It was quite a sudden decision to pack our bags
for a short trip to Kashmir Srinagar during the
recent summer vacation. My parents packed some
quick snacks and we were off to Sealdah Station
to catch the Akal Takht Express at 7.40 am.
The train trundled out of the station on time and gathered speed soon. There was no pantry car so we had to ration our snacks. However we got packed lunch and dinner on both days. It was an AC coach so we never felt the heat outside. But when we stepped out, the blistering heat of Amritsar scorched us. It was late evening when we strolled out for dinner. On the way we visited the Ma Durga Mandir built in the style of Vaisno Devi. It was like a jig saw puzzle inside.
The next morning we headed for the famous Golden Temple. It was immaculately clean and serene. Kirtans, holy songs, were heard all over. There was a long queue but the line moved steadily in a much disciplined manner. While we were crossing the waterbody we saw lots of colourful fishes. We spent a couple of hours there and returned to the hotel. We left Amritsar in the burning heat at two in the afternoon for Jammu-Tawi. By the time we checked into the Jammu hotel, it was almost nine in the evening.
On the fourth morning we left Jammu Tawi by car and reached Srinagar around evening. The entire journey was pretty unpleasant because of the dust and heat. Four-lane roads were being built all over. Even Srinagar was hot and sultry but the Dal Lake was a respite. Many colourful shikaras were floating all over. Just before sunset we hired one and rowed all over the lake. We saw the floating garden where all kinds of vegetables and flowers were grown. If you stamp hard on this floating garden it visibly moves. I was quite thrilled.
There was a swimming competition going on. Young college boys were taking part in it. The local salesmen in small boats with various merchandise like jewellery, flowers, dry fruits and clothes rowed alongside our shikara to sell their merchandise. We could not oblige all. A stationary floatilla sold hot tea and snacks. Most interesting were the photographers. They dressed us up in costume clothes complete with appropriate Kashmiri jewellery and a special flower basket for my mother. They took our photographs which were delivered to the hotel later in the evening. It was quite exciting.
The next morning we went up the hill to the Sankaracharya Temple for a bird's eye view of the place. It was a spectacular sight. The stretch of the Dal Lake extended deeper and deeper. It was quite visible that efforts were being made to keep the surroundings clean though there were settlements all along. It looked pretty neat from atop.
The following morning we hired a car and drove off to Pahelgaon. The roads were once again very dusty because of construction work. However, Pahelgaon was nice and cool. We strolled up and down the region for a while, had lunch and headed back to Srinagar. We heard from others that the newly-commissioned train from Srinagar to Banihal was quite interesting. Unfortunately we did not have the time to go for a train ride through the mountainous region. Perhaps next time we will. This was a very short trip.
On the last day, we purchased some Kashmiri shawls and wooden replica of the shikaras. There were plenty of wooden key chains made in the shape of the chinar leaves. Kashmir is known for its massive chinar trees. It was time to re-pack our bags. Our train was at midnight but we left early to avoid taking any chances of missing it. From Srinagar we drove to Jammu Tawi and boarded the Himgiri Express to return home.
I liked Pahelgaon and the shikara ride on the Dal Lake very much. I have to wait till next time for a more comprehensive tour. However I will surely cherish this trip to Kashmir for a long time to come.