KASHMIR – THE PARADISE ON EARTH
With its snow-capped mountains, beautiful meadows, picturesque waterfront gardens, awe-inspiring glaciers, romantic houseboats and tranquil lakes; the valley of Kashmir is truly a paradise on earth. Situated in the lap of magnificent Himalayas, Kashmir is known as the crowning glory of India. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth and a must visit destination.
Kashmir can be visited any time of the year as each season in Kashmir is a piece of beauty in its own peculiar way. Where Summers endow the whole valley with varied shades of greens, Autumn turns everything to gold and red. Snow covered landscapes of Winter lay grounds for a lot of snow sports. The lovely Spring season creates carpets of million blossoms in a gloriously pleasant weather.
Not just that, the lip smacking flavours of Kashmiri dishes add icing to the cake. From mouth-watering royal Wazwan to the soothing Kashmiri Kahwa, everything is a delicious blend of taste and aroma. Not to mention the heart-warming hospitality of Kashmir where tourists are much revered. Here is the list of 12 must-do things in Kashmir.
1. Shikara Ride on Dal Lake
Srinagar is the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir and Dal lake is the pride of Srinagar. Taking a shikara ride on its calm waters is a unique experience. Dal is not just a beautiful lake, but a life sustaining platform for a lot of locals. You will be fascinated as you sail through the vibrant market set up on the lake. Doctors, tailors, bakers, hawkers, fruit and vegetable shops, emporiums, souvenir shops and a lot others – you’ll find them all in small wooden shops on the lake waters. You can get the shikara stopped at these shops for shopping. Dal is also famous for its floating vegetable market where the vendors sell vegetables on shikaras. Not just that, you will also find a lot of vendors selling eatables like chips and chocolates on shikara as you cruise on the lake. It is like as if you don’t need to step on land for anything. Enjoy the view of floating gardens that blossom with lotus in summers, and spot the white breasted kingfishers as you venture into the interior parts of the lake. Also visit the Char Chinar Island that houses the ancient and beautiful Chinas trees. Dal Lake is more of a lifestyle than a lake.
2. Stay in a Houseboat
Houseboats in Kashmir are more of floating hotels with tastefully decorated luxury rooms. They look like life-size doll houses. Staying in a houseboat on the majestic Dal lake or the adjoining Nagin lake is a beautiful experience. You can sit by the window of your cozy room and enjoy the view outside over a glass of your favorite drink. Morning starts early on the lake and you may hear some locals singing melodious folk songs as they travel to work in their private shikaras. The architecture of the houseboats is a blend of British, Mughal and Kashmiri style. The in-house kitchen offers delectable cuisines, especially the lavishing non-vegetarian dinner. There is a large living room where guests can watch their favorite TV shows sitting on comfy sofas. Some houseboats even offer on the road parking facility. Since you need to board a shikara to reach your houseboat, make sure you check the last shikara ride timings when you go on land to explore more of the city.
Chashm-e-shahi is a stunning Mughal garden built in 1632 AD. In Urdu language, ‘chashma’ means ‘natural fresh water spring’ and ‘shahi’ means ‘royal’. Chashm-e-shahi or the royal spring garden was constructed around the spring discovered by the great female saint of Kashmir, Rupa Bhawani. The water is believed to have medicinal properties. The main attraction of this three-terraced garden is the natural freshwater spring housed in a two-story hut. Chashm-e-shahi is carpeted with lush greenery and colorful flowers. Sculpted fountains, tall chinar trees and waterfalls adorn the garden enhancing its charm.
4. Pari Mahal
Pari Mahal literally means the ‘Abode of the Fairies’. It is a seven-terraced garden nested at the foothills of Zabarwan mountain range overlooking the city of Srinagar. It was built on the ruins of a Buddhist monastery in 1650 AD by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The garden was dedicated to his Sufi teacher Mulla Shah. The place served as a library and abode for him and was later used as an observatory for teaching astrology and astronomy. Pari Mahal is a plain garden in historical ruins which endows a peculiar charm to the place. With its large variety of beautiful flowers and numerous fruit trees, the garden richly displays the architectural excellence of Mughals. Take a walk around this fascinating place and inhale some fresh air.
5. Nishat Bagh
Nishat Bagh is a 12-terraced Mughal garden built in 1633 by Asif Khan, brother of Noor Jahan. The 12 terraces represent 12 zodiac signs and there is a mountain spring that slide down from 15 feet height into a rectangular pool in the middle of the garden. With its splendid views of the Dal lake as well as snow-capped mountain ranges of Pir Panjal, it is also known as the ‘Garden of Bliss’. Nishat Bagh is adorned with various gushing fountains, rows of huge Chinar trees and beds of colorful flowers.
6. Shalimar Bagh
Shalimar Bagh or ‘The Garden of Love’ is the largest Mughal Garden in Srinagar. It was built in 1619 AD by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a gift to his beloved wife, Noor Jahan. Spread across an area of 31-acres along the Dal lake, this three-terraced garden is bejewelled with innumerable varieties of colorful flowers that bloom in Spring and Autumn. There is a canal lined with polished pebbles that runs through the center of the garden. Shalimar Bagh exhibits the Mughal architectural taste as well as their exemplary expertise in horticulture.
7. Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden
If you visit Kashmir between late March and early May, you can catch an enthralling sight of over 20 lakh Tulip flowers at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden. Covering an area of 30 hectares spread over seven terraces, it is the largest Tulip garden in Asia. With its wide spectrum of Tulips in every possible color on a backdrop of magnificent Zabarwan mountain ranges overlooking the majestic Dal Lake, the garden is a treat to the senses. You can click your perfect photograph moments here while enjoying the picturesque beauty of the entire garden. Every year a Tulip festival is organized here in the late March and April when the flowers are in full bloom. The festival features rich Kashmiri culture where you can enjoy Kashmiri dances, folk songs, buy local handicrafts and relish the sumptuous cuisines of Kashmir.
8. Hazratbal Shrine
Hazratbal is a beautiful Muslim shrine situated on the left banks of the glorious Dal lake. It is the only domed mosque in Srinagar. This revered shrine preserves the relic of Prophet Muhammad, titled Moi-e-Muqqadus (the sacred hair). The relic is only displayed to the public on religious occasions. The construction of this holy shrine took 11 years and was finally completed in 1979. Reflecting its pristine white marble elegance on the waters of Dal lake, Hazratbal offers a grand view of the lake and the mountains beyond.
9. Shankaracharya Temple
Situated on top of a hillock called Takht-e-Sulaiman at a height of 1000 ft. above the plains, Shankaracharya Temple is one of the oldest temples in India. It dates back to 200 BC. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to be visited by the great saint Adi Shankaracharya, who attained his spiritual knowledge of non-dualism at this place. Buddhists call this place the Pas-Pahad and they believe the temple was built by Jaluka, the son of emperor Asoka who was a follower of Buddhist religion. Hence the temple is revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. Resting on a solid rock, the terrace around the temple can be reached by stone staircase. The temple also offers a spectacular view of the Dal lake.
Located at a height of 2730 metres above the sea level, Gulmarg or ‘The Meadow of Flowers’ is a beautiful hill station in the Baramulla district of Jammu & Kashmir. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, lush green meadows, bright colorful flowers and evergreen hills and valleys, Gulmarg is known for its scenic beauty. The main attraction of the place is Gondola cable car ride which is the second heighest cable car ride in the world. The ride can be booked in two phases. The first phase will take you to Khilanmarg where you can enjoy the panoramic beauty of the place, click photographs, dine and relax. Don’t forget to try the famous deep fried paranthas of Khilanmarg. The second phase of the Gondola ride will take you to the glacier of Mount Apharwat, 4390 metres above the sea level. Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding takes place on the slopes of Mount Apharwat. Make sure you book Gondola ride in advance to avoid standing in long queues. You can also enjoy pony rides that take you to Khilanmarg. It is advisable to bargain for the pony ride prices as the quoted price is quite high. Gulmarg also houses the world’s highest golf course located at an altitude of 2650 metres.
Situated on the banks of Lidder river at an altitude of 7200 ft., Pahalgam is a pristine town in the Anantnag District of Jammu & Kashmir. The town offers fascinating views of extensive meadows, green fields, little houses, saffron farms, pine forests, snow covered mountains and gushing Lidder river. Pahalgam has a cool and pleasant weather even during peak Summer season. Enjoy the pony ride and venture into the unspoilt hills of Pahalgm. Spot the gypsy houses and various film shooting points. The ride will take you to the beautiful green landscape on a hill, popularly known as ‘Mini Switzerland’. You can enjoy various playful activities offered here as well as dine, relax and click lots of pictures.
Located at an altitude of 9200 ft, Sonamarg or ‘The Meadows of Gold’ is a small hill station in Ganderbal district of Jammu & Kashmir. Its name is derived from the yellow Crocus flowers that fill the valley in Spring season. Sonamarg lies at the core of a valley carved by the river Sind. The hill station offers a lot of places of interest. The major attraction is the Thajiwas Glacier. You can either hire a pony or reach the glacier by foot which is a little tough. Make sure you bargain hard for the pony ride prices. You can walk on the glacier and enjoy the sledge rides as well as click your favorite memories. The place is dotted with various waterfalls, streams and rich flora. The glacier is a retreat from the scorching Summer heat. Try the famous vegetable Maggie and aromatic Kashmiri Kahwa at the small restaurant situated at the foot of the glacier.
The second main attraction is the unspoilt natural lakes of Sonamarg – Krishnasar Lake, Gangabal Lake and Vishansar Lake. Each of them is a beautiful masterpiece of nature surrounded by hills and forests and a home to rich aquatic life. These lakes can be accessed through trek. The third attraction is Baltal where you can enjoy a camping experience. Baltal is situated on the Sindh River and the place is known for its beautiful cool climate and scenic views. Another important spot is Nilagrad, which is a mountain river known for its reddish color water and curative powers. For an extreme adventurous experience, you can visit Zoji-La Pass which is known for its most dangerous roads and stunning views.