I was going back after 30 years, to the same place, the same hotel… Hotel Pine & Peak, Pahalgam, Kashmir.
It was a small escape to paradise after a year of lockdown and no travel due to covid19. I was super excited. Landing in Srinagar we did our tests and headed straight to Pahalgam. “No airconditioning!” we told the driver, I wanted to feel the fresh breeze on my face.
As the car steered its way through the lanes of Srinagar, crossing the Dal Lake, I remembered my previous trip. The tall Chinar trees dotting the landscape melted into the background as we left the city. It is indeed a sight for sore eyes, the yellow fields of mustard flowers, interspaced with Kesar fields that hold baby pink flowers. With the backdrop of the Himalayas and crystal blue skies…..yes! it truly is paradise on earth.
Closer to Pahalgam were the apple orchards, in full bloom. Was sight was mesmerizing, and we had to stop to enjoy the fresh apple juice too. It was from the farm into the tummy….simply delicious. Gradually the road winded uphill and there was a nip in the air. The farmlands were left behind and the tall conifers took over. I felt dwarfed as we looked at the majestic ice-capped Himalayas in the backdrop. It was breathtaking.
We reached Pine N peak just before sundown. I warmed to the sight of the wooden structure with a huge expanse of lawns overlooking the River Lidder (which later meanders to meet the Jhelum). They had maintained the style and original construction merely expanded the structure, which was a great relief. It had an old-world charm with the luxury of modernity.
Still retaining the old charm of intricately carved woodwork as the interiors, but upgraded with all the modern amenities, Hotel Pine N Peak had always been our first choice. The first evening itself was a bonfire night which the Manager had specially set up for us, in the lawns outside the hotel. We could hear the gush of the river, as the Chef Tejas Pandya brought us specially prepared items from the tandoor (just a prologue to the mouth-watering Wazwan at night). Amidst the beauty of nature, we felt immense gratitude that this trip had been possible. When we retired into our rooms that night, little did we know that the next morning, the green lawn would be blanketed with a sheet of crystal white snow. What a sight it was to wake up to this!
Carrying our jackets and woollens we went to enjoy piping hot kahwa in the dining area with fresh Kashmiri breads, Bakherkhani and Girdha. The manager, R.K.Pandita was more than helpful providing us with a car, an escort and all the details of places to see and how we should get around.
Unlike Gulmarg, Pahalgam is laid back and much more spread out. Landscaped gardens are a delight for visitors and within easy walking distance. Though the Hotel does have a gym, we burnt all our calories exploring the small town. Well curated gardens, an amusement park, shopping street and a beautiful riverside. But this is all so new. When we come 30 years ago, it was all wilderness and pure nature. But we had all come during the winters when it was actually too cold and with barely a few hours of sunshine …we had barely ventured out.
Within a distance of an hour there are many small valleys such as Aru, Lidder, Apple Valley. Films have exploited these picturesque locations amply in the 70’s. Infact one valley is ingeniously named Betaab Valley after the main location in the film. Unless you have a private car one has to hire a local taxi (though that is pretty steep). Since we had our own car we drove to see them all, lastly heading towards Chandanwadi, which falls enroute to Sheshnag.
As we drove higher into the mountains, the landscape started turning into a blanket of snow. We had to stop to capture these memories on our camera. But nothing can do justice to actually being there.
Chandanwadi is a small village at the base, from where the locals source of income is mainly tourism. So they escort you as guides to either help you trek to Sheshnag or simply enjoy the mountain skiing and sledging. With soft clean snow all around, we couldn’t help but return to childhood, snow-balling each other.
Though the climate did not permit us to accomplish the Sheshnag trek, we did mange to reach its basepoint, from where the melting snow forms the river. In one word it is simply mesmerizing. One simply has to feel the freshness of the crisp air, the beauty of nature and the peace in the atmosphere. However, before we turned back I managed to cajole my hubby to do replicate a romantic Bollywood number with me…. “Jo honeymoon par nahi kiya who us din kar dala”. As we got in the car, it started snowing. Yes, we got snow in April and we stood outside with our jackets and hoodies giggling with delight.
Back in the warmth of the hotel, while the night was still young, hubby and me decided to re-live our honeymoon memories….. ….playing pool. Pine N Peak does provide lots of simple entertainment even indoors; carrom, table tennis, a card room and a library too…obviously for the winter nights if one is forced to spend indoors.
I cannot write enough about how memorable this trip was for us. But I can definitely say it made us promise to go there sooner again.