When you have a holiday itinerary with multiple destinations, there is always this one place that you are dead certain (and mostly you are right) is going to blow your mind and be one of your favourite places on that trip, or maybe of all times.
This time it was Pahalgam, a favourite destination for a perfect holiday and movie-making too. There are no cinema houses in Kashmir but a Kashmiri will proudly point out a lodge where a crucial climax scene from a movie was shot or the ranch where a love story with two newcomers was panned. The ranch from the film has since turned into a crowded park.
We were to spend two nights at Pahalgam in Hotel Pine N Peak, a well-rated hotel. We left Srinagar for Pahalgam after breakfast. Pilgrims from the neighbouring district of Jammu were visiting Kashmir in huge numbers to attend the Kheerbhawani temple festival and they were returning on buses that morning. There were ‘n’ number of such buses on the road and this resulted in some amount of traffic congestion that delayed us slightly.
Enroute to Pahalgam we passed many saffron and paddy fields. Rice is the preferred food grain for the Kashmiris which we found surprising. In India, the staple food grain of South Indians is usually rice and it’s rotis or parathas made from wheat flour for the North-Indians. In fact there were more paddy fields here than one has seen in Kerala in a long time.
Down by the river
We also passed by saffron fields and apple and cherry orchards as well. Due to the limited yield of saffron at any given time, the product is very expensive and is sold in containers of 1 gram onward and is worth its weight in gold.
On the way, we stopped by a shop that sold saffron among dry fruits and many other things. After a saffron tasting session, we picked up a few boxes of this fragrant treasure. Here are some pointers to distinguish genuine saffron from the fake ones – saffron is never sweet to the taste, but bitter and it never melts away completely always leaving behind a residual strand. On the other side of the block, a little shop/bakery was selling some refreshing Kava.
Kava is the Kashmiri green tea spiced liberally with cardamom, cinnamon and saffron. It is served with slivers of almonds and you may sweeten it with sugar or honey. Here we also discovered the delicious coconut cookies with it’s soft centre.
From there on we passed by the Jhelum-Sangam. There were horses roaming around everywhere and the apple orchards spread a sweet fragrance. Arriving at Pahalgam town, we stopped at Dana Pani where we had lunch.
The evening tea at Pine-N-Peak hotel lobby is on the house and after checking in, we downed a few more cups of kava. We’d found a new favourite beverage. We went for a short drive thereafter, stopping by an interesting foot-bridge and probably a popular picnic spot. The view from there was just beautiful with the Lidder river flowing by our feet, the mountains and the amazing greenery all around us. Several birds flit by including brown pigeons, the black bird and another black bird with a yellow/orange tail. Following that we stopped by the local zoo that has just a few but largish enclosures with animals that ranged from black bears to gorals and a leopard that remained hidden until someone spotted it and a crowd gathered around.
Letting sleeping leopards lie…
Our last stop was the Mamleshwar temple. It dates back to 900 years. The small stone structure has a pond that is sourced by the hill springs and within the sancto sanctorum one can find a Shiv Ling and a two-headed Nandi bull.
Our evening was spent in the lawn where a little boy came over to chat with us (and it turned out later that he was from Mumbai too). Dinner was a time to experiment and we all headed to Trout Beat which we’d seen when we were leaving Dana Pani and is situated next to it. There are some good food outlets in the area too .The boys were delighted with the fare at Trout Beat. The trouts are fished out from the local rivers apparently. The service was helpful and snappy. The menu boasts of trout is various avatars including continental. Fortunately for me some good vegetarian food came from a nearby sister outlet.
We were pretty much done for the day. In an all-time first, the Lidder River sang a night long lullaby while we slept.