Come try our food!
The Kashmir Experience – Food and Travel
The paradise on earth. October 2012 is when we decided to explore what is probably one of the most talked about tourist destinations in the world..The paradise bit you experience only once you are in Srinagar in front of the Dal Lake. Unlike Manali , the way to Kashmir has nothing much to offer, especially during the time we went there. Raw greenery on mountains all around you. Gets kind of monotonous. Hence looking forward to the much talked about beauty of the valley and some good food on the way were the only two things we thought of when we started from Jammu. We were a little ahead of Jammu about 30 kms, when the driver stopped for a loo/tea break at a dhaba, probably his favorite. Dont’ remember the name but there is a row of dhabas there, each apparently equally good.
We were served rajma chawal, topped with desi ghee – it sure was a generous topping. Pyaaz, Hari mirch went along with it and it was without doubt one of the best rajma chawal platters I have ever had. Probably childhood was the only time when we indulged like this.
We took about 6 hours before we hit the Jawahar tunnel, the tunnel that connects Jammu and Kashmir. The much talked about scenic beauty doesn’t begin to show yet. After about a two hour drive from here, we reached Srinagar. The drive is fairly OK and one must decide to take this highway after dark(in the absence of trucks). During the day I have heard the traffic is quite bad.
In Srinagar, we decided to stay in a hotel overlooking the Dal lake. This was right in the middle of the row of hotels on the street alongside the lake. This is quite a busy street with all famous restaurants and dhabas on it. We also had the option of staying in houseboats on quieter lakes. However, the thought of being surrounded only by water at night and no activities nearby kind of took the decision for us. Also, its always good to stay in a busier area on the street than further ahead. You can choose any hotel here, based on your preferences. The damp wood inside the hotel can get a little smelly at times and this is what one needs to watch out for while looking for a good enough hotel.
For dinner, we wanted to try some desi Kashmiri cuisine and that’s when we looked for Kashmiri restaurants in Srinagar. Two of them were on the road we were staying on, so we decided to walk down. An evening stroll along the Dal Lake is a must do. The weather is awesome and the cool breeze just sweeps the last bit of stress away, whatever time of the year.
In our search for good restaurants on Tripadvisor, we came across “Stream” – the no.2 or 3 restaurant then on Tripadvisor.
Stream is a very regular casual dining restaurant. We ordered a tomato soup, a stream special chicken tandoori and a Kashmiri dum aloo with breads. The tomato soup was a very sweet tomato gravy which was far from appetising. The chicken was a full chicken presented like a Thanksgiving turkey. The taste though good was more “dilli” and did not have a hint of Kashmiri spices.. The Dum aloo were also Delhi style and not even close to the Kashmiri dum aloo. That’s when we called for the sous chef and he told us that more than half of the restaurants in Srinagar have chefs from our very own Delhi. Disappointed.
The next attempt at Kashmiri food was Shamyana, again a very old restaurant in Srinagar. Unfortunately we found out that the chef here was also from Delhi. We didnt even bother trying any food there. However on our way back , we started noticing that every local dhaba, almost every one had this written on its frontage – “daal from dilli”, “dilli style chaat”, etc. Guess people in Srinagar have a thing for Delhi food:) or it has an increasing number of tourists coming from Delhi.
Our search for authentic Kashmiri food in the capital ended when we decided to try “Ahdoos”. A little far from where we stayed, this place was worth the effort. I particularly liked the mutton shami kebab and the delicious phirni. They make fresh phirni and need 30 minutes to complete the order. Kashmiri pulao was a bit too oily for my liking. Full of veggies – usual and unusual(read kasmiri lotus root and some form of beans). It had less rice than supplements.N liked it quite a lot. Dum aloo was to die for, if one knows what to expect from a kashmiri dum aloo – slightly sweet and very creamy after taste. The walls are very Kashmiri, be it the paintings or the wall hangings. Just the right dimness of lights adds to the overall experience. Rated 8/10.
The next day, we decided to explore the much talked about gardens in Srinagar. The gardens in Kashmir are certainly more beautiful than one can imagine. We visited the Shalimar Garden, Nishat Garden and Chashme Shahi. Each one of them had a different aura around it. Full of flowers and fresh air, these gardens look like the perfect destinations for Bollywood song shoots. These gardens just speak very highly of the royalty some 500 years back when the Mughals ruled our country. The garden restaurants in some of these are just what one would wish for – A hot cup of Qahwa , while sitting on a garden chair, facing the lush green huge expanse filled with colourful, beautiful flowers most definitely reminded me of the old Bollywood flicks like “Kashmir ki Kali”.
The Qahwa was very different from our Delhi version. The fresh aroma of almonds and kesar and the sweetness of sugar is a killer.The taste is almost addictive.
As for the gardens, I would say you need at least 7-8 hours about 1 working day) to explore all. Pari Mahal is definitely worth a visit. With 7 levels of gardens, to its credit this place must not be skipped, for the sheer love of history and beauty that one might have. One of the levels here also has a helipad:).
Tired of walking around in the gardens of Srinagar, we decided to take an evening Shikara ride. Despite all what is said about Dal lake loosing its lustre, I was awed by its sheer simplicity.It was almost like a fairy tale. Water all around us, age-old houseboats and what particularly caught my attention were the food shikaras. People have actually made food arrangements on shikaras .
I had no idea that a spicy Maggi with a cup of hot qahwa could taste so good, just because you bought it from a Shikara. The aroma of kebabs will definitely catch your attention here.We enjoyed the food while the sound of oars against the water and the therapeutic light ripples of water soothed our minds and souls. I almost fell asleep. The floating markets on the lake are a special attention. Bright and colorful they offer a sharp contrast to the quiet part of the lake on the other side.
A little before dusk till the sun sets is the best time to experience Dal Lake. The reflection of the bulbs twinkling in each Shikara, is a sight one wouldnt want to miss.
After the first two days in Srinagar, we decided to go to the Sonmarg glacier. The taxi charges some Rs.2500 backs to and fro.
The way to Sonmarg Glacier is absolutely stunningly beautiful. With a steady stream of water flowing in the middle of mountains, greenery and the sound of water completely took our breath away. This scenery is not comparable to any other destination in India. The wind started getting really chilly and it started raining as we got closer to our destination. Finally we reached the point where we could start our trek to/take ponies to the glacier. What we saw after that is what words cant describe. Towering mountains full of pine trees, river flowing next to us while we rode our ponies and cold and chilly winds welcoming us to the glacier.The way to the glacier is treacherous and I wouldn’t imagine myself walking on it, even though that I am a fairly enthusiastic traveller.
Our strength gave way where the ponies stopped. It was cold and snowing and we were not aptly prepared(it was bright and sunny in Srinagar). Throughly drenched we we decided not to take the snow scooters and go into the glacier. We had a lot of distance to cover(about 7 kms of difficult terrain) on our way back. We decided that Maggi and chai in such places and at such times are the biggest boons#life savers. We had our fill and started heading back. Riding a pony on this terrain is difficult especially if you have a weak nerve and a clear sight. So be prepared!
To this point and fro took us about 3 hours. Requires some strength to go and come back specially if its raining. Hence its always a good idea to start early for Sonmarg so that one can be back before dark.
We decided to conclude our trip with Pehelgam, a much talked about “Bollywood” destination, a decade or two ago. This had nothing much to offer except a quiet, chilly evening. Pehelgam is a quaint little hill station with nothing but a small market and a few hotels and yes a taxi stand. One can easily skip staying there for the night . A day is sufficient to explore all what one would want to in Pehelgam. The interesting bit here is that we have a mosque, a temple and a gurudwara on the same road. You will hear the “namaaz”, the temple bells chiming and the “paath” almost at the same time. It was truly divine and ironic too. A secular Kashmir?
In our search for tourist stuff in Pehelgam, what particularly caught our attention was the “Betaab Valley”. Its named after the famous Bollywood movie”Betaab”, coz it was shot there. Well manicured gardens, bridges overlooking the stream, horses inside, and street lamps gave it an “English countryside” appeal.
We also visited the point from where the Amarnath Yatra begins. There’s where we spotted a “Bhelpuri/Jhalmuri” stall. The guy selling it had come all the way from Bihar!. Bhelpuri and hot chocolate were good to have and were a welcome change from the Maggi overload.
While I am writing this I can so clearly recall every experience – sounds, smells and people.The next morning when we started on our journey back to Delhi, we knew Kashmir had already left an indelible mark on our minds. We had decided – Leaving only to come back..when all that green turns to white!So Long Kashmir!