Posted by: Madhushri Jadhav
The Kashmir Valley, also known
as the Vale of Kashmir, region of the northwestern Indian subcontinent. It has
been the subject of dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition of
the Indian subcontinent in 1947 but when I decided to travel to this valley all
that I had in mind was the serene beauty of this land which is also called heaven on
earth. Once you enter the borders of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, either
by flight or by road, you can’t miss the sight of humungous mountains, the deep
narrow valley and high plateaus.
I was mesmerized by the sight that unfolded its self, the melting snow on the peaks (since I travelled in March) seemed like a bolt of lightning under the sunlight. The view got me all excited about reaching Srinagar. ‘Agar kahin jannat hain toh woh bas yahan hain…welcome to Kashmir’
It is the perfect reflection of moods of changing season, spring breathes life into a frozen world and the air is filled with the fragrance of a million flowers that bloom on trees, shrubs and creepers. Summer heightens the effect making it pleasant to bask in the beauty of outdoors and autumn is poignant in its colours of warm introspection. Winter brings with it a blanket of snow, drowning the roads and even the Dal lake under the ice. Any season and you will love sending time in this valley.
Part of the charm of Kashmir is staying in a floating houseboat. Houseboats are classified into different categories: deluxe, A, B and economy. Maintained in perfect condition they have electricity and an efficient plumbing system. The cheerful and often aesthetically decorated houseboats with colourful awnings and flower baskets are a unique experience.
There are also European style hotels, private guesthouses and tourist huts. The Boulevard is lined with hotels and restaurants to suit every budget
After checking into hotel and a little relaxation, I decided to go take a stroll down the streets near the Dal lake, as my hotel was situated quite close to it. Evening sight of all the house boat and Shikara lined up in dim lights is worth seeing. Then of course you will come across lot of shops selling traditional Kashmiri artifacts The beautiful pashmina shawls, sweaters, jackets all things woolen.
One should definitely try some local foods. The one thing that requires a special mention is the Kashmiri cuisine specialty called Wazwan. It’s a traditional spread that includes seven delectable preparations ranging from tender meat balls. Kashmiri food is mild in taste and rich in flavour with the high use of hot spices like cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and saffron. Influenced by Mughals, Kashmiri cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, with mutton, chicken or fish used as prime ingredients but there are a few delicacies for vegetarians too! Lyodur Tshaman is cooked almost every day in the Kashmiri households, a cottage cheese preparation. There are its other very famous dishes Dum Aloo, Modur pulav, Rogan josh, Kashmiri Muji Gaad.
Places to visit:
One of the best ways to commence your Srinagar sightseeing is with by taking a Shikara ride in the calm and peaceful Dal Lake. The water beneath forming ripples as the oar sways in it creates most wonderful sound.
It is divided in four parts by causeways known as Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. The fascination for houseboats led to the creation of a large number of luxurious floating hotels shops and India’s only floating market. Shikaras and houseboats crave for attention with their imaginative names.
The famous Mogul gardens of Srinagar should be on your to do list. The celebrated Mughal gardens of Kashmir owe their grandeur primarily to Emperor Jahangir who had an undaunted love for Kashmir. Almost all popular Mughal gardens in Kashmir except Verinag follow a similar pattern with a central water channel sourced at natural springs.
Laid out in the 17th C. (1634 AD) by Mirza Abul Hasan, the Nishat Bagh is amongst the most prominent gardens that the Mughals developed in the erstwhile Hindustan. The garden consists of twelve terraces encompassed by lofty Chinar trees, supposedly symbolizing the twelve signs of the zodiac. Nishat Garden happens to be the second largest Mughal garden. While the design of the Nishat Garden is based on Persian architecture, the landscaping is based on Kashmiri water patterns and terrain. It also offers breathtaking panoramic views of the stunning Dal Lake, with the magnificent Zabarwan Mountains serving as the perfect backdrop.
The beautifully laid Shalimar Bagh happens to be the largest amongst the three iconic Mughal gardens in Srinagar. The Shalimar Garden was constructed back in 1619 under the orders of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who dedicated it to his wife Nur Jahan. Nicknamed as the “Crown of Srinagar”, this public park is set overlooking the shimmering waters of the picturesque Dal Lake. the exquisite Shalimar Garden offers an amalgamation of stunning man-made structures, brilliant architecture, natural allure, and well-manicured gardens.
Dating back to the early 17th century, this historic garden was built under the command of Emperor Shah Jahan for his elder son, Prince Dara Shikoh. At the centre of the garden is a freshwater spring which flows in terraces. The lush flowering lawns exhibit a striking display of Iranian designs, and stand testament to the architectural brilliance of the erstwhile Kashmir, making it one of the most sought after of historical Kashmir places.
The Shankracharya Temple made of ancient grey stones adorns thickly wooded Shankaracharya Hill. It was earlier known as Takht-i-Sulaiman, meaning Throne of Solomon, but has been renamed after a saint, Adi Shakaracharya, attained enlightenment here in AD 750. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple rests at an altitude of 1000 feet and can be reached in 10-15 minutes by stairs. Do ensure that you reach this temple before 5 pm. Although it remains open till 8, the army doesn’t allow four wheelers after 5 pm. Enjoy stunning views of the locales from up there after offering prayers to Lord Shiva. the fun part though is getting there: a winding road leads up to the top of the hill from where a circuitous series of steps lead to the temple. The view from the top is spectacular and well worth the effort.
If you feel you have seen all the stunni9ng gardens of Kashmir then just wait, for here comes the Tulip gardens. Tulip festival is an annual celebration that aims to showcase the range of flowers in the garden as a part of tourism efforts by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. It is organized during the onset of spring season in Kashmir valley (March to May). As I travelled in the month of March I was lucky enough to witness this eye popping blanket of flower spread across 30 hectares of land. I always had believed that you can see such beautiful gardens only if you travel to Switzerland but what I witnessed in tulip gardens was just mesmerizing. You won’t be able to stop staring at the sight that beholds in front of you. The garden is built on a sloping ground in a terraced fashion consisting of seven terraces. Apart from tulips, many other species of flowers – hyacinths, daffodils and ranunculus have been added as well
Once I had seen few of the local sightseeing the Srinagar had to offer I decided to go on Excursion to the snow valley which I found in the tiny town of Sonmarg. Sonmarg meaning meadow of gold. It truly lives up to its name. This beautiful Himalayan town is full of mountain ranges and valleys to explore through trekking. It is a base camp for trekkers going to Ladakh and for many trekking routes to different lakes of Kashmir, such as Krishnasar Lake, Gadsar Lake, Vishansar Lake, and so on. During winter the valley covered with snow offers an opportunity to the tourist to enjoy sledding or skiing or snow fighting. I was able to enjoy in the snow even in month of March. It was earlier the gateway to the Silk Road connecting Kashmir with China. The month of April to October is the peak time to experience the beauty of flowery meadows, snow-covered peaks, frozen glaciers, waterfalls, and pristine lakes. But if you are interested in snow-related adventures like skiing, ice skating, and sledding on frozen glaciers, winter is the best time for you to visit Sonmarg.
If we are talking about snow and looking at sun-kissed peaks then Gulmarg is the place to be. I call it Switzerland of India. Gulmarg justifies its meadow of flowers tag. The meadow is given a visual highlight by the 1890s Anglican Church of St Mary’s that sits on a lonely hillock which can be accessed off the dead-end road that links the 1965 neo-colonial style Hotel Highlands Park to the historic Gulmarg Golf Club. The easiest way out is using the two-stage gondola cable car that flutters you to 3747m. The impressive clear day views from the top are worth the ride. During this ride, you’ll encompass Nanga Parbat which is the world’s ninth highest mountain peak located across Pakistan. Gulmarg endeavors you with more than 40 choices of accommodation each of them beautiful in their own very way.
Amidst the Liddar Valley sits a picturesque destination in Kashmir – Pahalgam. It is located in the Anantnag district in Jammu at an elevation of 2740 metres above sea level. Popularly it is called the Valley of Shepherds. Some of the stunning lakes such as Sheshnag Lake will surely take your breath away and beauteous pine trees will follow you wherever you go. If you are waiting for an adrenaline pump, you have plenty to look forward to on your trip to Pahalgam. Initiate trekking on a hill or climbing the Himalayas from a suitable summit and unleash all the adrenaline. It offers everything for all age groups, especially kids who have a gala time moving around this beautiful place a lot. You might want to indulge in various activities with them too by zorbing, sitting in various rides at famous amusements parks and what not! Traversing in and around Pahalgam is devoid of any fuss as you can easily find local transport means and not waste much time hovering around on your holiday.
Packed with mesmerizing freshwater springs, gushing streams, and breathtaking lush gardens, Anantnag is one of the most divine places to see in Kashmir. Anantnag is packed with a number of religious destinations, such as Martand Sun Temple, Kheer Bhawani Asthapan, Ishmuqam Shrine, Ziarat Baba Hyder Reshi, and Masjid Baba Dawood Khaki. Other attractions of Anantnag include Kishtwar National Park, Verinag, and Achabal.
Nestled in Downtown Kashmir, Jama Masjid is the biggest mosque in the city and one of the most important of Kashmir tourist places. A vast courtyard flanks its entrance, and is dotted by 370 pillars. The expansive halls here can accommodate up to 33,333 people at once, and is thronged by devotees on each Friday of the week.
One of the most underrated of Kashmir tourist places, Khilanmarg offers the perfect getaway from the busy city life. During spring, the meadow remains virtually covered in a blanket of flowers, and offers quite a spectacle. During winters, Khilanmarg transforms into a thriving winter sports destination, with its slopes giving way to ski trails. The valley is also well known for commanding panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks. On a clear day, one can also catch a glimpse of the Nanga Parbat from here.
The Hazratbal Shrine
The Hazratbal Shrine, is situated on the left bank of the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar. This unmatched reverence is anchored in the love and respect for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whose Moi-e-Muqqadas, the sacred hair from the beard of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is preserved here. The construction of this white marble edifice with a domed structure was completed in the year 1979. Although this shrine is frequented by locals on Fridays for mass prayers, it experiences an influx of visitors on special occasions, when holy relics are displayed.
Chandanwari is the popular entry point to Amarnath, one of the four dhams of Hinduism. It is located exactly halfway between Srinagar and Amarnath. It is named after an interesting phenomenon in that it has a holy sandal (meaning ‘Chandan’) tree that is unlikely to survive at such high altitude and topography. trek to the Chandanwari Glacier point will give you unparalleled views of Pahalgam. Don’t skip the adrenaline-rushing sledge ride across a snow bridge and be mesmerised by this visual treat. As it remains covered in snow all year, it is advisable to rent a pair of gumboots from a nearby local shop.
Dachigam National Park
The Dachigam National Park is the world’s best-preserved natural habitat for the near-extinct Hangul or Kashmir stag (Red deer). It has piqued the interest of many wildlife enthusiasts to visit and photograph a wide range of species in their natural habitat. They believe that one visit is insufficient to explore its wilderness.
In the year 1983, this little Kashmiri Valley formed the backdrop of the hit Bollywood flick Betaab. Since then, the former Hagan Valley has earned its name ‘Betaab’ Valley. With its backdrop dotted with coniferous forests, gushing streams and meadows, the beauty of Betaab beckons to all those looking to escape into the serenity of the natural world. You can take in the scenery while sipping tea, coffee, or Kashmiri Kahwa at a roadside café. It is a common stopover en-route Chandanwari. The other bollywood connection to this place are blockbusters as old as Kashmir Ki Kali in 1964 and more recent movies like Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) showcasing the best of Kashmir.
The list of places to visit in Kashmir can be endless, but let’s move to some other interesting things to do in Kashmir. Walnut wood carving is done in many parts of Kashmir and some exquisite pieces of furniture or other items, like a collectible chess set or home décor, can easily fit your pocket and your luggage. If you appreciate the fine things in life, you must take a look at the pashmina shawls and other fine wool items present at the state emporiums or other local shops. For those who prefer opulence in their houses, Kashmiri carpets are a must – check out at various shops before buying as prices are usually hiked. If you wish to buy souvenirs then Papier Machie is your best bet as you’ll find a variety of items in varying prices. Make sure you bag some fresh walnuts and saffron before you head home.
Nothing can be more refreshing than a trip to Kashmir. Kashmir takes you on an unforgettable journey of mountains, snow, trekking, shopping, paradise for foodies, lush gardens, holy shrines, highest golf course. Something for everyone. Come on, plan your journey to yours truly Kashmir.