, at the foot of one of the spurs of the mountain Wastarwan, overlooking the Jhelum river.
Next Stop … Another round of the famous Kashmira Kehwa at Lethpura! And finally back home to Nishat.

Dream Day 5, 16th May
… we took a break, lazed the whole day in our warm rooms, enjoying doing absolutely nothing.

Dream Day 6 & 7, 17th May

@ the JKTDC cottage in Gulmarg, Note the snow outside

@ the JKTDC cottage in Gulmarg, Note the snow outside

… It was another nice day, Infact the best day of the 8 days. Both in terms of the places we visited and the just perfect weather that we had to enjoy it. In our cottons casuals and woolies tucked away in the boot, just in case we had a tryst with some bad weather, we headed for the Meadow of Flowers, Gulmarg, once again.

If you visit Gulmarg, in the right month, as we did, you would realize beyond words, how aptly the valley called “Meadow of Flowers” … Golden Yellow Daffodils everywhere you turn your and many more flowers in an assortment of various colors, strewn all around, as thought perfectly to compliment the white snow clad mountains all around… truly Beautiful and no words can help you visualize the divinity of this place. The flowral slopes, pastoral spans and abundance of natural scapes kept my camera busy too

@ Alpather/Apharwat

@ Alpather/Apharwat

We checked in to our cottage and headed straight for the Gandola (Cable Car) , which would take us for ride to Kongdori (The first phase of the Gulmarg Gondola) and them upto the snow peak of Alpather/ Apharwat( The final destination of the Gulmarg Gondola). It took more than an hour to get tickets for Gandola ride for the first phase, due to unruly queue at the counter and my decision not to go through a tout, but then within no time, we were seated inside the Gandola for our ride up the snow slopes. Even a little fear within ( due to stories of breakdown of the Gandola that happened the previous evening) and the breathlessness due to the height we were at, we slowly started our assent up. We reached the first phase, Kongdori, in just 15 minutes. There was absolutely no queue for the tickets for our ride further. A few minutes later we were once again on to our second leg of the Gandola ride upto Alpather. Needless to say, the views are literally breath taking and I wouldn’t even dare to pen the beauty of the nature you experience. … On our way down, we couldn’t fail to notice the Gujjar Mud Huts on the slopes. Everyone was happy , My mum was happy that she reached the height on 13400ft above sea level , with her arthritic knee, Children’s were happy to experience snow, I was happy for them and yeah for myself too.
PS. For those interested and planning a visit soon, the price of tickets for the Gulmarg Gandola rides were 350 per head for phase one and 500 for the second phase up to the peak

With Gandola ride done, we headed for the Highlands Hill Resort, The cottages made famous by Ms. Bobby, by getting herself trapped within and loosing the keys to it. Nice place. I liked it especially, cause of the nice range of Tulips that still were growing in its gardens. After and few camera shots of the Gulmarg Sunset, we headed out. It was din din time. Another round of Wazwaan. Gustaba again, Kashmiri Chicken, and some not so Kashmiri Biryani and Mutton Seekh Kebab.

Reached our Cottage by 8pm , ready to tuck into the bed. This time unlike Pahlgam, we had all the luxuries, Electric Balnkets & Electric Heaters … Cool! … Hot! Whatever!
Next morning it was earlier riser for us, since our plan was to finish the Mughal Gardens of Srinagar too. What I had not noticed the previous evening was the white snow, outside out Hut and the fact that on the right flank of our cottage, at a little distance was the Shiva Temple , where Mr, Rajesh Khanna , had a Pyala of Bhang to the tunes of “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar” .
The drive from Gulmarg back to Tumgmarg again was treat to the eye. On our way to Tungmarg, we took a small detour into Drung(14 Kilometers from Gulmarg) on Sahil’s recommendation. Nice place to visit, if you have some spare time and we did.

girls in their Kashmiri Phirans @ Shalimar

girls in their Kashmiri Phirans @ Shalimar

Next stop was Shalimar Gardens, built by Emperor Jehangir for his beloved wife Noor Jahaan in 1619. The women folk had a photo session here in some rented Kashmiri Phirans. They seemed to enjoy it, The man in me, gave it a skip. It was NISHAT and HARWAN gardens next. But we decided to give it miss as we had overdosed with Shalimar gardens and our jaws were still sour, with the sites of abnormally big Roses, Poppy’s and other flowers we saw. After a snack lunch and Fresh Strawberry milk shake outside Shalimar , We headed for Pari Mahal. We kept Chasmashahi , which was on the way up to Pari Mahal for our return journey!

Pari Mahal stands proudly revealing through its bricks, walls and surroundings the rich story of the past and is said to be, at a time a Buddhist monastery with a beautifully laid out garden which was later converted to a school of astrology. It was founded by Dara Shiko the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan’s for his Sufi teacher, Mulla Shah. The beauty of Pari Mahal in Srinagar used to be at one time enhanced by the numerous springs which have dried up now.
Chasmashahi (Royal Spring) built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632AD, this is smallest of the Mughol Gardens in Srinagar, but not to be missed as it houses an aqua duct fed by a Natural spring of energizing digestive mineral water. Believe me, It was refreshing to get your feet wet this in Chilled Aqua Minarale , that we so happily pay Rs.15 per litre otherwise. After stocking a few bottles of Free Mineral Water, we headed back home , totally wanting to enjoys Maroofs ever so lovely and lavish Kashmiri dinner!
PS. All of us were totally lethargic when we are at Pari Mahal, the blazing sun of May was to blame. The spring water of Chashmashahi really seemed to pep us up, So for travelers, I would recommend visiting Chashmashahi first, Re –vitalizing yourself in the royal springs, and then heading up to enjoy the splendor of Pari Mahal.

Dream Day 8, 19th May

@ Shaukats HouseBoat

@ Shaukats HouseBoat

7 days in Srinagar and we had still not managed a Shikara ride. Kids and adults alike, were getting restless. I could have easily skipped this from the itinerary, but it wouldn’t do justice to those who had not experienced Shikara+Dal+Boathouse before, which I already had in my previous life. Plus! for Malaunty ( Mums younger sister, who accompanied us), Kashmir was all about what she saw in the TV series “Gul Gulshan Gulfam”, so Shikara ride through the back alleys of DAL, floating gardens and the glimpses of the local life was what that would make her visit complete and that’s what we exactly did. Today was the day for a lazy ride in the DAL lake and then for a stay at the Shaukat’s Luxury Boat House. The women enjoyed the bit of shopping they did on the floating shops on the Dal. Later in the afternoon, on Shaukats kind courtesy, we had another Wazwan at his Houseboat… Gustaba again for me please! .

@ Shaukats HouseBoat

@ Shaukats HouseBoat

Dream Day 9, 20th May
They say, a day in heaven is equal to thousands of years on Earth. Well! They are wrong … eight days in Kashmir, gone in a jiffy. It was time to pack. With all the possible cuttings that we could gather from Arshads garden packed, luggages packed, Barbeque packed, Kaangri packed, Cricket bats packed, we were ready for your return journey. We bid farewell to Arshads family with a heavy heart, an headed to airport … in another few hours we were back on Earth … at our home in Mumbai.

  • Thanks to our kind hosts, Arshad, Maroof, Uncle, Aunty, Basif, Baheen & Ali , for making this trip to heaven and back something to remember for rest our life on earth and of course beyond.
  • Thanks to Basharat, for booking our cottages at Pahlgam and Gulmarg.
  • Thanks to Sahil for driving us around Kashmir for 5 days, Guiding us right and taking care our travel & tourist needs.
  • Thanks to Shaukat , for letting us enjoy the splendor of this exquisite houseboats and for the royal lunch at the houseboat.
  • It was truly  the  most memorable 8 days!

Finally…I stumbled upon this nice song “Khuda se Mannat” from a Malayam movie, which tries to put Kashmir and near part situation into lyrics… you might like it too

May 26 2009

Peg After Peg : I never take risk while drinking

Truly hilarious, was worth  adding it to my Blog …would like to know who the original author is?

I never take risk while drinking 

When I come from office in the evening, wife is cooking 
I can hear the noise of utensils in the kitchen 
I stealthily enter the house 
Take out the bottle from my black cupboard 
Shivaji Maharaj is looking at me from the photo frame 
But still no one is aware of it 

Becoz I never take a risk 

I take out the glass from the rack above the old sink 
Quickly enjoy one peg 
Wash the glass and again keep it on the rack 
Of course I also keep the bottle inside my cupboard 
Shivaji Maharaj is giving a smile 

I peep into the kitchen 
Wife is cutting potatoes 
No one is aware of what I did 

Becoz I never take a risk 

I to my wife : Any news on chopra’s daughter’s marriage 
Wife : Nope, she doesn’t seem to be that lucky. Still they are looking out for her . 

I again come out; there is a small noise of the black cupboard 
But I don’t make any sound while taking out the bottle 
I take out the glass from the old rack above sink 
Quickly enjoy one peg 

Wash the  bottle and keep it in the sink 
Also keep the Black Glass in the cupboard 
But still no one is aware of what I did 

Becoz I never take a risk 

I to Wife : But still I think chopra’s daughter’s age is not that much 
Wife: What are you saying? She is 28 yrs old… like an aged horse 
I: (I forgot her age is 28) Oh Oh… 

I again take out potatoes out from my black cupboard 
But the cupboard’s place has automatically changed 
I take out the bottle from the rack and quickly enjoy one peg in the sink . 

Shivaji Maharaj laughs loudly 
I keep the rack in the potatoes & wash Shivaji Maharaj’s photo & keep it in the black cupboard . 

Wife is keeping the sink on the stove 

But still no one is aware of what I did 

Becoz I never take a risk 

I to Wife: (getting angry) you call Mr. chopra a horse? If you say that 
again, I will cut your tongue…! 

Wife: Don’t just blabber something, go out and sit quietly… 

I take out the bottle from the potatoes 
Go in the black cupboard and enjoy a peg 
Wash the sink and keep it over the rack 

Wife is giving a smile 

Shivaji Maharaj is still cooking 
But still no one is aware of what I did 

Becoz I never take a risk 

I to Wife : (laughing) So chopra is marrying a horse!! 

Wife: Hey go and sprinkle some water on your face… 

I again go to the kitchen, and quietly sit on the rack 

Stove is also on the rack 
There is a small noise of bottles from the room outside . 

I peep and see that wife is enjoying a peg in the sink 
But none of the horses are aware of what I did 

Becoz Shivaji Maharaj never takes a risk . 

Chopra is still cooking 

And I am looking at my wife from the photo and laughing 

Becoz I never take…… never take ….. never take what???      

I  never take a potato I think…

May 12 2009

Pursuit Of Happiness

“Some pursue happiness – others create it.”

– Annonymous

May 5 2009

Glimpses Of Sahara : CSI Airport Mumbai

I dont remember exactly but may be around 7-8 years back, in the days when I frequented between London Heahtrow and Mumbai…An announcement by the Chief Stewardess of British Airways surprised me … “Welcome to Chattrapati Shivaji International Terminal…” she addressed !!! … I told myself that either, I have boarded the wrong plane or this stewardess has consumed a good dose of FREE Wine, that she was meant to serve us… Something was wrong!. I was supposed to fly into “Sahara International” from “London Heathrow” … How did I reach “Chattrapati Shivaji International Terminal” ???


As you might have already guessed, it dint take long to clear the dust. Thank Lord! I was at Bombay, Oopps !!! Mumbai, where I was designated to be. Only that the name of the Airport had been changed from SI (Sahara International) to CSI (Chattrapati Shivaji International)


Thats history!!!!… last week (2nd May 2009) I went to Saha…. Sorry! … CSI to receive some friend of mine . and once again that incident flashed before me. Well! This time I knew for sure that I was at the right place. The looks of the International Airport has just changed. It looks very different from what it used to be, Yeah! surely different for good.

If you have been outside Mumbai/India and have not been to Mumbai in while, I bet, you will have a similar experience that I had, surprised! The car park outside the arrivals has been replaced by a 4 storied Multilevel parking … The receiving areas has a proper canopy … some place to while away the long waits, sitting! … a small Clock tower … some Plam trees … some greenery …


So to reduce to your shock when next time you land at Mumbai, I have posted a few pictures below of the Arrivals at Mumbai CSI Airport! … If you LIKE SURPRISES and would like to keep it until you arrive to Mumbai next time … DONOT SCROLL DOWN!!!













May 2 2009

Anger & Expectations

“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations”

– Elliott Larson

May 2 2009

Wife Quotes: In Conversation

“Making Conversations is like Playing Antakshari

…. Smita’s