My first foray out into the countryside was a drive of 90km to the major ski area of Gulmarg high in the mountains above Srinagar. We travelled through the freshly harvested rice paddies of the Kashmir Valley until they gave way to nut groves and apple orchards.
These in turn were replaced by forests of magnificent pines and firs as we gained ever more altitude.
At times our way was blocked by herds of goats which graze on the slopes.
As we drove ever higher, I was looking forward to getting to Gulmarg to experience the much vaunted “Valley of Flowers”. Originally called ‘Gaurimarg’ by shepherds, the present name of Gulmarg was given in the 16th century by Sultan Yusuf Shah, who was inspired by the sight of its grassy slopes emblazoned with wild flowers. This was a favourite haunt of Emperor Jehangir who once collected 21 different varieties of flowers from here.
But to my amazement, the Valley of Flowers’ has gone; completely gone. In it’s place is a golf course without a tree or shrub, let alone flowers. Maybe in spring there are a few flowers around the edges, if the horses haven’t eaten them. Hardly a thing raised its head to greet me during my visit. There weren’t even any golfers!
As I walked around the edges of the course, I did find this one small flowering plant – but not a field of flowers!
My longed for flowers were now just the stuff of a past Kashmiri legend.
To get up the first section of mountain there was a choice – ride a pony or take the fairly new gondola which climbs to 3045m and is said to be the longest and highest cable car in Asia. I took the easy option, the gondola just to see what there was to see.
The whole area is called a National Park but people still live in it and it is heavily grazed by cattle, ponies, goats and sheep.
By the time I got to the top gondola station, I was glad that I hadn’t ridden a horse! It was a long way for someone, like me, who is no way a horse rider.
The horse blankets are made using the traditional Kashmiri rug chain stitch embroidery.
Another gondola and a ski chair lift went further up the mountain beyond the tree line but I stayed at this level to search for whatever wildflowers I could find.
The ubiquitous dandelion was the most prevalent flower on these rocky, high places.
Common ground hugging daisies also seem to survive almost anywhere.
I walked; I looked; but only the odd plant survived in these conditions to flower at this time of the year. I did find an Anemone obtusiloba. It is said that the juice of this plant’s roots can be used as an opthalmic (eye) medicine.
Cheerful, sunny Buttercups (Ranunculus sp.) are always a pleasure to find.
The young shoots and leaves of this Elderberry (Sambucus adnata) are cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
The ripe yellow berries of the Elderberry are eaten as fruit.
As often happens, when I do find a flowering plant in an unfamiliar place, I don’t know it’s name! This flower is tiny but such a beauty. It’s always worth taking a good look at small things in nature.
On the way back towards Srinagar, the views down into the valley were spectacular, if a bit misty.
Garden escapees like these Rudbeckia added interest and colour to the view.
This photo explains Rudbeckia’s common name of Cone Flower.
Another very photogenic garden escapee adorning our roadside stop was this Cosmos.
This Marigold was another humble garden escapee. It’s grown all over India to make Puja Garlands.
According to the following website, marigolds have a host of other uses:
Other uses : Bright yellow and orange Marigold flowers are used to make garlands. They are even used to decorate the religious places. The leaves of its flowers are used as salads. Yellow dye has also been extracted from the flower, by boiling. The burning herb repels insects and flies. Pigments in the Marigold are sometimes extracted and used as the food colouring for humans and livestock.”
So maybe the marigold is not so humble after all!
It had been an interesting day but, with my expectations of finding the much reported fields of wild flowers, I was disappointed.
Gulmarg has a history of being a pleasure resort for kings and their families. It was also the summer retreat for officers during the British rule in India. These days it is mainly a ski resort and I can imagine it is spectacular with the mountains covered in winter’s snow – but in autumn it is not at its best.
DY and JT of ‘jtdytravels’
All Photographs © DY of ‘jtdytravels’
more of our travel photos on : flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels