The stunningly beautiful Kashmir valley lies nestled between the great Himalayas and the equally lofty Pir Panjal mountain ranges. From the resplendent Mughal Gardens of Srinagar to the picturesque landscape of the Betaab Valley, here are some compelling reasons to pay a visit to this ‘Paradise on Earth’ at least once in a lifetime.
Land of the lakes
The pristine waters of the Dal and Nigeen Lake of Srinagar offer a wonderful opportunity for visitors to enjoy a Shikara boat ride or relish the hospitality of the locals during a stay on a houseboat. Further up are the alpine lakes of Tarsar, Marsar and Gadaar, each visually appealing in their own right. The water bodies of the Kashmir valley form a complex and vibrant ecosystem and have become a major attraction for people from all over the world. Book through reputed tour operators like – www.ekashmirtourism.com to enjoy Kashmir and its stunning landscapes.
Even at the height of the summer season, when the plains of India sizzle at 40°+ temperatures, the Kashmir valley remains cool and pleasant. With green meadows and flowers in full bloom, a summer visit provides an incredible vacation.During winter, sheets of snow cover the surrounding mountain tops and branches of the tall Chinar trees which makes the landscape look all the more breathtaking.
Pahalgam, the land of the shepherds, is a renowned tourist spot a few hours drive from the capital Srinagar. It is also home to the beautiful Betaab Valley from where one can get an excellent view of the surrounding landscape against the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains. Pahalgam stands at the confluence of the Sheshnag Lake and the Lidder River and is bounded by thick pine forest.The region is also a haven for adventure lovers as it features white-water rafting and is the starting point for many popular treks.
Blend it with Ladakh
Surrounded by the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, Ladakh is another place of exceptional beauty. An excursion to this land of Buddhist monasteries can easily be combined with a trip to Kashmir valley by road via Kargil and Drass towns. Needless to say, this two day journey passes through interesting spots like Suru Valley and Sonmarg before ending at Srinagar.
Enjoy a stay for a couple of nights on a houseboat and experience the warm hospitality of the Kashmiris. Pay a visit to the world famous Mughal Gardens, Nishant Bagh(garden of pleasure) and the abode of love, Shalimar Bagh. After paying obeisance at the Shankaracharya Temple, take a memorable boat ride on the Dal Lake to get a glimpse of a surreal lake sunset, often compared to the ones seen in Venice, Italy.
Ride the Gulmarg Gondola
The gondola at Gulmarg is Asia’s highest cable car ride and second only to Mi Teleferico of Bolivia.This top attraction provides a great view of the surrounding landscape during its two-stage ascent of 21 minutes from Gulmarg to Kongdoori Mountain at an elevation of 3747m. A further 11 minutes ride by chairlift takes skiing enthusiasts to Mary Shoulder, the venue for all ski events.
Mecca for History buffs
There are many important places of interest where history lovers can have a field day. The sixth century Hari Parbat Fort(Kooh-e-Maran) and the eighteenth century mosque Khanqah Shah Hamadan are considered to be of particular significance. Another must visit attraction in Srinagar is famous Hazratbal Shrine, where a strand of hair of Prophet Muhammad lies carefully preserved.
A paradise for handicrafts
Shopping in Kashmir is unlike anywhere else in India as it offers a unique experience. The local outlets are flooded with silverware, shawls, antique copper products, and of course the famous Kashmiri carpets. During winter, pure sheep wool items, dresses, baskets and flower pots made of papier-mache can be found on the streets of Lal Chowk, Raghunath Bazar, and the J&K Arts Emporium.
The cuisine of Kashmir is influenced by Hindus, Muslims, Persians as well as Afghans. The chefs which came from Samarkand during the Timur invasion, are said to be behind what authentic Kashmir cuisine is today. Since mutton forms an essential part of the food of the locals, it is prepared in many delicious ways in different spices to provide a unique twist of its own. Vegetarian dishes are also carefully prepared using cottage cheese, potatoes and dried vegetables in an interesting combination.
Adventure Sports hub
While most people come to Kashmir for sightseeing, there are many hardy souls who are always on the lookout for a dose of adrenaline. Kashmir has some of the best infrastructure for activities like mountain climbing, trekking and skiing. The fast flowing waters of the many rivers flowing through the valley are ideal for white water rafting. A hand at any of these outdoor activities will surely add a new dimension to your trip to the valley in the Himalayas.
Visit Dachigam National Park
This scenic park lies 22km from Srinagar and is home to the only species of red deer found in India, the highly endangered Hangul or the Kashmir stag. The upper and lower region of this National Park cover an area of outstanding natural beauty with deep valleys and rocky outcrops encircled by mountains. The park was once a source of water for Srinagar city, a practice which was stopped later. Numerous rare animals like musk deer, brown bear, ibex, markhor and Himalayan black bear are residents of Dachigam. The only way to explore this area is on foot.
No matter how much you expect, the beauty of Kashmir is bound to hit you hard. The sights and sounds of this welcoming valley will stay with you for long after you have gone, but not before leaving you breathless for more. One thing is sure, the ethereal charm of Kashmir will make you think about your return trip as soon as the current one is over. So irrespective of the time of the year, a visit to the valley will offer the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime experience.