Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to get to heaven and what to do there (Part 4)

You spend a good part of the next morning applying suntan lotion, as you discover you've turned a very dark shade of brown overnight. Of course, it would have helped to do this before your trip to the sunny, snow covered hills of Sonamarg, but you go ahead and apply it anyway. Better late than never, as you always say.

You spend the day dutifully visiting the Mughal gardens in Srinagar, as you've been instructed to by friends. You ooh and ah at the first garden, Shalimar, privately thinking that Lalbagh was better. The second, Nishat, does have its charm, though. Tulip, the third garden is surprisingly enough, all about tulips. You find red tulips, yellow tulips, orange, pink and a few other shades you never believed existed. You find that you've covered only a tenth of the park, but by then you have seen enough tulips to last you a lifetime.

You switch location to Gulmarg, a two hour drive from Srinagar. You reach the newly opened luxury hotel right next to the gondola ride. You are told that you just missed Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, who were shooting for Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. You are sure they missed you as well.

You grab another cup of Kehwa, the best one yet, at the hotel foyer while you wait for your bags to be taken to your room. You decide to head for the gondola ride right away, the one that takes you to the top of the world.

It delivers, as promised. You opt to skip Phase 1, where most of the tourists congregate, and go right to Phase 2. This is the highest gondola ride in the world, you are told. It certainly feels that way, when you reach the top. The entire peak is covered in a carpet of white.

You are lost for words as you walk around, there's nothing but snow everywhere. You smile at your wife, you hug your kids, you feel light. You've left your worries with your bags back down at the hotel. You lift up your face and for a few precious minutes, realize what it means to be one with nature. You are truly in heaven.

It can only go downhill from here. Literally. You visit Phase 1 of the peak, have lunch at one of the shops setup there.

You spend the evening and most of the next day at the hotel, unwinding. Your cab to Pahalgam arrives the following morning. It's a five hour drive, dusty and surprisingly sunny.

Pahalgam is a beautiful valley, if you like valleys. You walk around the town, stopping at the Trout Beat restaurant to have some of the most delicious fish ever. You hire a car the next day to visit Aru Valley (meh), Chandangarh (a let down after Sonamarg and Gulmarg), and Betaab valley, where the Amrita Singh-Sunny Deol movie was shot.

You like all these places, you take the usual pictures, but you still yearn for the mountains of Gulmarg. You prefer hills to valleys, snow filled mountains to trees and streams.

Two days later you are back home, but your heart is still in paradise.

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