The Call of Kashmir

Mujahid Farooqui visit to Kashmir

Landscape designer Mujahid Farooqui loves the great outdoors. He travelled to the beautiful land of Kashmir, with his children along for company. Read on to find out about their travels to the mighty north.
 
My standard method of travelling is to rough it, and that’s exactly what I did when I planned a trip to Kashmir with my two children. The plan was spontaneous; we packed our bags overnight, and the next thing we knew, we were standing at the train station, bidding the rest of the family adieu. The train journey was fortunately very comfortable and abundantly scenic. We got off at Delhi and went to the Islamic Centre, where we were put up to stay. After a lovely lunch and a short breather, we resumed our journey aboard a bus to Srinagar.
 
We were dropped off at Srinagar, from where we took a taxi to Pahalgam, where our Kashmiri adventure began. The state hit us like a breath of fresh air. As soon as we entered, we were captivated! It was such a change of scenery from our routine and busy city lives. Everything was so serene and calm. We breathed in lungs full of fresh air, listened to the quiet giggling of the nearby springs and waterfalls, and realised how unimaginably enchanted we were. Barely a moment in the state, and we were already in love. We stayed at a friend’s house which, to our utter delight, was by the bank of a river. Every evening, we would sit outside and sip tea, listening to the water take its course.

Pahalgam

While in Pahalgam we visited the town centre. It was full of vendors, traders, and little shops selling Kashmiri handicrafts ranging from bed covers and tea cosies to kaftans and ponchos. My daughter, who loves Kashmiri apparel, was thrilled and immediately bought two coats for herself. Later on, we went on a tour in and around the Lidder and Adu Valleys, where we rode ponies up a hill, getting off midway and walking up the rest of the way. We explored our surroundings on the way up, and washed ourselves in the fresh and cool streams. We also went to the famous Betaab Valley, a picturesque place that got its name from the Sunny Deol movie of the same name. In Chandanwari, the stunning sight of snow-capped mountains greeted us, much to the delight of my son who always wanted to experience the feeling of snow. We used some traditional wooden sleds to slide down these snowy slopes. It took me back to my childhood! In Pahalgam, we also got to see the Himalayan Cheese Factory, where we were introduced to a variety of Gouda cheeses and got to sample some delicious ones! There were a lot of different kinds, from peppered to plain. What really fascinated me was that that it was all made from the finest milk of Himalayan cows, and was fully organic.

Betaab Valley 
 
From Pahalgam, we headed back to Srinagar, which felt a lot like home. It was very city-esque, and we got used to it in no time. One day, we toured all the beautiful Mughlai gardens – Shalimar Gardens, Nishat Gardens, Chasmeshahi, Pari Mahal, and the gorgeous Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden. I was truly enthralled by the way they maintain these lawns. The flowers and plants were so beautifully kept. Srinagar is full of roses; you can see them growing almost everywhere. As a landscape consultant, I was truly pleased and in awe of the flora in Kashmir. Another day, we visited Jamia Masjid and offered prayers. We also visited the Hazratbal Shrine – said to contain the hair of the prophet Muhammad – and the Rozabal Shrine – rumoured to be the grave of Jesus Christ. It was interesting to see these monumental structures steeped in story.
 

Mujahid Farooqui family at Dal Lake 
We sailed Dal Lake on small boats called shikaras, and witnessed the famous floating market. It’s a fascinating spectacle where vendors sell vegetables and snacks on the lake. We helped ourselves to some hot kahva, a special kind of aromatic and rich Kashmiri tea that contains saffron and nuts. We even saw how the weeds from the lake are extracted and converted into compost for the floating gardens, an eco-friendly and lovely effort. There were some grand houseboats that we went into. It’s said that these were used as accommodation for the British before Indian independence. The boats were beautiful, with hand-carved designs made from sturdy wood.
 
On our last day in Kashmir, we rode the Gulmarg gondolas. These are basically cable cars that take you over the mountains. You travel from one peak to another, with a breathtaking aerial view of the valleys below. If you like, you can even spend some time on the mountain before heading down. This is believed to be the world’s second-highest operational cable car system. After we got off the gondola, we had a delicious meal of Kashmiri biryani and some more kahva.

Mujahid Farooqui family with local people 
 
We were quite mesmerised by this journey, which was even better than some of our trips abroad. Kashmir truly is heaven on earth!

..... as told to Saloni