By: ADITTI AHLUWALIA
It’s a wonderful World. Amidst the toings and froings of the Covid chaos, one good thing that has emerged is the luxury of time. Most days have gone by, reflecting the previous and a rough blueprint of the one to come. There is so much more of it to soak up the season, halt mid step, savour the air, smell the roses and experience the sound of silence. Never before has a day been filled with this many head to head or heart to heart conversations as now. All this madness notwithstanding, what does put my mind at ease is the lovely sights around me. Nature is thriving, with/without pandemic.
There is hope in seeing sluggish buds burgeon from quiescence, sprawling out for attention. And when the trees, having survived the odds, hand over its blaze of glory to the next, I know that the tomorrows are sure to be. It’s a knotty issue. I feel so in sync with the gloomy gaiety of the seasons this time. The World has had to make a lot of adjustments but what remained majorly unchanged is Nature and its patterns.
To me, this is life asserting enough. Finally it’s spring again, a time when the luxuriant greens resurface, signalling the onset of the blossom season. A time of renewal, and I seek one too. So I push my reservations aside, surrender to the itch, pack a bag and head to what Nature surely has curated for awe. I know that there’ll be more stories for me to share and plenty to keep my heart pounding.
First Stop : Each season in Kashmir has much to offer so I’m happy to believe that there’s no off season ever. A flawless mix of a skyline of breathtaking mountain ranges, picture perfect gardens, magnificent lakes, the heartwarming hospitality, an unmatched cuisine and tailored experiences to suit every mood and pocket, it has it all. I arrive in Srinagar on a chilly, damp afternoon. There’s unexpected nip in the air. A shimmery sunrise jump starts my days ahead.
The early mornings are spent traipsing across the lakefront Boulevard, imbibing sights, smells and vibes of my new found love. Neat rows of unoccupied houseboats is a recurring constant while the spunky shikara walas are unrelenting in their pursuit of a willing customer. I sign up for a ride to the lake’s picturesque treasures in the backwaters of the Dal.
Looming backdrop is the Zabarwan range, it’s silvery forest cover shimmering in the distance. How can the eyes tire of such majestic splendour. Shikara glides towards the rustic water borne hutments, past the thick, clearly overlooked foliage, adding to the intense experience. Rare glimpses of a red nose, peeking out of her doorway, making eye contact, long enough for me to extend a thank you smile in return for a rather boisterous wave of her little hands, is a memory frozen in me for posterity. It’s also about the people here who’ll invite you to stay back just a little while longer. It’s an unmissable vibe.
Second Stop: Spring in Kashmir is also weeks of intense colours, painting a striking scenery and spewing magic in the air. This is when the spring blooms come alive, making the rest of the World fade out. Looming large, right in the heart of Srinagar, is the 80 acre Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden. Here’s how it will sweep you off your feet. The main draw is the Tulips bursting with delight in every colour but then there are other floral fancies like Irises, Roses, Daffodils carpeting the grass gracefully.
A vast terraced expanse, with layers of the fragile, evanescent beauties in variegated colours, swaying oh so delicately, is a charismatic sight. One will never tire of visiting these stunning vistas. You don’t need to be very rich to enjoy the good life. I am glad I chose to change my pace and slowed a bit to appreciate what’s worthy of my attention It wouldn’t be unfair to announce that I often dream of extending my stay and indefinitely at that. Few things can compare to the enriching experience of being in the lap of Nature in its full glory.
I have had the privilege of visiting Kashmir to witness this wondrous moment few times over and gained in the process, several fixed deposits of precious memories. A place so uniquely influenced by its past, all the while retaining its raw unadulterated charm, Kashmir stands tall and proud. I will surely urge you to experience it once atleast.
Third Stop: End March/early April is also the time to pay a visit to the sprawling Badamwari gardens in Shahr E Khaas, one of the top spots to observe Almond blossoms. If you happen to be the soft, poetic kinds, the lush gardens will bring out the best in you. Rows of brown trees, an arthritic mix up of branches, buds, blooms, proudly displaying its floral crown, a vision so delicate that could only be the work of nature. I spot winding byroads, littered with faintest of pinks and milkiest of whites.
A profound pastel plethora describing nature’s bounty, a portrait of charm and sophistication, that’s what it is to me. The tiny petals thinly blanket the ground, white ones looking just like snow, as if right out of a story book. The rains and breeze do well to ensure that there’s no keeping the blossoms on the tree. It’s picture perfect and an intrinsic part of the experience. Stuff that songs, poetry and legends are made of, guaranteeing that you would never look at Almond blossoms the same way again.
The Almond scented air is a comforting reminder that Nature is still doing it’s thing and my World is still a beautiful place. Scores of lit faces of the picnickers welcome the warmer days. The orchards are one of the many jewels in the crown of Kashmir regaling visitors with spectacular sights year after year. What’s not to love here and the fresh hopes it brings. Perhaps Spring really is the cure for all our ills.
Fourth Stop : It’ll be an understatement when I say that Kashmir and Kashmiris are all heart. It is also a sentiment I can identify with. Amongst the local communities that have preserved the culture and traditions over the years, a name that stands out is Mascot Houseboats, a fairy tale fantasy that has come to light. It is clearly an extension of the favourite Kashmiri tradition of warm, sincere hospitality delivered by those who really care. Picture this. The rising/setting Sun. A mountainous backdrop. And these four glistening jewels in the Nigeen shoreline. The ultra luxurious houseboats, designed for next level comfort and privacy, come at a price but with no compromise on quality.
Yaseen Tuman, the proud mascot of the Mascot cherishes his roots. He has successfully captured elevated levels of understated elegance in this serenity seekers paradise. Waking up to the panoramic views of the Nigeen and indulging in delightful meals, lounging on the extensive deck, is just a few of the perks of being their guest. An array of locally sourced art/antiques adequately add to the charm of what’s stunning to begin with. Mascot and its people know how to make their guests happy. A pound cake sourced from the local Moonlight bakery, rounds of saffron rich Kehwa and a steaming bukhari for the warmth, as Yasin regales us with passionate narratives of his Kashmir and Kashmiriyat, it’s easy to see that indulgence is not negotiable here.
India is a gold mine of rare experiences where there is something for everyone but Kashmir has been my top holiday draw. It’s an offering that will go beyond your wanderlust. So make your next trip spectacular and go here before you go anywhere.
(The writer is a food and travel columnist)