You can read the earlier parts, first here, and then here.

Preface: There are several things nice about the Adhoos Hotel in Srinagar. It has history - being passed on by one family generation to another for the last eighty years. Its rooms are large and yet warm, and it has a great restaurant where you must try the Kashmiri waazwan. Its current head, Hayat Bhat, is a strikingly good looking fellow and those Kashmiri features are well supported by a sophisticated charm. But best of all, is the view of the Jhelum from the rooms.  Walk out of the restaurant, cross the little garden, and the Jhelum sits peacefully, a handful of houseboats adding character to it. Just like anywhere in Kashmir, the mountains stand misty and tall in the background. All this from your bedroom window.

The view from my room, Hotel Adhoos

Day 3:  Day Trip to Pahalgam (distance from Srinagar: 96 kms)

The group was excited as I had promised them that today was the day they’d see saffron fields. After another chaotic breakfast affair, we dumped our sweaters into bags and ourselves into our two tempo travelers and set out for Pahalgam. A game of Dumb Charades was being played in the back of our vehicle. A venerable old gentleman whose skin and brows looked ancient enough to have withstood several Ice and Paleolithic Ages, was making a hash of a job enacting ‘Sholay’. Half of him wanted to be Veeru with his hands tied, enraged that the kutte were making Basanti dance, and the other half wanted him to be the Thakur with no hands, crushing Gabbar’s face with his feet.  Everyone was sure that the movie he was doing was DDLJ.

It’s pleasantly surprising how beautiful Srinagar itself is even though it’s a city. We crossed the Cantonment, the Dal and when we reached the Hazratbal, a small basket shop attracted the group’s attention. When they did not return after twenty minutes, I went in, eager to declare that, “we were getting late and by God, could we move on.”

And that’s when our eyes met. And nothing remained the same ever again.  I had fallen, and fallen hard in love. Actually if truth be told, it all started with just falling hard. For when I pushed the door and entered, I collided with a body and fell on my face.

“I am sorry,” a voice stammered.  “And I am Neeraj,” said I hoarsely. She rose, and she rose ever so gracefully, her veil never leaving her head. I rose, and rose with the grace of a camel, wondering if dusting my jeans would be appropriate in such a romantic scene. Romantic it really was, a dimly lit room, baskets hanging all over, and the two of us locked in gaze.  She walked back slowly, her each step causing my heart to pound, and she walked to the behind of the desk. And I, I decided that this basket shop was where I wanted to fall for the rest of my life. Somewhere in the background, twenty five people were squawking like geese, and disrupting the songs in my head.  Wait, twenty five people? “Err we are late. Can we love..err move on?” I told my group just like a professional tour leader should. After a while, they who had been squawking went to her and bargained over prices and here I wanted to buy her the Dal lake. We returned to our vehicle, some laden with baskets, some with heavy hearts.

Baskets, baskets, everywhere


A lot of Chinar trees and a lot of wooly dogs later, we saw the first of the saffron fields outside Pampore village. Since, it blooms only during the autumn season, we saw a lot of mud, some plants and nothing that was in full bloom or violently violet. A little ahead was the shop named ‘Zamindar’ – renowned all over the country for its original saffron and dry fruits. A gram of saffron costs Rs 200 and if you want to buy original saffron or dry fuits from Kashmir, do it from this shop.

Mountain air keeps the spirits high and we set off again. Right from when I had first spoken to Fayaaz (our driver, for those who haven’t read the earlier posts), this is the part of the journey I was waiting for. Pampore – the bat village. And we saw them,  those lovely pieces of wood. As soon as we entered the village, lying littered all along the roadside were small stalls and shacks, of wood and asbestos. And from little ropes strung across their length, hung bats of every shape and size.  The only other adornment in these bare stalls were the huge standees outside -  Dhoni and Co staring at us in their blue uniforms. A little ahead, we stopped at a bat factory, and I think all the boys in the group went a bit mad then. A modest building, it had three rooms of dust, willow, machines and hard working men. My eyes shone as I saw the wood being scraped and cut into shape and the strings being expertly wound around the handles by workers. The Adidas and Reebok stickers that were to be stuck to the bats’ face looked quite out of the place though.

We ended up buying over twenty bats.

Bat factory at Pampore village, Kashmir

We drove on, the firs, the mountains, the meadows on both sides. Soon, the Lidder river came upon view. You know a cold river when you see one, and the Lidder gushed and charged, and ran parallel to us up till Pahalgam. As soon as we entered Pahalgam, we headed for the taxi stand because just like Sonamarg, Pahalgam too does not let outside vehicles to visit tourist spots.

It was raining lightly and the twenty five of us packed ourselves into three Sumos and set off for Chandanwari, up in the hills, the last point where vehicles can reach for the Amarnath Yatra. The drive was tricky, over narrow roads that curved suddenly and sharply. As we rose higher, all the peaks were snow covered, blended  only by the rhododendrons, pines and deodars, and I hung out of the window as far as I could, clicking away madly.

Chandanwari, near Pahalgam


The entrance to Chandanwari point is stuffed with small shops whose owners are desperate to rent out snow clothes and guides, to earn enough bread.  An Indian customer will, however, always think that a seller is always trying to con him and will haggle ferociously to cut those extra twenty five rupees that could make all the difference to that man. We got our jackets, gloves and boots for a paltry sum and set off with a guide, trekking into the mountains. It is impossible not to love this snow covered mountain. As we went higher, we pelted those below us with snow balls and ran as they tried to hit back. Stumbling in the snow, we went up to Sheshnag lake, a narrow stream that was frozen and our guide shouted at us for tiptoeing too close.

While returning, somewhere a photographer was handing out Kashmiri costumes and twenty five south Indians were suddenly decked in gold, bright red and blue. The men who were now in turbans were gingerly holding the waists of their wives who for some reason were holding matkas, and both looking far into the distance for that perfect romantic pose.  “Err slipped on a stone, I think,” I retorted quickly after I fell down laughing and they looked suspiciously at me.

We then headed out for Betaab Valley, made famous when ‘Betaab’ movie gained rave reviews for shooting scenes in this locale.  Now, a tourist hotspot, it has carefully manicured lawns running next to a stream, and it almost feels like a Swiss alpine village.

Betaab Valley, Pahalgam

The return to Srinagar was peaceful, a tired group slept soundly in the tempo travelers for most of the journey. I sat, chatting with Fayaaz, about his house, his wife, his Kashmir. Several Chinar trees and wooly dogs later, we crossed the Hazratbal and a small basket shop. I looked eagerly out of the window and was greeted by darkness.  The car moved on, some of us sleeping soundly, some with heavy hearts.

Neeraj Narayanan

At WeAreHolidays, Neeraj Narayanan is Head of the Content and Digital Media Team. He has a Masters in Advertising & Media Communication, has had experience as a Communication Consultant to the Government of Gujarat, and as a Brand man in the IT giant firm - Cognizant.

On weekends, he conducts Heritage Walks in Delhi.

Neeraj Narayanan – who has written posts on WAH Blog.