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KASHMIR - NOT THE ONLY HEAVEN ON EARTH
My long time friend, Shri Kameshwar Rao from Andhra Pradesh has been a companion in three earlier trips -  Mayavati & Shyamlatal,  Gangotri &  Harsil, Kedarnth base & Tungnath.   This time it all happended as he wanted to meet a Vivekananda Kendra Worker at Anantnag in Kashmir.  So I planned out the whole program Delhi - Jammu, Jammu-Verinag, Verinag to Anantnag, Anantnag to Srinagar, Srinagar to Sonmarg, Sonmarg to Leh, Leh to Manali and Manali to Delhi.  It was about 14 days trip,  the longest one we had done so far.  As the day of our departure came near we heard that Shri Vivekananda Roy, the life worker of Vivekananda Kendra has been transferred to Kanayakumari.  Now that our main purpose to visit Kashmir was no longer existing, I expressed my doubts to my friend whether we would continue with the same program or cancel the schedule.  My friend said that we would continue with the program and but for Shri Vivekananda Roy we would have never planned this tour.

On June 30, 2014 we left Delhi for Jammu in the afternoon by train. Next day early in the morning around 6.30 we reached Jammu Station.  It was raining and the weather was so pleasant that we forgot about Delhi heat. As the rain stopped after a while we had our morning tea at the platform itself and walked out to look for a bus to Verinag on the way to Sri Nagar.  Many told us that it was a far off place, but I knew from the net that Verinag is the starting point of Kashmir as one crosses the Jawhar Tunnel of 2 and half kms, and that too buses will be available from the bus station about 4-5 km. away from the station.  We got into an auto for Rs.100 and reached the bus station.  A mini state transport run bus was awaiting.  We booked our seats - one official and the other one through courtesy the driver.  Finally the bus left us at Kazigund around 4 p.m. and we got a shared Tata Sumo utility vehicle to take us to Verinag, about 6 k.m. away.  A Kashmiri youth who was also in the Tata Sumo helped us locate the JKTDC guest house about 1 km from the market where we were dropped.
The picture above is of Verinag Mughal Gardens close to which  we lived in the J&K guest house for 16 hours overlooking the natural spring. On the right is the natural spring of Verinag.

The two bed accommodation was very nice and the location was adjacent to the Pine forest.  We were the only tourist staying at that place.  The temperature was very comfortable comparing with Delhi heat.  The night sky with a crescent moon with full of stars was a sight to see and enjoy.  My friend was very happy to find a quiet place for a good smoke.

Next day (June 2,2014) early morning we went to visit the natural spring and the park.  There was a Shiva temple on the campus and a number of old Chinar trees and the running water flowing out of the spring.  We stayed there for an hour and absorbed the quietness and the natural beauty with our heart's content.  That was a remarkable time we spent in the lap of the nature.  We went back to our guest house, a few meters away and after our morning bath etc. we handed over the room key to the care taker and went for our breakfast.  Our restaurant bill was cleared and we walked out onto the road upto the market where we were told shared jeeps will be available.  We got one and started for Anantnag.  The Tata Sumo left us in the market and we had tea and snacks before we got into another Tata Sumo for Pahelgam.  The road from Anantnag to Pahelgam is a very picturesque one. Kamesh went on clicking pictures on his mobile as we were approaching Pahelgam.  The Tata Sumo left us just by the side of the J&K Tourism guest house on the Mall road.  We met the official and he took us to a bigger guest house where we had our booking.  This guest also belongs to J&K Tourism and is away from the market place.  The upkeep is not that good but it is all right.  We went out for our lunch and we found 'Aap Ki Rashoi' relatively clean and good.  Although my friend Kamesh always prefers cheaper restaurants with minimum cleanliness.  On the otherhand I prefer a very clean place and price is of least consideration.  In any way, we took our lunch and came back to the guest house to have some rest.  The moment Kamesh hit his pillow, he started snoring and I could close my eyes after some time.

In the evening we got our tea around 5p.m. at the guest house itself.  Having finished our tea we were ready for exploring the market area and nearby park. We found the Lidder river flowing very closeby and there were many parks where one could sit and watch the river flowing.
We spent some time by the river enjoying the pleasant weather and wonderful surrounding.  We talked about our old friends and our future plans.  Kamesh having some knowledge in astrology ( although I do not believe in his predictions), I enjoy listening to his prediction on my future.  Who does not want to listen  to good things on his future?  After a while we went for our dinner and I had odered for 'Gujrati Thali'   and Kamesh for 'Jain Thali'  It was a sumptuous one but chilly hot.    As we came back to our guest house, we took short walks and discussed  about next day's program.  We decided to hire a cab from the stand and go out. 

Next day we finished our breakfast and went to the Taxi stand to hire one and to decided on the places to visit.  There we met a gentleman who was also looking for some one to share a taxi.  Mr. Surti and his family joined us and we left for 'Betab Valley' which became famous after the film 'Betab' was shot.
It has river, forest, icy peaks what else do you need?  After visiting this park we headed for Chandanwari. Although it had snows where you could walk on, the place is not very clean and parking makes your visit here troublesome as you have to walk quite a while to reach to the snow line.  Our next stop was Aru Valley. Definitely, it is one of the best senic spot in Kashmir and the best way to enjoy the nature here is to stay at least for a night.  It could be because of inflow of a large number of tourists, the place is unclean.  I suggest this could easily be done by the shopowners selling their merchandise.

     
Kameshwar Rao at the Betab Park
After visiting Aru valley we went back to Pahelgam and had lunch.  After some rest at our Youth hostel guest house, we went out and sat by river Lidder.  It was a quiet evening and we talked about our friends and past incidents while enjoying the cool breeze and beautiful river side.

Next day (June 4, 2014) we left for Srinagar in a cab hired by Mr. Surti and shared the cost.  Mr. Surti also offered us the breakfast and we too enjoyed his company till he dropped us at Srinagar bus stand.  Here we booked our bus ticket for the next day from Sonamarg as we were scheduled to stay overnight at Sonamarg. The bus ticket cost us Rs. 1058/- up to leh for a single person.  

From here we took an auto to go to Kheer Bhawani Temple via Dal Lake.  Dal Lake is quite a big water reservoir and being cleaned of floating mosses or other materials by machine all the time.  There were a number of Sikhara lined up for the boat ride but we avoided such luxary due to its cost barrier and our time constraint.