Friday, August 22, 2014

Trip to Heaven and Back...May be Not!! - Sonmarg

Our last day in the city ended with a trip to Sonmarg which quite literally means - Meadow of Gold. Overnight we had to change our plans as Mister Prime Minister was landing in town too. The locals were'nt too happy with this and ended up shutting down the entire city in protest. We had no chance of moving around the city freely and so had to leave town and head in the totally opposite direction. The city resembled a closely guarded fortress. The army and police were spread out all over. We were made to stop thrice on the way up to Sonmarg which is 84 kilometers away from Srinagar city and about a 3.5 hour drive. The drive up is beautiful, though extremely bumpy in certain places. For most of the way you have a river running along and snow frozen in sheets across the mountains. This road extends all the way to Ladakh. The road was jam packed with the Amarnath Yatris making their way up to the Amarnath Cave. 

When you reach the top, you come to a flatland where you can park your cars and taxis and then embark on local sight seeing for which you need to hire the local guides and taxis available at the stand. Oh and of course there is a separate landing for the horses and mules that take you up to the snow laden glacier. The taxi and horse fares vary and are decided after gauging how much money a customer will cough up easily. The Brother - in-Law decided to take a horse up to the glacier, but had the toughest time ever as none of the horses moved an inch and he had to finally give up. We drove up to the Sonmarg Club a kilometer away. The club is a new addition to the area and managed by the Department of Tourism. The restrooms and sitting rooms inside the club were reeking of mildew and looked terribly unused and cared for. We however sat outside in the lawns which are surrounded by snow capped mountains on almost all four sides.  Nowhere did we get good authentic Kashmiri cuisine to eat. Even here we ordered the basic red kidney beans (Rajma) and steamed rice with potatoes of which the potatoes were undercooked and had to be sent back.
 The Sindh river that runs along the entire stretch to Sonmarg
 The snow capped mountains even is summers
 Sonmarg flatland

 The Sonmarg Club

After a two hour stop we drove back to Srinagar city and really looked forward to our dinner at the Vivanta Dal View Srinagar by Taj. Nestled up in the mountains, this small property owned by the Taj has a view to die for! But, sadly it stops at just that. The staff is extremely rude, slow and inefficient. Do not expect anything if you're going there as a guest at the restaurant. Every table we looked around was cribbing and complaining about something or the other and yes beware of their concierge that fools you into paying waiting charges apart from the pick and drop whereas the driver will conveniently go ferry another guest or go home and nap and still demand the waiting charge. It was the worst evening we spent in the city. 

View of the Dal Lake from the Vivanta by Taj in Srinagar
 View of Srinagar city from the Taj 
 The In-Laws
 Sunset at the Dal Lake 
The Mister and I 
Our return flights to Bombay were scheduled the next afternoon and thankfully we left for the airport a couple of hours early. Not only is the airport very far from the Dal Lake area, the army personnel have set up at least 3 booths where you need to get off scan your luggage and yourselves. The airport is an international one though seems like an old dilapidated bungalow. No washrooms that are useable, no proper kiosks to buy food and the most intimidating and unhelpful staff you'd ever come across. I was shocked at the way the staff was harassing young foreign tourists who couldn't speak English, forget the local language. They ripped our hand baggage apart, checked pictures and footage on our still and video cameras, opened and checked our laptops, chargers, portable batteries, memory cards, hard discs and the airport is so small and congested they wouldn't even let us all family stand together. 
View from the airplane on take off 
I'd always hoped I'd take my parents on a trip to Kashmir someday, but seeing the hostility and unfriendliness all around, I'd never want to take them there. My Father-in-Law was scared to even mention that I am a Muslim because the cab driver had narrated such horrific stories and openly expressed his hatred of Shia Muslims. Never ever in my life have I felt such fear travelling with my family across my own country. I would never ever want to go back there. The place is beautiful, but the hostility just takes it all away! I was shocked at being referred to as "Indian" again and again. I came back with no souvenirs, no gifts for anyone barring a box of saffron, some dry fruits and a stole, that can be found anywhere else. This happened to be my most unhappy trip ever!! I will never recommend anyone go there...why go see the Mini Switzerland of India...just save some more and go see the real Switzerland instead!! Thank you all for being so patient with reading about my experiences here. You could also read my individual reviews of places that I went to on Tripadvisor

See you all soon!!