Journey Through Paradise

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Exploring the enchanting beauty of Kashmir

By Neha Shamim

Nestled in the heart of Kashmir, Pahalgam is a majestic land cradled between the Himalayas and the Pir Panjal Range. Often hailed as “Paradise on Earth,” it is a town where the sun rises, casting its golden light on lush green valleys, and sets behind snow-covered mountains, painting the sky with its evening hues. The moonlight reflects off the decks of houseboats, while children, with cherry blossoms in full bloom, tiptoe after each other towards the school’s exit, reminiscent of bees returning to their hives. Crystal-clear rivers wind gracefully through forests of pine and cedar, creating a tableau of serene beauty. I did not believe it until I went there myself.

Having half my family in India has its perks. Every year, my cousins and I plan a trip together, and this time, we chose Pahalgam, Kashmir, renowned for its breathtaking beauty and serene ambiance. We flew from Dhaka to Delhi, where my cousins converged from different parts of India. After spending the night in a hotel near Delhi airport, we boarded the next plane to Srinagar, the only airport in the region that handles international flights.

The plane ride was a life-changing experience. Blessed with a window seat, I gazed out at the stunning blue sky and the snow-covered mountains below, illuminated by a red hue from the sunlight. The view was incredibly colorful and serene, even before we reached our destination. Once we landed, we swiftly passed through immigration and collected our luggage. Our excitement was palpable, like children eagerly waiting to enter a park, as we anticipated the wonders Srinagar had to offer.

Going to Kashmir in the middle of December means we will either have the best time or the worst time, there is no in-between. The cold breeze blew from the majestic snow-covered mountains around us. As we breathed through our numb noses, we were greeted by our family members who are locals there. We planned on staying the night at my relative’s house as we were very tired. We headed out at dawn the very next day to our destination. Endless hours of journey by car, stopping in small roadside restaurants to have endless bowls of hot Maggi and kahwa (saffron tea), we finally reached our desired place, Pahalgam.

The journey to Pahalgam was so extraordinary that we did not know that the place was far more beautiful than our expectations. After waking up, I stayed in a very beautiful lodge facing the snow-covered mountains and went to the next step which was going up the mountain on horseback. Let me tell you, the experience was so thrilling; the horse ride from the thin precarious way towards the top was heart-pounding. An advice to the aspiring travelers, always carry a messenger bag or a crossbody bag if you are carrying gadgets like camera, phones, or powerbank as the ride can get very unpredictable, my phone almost fell into a beautiful waterfall. At one point, my cousins who were on other horses around me were not in my peripheral vision anymore, and it was just me and the horse against the precarious pathway, which guided the horse like a lighthouse in the storm. The journey with my horse, who’s called Sultan, a loyal guide navigating the rugged ascent, we both did not say a word, but I trusted him with my life and he guided me to the top of the mountain where I reunited with my cousins and we took many pictures and enjoyed the breathtaking beauty Pahalgam had to offer to us. 

As our journey in Pahalgam came to an end, we decided to move to our final stop: Gulmarg, a small town in Kashmir renowned for its skiing. As we drove towards the town, we felt the cold intensify. Thermal clothes are a necessity for tourists there. We were aware how cold the weather is, as our relatives in Kashmir have already warned us, so kept a bag separated for warm clothes, like gloves, extra socks, thermal wear, muffler, etc. As we drove near our destination, transitioning from the raw, broken mountain roads, we arrived at a place where the ground beneath us was entirely covered in snow. Seeing snow for the first time was surreal; we went to our hotel and had dinner and wanted to take a walk on the streets at night, however, we were advised by the locals not to go outside after dark as wild animals roam around the town to hunt. We listened to the advice and decided to patiently wait for the morning.

The next morning, I was greeted by warm sunlight streaming through the curtains and a beautiful snowfall. I jumped out of bed and ran to the giant glass window directly opposite. To enjoy the snow properly, we quickly finished our preparations and went outside. Everything around us was blanketed in white, as the snow covered the tiny town. After having breakfast, we went skiing. Skiing for the first time was an exhilarating experience. The area has local guides who are available to teach the basics of skiing for a small fee but if you know how to ski, people around the country come to Gulmarg to ski with their friends and family. In addition to skiing, we had snowball fights with my cousins, built a snowman, and drank kahwa. Later, we headed to the lodge to start packing for our departure to Srinagar’s airport.

As our flight was in the evening, after reaching Srinagar, we planned to go to their famous market called Lal Chowk, where we bought luxurious Pashmina shawls as souvenirs. If you love shopping and want to experience the rich heritage of Kashmir through their craft, be it their shawls, handcrafted furniture from walnut trees, exquisite range of dry fruits, or best quality saffron, Lal Chowk is the place!

After all the shopping and exploring, we headed towards the airport where the plane was ready to take us back to our daily lives. Our trip to Kashmir was for a very short time, but the experiences were life-changing. We got to experience the soft green beds of the valleys of Srinagar, the rough paths of the mountains of Pahalgam, a pristine winter wonderland, where every surface glistens like a canvas painted in pure white of Gulmarg and a soul-cleansing experience, reconnecting us with the pure, unspoiled beauty of nature, something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

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