Tag Archives: indiatourism

Kashmir: At the time of Curfew – Part II

Day 2: Sonmarg

I had planned a more elaborate trip to Kashmir, but upon discussions with locals and the drivers I understood that Pahalgam and Gulmarg were not a safe place to travel during the ongoing curfew since it was pretty disturbed at the moment with stonepelting still continuing. Gulmarg which is famous for the Gondola ride was closed for close to 2 months at the moment. I also had a couple of days of stay booked in Pahalgam. Considering all this I dropped my plan to go to these places and instead decided to go to Sonmarg and  stay back in Srinagar for a day longer and made a plan change to go to Jammu instead. So on my 2nd day I headed to Sonmarg in the wee hours at 4:30 am, since usually everyone is asleep at that time and it helps avoid any commotion on the road that might happen during day time. So we travelled in the dark and on empty roads and it took us around 3 hours to reach Sonmarg with a few toilet and tea breaks in between. So by 7:30 am we reached Sonmarg. The air was cold and fresh and the view was magical. The sun had risen and its warmth was so comforting. After having my breakfast at a local stall.

I understood that usually one would hire a horse and a rider to take me uphill. So after negotiating we decided on Rs 1400 for a horse ride up and down the hill. As per locals this was a very cheap rate given the low tourist footfall. And so at around 8:30 am my splendid ride began with my horse named ‘Heer’ who was just 4 years old and quite a girl, she would gallop atimes and walk on the all the possible loose edges of the hill although there were broad paved roads right beside them, almost giving me a heart attack. Apparently the horses prefer to walk on the edges I was told.Phew!!!

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A herd of sheeps grazing at the foothills
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my pretty ride for the day ‘Heer’
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Beautiful valley

I should admit that within no time I and Heer befriended each other and soon the rider let me and her take the lead on our way up. Soon I was comfortable enough to be clicking pictures and enjoying my ride. We crossed locations where the recent movie ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’ was shoot (Bollywood movie) and few others the horse keeper named that I don’t remember now. Soon we reached the drop off point from where I climbed a bit of the hill by foot where a huge cave was formed out of stacked frozen ice. After clicking some pictures, having some tea and snacks and resting a bit, while Heer had some water to herself we headed back downhill.

Once we reached I patted my beautiful black horse and bit adieu to the rider who too was a real nice person although we didn’t talk much during our ride. By the time we were back it was around 12:00pm and lunchtime.

I was interested in having Wazwan which is Kashmiri cuisine and I did find a comfortable local restaurant serving them luckily, unlike many which were closed and serving just basic food. I ordered Rista which is basically mutton balls in spicy gravy to be had with rice. After a good and super spicy wazwan we headed back. I stopped by for a bit of shopping at a government store on the way, where I also relaxed a little and had some kashmiri tea: Kahwa which is a specialty. This too was a great place to shop and more so since the shopkeeper was very sweet.

Finally at around 6 pm I was back at my house boat and the roads had a little more people than the day before, a few more shops were open. I rested a while and decided to go out for a stroll. It was comforting to see that a few shops were selling samosas and breads, was I walked down further I came across a big hospital due to which there were vans selling biryani and fried chicken. So yes, post 6 pm life was a little better than the morning for the locals here, I also saw a park fun of kids playing and I wished that the crisis in Kashmir would end soon.

Expenses:

Srinagar to Sonmarg by car and back: Exorbitant Rs 6000, due to the curfew. Usually they charge Rs 2500.

Sonmarg horse ride uphill and down: Rs 1400 per horse, usually during normal situation its more.

Continued…

Things about Goa – No one tells you about!

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My country India is huge, geographically and culturally. It is not everyplace that could be called universal, in the sense that not all places would give the comfort to come and stay for people from around the globe. But there is this one place we can all call Global with a capital ‘G’. Coincidentally the place has it name beginning with a capital G as well — Goa. Although when I say ‘Global’, I might be meaning it metamorphically than literally. Being Global is good, it could not be termed non-positive. Yet I plan to refer ‘Being Global’ in a not so good fashion. What makes me say so is more interesting!

Airfare? Boom! — Earlier this year, I planned a monsoon trip to Goa. Monsoon being an off season in Goa, I had expected the flight ticket rates from the eastern side of the country to be cheaper as compared to other seasons. The rates seemed to get no cheaper; rather it was as expensive as it gets during this season.  In fact travelling to Thailand or Singapore from the same location would cost me half the price. Now that makes this place, although within the same country not a ‘just-getup-go’ location. Though it dug a hole in my budget, I decided to go anyway

Taxi fare? Really now? — So once I landed at the airport in Goa. I headed straight to the taxi stand. Going by the usual trend, I tried my hand at bargaining. It seemed like a complete no-no. Yes! And why not? the taxi drivers were too comfortable with the prices the foreign tourists pay. So without a penny less I had to pay atrocious rates to travel to my hotel in Baga. The taxi drivers have such an air about themselves such as they know if I refuse to pay his price, & he loses a customer, he would extract double the fare from some other foreign tourist.

Cafes! Indian who? — While I waited for my friends to arrive in Baga via a separate flight & city, I decided to get dropped off at a happy looking café on the beach until my friends arrived & then we would head off too our hotel together. I had trouble understanding how the waiters were busy serving the foreign tourists in the next table and did not bother to come to my table even once, as if I weren’t even sitting there. It took me 2 shout outs to the waiters to come & take my order, with a very ‘blah’ attitude. Sad that this is the treatment I would get in my own country. Sigh!

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Menu! — I noticed an English & a Russian menu, both were there on the café table. How about a menu in Hindi menu too! Hindi! Heard of it?

Shopping! — So the very day we arrived, in the evening we were in the mood to check out some of the roadside shops & vendors. Now do they pretend to not care about you! Boy! It is depressing. I was busy flipping through the things on display and bothered to ask the price of one of the things there, an apparel to be specific. Pat! Came the reply from the vendor?

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‘It’s too costly’ said the vendor. What??!!!

We strode off without much fuss!

These were some of my not-so-proud experiences in Goa. It is utterly sad & beyond doubt devastating to feel like an alien in your own country. We have a saying in Sanskrit ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ meaning guests (foreign tourists in this case) are equivalent to God. I understand all that but also have you heard of the saying ‘Charity begins at home’. Be nice to the tourists who come from far flung countries but not at the expense of treating your own people like they don’t exist. Be nice! We aren’t asking your services for free, we are paying equally, respect that. How could be expect Indians to be treated well when our own people are not doing the same in our own country.

Above all, stop discriminating people on the basis of country & origin! Treat everyone equally, since we are all humans.     

 (PS: From an Indian to all the Café, hotel, shop owners, vendors & taxi drivers in GOA)

Note: I love my country & absolutely love Goa, but I would rather be honest and accept the flaws it has as well.

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