In other news, we just got back from a week-long holiday in and around Srinagar, Kashmir. We had been considering a few destinations to go to before the bub’s summer holidays ended, which wouldn’t kill us with sunstroke, where the bub could enjoy herself and so could we. We finally zeroed in on Srinagar, and hooked up with a travel agent in the city. Working with them, I built a slightly off-beat itinerary than the done-to-death Srinagar sightseeing-Gulmarg-Pahalgam-Sonamarg plan that most tourists undertake. We have already done that in the past.
This time around, we wanted to venture deeper into Srinagar, dig into local food and experiences, and explore a couple of lesser-known destinations around the city. While I wouldn’t say we got exactly the kind of holiday we wanted, it was still a beautiful trip – we did visit some gorgeous places and made memories that will last a long, long, long time to come.
Here I am, with the first installment of travel stories from Kashmir – about our visit to a spot called Doodhpatri.
When the husband, the bub and I embarked on our drive to Doodhpatri, some 40-odd kilometers away from Srinagar (where we were staying), little did we know that we would absolutely fall in love with the place. Neither did we know that Doodhpatri would force us to think deep and hard about human nature.
Located in the district of Budgam, Doodhpatri is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous place. Think meandering meadows full of cows, sheep and goats. Think truckloads of soft green grass with very few people around. Think snow-clad mountains and freezing cold. Think natural springs and pine trees. Think nomadic shepherds tending their flocks and their squat mud huts. Exactly, that kind of place. Doodhpatri is not as well-known to travellers as, say, Gulmarg or Pahalgam, and has only recently started seeing tourist influx. As a result, the place still remains largely untouched, pristine, uncommercial – this also means that there are no restaurants of note or tourist activities of note here. There is a lot of virgin natural beauty, though, much to explore for the non-touristy traveller.
Locally called Dodh-e-Pather, the name of the place literally translates to ‘Valley of Milk’. The cattle here are renowned for the plentiful, rich milk (doodh) they yield, which is what gives the place its name.
It is an almost 2-hour drive from Srinagar to Doodhpatri, the road not in the best of condition at places, but decent enough. As you near Doodhpatri, signs of city life grow lesser and lesser, the vistas grow wider and greener, and the views become more and more stunning. When the snow-capped mountains come closer, they almost take your breath away.
A few sharp curves and turns later, you come to a point beyond which no vehicles can go. Walk for a few minutes, and you reach a gurgling spring, the water milky white, humming along over rocks that have turned smooth with wear.
We spent a couple of hours at this point, just winding down, talking, eating, taking pictures and gazing at all the beauty around us. This is a hot spot for selfie lovers and photographers alike. You may even choose to don the Kashmiri costumes available for hire at the couple of make-shift stalls here, and get a photoshoot done.
The rustic wooden bridge across the spring stole my heart away. It surely was something straight out of a dream!
You can cross the bridge and walk along the plains beyond, soaking in the pure air and the prettiness of nature around you, or you could let a pony take you there. There is no dearth of horsemen here, who will plead and haggle with you to hire them for a look-around Doodhpatri on pony-back.
Considering that the bub wasn’t too well when we visited Doodhpatri and the terrain looked quite rough too, we decided to skip the pony ride. We contented ourselves with just gazing out at the spring, snapping pictures of this and that. That, in itself, is quite an experience, let me tell you.
There isn’t a single proper restaurant in Doodhpatri, like I was saying earlier, thanks to it not really being on the tourist grid. There are just a couple of shops here selling tea, coffee, chips, Maggi and the likes.
In fact, I hear the road we drove on did not extend till the stream, two years ago or so. One would have to get down at a certain point and hike a few kilometres to reach the stream! Now, considering increasing tourist interest in Doodhpatri, the road has been laid out further.
There is a sharp drop in temperatures at Doodhpatri when it rains or when the mountain winds blow. In winters, the snow makes the place practically unlivable. The place, therefore, remains open only about 8-9 months a year. For 2 or 3 months every year – in the winters – the winding roads to Doodhpatri become inaccessible due to all the ice on them, and the place is therefore shut off. No one comes here then, not even the semi-nomadic Gujjar shepherds. There is no permanent structure here which is in use throughout the year – neither a home nor a shop nor a tourist activity.
You will find the small, squat mud huts of the Gujjars – the famous wandering shepherds of Kashmir – at Doodhpatri. These shepherds wander the mountains and plains of Kashmir with their flocks of sheep, horses, goats and cows in the winters, trying to find grass for them. They perform odd jobs – building construction and the likes – to earn some money.
In the summers, they build houses on the mountains and stay put for a few months with their families.
When we visited, some of these Gujjars were selling snacks and refreshments for the tourists out of their huts. We walked along, fascinated by the structures, fascinated by the typical Kashmiri snacks some of them were offering.
Neither the husband nor I had ever tried out the halwa-poori combination before, and we went on to do just that at Doodhpatri. My, it was mind-blowing – bites of the Khajla filled with the halwa!
We were snacking on some beautiful Maggi noodles cooked with vegetables at one such home when we noticed a sudden drop in the temperature. All too quickly, the wind started howling (that eerie way the wind has of howling in the mountains!) and the plastic chairs around us began to crash to the ground (I am not exaggerating!). It began to turn finger-numbingly cold, and the jackets and caps we were carrying with us offered no protection at all. The bub began to shiver. The Gujjar shepherd whose shop we were eating at was quick to invite us inside his house. We gratefully accepted.
Inside, the hut was warm as toast. The man’s wife was busy cooking lunch for their family, and the wood fire was working wonders. I don’t know what did it – the thick, hand-made mud walls or the structure of the hut or the wood fire – but it was gorgeous inside. It was a cocoon, a separate world in its own. The howling winds outside did not even touch the inside of the house. The lack of electricity and the bare minimum of possessions inside the house kind of stunned us – it was a stark reminder of just how much we urbane folk cling to our worldly possessions day in and day out.
The family invited us to stay for lunch or at least for some tea, but we refused as we had already eaten. We did spend quite a bit of time sitting with them, chatting, warming our hands on the kangri (Kashmiri coal brazier) they were generous enough to share with us.
The husband and I had so many questions for the family and their way of life, and they were happy to respond to every single one of them. Snippets of the conversation still refuse to go out of my mind.
‘Hum 6 mahine yahan rehte hain, is ghar mein. Sardi mein 6 mahine hum parbat ke niche rehte hain.. majdoori karte hain..gay bakri charate hain.. kaam karte hain..,” the man told us. (‘We stay here, in this house, for 6 months. For the 6 months around winter, we stay in the foothills. We undertake labour and other odd jobs, tend to our cows and goats.’)
‘Yahan pe kuch nahi milta. Paani, aata, sabzi.. sab kuch neeche se le ke aate hain.. yahan par bahut zyaada thand padti hai na?,’ his wife said. (‘There is nothing available here. Water, flour, vegetables.. we get all of it from the foothills.. It’s too cold here, no?’)
‘Raat ko hamari gay aur bakri ghar ke andar rehte hain.. subah hote hi bahar chhod dete hain… woh chalte rehte hain, aur hum bhi saath chalte hain..,’ the man said. (‘We keep our cows and goats inside the house in the nights. As soon as morning dawns, we set them free. They walk around everywhere, and we walk around after them.’)
‘Chalna humare liye badi baat nahi hai. Humein aadat hai. Gulmarg se Doodhpatri ho ya Pahalgam se Sonamarg, hum chaltein hain..,’ the man stated. (‘Walking is not a big thing for us. We are used to it. From Gulmarg to Doodhpatri or fro Pahalgam to Sonamarg, we can walk.’)
The conversation was nothing short of enlightening. It set us thinking.
How hard would a life like this be, where you need to walk for kilometres on end just to fetch clean drinking water?
How many of the little things in my life I take for granted? Can I live a simple life like this, or am I too addicted to the complexities of my life?
How did these people cope up with so much hardship? Every single day? Did they even feel it was hard?
What makes these people stick to their roots? Do they ever wonder about the world beyond these hills?
Do they ever think about moving to an easier place, an easier way of living? Or does that thought never even cross their minds?
How different these people’s lives are from mine! And yet, we are all the same at the core of us – humans.
I don’t have the answers yet.
Notes for travellers:
- Doodhpatri is a drive of about 2 hours from Srinagar. There are okay-ish roads some part of the way, while the roads in other parts are decent.
- It would be a good idea to carry some snacks/food while you visit Doodhpatri.
- Private cabs are the best way to reach Doodhpatri. You can hire one from Srinagar, where the nearest airport is located.
- The weather gets quite chilly at Doodhpatri at times, especially while it rains. You might want to carry a change of clothes, warm clothes, umbrellas and/or raincoats when you visit Doodhpatri.
- Pony riding is quite common among tourists, to see the sights in and around Doodhpatri. Walking everywhere might not always be possible. I would suggest going ahead with pony riding only if you are comfortable with the idea – there’s no fun in it if you do it half-heartedly or when you are scared.
- If you do decide to undertake a pony ride for sight-seeing, please do decide on the rates with the horsemen beforehand. Bargain if necessary, to fix a decent rate.
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