I woke up hearing my phone alarm, we had to leave for Pahalgam by 6. We all got up and got ready by 6:30. Hannah had called our taxi driver (Subair) and changed the timings to 6:30. When we vacated and got down there was a waiter who served me food yesterday smiling with a happy heart. He asked for a tip and I gave him some money. There was a helper who carried our bag and he also started to ask for a tip. I asked him how much do you need. He said “Whatever you give me with a happy heart is enough” (You’re going to hear this a lot if you’re in Kashmir). I gave him Rs.50 and he was like this is not enough I need more. I gave him fifty more and got into the cab.
By now it was 7 and most of the shops were still closed. It was a bit weird and we asked our driver if there was any strike or something. He told us that most of the Kashmiris wake up late and the shops only open by 10am. We still looked for some tea shops so that we could have breakfast. Pahalagam was at a distance of 90 km from Srinagar and it will take 2hrs to reach there. The road was pretty good with a view of snowy mountains all the way. You can spot an army person at every 1km on the road. There were a lot of cricket bat manufacturing factories on the way also.
I felt a bit of hesitation in Subair when we were talking in Malayalam amongst us. Only Hannah was asking him questions and talking to him then, So I started to talk to him and asked him about various things and all others started to interact with him more.
On the way we stopped in a small shop which was opening up and we were the first customers. We ordered coffee and wandered nearby to explore places. There was a garden opposite the shop which was closed at that time. But we could see many beautiful trees and flowers from outside. We went back to have coffee and by then a nearby shop also opened and they had maggie and we ordered maggie and waited.
I spotted some of the Kashmiris who were wearing pheran and were carrying kangri inside the pheran. The kangri is earthenware filled with glowing embers and encased in pretty handmade wicker baskets and is carried as a personal warmer. (I didn’t have a clue what they were carrying and got to know all these after inquiring to locals).
We started our journey back to Pahalgam and on the way there was a roadblock, sheeps were crossing the roads and we spotted that most of the sheeps were marked with different symbols and we asked Subair why it was marked. He told us that the shepherds are from Jammu and they collect sheeps from different people and to identify which sheep belongs to which owner they mark the sheeps.
We were approaching Pahalgam and we used google maps to identify our stay, then only we came to know that our stay was outside of pahalgam and it’s in a nearby village called Lidroo.
We started to see beautiful trees and valleys on the way to the village and we were so excited that we were going to stay in the village. (We booked this home stay as our last option, because most of the hotels in pahalgam were sold out). We were anxious to see the homestay, I was happy to stay in the village and didn’t care how the homestay will be. But when we reached the homestay we were blown out of our minds and it was out of our expectations.
We started to discuss ourselves to extend our stay here for one more day as we didn’t have any booking for the next day. We asked our host Muneeb, “If we can extend our stay” and he said “Why not?”. Our next problem was how we would tell Subair, I had seen his bag. He was ready to stay here and take us back to pahalgam on the next day. When we told Munbeeb about this, He said they will arrange a cab back to Srinagar for us. Also we came to know that In Kashmir only local cabs are allowed to take us for local sightseeing (Remember this if you’re visiting Kashmir). So if you have hired a cab from a city, they will only be able to drop you at a certain point. When we talked about our extension for one more day, Subair said it’s okay and understandable. We paid him his rent and he left for Srinagar.
Muneeb said he will arrange the horse ride to see the viewpoints in Pahalgam, it consisted of 8 viewpoints and each one had to give Rs.2000 for the ride. The entire trip was 24km on horse. We all were excited, We waited at the common room as the rooms were not free by then. We got to know about our host. The family consisted of four people and they ran the homestay. Around 11 we went for the horse ride, Muneeb dropped us by the starting point and introduced us to the horse caretakers, they gave us each horse. It was pretty scary for me because I was thrown from a camel on my Rajasthan expedition(I know Rajasthan blog is pending, You will be able to read some amazing things I did in Rajasthan soon, I promise).
Horse riding was new to us and we soon found out how to ride a horse after a few stretches and I gained confidence after that, but still when we were going near cliffs it was pretty scary. We had our fun, scary moments with the horses. We stopped near a waterfall for lunch and we explored the waterfall for sometime. When we were having lunch (maggie) some of the locals came to us to sell pashmina shawls. I and Anjana tried our best to tell them that there is no use for us with shawls in Kerala. After some talking one of the locals understood what we were trying to say and he made them understand our situation and the sellers went away.
The caretakers were following their family tradition of raising horses and taking tourists for sightseeing. Most of them started this at the age of 15, They were speaking in mixed kashmiri and hindi. We saw many beautiful places on our way. Our main stop was at Baisaran Valley which is also called Mini Switzerland. Vipin went ahead for painting, Hannah and Anjana were busy taking pictures. There were a lot of tourists on the other side and I was looking for a place where I could be alone and then I spotted a gap between trees which looked like a gateway.
I decided to go towards the gateway and it was a small hike. When I reached the top I was happy and excited. There were flowerbeds all around. I was feeling something which cannot be expressed in words, maybe it was pure happiness as some call it. I called Hannah and told her that there is a flower bed on top. Vipin was painting nearby and I went towards him after some time. Our caretaker came looking for us and when he saw Vipin painting he also sat with us waiting for Vipin to complete his painting.
It started to drizzle and we decided to continue our journey. There were steep hills on the way back and it was very scary at some moments. When we were almost near the base camp Anjana horse went rogue and was going to Jump from a cliff. Luckily the caretaker ran over and caught up with the horse and stopped it from happening. Anjana was pretty shaken up after that. When we reached the camp and as usual the caretakers started to ask for a tip. We gave them some money and decided to explore Pahalgam market.
We all were tired and hungry and decided to have something from the restaurants nearby. After our food we tried to look for cabs to take us back to our homestay. Most of them rejected it as it was nearby and those who agreed were asking us for Rs.1500 and more. I called our host Muneeb and told him about our situation. He told us to wait there. It started to rain while we were waiting and we took shelter in the nearby shops.
Muneeb came at last after two hours, I believe he had some purchasing for the homestay and it delayed our pickup. He asked us to wait in the car and went to buy chicken for dinner. It was raining heavily and on the way back we drove slowly as it was very hard to see the road. When we reached our homestay we were tired and we took comfort in warm clothes and blankets. For dinner we had delicious chapati and kashmiri style chicken curry. After some time we decided to call it a day and went to sleep. I had decided to go for a morning walk and set an alarm for 7.