How My Kashmir Trip Went from Disastrous to Delightful

Freezing it up in Gulmarg

My trip to Kashmir in October 2011 was poorly planned and began rather disastrously until a stranger’s kindness took it from disastrous to delightful.

It feels strange to write about a place I visited almost 7 years ago – especially because, a while after my visit, there were devastating floods and an upsurge in terrorism in the Kashmir valley.

But it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve undertaken, in more ways than one, probably because it was so badly planned and began rather disastrously.

It was some time before October 2011 that I happened to spot a ‘great package’ to Kashmir on one of those deal websites that are now defunct. I booked the package and tickets for my child and me, and we set out on our 10-day trip to Kashmir.

A hasty decision, no chance of repenting at leisure

As a single mother with a young child, I usually err on the side of caution when it comes to making travel plans or booking a hotel. But this time I let good sense slide and ended up in Srinagar with literally no place to stay.

Here’s why that turned out to be a good thing. The hotel we had booked was a dump! Yes, that deals website turned out to be a scam outfit that didn’t pay its vendors. No wonder they went kaput.

The hotel manager refused to honour our booking and I was in a panic. After all, I was a single mom with a young child in a destination that wasn’t exactly known for its safety.

A stranger’s unexpected kindness

Our saviour was the taxi driver, Parvaiz, who drove us from the airport to the hotel. He gave me a sceptical look the moment we stopped in front of the hotel and didn’t seem at all surprised when we emerged looking downcast.

Like a lifeboat rescuing a passenger fallen overboard, he swooped in and saved us from what could have turned into a very sticky situation. He took us to a hotel owned by a friend, a short drive down the road, and booked us in immediately.

Parvaiz bhai takes us through the Mughal gardens in Srinagar

I was so grateful I could have hugged him, though I suspect that wouldn’t have gone down well. My child and I settled into the hotel, which was basic but comfortable. We rested while I contemplated our lucky escape, thanks to our quick-thinking and compassionate driver.

From then on, I was happy to put our fate in Parvaiz bhai’s hands, letting him decide our itinerary since he was a local and I knew less than nothing about Kashmir.

Bonus – Kashmir with a local flavour

For the next 10 days, he ferried us all over, from the snows of Gulmarg to a houseboat on the Dal Lake, to the picturesque Lidder river in Pahalgam. He even took us to some charming places that were not on the usual tourist itinerary.

A silent shikara sails by on the Dal Lake

I was touched when he invited us to his home for an authentic Kashmiri wazwan (feast) and we got to meet his wife and kids. It turned out his youngest daughter, Maleha, was the same age as my daughter. I asked him if she could accompany us on our journey so that my child had someone her own age to bond with.

Snowball fight in Gulmarg

I sat in the front with Parvaiz bhai while he drove us everywhere. Thanks to the kindness he showed us, he was no longer just a tour operator to me. He became my friend, and we talked a lot along the way, or at least as much as my broken Hindi allowed.

The picturesque botanical gardens of Kokernag

Also read: Kokernag Botanical Gardens, Kashmir: Straight Out Of A Monet Painting

In fact, he even called us from Kashmir months after we returned home and promised to invite us to his brother’s wedding. He never did, perhaps because of the floods that devastated Srinagar the following monsoon or the increase in violence in the valley.

Playing in an empty amusement park in Pahalgam

But I appreciated his kindness and think of him and his family with gratitude, especially when I browse through photos of his daughter and mine, walking hand in hand or playing together in an empty amusement park along the banks of the Lidder river.

The kids exploring the banks of the Lidder River in Pahalgam

It brings home to me the fact that the world can be a friendly place, even for a single mom, if you place your trust in people and go with the flow. I may never go back to Kashmir, but I’ll always remember how a stranger’s kindness took my trip from disastrous to delightful.

All images are © Priya Florence Shah

Also, read:

Do you have any bad travel stories to share? My trip to Kashmir and Srinagar in October 2011 was poorly planned and began rather disastrously, until a stranger’s kindness took it from disastrous to delightful. Read about how I almost had a bad travel experience on my Kashmir tour. #Kashmir #Srinagar #travel #story

7 thoughts on “How My Kashmir Trip Went from Disastrous to Delightful”

  1. A wonderful recounting, and the photos bring it to life even more. I guess you really did have the good fortune of seeing Kashmir before things went seriously south in the north 🙂

  2. What a wonderful story. The world is full of good and helpful people. Its nice that your daughter had someone her own age to bond with 🙂 Lovely to read a story from a while ago and you were very lucky to see it before the unrest.

  3. Wow what a wonderful turn in fate. I hope he is well and back in business. I hope your message of gratitude reaches him through this blog.

    1. I hope he is too, Jyoti. Sadly I read of tourists being stoned in Kashmir today. When tourists are attacked directly, it usually spells the death-knell for tourism in that part of the world (except for those tourists who like to tempt fate or know the place well enough to feel safe).

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