9th September 2015 (Wednesday)….Pahalgam-Srinagar…140 km
Got up fresh that morning in Pahalgam. As usual got up quite early. Although there was some activity in the car parked next to mine till late night still was able to take ample sleep. Freshened up, one last round of quite Pahalgam bazaar and was on my way for the next destination. The drive early up was very nice. It was all along Lidder river. There was nice scenery around.
I noticed there were some beautiful hotels/resorts around 13th milestone across the river. It looked liked a nice place for spending some quality time with family and friends. Thought, will be back here with family and friends some day. Took a little diversion and went through some villages, they looked typical Kashmiri villages, pretty and charming.
Back on the main highway, scenery continued to be mesmerising. Being early morning, traffic was sparse ,which made the drive even more pleasant. Road was tarred and smooth. I had the opportunity to bypass busy Anantnag town but thought otherwise and drove through the town. Driving through the town was a similar experience of driving through any other Indian town. Hectic traffic, honking, infact too much of it, people hurrying through breaking all traffic rules to drop childern to schools and colleges.
After crossing busy traffic at Anantnag I was on the main Jammu Srinagar highway now. The road was quite wide but full of dust. Lot of repair work was going on. After sometime I noticed big statues of famous Indian cricketers like Dhoni, Sachin, Kohli and company on both sides of the road. There were big shops/outlets displaying cricket bats.
It was Halmullah famous for Kashmiri willow, which is used for manufacturing cricket bats.
I stopped at one of the shops and looked for different variety of bats. A gentleman, politely took me to his factory and showed me the process how the Kashmiri willow was skillfully molded into fantastic cricket bats. The gentleman, the owner of this outlet was a very humble man and took lot of pain to explain to me the entire process of manufacturing fantastic cricket bats.
The road was now becoming very busy and dusty. I stopped for a while at Awantipora and visited magnificent Archaeological Survey of India protected ruins of ancient hindu temple sites. Visited two sites, both situated right on the road and in busy areas. Felt good visiting both the sites. There were large number of tourists from many parts of India and abroad including locals.
I wanted to stop at Pampore to see Saffron fields but the road was so crowded and dusty that I chose to drive on. The traffic became more and more rude as I drew closer to Srinagar. I almost got choked in traffic. A taxi driver almost crashed into me from wrong side and on top of it hurled all kind of nonsense. It was becoming hot too.
On reaching Srinagar, I straightaway went into Tourism Office near Dal Gate but attitude of the staff, again, was indifferent. Maps were not available and I was advised to buy from the hawkers near Nishat Bagh.
There was huge rush on the road along the Dal lake. I drove cautiously wary of along the Dal lake. I have heard a lot about obnoxious traffic cops in Srinagar, luckily I did not encounter one. Drove straight to Nishat Bagh, parked the car in a parking lot and went walking along the lake. I found people very friendly and good to talk to. A local photographer helped me and taught me few lessons as well. Found a man selling maps outside the garden, bought one, which was the same I was looking for.
After walk and relaxing I went into Nishat Bagh (garden of bliss), the second largest Mughal gardens in Kashmir by paying a nominal entry fee. With blooming flowers, nicely laid grass and hedge, the garden looked beautiful. The gleeful tourists from many parts of India and abroad were having nice time with their friends and families. Zabarwan mountain in the backdrop and dal lake in the forefront was giving it amazing look.
A canal runs through centre of the garden flowing in a cascade from the top terrace downwards creating sparkles in the water. I had wonderful time walking along the canal and through the terraces clicking pictures, chatting with locals as well as tourists.
After spending wonderful two hours at Nishat Bagh I drove to Shalimar Bagh (the abode of love) which was not very far away. This is perhaps the biggest Mughal garden in Kashmir. However in comparison to Nishat Bagh it was less crowded. Again had nice time walking, clicking pictures and chatting with people. I noticed there were more locals here than outsiders and also that the people of Kashmir looked no different from others. They were having fun and were very friendly to talk to.
From Shalimar Bagh I drove to Harwan, which was again not very far of, the road was bit narrow and passed through congested market areas. Unlike Nishat Bagh and Shalimar bagh, Harwan was bit far and up from Dal lake. It was evening now and there were hardly any tourists in the garden. There are large lawns with huge tall Chinar trees and a lake behind the garden. I was told that Chinar trees in the garden looked wonderful in autumn fall colours.
After having nice time visiting three gardens Nishat, Shalimar and Harwan I got bit tired. It was enough for the day. From Harwan I drove back to Dal Lake. It was evening and the lake looked serene in the fading daylight. Had nice time walking and watching sunset at a spot which was devoid of any traffic.
After beautiful evening at Dal Lake, I was in a fix what to do. Should I find a hotel for stay or should I sleep inside the car. Going by the reputation of Srinagar being unsafe and presence of so many security personnel, one would feel it was wiser to find a hotel instead of taking risk by sleeping inside the car. But somehow I felt otherwise and decided to sleep inside the car.
Last two hours of the day before I went inside the car to sleep, were spent driving and walking along Dal lake in the night. Perhaps these were the best moments of the day. The traffic was sparse and the people on the road were a mix of locals and tourists. Dal lake and house boats stationed in the lake looked fairy like in the twinkling lights of the night.
The setting was suitable for reflecting about one’s life and the scheme of things all around. I cherished that evening a lot. It has now become one of those memorable moments which fill the mind with joy whenever I feel lonely living through the hectic life of my maddening city.