Sanjeeva Narayan
13 min readFeb 9, 2024



1. Providence has a way of actualizing rational, bona-fide and legitimate dreams howsoever impossible and beyond the realms of possibility that they may appear at first. This belief, which Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam passionately believed in and fervently propagated, again got proven recently when I got a chance to visit the beautiful environs of the Kashmir Valley. Albeit on the pleasurable pretext and joyous occasion of a nephew’s wedding, the trip turned into the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream and a perfect validation of Kashmir, being a heaven on earth.

2. Having once visited Srinagar almost about forty years back during my Chartered Accountancy article-ship days, I still had vivid recollections of the sheer beauty and enchanting locales which this destination offers. The ravages of time had not dulled the experience of witnessing the first snowfall of the season which happened on the day I had landed, with snowflakes, perched sometimes delicately and precariously on the Chinar trees. Of course, while the experience was somewhat muted by the fact that I was alone and means somewhat scarce, the sheer natural beauty which this paradise offered, as yet untouched by rapacious exploitation at the hands of mankind was indelibly imprinted in the recesses of my mind.

3. In this backdrop, when my brother decided to solemnize his son’s marriage at Srinagar, it seemed a perfect opportunity to rekindle those memories, visit the paradise that Kashmir is so often referred to, enjoy the local cuisine and, of course, be a part of the festivities and bonhomie that the joyous occasion warranted and provided an opportunity for. Making the most of the chance , me and my wife and a couple of family members (who count more as friends) decided to extend our stay beyond the marriage ceremonies and enjoy the exquisite beauty, particularly of Pahalgam and Gulmarg.

4. Talking about the wedding, while there were the inevitable, nay sayers who (somewhat irrationally I thought) baulked at the choice of venue, one was only amazed (for want of a better and perhaps more apt superlative) at the meticulous planning, extensive hospitality, flawless execution and the grandeur, elegance and grace which came as a part of the entire package. Right from landing at Srinagar airport, where we were welcomed by gracious, charming and elegantly dressed representatives to being driven to the hotel by an affable driver, who told us about the local flora and fauna, particularly pointing out to the Chinar –(Maple) trees, whose leaves present different hues with the changing season, we got a pleasurable interlude of what to expect.

5. As for the wedding festivities themselves, while the entire package was complete, wholesome and fulfilling in itself, replete with coordinated decors, local cuisine to satiate your tastebuds, meeting and spending time with the entire family after a long spell in those environs was elating and seemed like a God sent opportunity. To add to it was the trinity of the local musicians performing on the Santoor, Tabla and the Rubab ( a string instrument made of wood, parchment and steel) playing local Kashmiri and Bollywood tunes in the soothing environs, beneath a clear starry sky with abundant supply of fresh air and the moderate temperatures amidst the soothing caress of a gentle wind.

The electrifying effect of the trinity of musicians playing during the wedding ceremonies

6. The venue for the wedding festivities- Taj Vivanta, perched on top of a hill, provided a 360-degree view of the Valley and the overarching landscape with the Dal Lake in the distance providing the complete backdrop was simply exhilarating. The wedding was also notable for the conscious effort undertaken to involve the local populace specially, artisans and craftsmen such as flower vendors, craftsmen, decorators and the distinctly local theme.

Magical view of Dal Lake from Taj Vivanta

7. While the wedding was to happen in Taj Vivanta, we were to stay in Lalit– both venues by themselves epitomes of luxury, beauty, and somewhat old worldly comfort in their own light. Lalit with its huge driveway lined with apple trees amidst the most amazing greenery, huge rooms, balconies overlooking huge lawns flush with fresh flowers of unthinkable varieties and eye-catching hues and of course a panoramic view of the famed Dal Lake on one side and the mountains on the other, was the complete package in old world luxury — not surprising since we were told that the property was the erstwhile palace of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. For me, it was a perfect setting to indulge in my favourite past time- morning walk on the shores of Dal Lake amidst the prescient atmosphere that the tree-lined roads provided.

Tree-lined Avenue outside Hotel Lalit leading to Dal Lake
Enchanting views from and of Hotel Lalit

8. After two fulfilling days of festivities, we moved to Pahalgam, about 2 ½ hours drive from Srinagar. Situated on the banks of river Lidder, the city also acts as one of the gateways to the Amarnath Yatra which was almost at the culmination stage at the time of our visit. Of course, judging by the amazing levels of infrastructure created, it seemed that no effort had been spared to ensure the comfort and safety of the pilgrims. Our hotel, Royal Hillton, with its elegant rooms provided a clear view of the Lidder river meandering majestically through the rocks with a systemic, soothing sound which was and is a manna to the ears and inherently stress relieving.

Apple orchards on the way to Pahalgam
Walnut plantations on way to Pahalgam
It became evident form these sights that we were approaching Pahalgam
Around Hotel Hilton

9. Just a, somewhat jarring, note of caution here. The taxis that you hire for the entire trip do not, in fact cannot (courtesy the strong influence of local unions) take you for local sight-seeing for which you have to hire local cabs and end up spending double the amount on transport. While it is claimed that rates are fixed, some amount of hard-core bargaining does lead to substantial cost saving. What is also galling is the intense competition for the various services on offer and the facilities provided be it ponies, push-carts for navigating the terrain in case one has difficulty in walking, getting photographs clicked in local costumes, selling shawls etc. At the slightest hint of some interest, hordes will descent upon you — sometimes causing confusion and irritation, if not deftly handled. While it appeared that tourists were travelling in droves to the Valley, the intense display of a somewhat predatory approach was disappointing. The other disappointing element was unclean roads, littered with horse droppings with, seemingly, no organized system for a periodic, forget about round the clock, clean-up which somewhat dampened the spirits of a walkaholic like me.

Astounding beauty of Pahalgam

10. The negativities apart, the visit to Aru and Betaab Valleys (the latter so known after the Bollywood film by the same name which was shot there) was noteworthy for the soothing drive with amazing and not so routine views on offer. Another sight to behold was the rows and rows of high Deodar trees interspersed with Pines perched on the mountains and dotting the countryside, seemingly precariously balanced yet exhibiting a remarkable sense of stability, and if I may put it ,stoicism making for an amazing sight.

Enchanting nature at Aru Valley

11. While lack of time prevented me from undertaking the 5 km trek to Baisaran Valley (perhaps another time), the piece-de-resistance of the visit was sitting on the rocky banks of Lidder with feet dipped in water which initially felt decidedly chilly but was essentially invigorating after the initial shock had dissipated.

River Lidder : Pahalgam’s piece- de- resistance
Ultimate relaxation. Feet dipped in running water

12. After two most memorable days in Pahalgam we undertook the journey to Gulmarg which was anticipated to take almost four-five hours with a bye-pass through Srinagar. On the way we took the two pit-stops one at the famed Ashmuqam Dargah (about 40 km from Pahalgam) where the Qawwali “Bhardo Jholi Mein” in the Salman Khan starring Bollywood movie “Bajrangi Bhaijan” was shot. Although approachable only with a series of about 560 steps, the Dargah exudes solace, calm and sobriety with people of all faiths, religions and diversities converging there to seek divine blessings. Apart from that, we also stopped at Pampore — the saffron town of Kashmir which we were told is a sight to behold in season when the saffron fields are in full bloom. Nevertheless, the market lining the highway is full of shops selling saffron, dry fruits, berries and other condiments which we were told are sold at competitive prices and, of course, of assured quality.

13. The rest of the journey to Gulmarg was a bit-back breaking with the rising temperature playing its own part in adding to the discomfort. The highlight of course, was a sumptuous meal of Kashmiri vegetarian cuisine at a roadside Dhaba near Tangmarg which our local taxi driver very highly recommended.

14. Arriving at Gulmarg by mid-afternoon we checked into our hotel (Kolahoi Greens) which provided a panoramic view of the meadow right from our window. On the way we visited the Maharaja Palace which was a bit of a dampener. Although recently renovated, it gives a somewhat dilapidated look and scarcely a hint of the past grandeur. Of course, the lovely views of the meadow and the distant mountain-scape somewhat made up for it.

View of Hotel Kolahoi Greens
Magnificent Meadows of Gulmarg

15. The clean roads, soothing atmosphere, meandering pathways and the plush grass gave me yet again plentiful opportunity to go for walks — whether brisk or at a leisurely pace. It was a Blue moon night and the perfect circular shape of the moon against backdrop of a clear starry sky made for magical viewing. Indulging in a bit of fanciful thinking, one could feel a sense of belonging with India’s Chandrayaan having safely landed there only a couple of days back and the rover Pragyan gently finding its way and unravelling some of its myriad mysteries.

Amazing view from the Gondola
Kongdori- the first stage of the Gondola

16. The next morning, we took the Gondola ride to Kongdori -the first stage of the Gondola(about 8500 ft above sea level). Sadly, since the second stage was under maintenance, we could not go upto Apharwat Mountain top (about 13500 ft above sea level). Being off season, the place was not very crowded. The views offered were amazing with snow clad mountains dotting the skyline. The lack of facilities to sit and relax was a major bottleneck with the sole restaurant there even charging for sitting on the chairs in its adjoining area. That apart, the place provided enough room for gentle strolls or even indulging in some adventure by attempting to traverse the mountainous paths which manifested varying levels of difficulty. Another amazing sight was the effortless and seamless manner in which a herder was able to manage and control his entire flock which as per him comprised of about 800 goats/sheep. Relying on his voice which modulated depending on needs and wielding the stick judiciously with the aid of a couple of leaders in the pack, the sight was a lesson in economy of effort and managerial efficiency with optimum results.

17. The Gondola ride was followed by a drive to Bota Pathri, a military area adjoining the border for which not only is special permission required, but where courtesy the dominance, yet again, of the local unions, only local vehicles could ply. Be that as it may, the visit was memorable yet again for the views on offer, with rows and rows of Deodars and Pines lining the landscape and a clean atmosphere with a soothing effect. Here one got a whiff of the fine Indian “Jugaad” mentality where the roadside Dhaba selling Rajma (Red kidney beans), chawal (Rice) vegetables etc. by using a single earthen oven(chulha) by sheer ingenuity was able to cook multiple dishes at the same time. Even the most classical attempt at verbiage cannot describe the ingenuity and dexterity that was on display. However, it can be attempted to be described as a large earthen construction for stoking the fire on which multiple holes have been made for putting different pots and pans for cooking different dishes simultaneously.

On way to and at Bota Pathri

18. The next day we took the trip back to Srinagar for a stay at a Houseboat on Dal Lake which was to be the concluding part of our trip. Enroute, we made a slight detour, near Tangmarg to the Baba Reshi Shrine which with its amazing cleanliness and calming ambience, not to forget the pine-trees lined approach was again a once in a life-time experience.

19. Before checking into the house-boat, we also took a round of the famed Lal Chowk which, with the hustle-bustle and activity all around, scarcely gave a hint of its recent troubled history

Lal Chowk, Srinagar

20. Finally, we checked into the houseboat very topically christened “Royal Palace” nestled in the backwaters and an epitome of comfort and understated old world luxury with homely food to boot. A revelation and something not known to me earlier was the fact that Dal Lake is an almost independent economic ecosystem inhabiting close to 100000 people indulging in activities such as running and maintaining houseboats, shikaras, market for traditional crafts etc. and of course almost entirely dependent on the tourist industry.

Views from Shikara Ride on Dal Lake

21. A Shikara ride in the Dal Lake was most memorable not just for the sights enroute amidst the gentle breeze and interaction with the local vendors selling trinkets, jewellery, shawls, flowers, artefacts etc. but also, for the interaction with the Shikara owner who with his deep-rooted insight provided a peek into the essential goodness of the human mind. During the course of our interaction at one point of time he non-chalantly but topically remarked “Koi haath jod kar mangta hai, koi sir jhuka kar, per dena wala to ek hai”. (somebody prays with folded hands, somebody with bowed heads but essentially the ultimate Almighty God is the same — one and only one). While apparently, not well read (in the academic sense of the term) this statement set me thinking about the ultimate oneness of all religions — Universal Universality something about which I have written earlier and of course, the inherent simplicity and uncomplicated structure of the human mind. During the conversation and while talking about fluctuating volumes of work he casually responded that just as a race horse cannot win on all days, work has its own troughs and peaks — and we can make the most of our peaks by being resilient in troughs. These surely were insights underscoring a deep rooted thought process emanating from a technically unlettered human being.

22. On Dal Lake with the aid of a clear blue sky we were again able to view the majestic contours of the full moon which reflected the rays of the sun across the placid waters of Dal Lake. A mystical experience in itself. The next day we spent the forenoon largely lounging leisurely on the deck of the houseboat before taking the evening flight to Delhi to culminate a memorable trip wherein the belief of Kashmir being the ultimate paradise as envisioned by legendary poets only got validated.

23. To conclude one can only repeat the often quoted couplet :

“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,

Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.”

(“If there is a heaven on earth,

it’s here, it’s here”)