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!!!
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.
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.