What comes to your mind when someone asks you if you would like to take a trip to Kashmir? Do you think twice before considering the option? Do you suggest another destination? Well, you shouldn’t. I recently did a trip with Thomas Cook which made me realise how scared most of us are about taking a trip to Jammu Kashmir and what a loss of a great opportunity that is! Kashmir is a place that thrives on its tourism and they rely heavily on people like us, visiting to witness the beautiful views and scenery the place offers. The place has a lot to give and the best part of the landscapes or the scenery is the simplicity of it all. Kashmir is breath-taking.
One thing about the place is the simplicity with which Kashmir captures beauty and nature in the most natural way. You could click a picture from any angle and it would look good. We also met the director of Kashmir tourism who was a huge help in terms of educating us about the history of the place, the infrastructure and how he is himself taking a huge initiative towards developing the same. The localities were wonderful, people helped us in every possible way to make us feel comfortable, safe and get the best possible experience that the place has to offer. I had so much fun doing this trip and I feel grateful to Thomas Cook for coming up with such a great plan and executing it so well. I would have never thought of picking Kashmir as my travel destination and yet when I came back, I came with great memories and would definitely not mind doing it all over again!
The first day we reached Srinagar around 11am and checked into Grand Mumtaz hotel. The thing about Thomas Cook is that Kashmir is very close to their hearts and that makes the trip more enjoyable. The relations that they have built and the locals they are familiar with, help the tourists in being comfortable and welcome. Due to the violence and climate change which affected its tourism the percentage of tourists declined; but the whole point is to find people who you can rely on while planning such a trip and then to go ahead and make it happen. Thomas Cook is well connected with locals and most people around Kashmir and that personally made me feel very safe and secure while on this tour. We started off with the famous ‘Kawha’ and their delicious butter cookies. This tea is made by boiling green tea leaves with saffron or cinnamon strands and the butter cookies go very well with it. After this we went to our rooms, freshened up and layered up because it had started to get cold. We decided to do a lunch at the hotel and post lunch headed to the ‘Hazratbal Shrine’. It was peaceful and calm. The stark white insides and the dome was a view that is hard to forget. I was overwhelmed and amazed at the beauty of it all. We also visited ‘Shalimar Bagh’ and the ‘Tulip Gardens’. The Tulip Garden is said to bloom in the first week of April and I was imagining how this massive garden will look when the tulips bloom and the snow melts. The view, wherever you go, stretches to infinity and the mountains and snow-capped peaks took my breath away. I don’t know how express the beauty and the view that one sees, wherever you look. We also visited ‘Chashme Shahi’ which is a Mughal garden with Iranian influence in its architecture and design. The water is believed to have medicinal properties and flows from the peak. It was a wonderful day and we headed back to a restaurant right next to Chashme Shai, for some bhajiya and tea. Because of the weather, I felt I could constantly have tea and coffee without getting tired of it. The thought of having hot tea, even when I am not a tea person, is exciting because it’s so cold, that a warm drink is welcome at any time. We checked out a cool shop across the street which sold jackets and winter wear. This done, we decided to walk across Dal Lake, which is the USP of this place. The shoreline is lined with houseboats and colourful shikaras. We took a half hour walk across the lake, watched the sunset and I have to say that it was just surreal. I couldn’t get over the fact that the place was this beautiful! And that this was in my own country! I was just grateful and thankful to be there and very happy to get the opportunity. One more thing, just like the hot drinks which you will enjoy in Kashmir, is the street food. We ate seekh kebabs and street food that was tasty and super yummy. And it was hot! It had been a long day of touring around Srinagar and after walking around a bit, we decided to head back to the hotel by the van. I had dinner and because this place is very simple, with a very basic lifestyle and simple living, everyone packs up post dinner and most people sleep early. I slept by 10 pm since the next day was also hectic.
DAY 1: Srinagar
Wearing: Jacket - Lulu and Sky, Sweat shirt - Comme Des Garcons, Tracks - Flirtatious, Shoes - Adidas Originals
Wearing: Top - River Island, Coat - Lulu and Sky, Bottoms - H&M, Shoes - Koovs
The next day the team had told us to wear more clothes and layer up because it becomes colder and can be chilling. It’s always better to be covered up than feeling cold. We had breakfast in the hotel before heading out to admire the beauty of Gulmarg. The view from the top was just too much to handle. We enjoyed hot tea with that scenic view and my day was made! I was also loving the architecture of the place with its sloping roofs, the wooden and the raw brick houses, subtle coloured walls on the super cute town, the detailing in every aspect. It was mesmerising. I was fascinated with the way they had built all this. Since it had now started snowing, we had to head to a shop that rented out jackets and gum boots. I was super excited about the gondola ride and after choosing my own jacket and boots, I got ready to enter the two phases where the ride happens. There were people skiing and the snow was fine and melting away because of the temperature not being too cold. It was a perfect time to visit. The gondola ride is a must try for everyone who visits Gulmarg. When I reached phase two, walking ahead I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe but then I got used to it. I also ate something sweet and felt better but the experience was a unique one, something that we can explore in any other part of India. It takes a while to get used to the temperature, but when you do, it’s totally worth it. I realised how people in this place were content in their life, simple things made them happy. We end up cribbing so much in our life and complaining about how things aren’t perfect and we fail to enjoy the simple things. I started feeling grateful for being on top of the mountains, in the middle of nowhere and with peaks and snow all around me. It was like being in a dream world. Like someone had made this whole land for me and left me in the middle of it to enjoy its beauty. There was no internet and that really helps sometimes because you get to spend more time with yourself and disconnect from the world. The hotel Rosewood where we went for lunch was covered in snow; there was snow dripping from the roof and there were pine trees across the hotel. These trees are also pretty unique to this place and you won’t spot them in other parts. The hotel was also a huge part of my trip’s experience. It had glass walls at the dining area and we had our lunch there after the whole ride. Because of walking so much, I was really hungry and since there was Indian food for lunch I was super happy. It was a great place to have food and we sat looking at the monkeys on the trees, while filling our stomachs. After this we headed back to Srinagar and since Thomas Cook loves to show their tourists the essence of the place, the heritage and culture and also the way the locals live, the one thing we couldn’t miss out on was living on the famous house boats! The house boats form a huge part of Kashmir’s culture and living on the boats is a dream like adventure. We did a shikara ride to go across and met ‘Mahmood’, the director of tourism. He told us a lot about the people of Kashmir and the way he is trying his best to develop the infrastructure. I loved his personality and the simple down to earth way of talking and being. He was also very interested in knowing how we work as influencers and the kind of work we do and what we aim for. We met him at this cool coffee shop called ‘Gulshan book library Café’ which had vintage stuff stored. It was a dreamy place to be at. But nothing could be dreamier and magical than the houseboat. I had never imagined the house boat to be this huge and was surprised to know that the boat had 4 to 5 rooms inside it, with a full living size area and an outdoor dining! Fascinating right? Living on top of a lake and eating the local food. I just didn’t want to come back! We had a typical dinner at a Kashmiri household where you wash hands before you eat food, sit down and also have tea before you eat. The food was simply delicious and considering how heavy it was, I was full before I knew it! The whole experience of interacting with the family is something Thomas Cook incorporates in your travel plan and it’s a wonderful way to get to know the locals and the way they lead their life and the culture of Kashmir. I am thankful to Thomas Cook for making sure we were comfortable and for getting us to experience the most from this trip. After the day was done I headed back to my room on the house boat and found the best surprise waiting for me! A hot water bag! That was truly a great and thoughtful surprise as the cold really gets to you and anything hot or warm becomes your best friend at such times! The house boat was peaceful and relaxing. It led to lots of thinking and self-realisation.
DAY 2: Gulmarg + House Boats