Paradise on Earth

“Gar firdaus bar-rue hamisto, haminasto, haminasto, haminasto.”
Translated from Persian, it means ‘If there is paradise here on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here’. These words have been spoken by many a person visiting the valley of Kashmir. From the Mughal emperors to Sufi poets to the average traveller, a visit to the transcendent beauty of Jammu & Kashmir evokes feelings of euphoria. Centuries have passed since those words were first spoken, yet even today’s tourists would enthusiastically agree. Ramesh Patel travelled with his wife Maya and children Palak and Bhramesh to discover the true meaning of these words and the magical place they describe.
Ramesh Patel with Family 
“It really is heaven on earth,” Ramesh exclaims. “I’ve been to Switzerland before, but it’s nothing like Kashmir. The locals are friendly, warm and cordial. To those who fear coming here after hearing about instances of unrest reported by the media, you should visit anyway. Things aren’t how they’re shown to be, and it’s actually a very peaceful and serene place.”
Ramesh Patel with Family 
About a month and a half ago, the Patel family began their tour by visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine, considered one of the holiest pilgrimages among Hindus. It requires a fair bit of climbing to reach to the cave temple, located in the Trikuta Mountains. Locals offer pony and palanquin services to make things easier, but the Patel family chose to walk. After a satisfying darshan, they took advantage of a helicopter service to descend.
The second phase of their tour started at Pahalgam, a hill station popular among Bollywood studios for its picturesque vistas. The family stayed at Pahalgam Hotel, with the Lidder flowing on one side and a mountain view on the other. “Pahalgam is not just a hill station, but a recreational place in the lap of nature. One of the best things to do is nothing,” Ramesh tells us. “We booked the suite Shahid Kapoor stayed in while shooting Haider. While we were there, Salman Khan was shooting for Bajrangi Bhaijaan next to our hotel. This place was just amazing.”
The family also took a small adventure tour to a nearby location called Mini-Switzerland. On pony back, they discovered this unique meadow in the Pahalgam Valley that left them in awe. “We were taken aback by the huge grasslands and the sheer beauty of the place. We couldn’t believe that such stunning places exist in India. My heart didn’t want to come back, but unfortunately we had to,” Ramesh says.
Ramesh Patel Family at Gulmarg 
The family then drove to Gulmarg, a popular skiing destination, and spent two nights at the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa. “It was a wonderful property with serene views of the mountains and lush green lawns. The rooms were fantastic, and we had a lot to do within the resort itself. But the best part was skiing. Within 15 minutes, we had been given basic training, and the following two hours were a jolly ride! The kids totally enjoyed the experience, including the cable cars.”
Driving away from Gulmarg, they stopped at Mascot Boathouse on Nigeen Lake, a beautiful water body known for its sparkling clear water and picture-perfect surroundings. Surrounded by willow trees, Hari Parbat and Shankaracharya Hill, the lake allows you to view your own reflection as though you were looking into a mirror.
Jammu & Kashmir View 
“With five bedrooms and a hall, the boat was aesthetically decorated. The staff members were attentive, the food was exciting, and each room had a different theme and a very nice feeling. We were taken for a ride across the lake in a shikara. People selling goods on small boats were a novelty, but the best part was sitting on the roof during the early hours, enjoying the breeze and feeling as if we were in heaven.”
The next morning, the Patel family shifted base to The Lalit Grand Palace in Srinagar, which was built in 1910 by Maharaja Pratap Singh. It has stood strong throughout many key events in India’s history, and has hosted Lord Mountbatten. “A two-storey palace, its ground-floor rooms open onto huge lawns better than any of the gardens in Srinagar. We were served breakfast here under huge Chinar trees. It was a regal experience,” says Ramesh.
Ramesh Pael Family at Sonmarg 
The Patel family also travelled to Sonmarg before concluding their tour with a chariot ride and a tour of The Lalit Grand Palace.     – Rahul