Truly Nature has been biased towards Kashmir. From the apple orchards and tulip gardens in summer to the vast expanses of untouched snow slopes, no matter which time of the year you go it is always beautiful. I wanted to remember Kashmir like that, running away from the realities of the war torn state it had become.
I was going to Kashmir after 25 yrs, and after the vagaries of terrorism, I was skeptical but my hubby convinced me that it was all ok. I argued about the safety and security of it all but we had with us the IG of Operations Kashmir, Nalin Prabhat, “Äpne ghar mein jaane mein kya dar. Kashmir is a part of India & India is our home isn’t it.” He said with the fervor, swagger n charisma of Bruce Willis … and somehow I trusted him. Hubby had planned it all, an exquisite hotel, painstakingly made having the ultimate luxuries in the valley of Gulmarg. “The Khyber Resort and Spa” was picture perfect. Wooden interiors that enthused a cosy warmth, a balcony for each room to enjoy the view, the L’occitane’Spa that can boast of the finest treatments, the heated swimming pool that you can enjoy whilst surrounded with 3feet snow. A quick flight direct to Srinagar and then a 2hr drive to Gulmarg and we were in the heart of Paradise. THE KHYBER, one look at it and I was floored. The service was impeccable and staff were extremely courteous. Sipping piping hot kahwa(Kashmiri chai), against the venetian windows that encased the spectacular snowclad mountain, dotted with fir trees, I waited, as our rooms were allotted to us. Not that I was in a hurry at all, with the silken twirl of honey, the fragrance of saffron, the delicate shavings of almonds that weaved their way in the golden kahwa…I could almost taste the paradise. My friends couldn’t stop Ooohhing and Aahhhing as the bout of selfies started against the beautiful backdrop.
I was always a little wary of winters, getting a frostbite or staying indoors to avoid it wasn’t really my idea of a holiday but Gulmarg opened up the possibilities of fun. We had gotten the perfect weather. The effort to enwrap yourself with all that cumbersome clothing wasn’t needed at all. Besides, the snow-covered golfcourse that Khyber overlooked was perfect for all the sports that we could engage in. I learnt to ski from the ever zealous instructors there, after a number of free falls that were fortunately cushioned by the cottony snow. We even went on sledge rides and had crazy fun screaming our lungs out while snow boarding and snow bobbing on inflatable tyres. Within 5 mins of the Hotel was of the most fascinating skilifts that took you to an expanse beyond imagination….the Kongdoori mountain. At 13780 ft it stands as the 7th best ski slope of the world.
With our amateurish skills we couldn’t even dare attempt the slopes there. All we did was engage in some snow fights and sliding down the snow as they did in all the old Bollywood films. Midway through the ski lifts at the first base there are snowmobiles that you can hire to ride out with the same panache as James Bond. With the BSF General Vijay Paul”s hospitality we had the opportunity to ride on “Ranvijay”, a huge tanker like snowmobile that is used to access the highest peaks and ofcourse used in case of emergencies such as landslides. What a beast it was, climbing the steepest slope at almost 75degree angle it was an experience of a lifetime as we scaled the slopes of untouched snow.
We were pleasantly surprised as we returned to find a picnic arranged for us by the BSF personnel. Umbrellas set up to shade us from the dazzle of the sun against the snow, we sat sipping hot Kahwa, with piping hot pakodis in the middle of the snowclad plateau. I was so glad that I hadn’t lost out on this wonderous vacation. “Haan, Jannat yahi hein, yahi hein.”
As we returned to the warmth of Khyber we realized that all the adrenaline rush had got us exhausted. It was time to rejuvenate ourselves at the Spa. The therapists were well trained and had me intoxicated into a glorious sleep in no time. By the time the massage was over, I got up ravenously hungry. The chef had specially prepared for us, the most delicious Yakhni (a gravy dish of curd turmeric n chilli powder which can be both vegetarian and non veg), Gogji Nadir(lotus stem) and Kashmiri Rajma. We soon were licking our fingers clean. It was indeed a meal we shall remember, with the new aromas and flavors that we discovered that day.
The next day we visited the CRPF camp, heard their stories as they allowed us to experience handling some of their weaponry. It is indeed a grueling life that they live, facing the nature’s wrath at many a times, battling the terrorists, as they secure our borders. It’s their pride that gives them the strength. “Hum toh khushnuma vaadiyon mein kaam par jaate hein, aap dhue aur cement se guzara karte ho…bataiye who is more lucky.” I saluted Nalin’s spirit and attitude.
As we bid adieu to Gulmarg I knew this was just a beginning as I was definitely coming back for more, b’cause I had left my heart behind in Gulmarg. As we rose up in the air, I could see the snow clad mountains shimmer as the clouds gradually cleared to the morning sun, and I promised myself, “I will be back, after all ghar aane se kya dar, Kashmir toh humare ghar ka hissa hein.”