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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nageen Lake (Srinagar - Kashmir)

On our return from Gulmarg, we were lodged in a House Boat with all amenities. The location was away from the madding crowd at a serene Nageen (Nagin) lake. The house boat itself was named “Peace of Mind”. It was not very difficult to get a House Boat in the Dal Lake which is the general choice. Then it seemed that the Dal Lake is too much crowded and  you are saddled with the problem of so many vendors calling on you in their boats. After settling down, we enjoyed some late evening views of the lake and then went for our dinner. Dinner was arranged in another floating restaurant nearby. In fact Nageen lake is also a part of the famous Dal Lake separated by a bund.

Our house boat was anchored (should rather say grounded) on the Eastern Bank of the lake. Early morning we could only see, the Sun rays falling on the lake waters and beyond and a beautiful view of the Hill opposite (Hari Parbat) over which a fort stood. Some people in boats were busy fishing deep inside as also closer to its banks. In between Stray flower vendors did visit us in their boats. After enjoying the views from the boat, we were at the table in the dining area  for our breakfast. After the breakfast we were on Shikaras (boats with a canopy) for a two hour trip. Ours oarsman was one Mr. Shafi and amidst his renderings of ethnic songs. we sailed through the still waters.

While we were still enjoying the traditional songs sung by Mr. Shafi, another boat with merchandise drew closer to us. He wanted to show us various items made of Papier-mâché for which Kashmir is well known. We had seen them earlier at various curio shops at Srinagar and elsewhere. We also had an idea of the prices of certain items. Our ladies had a dig and also obliged him by purchasing few pieces about which they were comfortable. It is customary for the Kashmiri traders to quote more than 100% of the real price and they know for certain that the gullible tourist may not seek a reduction of over 50%. Therefore logically the fair price should be around 40% of what he has quoted. When the other boat was away Mr. Shafi consoled the men folk stating that, had we been in the Dal Lake, we could not have had time to move around as we will be confronting some one or the other all the time.

When we were at peace, we prompted Mr. Shafi to speak about himself. He told us about his stint with an Orchestra group for about 5 years. Then he bought a Shikara and started earning by becoming a part of the hospitality business. He is also a part of an International organisation engaged in providing rafting experience in the rapids of rivers like Lidder, Jhelam etc. He knows several languages because of his interactions with people coming from different lands. However he could not cultivate any writing skills as he had no schooling. Nevertheless he is ensuring proper education to his own children. Kashmir has a high literacy percentage and the women folk are also not far behind. He told us that his family stays on the other side of this lake on a small island kind formation very close to the main land. The area is known as Khayarbal and is very close to the old city but lacks a proper approach. The villagers have constructed two bridges making use of the local timber which has become old now. The Government does not do anything as the habitation there is considered to be unauthorised. It was quite interesting listening to his story which prompted us to ask him if it would be convenient for him to take us on a visit to his place. It seems he was very happy to do that and enthusiastically said it would be his pleasure. Now we were sailing to the far end on the other side of the lake.

From a distance itself it appeared as if we were moving to yet another paradise. We passed through an area where water lilies were being cultivated. There were very many floating islands for vegetable cultivation. Although they looked like any other aquatic vegetation/growth, we learnt that a  wide platform is built with reeds with an overlay of soil mixed with organic manure to form a bed. This remains floating. This is the backyard farm of the settlement there. These explanations came a little later and by that time the   floating vegetable gardens were beyond the range of our ordinary cameras.

Soon our Shikara slowly stopped by a wooden platform enabling to disembark and proceed towards the village. Some of the houses there appeared to be partly on the land and partly fixed up over wooden pillars drawn into the waters of the lake. It was some thing very beautiful to look at. Mr. Shafi’s house was less than 100 metres away. The area surrounding his house was pretty neat and clean. We could meet Mr. Shafi’s mother, sister and his daughter-in-law in the court yard of his house. Once we were introduced, we were warmly invited and led into a hall on the first floor. A wooden staircase goes up. The floor was fully carpeted in the traditional manner and a lone sofa was lying at a corner. Therefore all of us made ourselves comfortable sitting on the floor, the side wall supporting our backs.

Soon we were once again interacting with Mr. Shafi. We wanted to know as to what use the big hall serves and he told us that during marriages people sleep here. Conversation got shifted to the militancy and hostilities in the valley. We learn that the Kshmiris hate the Indian Army as they visit house holds at odd hours and harass people. They pick up any one during nights suspecting them to be terrorists. Many innocent people suffer on this account. This resulted in mass resentment and many youths preferred to cross over the border (to Pakistan), get trained and come back with arms for retaliation. But then this backfired. The armed youth started harassing their own people. They started lootings at gun point by identifying the well to do. The guns made them to go mad. While they were able to elicit initial sympathy from the general public, their own high handed actions made them unpopular and became unacceptable in the society.

While we were conversing, Mr. Shafi’s daughter named Hadeesa brought us some snacks with tea, which she served personally to each one of us. She was studying in a nearby school in the Xth standard. Soon thereafter, Mr. Shafi’s wife came along with two girls. One was again their own daughter while the 2nd one named Reshma (2nd on the photograph) was from Laddakh studying at Dalhousie who was on a visit. All of them obligingly  lined up for a photograph. We got invited by  Reshma to Laddakh who offered a home stay arrangement at their house.

After remaining there with that family for some time, we sailed back to our house boat thanking them and bidding good bye. The entire family came to see us off at the small wooden jetty. We profusely thanked Mr. Bashir for the hospitality extended by him. In turn he wanted us to stay with him on our next visit to Kashmir.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Nature has its own crayons

This morning I was checking my blog to find out as to how my previous post is faring in terms of “comments” received. There were no new additions to make me feel happy about. However, an uncharitable invite was peeping out to join the bandwagon of competitors for  Capture the color contest. Though it was not something unfathomable to identify photographs with the 5 colours but it was the thought of roping in 5 more gullible bloggers that was agonising. I also strongly feel the way Nisha has indicated while writing on the subject.
Its has now become incumbent on my part to make a quick search and produce whatever I have. I shall, however, desist from explaining the attributes, significance or otherwise of the various colors as they have been dealt with at length by many of my fellow bloggers so far.


Recently when I was on a visit to a wholesale fruit market in Chennai, I came across some red fruits looking like plums. On my enquiry, the vendor told me something in the vernacular which could not be registered in my brain.


On the 3rd of this month I received a telephone call from Coimbatore asking me to come out of my apartment at Chennai and to look at the sky to witness a beautiful view of the Sun having a disk around it. I went up and looked at the sky from the terrace of the building. It was all black clouds preventing the Sun to show off. This phenomenon was reported by our friend R. Ramakrishnan the same day in his post titled Disc around the Sun. While still on the terrace I looked around and noticed the Neem trees below full of fresh foliage.


White too has many shades. While at a garden in Srinagar, this flower known as Magnolia Grandiflora with its thick petals seemed something exotic.


Blue skies and blue waters have always been soothing to ones eyes. The Ekambareswara Temple tower (Gopuram) at Kancheepuram has a beautiful sky as its backdrop. I am yet to write about the splendid architecture of this temple complex.


The Papaya fruits on sale at Chennai fruit market. They have great medicinal properties apart from being tasty. “Pepsin” is derived from raw Papayas used in many stomach ailments.

Now the most undesirable and uncharitable part of this post is to rope in 5 more blogger friends to carry the contest forward. With due apologies I list them hereunder:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Moving to Pahalgam – Sayonara Srinagar

10th June 2012:

It was an unique experience to be able to meet the family of our Shikara operator at their residence and be able to have a glimpse of the traditional houses in the secluded quarters. We were bidding good bye to  Srinagar and were proceeding to Pahalgam where we intend to stay for two days. Our vehicles were being loaded with our luggage. Looking back, we had regrets for not having been able to visit many other places of interest and importance in or around Srinagar. The Shankaracharya Temple (Takht-e-Sulaiman), Tulip Gardens, Shalimar Gardens (Our group is to be blamed), Pari Mahal, A boat cruise in Jhelum cutting through Srinagar, The fort on the top of Hari Parbat and shrines of Sharika Bhagawathi, Hamza Makhdoom and the Gurudwara (Chatti Padshahi) are some of them. They called for a further stay of 2/3 days to explore.

Front View
Backside View
Very old picture
Pahalgam is also a much sought after tourist destinations in Kashmir which is 94 kilometres South East from Srinagar. While making a move, we requested our driver to make a brief halt  in front of the arched gate at the foot of Hari Parbat. The locality is known as Rainwari and the massive gate itself is called  Kathi Darwaza. The vehicle stopped as requested and without wasting time I jumped out and went inside to have an appreciation of the inhabited area there. Once the Moghul emperor Akbar wanted to etablish a township in the fort precincts to be known as Nagar Nagor and a wall running round the hill was constructed.  I was looking for some kind of centuries old ghettoes but the houses/buildings seemed to be of recent origin. The present settlement inside is supposed to be unauthorised but then they are not devoid of civic facilities.

I had to remain contended with whatever I could see, although there was a road which probably leads to the top of the hill fort.  Getting inside would have entailed delays because of other inviting monuments in its precincts. After traversing through the narrow lanes we entered the highway within the city. There were many shops displaying colourful bowls and household utilities made of a kind of local reed. Farther ahead  were shops selling carved stoneware. Shortly we were out of the city limits and were proceeding to our destination at optimum speed. We had also requested for a stopover at Avantipur, 30 kilometres ahead. I was on the look out and while passing through a small town, a ruined structure to our left made its appearance and immediately I asked for the vehicle to stop. The vehicle was already slowed down and the driver responded that he remembered it. Yes this was the Avantipur I had in mind. The ruins still majestic in appearance stood there. It was a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu built by a king known as Avantivarman during the 9th century CE which was destroyed by the non-believers as a part of their crusades in the 14th century CE. This deserves a separate post.

Avantipur Ruins
En route we came across several traditional houses in a state of disrepair and looked as if they have been abandoned. Some one amongst us also screamed “look at those houses, there is no life”. As a matter of fact I was so much engrossed looking at the beauty all around, I did not pay much attention. I remained oblivious of the fact that these were the houses of the original inhabitants of Kashmir, known as Kashmiri Pandits. Infiltrations and militancy in the valley made them to move out en-mass in 1990 leaving behind all their possessions. For a moment I was sad but then thought of diverting my attention. I requested the driver if he could take us through the country side so that we can have a feel of the rural life. Soon we came at a point where there was a diversion towards the right with a small hoarding which read “Apple Valley”. The driver was kind enough to heed to our request and leaving the highway drove through the narrow road. We came across a shepherds driving their flock of sheep for grazing. Our driver clarified that the name Pahalgam has been derived from these shepherds. Pahalgam means a Valley of Shepherds.

There were plantations of Walnut trees followed by Apple and Cherries. The fruits were either not visible or were too tender and small. Cultivation of Apples for which Kashmir was famous is now dwindling. The farmers have switched over to Cherries and Kiwis (native fruit of New Zeraland). The later largely gets exported to various countries. Then there were paddy fields as far as we could see. Women folk was engaged in transplanting operations in the water filled slushy fields. This sight was similar to what we could see elsewhere in India except that women here were well clad. There was a small village in between where they had good houses and some remnants of the past also existed. They were the wooden two storied houses since abandoned. There were similar structures where the lower portion had the shop and the upper portion was used as a dwelling. It seemed that the rural population is also fairly affluent. There were no traces of any poverty as could be encountered elsewhere in India.

After passing through few more villages, we were once again on the highway leading to Pahalgam. The Liddar river (originally Lambodari) on the way mesmerized us and we stopped on its banks to have a photo session with the beautiful views behind. This river is full of rapids and had we stayed there for some more time we could have had a rafting experience.

Finally we arrived at the main bazaar area of Pahalgam and had a late lunch at the Nathu’s Rasoi, one of the best in the town. 

Thereafter walked through the streets window shopping. We were booked at Hotel Baisaran but due to some communication gap, we could not be accommodated there. After several telephonic calls to the Hotel Centre Point at Srinagar (they were the people who arranged the package) we were led to a nondescript (but good) hotel some where up in the hill. Probably the village was Ladipura. However the surroundings were scenic. We checked in for a night there, only to move out next day early in the morning to a central location.

Father and Son

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gulmarg (Kashmir)

Literally the term Gulmarg refers to a place with abundance of flowers. Situated at a distance of 56 kilometres South West of Srinagar, Gulmarg attracts the largest number of tourists among all hill resorts in Kashmir. It has one of the longest and highest (12000 feet) ski slopes in Asia. This apart, the World’s highest (8700 feet) Golf Course is also located here.  Many of the foreigners who come here are  skiing enthusiasts, though there were very few of them when we visited. We were told that they arrive in large numbers during winter when the competitions are organized. Gulmarg was known as Gourimarg centuries back but in the 16th century Sultan Yusuf Chak excitedly called it as Gulmarg and the name lives on. This place was a favourite with the Emperor Jehangir of the Mughal Dynasty. He used to come here frequently and seems to have attempted to make out an inventory of various species of flowers growing here.

We were camping at Srinagar. By the time we were ready to proceed to Gulmarg it was nearly 10.00 AM. The hangover of our visit to Sonmarg a day earlier made us to sleep a little longer. The extra sleep energised us and we were geared to enjoy Gulmarg to the fullest extent.  We commenced our journey without wasting further time. Our driver had foretold the desirability of reaching Gulmarg as early as possible.  He was also in touch with the Guide who was waiting for our arrival. The road was quite wide and straight except a diversion. Soon we were at a township known as Tangmarg and it took only 40 minutes to cover the distance of 40 kilometres. From here we had to climb a mountain on a narrow winding road. But before that we were required to equip ourselves with heavy winter clothing,  e.g. gum boots, hand gloves, fur caps etc. We also procured long rain coats as well, keeping in mind the previous day’s experience at Sonmarg. All these gears were available on hire at that point. As said earlier, the road up the hill was narrow. We were told that during winter tourists can come up to this point only and thereafter they need to board special vehicles which are equipped with chains on their wheels. This facilitates navigation through the snow covered path.

We continued our journey on the mountain road with Pine trees all around. This stretch needs about 30 minutes drive to cover around 15/16 kilometres. Finally we arrive at a point with a gate to the left and disembark from our vehicles as tourist vehicles are not allowed to enter. Nevertheless  there was a road leading inside with meadows to the right as far as the eyes could see. To reach the snow covered mountain ranges, we had three options. We could go on horse back up to the foot of the snow clad mountains or reach the base station for the Gondola (Ropeway) service.  Horses/Ponies were available to our right but we decided to walk the distance and followed many others who were on their foot. Although we could have covered some 2 kilometres, it was a pleasant walk passing through the beautiful tourist villas/cottages to our left. Very soon we were at the Gondola Station which had a very long queue in front of the ticket counter. Fortunately our Guide was with us who volunteered to fetch our tickets for the Gondola ride. We escaped from locating the tail end of the queue and standing there for our turn. Perhaps the guide had only such jobs to perform and was fully experienced. Incidentally Kashmir is also plagued  with corruption at every level.

The cost of the ticket was Rs.300.00 per person including children above 3 years and that too up to the 1st stage at Khilanmarg (Kungdoori). On getting the tickets we proceeded to board the Gondolas. After a little wait we moved in. The Gondola has a seating capacity for 6 and is fully covered. One can, however, get the beautiful views through the transparent panels (wind screen). Use of cameras got restricted as the wind screen was not clear enough to obtain sharper images. During our upward journey we came across small huts with flat roofs beneath. Some kind of vegetation was visible over the roof tops, a rustic kind of roof garden for growing seasonal vegetables. It did not take much time to reach the first stop at Khilanmarg where we were required to get down. Once again we needed to buy tickets for our onward journey to the 2nd and final  stage at Apharwat costing Rs.500.00 per head. Now we were very close to the snow covered hill slopes of another mountain. The ticket counter here was also over crowded but we were not much concerned as we had with us an experienced guide!.

We observed that the the issuance of tickets was being interrupted followed by announcements about the bad weather conditions uphill. It was resumed within 20 minutes or so and then again a similar announcement followed. We, leaving our guide back, engaged ourselves in exploring the area. We learnt that another rope way from here, a Chair Lift,  which was not operational at that time, goes up to the snow covered mountain slopes ahead where skiing competitions are held during winter. Snow Rugby matches are also organised occasionally. The skiing slopes known as Marry Shoulder is supposed to be one of the best in the world. They charge Rs.200.00 per head but children below the age of 10 are not permitted to board the Chair Lifts which have a capacity for four. 

After about an hour and half, we had our tickets and could board another Gondola to take us to Apharwat. The onward journey commenced. After some time we found ourselves amidst clouds and it started raining. The gondola stopped in the mid air and after remaining suspended for some time we were on the go. Finally we entered the Gondola station where we readied ourselves to get down but the doors refused to open. Lo! we were returning. We could perceive that the weather conditions were not conducive thereat. Finally, after being airborne for over 40 minutes, we were back at Khilanmarg. Another ride on the Gondola brought us to the base from where we walked back to the main road. We reached our vehicles and headed to Srinagar.

Though we regretted for not having been able to disembark at the top of the mountain, at least I was a bit relaxed for I could have had problems in breathing at that height of over 13500 feet. Nevertheless all of us were happy for at least having had an opportunity of riding the most elevated ropeway in the world. Gulmarg is an all-weather resort with refreshing summer meadows and pastoral scenes. Its legendary beauty, adventure opportunities, prime location and proximity to Srinagar naturally makes it one of the premier hill resorts in the country. The beauty all around is heavenly.

Note: Online booking facility (E-Tickets) for Gondola tickets for both the stages is available at: