When we visited Kashmir in March 2018, we knew immediately that it was by far one of our most memorable escapades, and why not, after all we were at the centre of beauty and nourishment. I walked into the small food joint, I had nothing to expect except the reputation that preceded the place. And then I had one of the best meals I have ever had at Krishna Dhabha, Srinagar, Kashmir. One of the most popular and oft-visited vegetarian food joints, Krishna Dhabha gave us a run for our money, our taste buds and the following slumber. This was just the start of one of our best family holidays.
This was at a time when Kashmir was just about recovering from the months of hardened security and the aftermath of local and border related issues. Several families who had planned their holidays in Kashmir were canceling out. But we stayed put and were lucky to visit Krishna Dhabha on the first day itself because the following day, considering the fact that the taste of rajma chawal, kadi-pakodi and kheer were unwilling to leave our senses, we wanted to eat at the same place but found that part of the city shut. Kashmir is the land of mountains, plains, people and food, each of which contribute to the kaleidoscope of experiences. We drove to Gulmarg, the Scotland of India to find a welcoming purdah of snow on the mountain caps. Unfortunately, it did not snow during our visit, but the snow well preserved in the mountains provided for skiing, snow bashing, sledging and some trekking too. Nothing like maggi noodles after a round of physical exertion in the snow, and this was one food item that was available everywhere – may it be the road drives, single secluded dabhas, busy bazaars or the mountains. However, the local food that we tried in Gulmarg was Kashmiri pulao and Yakni. This sumptuous dahi based gravy with lotus stems make for a warm meal on a cold day. Yakni is an extremely popular food, which is available with mutton and chicken as well. A meat eater should definitely try one of these.
Our next halt was Pahalgam. The distinct difference between Gulmarg and Pahalgam was the Jhelum river that slithers its way along with us through the entire drive from the outskirts to the interiors of Pahalgam. It felt almost like a guiding star on a road less traveled. Pahalgam was less of snow, more of rocks, with several scenic delights reminding us of Kashmir ki Kali, Junglee, Mere Mehboob, and many more movies especially those of actor Shammi Kapoor. Kashmir was Shammi’s favorite place in the whole world and he apparently either owned or permanently rented out a place in Pahalgam so that he could get away and find his space. One of the biggest sources of income for people in Kashmir is tourism and in Pahalgam, there were several guides who showed us around scenic spots where movies were shot, especially those as recent as Bajrangi Bhaijaan, something that most of the young people of today could relate to. At Pehalgam, we once again treated ourselves to local Kashmiri pakwan, but this time we included Goshtaba made of pounded meatballs in tomato gravy. One should pick up a couple of local Kashmiri stoles, bags and salwar-kameez material here. Ours turned out pretty good.
Our final destination, almost like the full circle of life, was Srinagar. Our first day was spent in Sonmarg where we drove down and horse backed our way into the thick of the mountains where the snow was welcoming and numbing. We caught a few spots from the movie Satte Pe Satta. Sonmarg is another place, which attracts many tourists because it boasts of snow almost throughout the year. While I returned with a frost bit thumb, I kept thinking of the horse, which made so many such trips in a given day, ferrying people into the snow and back. How did its hooves feel? Day two in Srinagar involved a lot of local sight seeing like the Adi Shankara temple where the popular ‘jai jai shiv shankar’ song was shot with Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz living Shiva’s life with grace. The other places to see in Srinagar included the ruins of the Marthand Sun temple, Chashme Shahi, Nishat Bagh and a glorious boat ride on the Dal lake. It was freezing cold nearing zero degrees celsius, but several vendors continued their journey on the boats selling their wares to the few tourists who had trickled into Kashmir that season.
The day before we left Kashmir, we took a long one-hour evening walk along Dal Lake, all wrapped up in our extra warm clothes, nibbling on a fabulous roadside boti kabab, not to mention that breakfast included Harissa, and lunch included Pulav, Seekh kabab and Reesta. The horizon grew dim as the sun set and our wonderful driver parked the car at a distance waiting for us to finish a walk, which he could not fathom why. At a distance I saw a shikhara, probably returning home after a day of hard work, eagerly awaiting his warm supper, and my heart wrote a short poem as a memory, a thank you to Kashmir – this state of wonder, of weeping willows, of food, of love, and of hope. As @suheem_khanday says on twitter (all credit to him), “Don’t listen to what they say. Go see #Kashmir.”