Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kashmir: Paradise on earth

By Swetha Amit

If there was a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” exclaimed Emperor Jahangir when he saw Kashmir, and Swetha Amit agrees wholeheartedly
Swetha Amit

17 August 2011

The word ‘Kashmir’ evokes mixed responses from people. It could be pride about its beauty, from those who have visited the paradise as they term it, or fear due to its security issues. It was a ‘Is it safe to go there’ statement which greeted us when we mentioned about our short vacation to Kashmir. What was India’s top tourist destination and one of the most sought-after in the world once, is considered a terror capital today. Unresolved issues and political turbulence have affected tourism. However, behind this veil of problems lies a beautiful valley that one could only imagine on picturesque postcards.

Taking advantage the stable situation now, we decided to explore this heavenly abode. We came back awestruck by its resplendent beauty. This is one place that will do India proud. It is recommended as a must-visit. The warm hospitality of the Kashmiris, green meadows, snow-capped mountains and gushing streams make one feel that one has landed in paradise.

As we drove down from Srinagar airport, we caught glimpses of the magnificent Dal Lake, which we had heard much about from our elders who visited Kashmir during the 1980s. The famous lake was adorned with colourful houseboats and shikaras. Life around this large water body was interesting in itself. A shikara ferried us to our houseboat. The shikara is a small boat with comfortable cushion seats, and a mode of transport on Dal Lake.

Housed in a boat: We were given a warm welcome by the caretaker. Our houseboat had pretty plants at the entrance. The exquisite interior took our breaths away with its plush furniture and hygienic rooms. We could hear the splash of the water as shikaras whizzed past with the lively chatter of families. The open porch offered a breathtaking view of the Himalayas and the entire lake. Many Kashmiri families live on houseboats, while others rent them out to tourists, making houseboats a valuable source of income.

A take at being a Kashmiri: The shikara that came our way had two photographers with colourful Kashmiri attires and props. Tourists click pictures dressed as Kashmiris and create treasured memories of their trip. We were no exception. We slipped into the costumes and posed with baskets of flowers against the limpid background of Dal Lake. We later hopped into another shikara which took us on a little tour.

Rowing on the lake: It was around five in the evening and still bright. We were told that the sun set very late and we would be blessed with good light for about three hours. The boatman talked about life on Dal Lake while rowing. Several shikaras stationed themselves beside ours, offering jewellery, accessories, provisions and vegetables. The buying and selling across the shikaras reminded us of the floating market in Thailand. The market area of the Dal Lake had shops in the houseboats selling the handiwork of Kashmiris.

Confessions of a shopaholic: Even if one's purpose is not shopping, one look at Kashmiri crafts is bound to turn you into a shopper. The colourful handmade shawls, shirts, bags and bed covers enticed us to pick up a few. The shawls especially were a great buy at Rs500-Rs800. The embroidered shirts were also priced in the same range. The bed covers with beautiful designs of the Dal Lake imprinted on them were priced around Rs1,500-Rs1,800. The shopkeepers said that we could place our order, have it shipped to whichever city we resided in and make the payment at the time of delivery. After spending an hour in the shops, we came out as satisfied customers. One factor that came across to us on our shopping expedition was the sincerity and perseverance of the Kashmiri folk.

Solitude in the swamp: We soon ventured into a desolate area of the lake. There were ducks about and we managed to capture a white stork on our camera. We spotted a man fishing on a small boat. The lake gave way to tall grass and marshy patches.

Life in the lake: During winters Dal Lake freezes up and people are confined to their houseboats till spring, when the lake buzzes with shikaras. The shikara rides reminded us of gondola rides in Venice. This was probably the reason why Kashmir was awarded one of its titles, ‘Venice of the East.’

To be continued...



Blogger A said...

Wow. My mom used to use Kashmir is heaven on the earth. I can see why...

Beautiful picture and factual description. Post more pictures

8:56 PM  
Blogger Whirlwind said...

Yeah its truly paradise!! will post more pics.:)

11:39 PM  

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