The edited version of this post can also be found at: http://www.timeoutdubai.com/travel/features/55415-kashmirs-hidden-paradise
Meral Kathwari gives us her inside guide for traveling to Kashmir and breaks down the region’s top tourist attractions.
Regardless of Kashmir’s silent conflict between India and Pakistan, tourists haven’t stopped flocking to the state to enjoy its hidden wonders and array of seasonal activities. Kashmir is often compared to Switzerland because of its mountain views and mainly temperate climate. Just a four hours plane ride away from the UAE, it’s the perfect place to escape the humidity and enjoy a peaceful getaway.
In Kashmir’s capital city of Srinagar, visitors can enjoy shikara (boat) rides on its many lakes and rivers. Kashmir’s famous Dal Lake is surrounded by mountains and provides for a quite gateway. People can enjoy restaurants in boathouses and floating markets, which drift by for the ride. The floating vegetable market is like no other. It attracts tourists every year for the variety of its produce and colourful arrangements. Srinagar’s Nigeen Lake is smaller but tends to be less busy. It’s the perfect place to kick back and relax on a shikara and glide through the water, surrounded by lily pads. The Jhelum River serves as the main waterway in Kashmir. It rises from the beautiful Verinag spring and is lined by traditional houseboats and markets where many tourists can find affordable deals. Staying in a houseboat in Kashmir is truly a traditional experience. You can spend a day taking a tour through the old city in Srinagar. Experience the culture, learn the history of the town, and interact with locals when visiting this village (kashmir-tours.net). For the arts fanatic: You can go to Kashmir’s SPS Museum situated along the Jhelum River and feast your eyes on forgotten treasures of ancient art and architecture. In Dachigham, you’ll enjoy a scenic view and a wildlife sanctuary where you can interact with wild animals, including caged leopards and bears.
For the Sports Fanatic
The biggest attractions for tourists is Kashmir’s many options of seasonal sports activities. Skiing, golfing, rafting, and paragliding are all popular. Because of its proximity to the mountains, Kashmir’s ski resort in Gulmarg gets the heaviest snowfall. Visitors can use Gulmarg’s gondola, cable car lift, to go up to a height of almost 4,000 meters. Skiers then have a 5-km downhill run to enjoy. Daily, weekly, or seasonal passes are available at the Ski Resort Centre. The resort also accommodates beginners and intermediate-level skiers (http://www.ski-gulmarg.co.uk).
Kashmir offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to play golf. Its low temperatures provide a pleasant experience during the summer months. At an altitude of 2,650 meters, Gulmarg’s golf course is the highest in the world. Rather than a flat land, the course is surrounded by slopes and has a par of 72. Many tournaments have also taken place at The Kashmir Golf Club, a luxurious 18-hole course with a par of 70. The course is lush and green. It has a unique look surrounded by Chinar and Pine trees. Near the Cheshmahashi Mughal Garden, the Royal Springs Golf Course overlooks the beautiful Dal Lake. It sits on the hills of the Zabarwan Mountains (www.bharatonline.com).
Families can also enjoy white water rafting at the Lidder Valley in Pahalgam. With Kashmir’s natural beauty, rocky forests, and high altitude, rafting is an ideal experience. You can reserve a booking weeks beforehand for your convenience (www.mountainmagictours.com).
To fuel your adrenaline, Kashmir holds a seven-day paragliding festival every year in May. Paragliding is the most common of adventure sports in Kashmir and has a number of training camps in Jammu and Sanasar (http://www.royalsaffari.com).
You can also explore Kashmir’s many Islamic shrines and Hindu temples for a spiritual experience. The Jamia Masjid is Kashmir’s biggest mosque. It is built around a courtyard and made from 370 pillars of wood. The mosque has been destroyed by fire three times and has been rebuilt every time throughout the years. The Hazartbal shrine is one Kashmir’s most pristine mosques. It is a domed mosque known for preserving a hair of the Prophet Mohammed. In the southeast of Kashmir sits the sacred Shankaracharya Temple, providing a picturesque view on top of Kashmir’s Takht-e-Sulaiman hill. The temple is an example of early Kashmiri architecture and style. It is widely believed that the Hindu saint Shankaracharya used to live there. (www.travel.kashmir.net).
Enjoy a Picnic in the Mughal Gardens
The gardens in Kashmir have become a huge tourist attraction. They are perfect to enjoy a picnic or family outing. Pari Mahal is a seven-terrace garden, which was built by Dara Shikoh, a Mughal emperor who designed the place for his beloved Sufi teacher Mulla Shah. It overlooks the city of Srinagar and Dal Lake, which at sundown offers a charming view. You can enjoy Islamic architecture in both Shalimar Gardens and Nishat Bagh. The gardens there are filled with fountains and lined with Chinar trees, some dating back a few centuries. The Nishat garden terraces represent the twelve zodiac signs. Just outside both gardens, you can indulge in some shopping at local bazaars and visit many other architectural landmarks (www.whc.unesco.org).
Fish for Trout and trek the hills
Kashmir is popular for its Trout fishing and hiking. For a calming activity, visitors can trek to Kashmir’s Veshnusar and Gangbal lakes. Between May to July months, the snow in the Sindh, Lidder, Doodh Ganga, and Ahlan rivers starts to melt—making it easier to fish. The Kokernag, Verinag, and Sukhnag streams are best to visit in the spring. For the more experienced hikers, the towns of Pahalgam and Sonamarg are popular for hiking in the Himalaya Mountains. You’ll also run into the Thajiwas Glacier when trekking in Sonamarg and the Kolahai Glacier in the Lidder valley. You can even hire a horse to help you carry your belongings (http://www.jktourism.org).
Indulge Your Taste Buds
Kashmiri food is a rarity around the world and simply has mouth-watering menus. Tourists can enjoy many Kashmiri delicacies when they visit its restaurants and hotels. Popular appetising dishes include Goshtaba, Tabaak Maaz, Yakhni, and Rogan Josh. At this famous restaurant in Srinagar, tourists can find authentic Kashmiri cuisine. It’s located in Ahdoos hotel and has a lot of cuisines to choose from with exceptional service.
Shamiyana Restaurant provides excellent food with reasonable prices at a beautiful location. Shamiyana is located is near the Boulevard in Srinagar and overlooks the Dal Lake. At night, the location is busy with vendors and tourists. Here you’ll taste exotic flavours of the Wazwan, which comprises traditional Kashmiri delicacies. Friendly staff and waiters make your meal an enjoyable experience.
This cool and down-to-earth restaurant attracts Kashmir’s elite and locals. Located in the Broadway Hotel, the restaurant is a perfect place to grab a coffee or snack with a friend. You are also welcome to stay for a full meal. Here you are presented with a variety of Continental, Chinese, Kashmiri, and Indian dishes.
Kashmir is the only place you’ll find authentic handmade embroidered rugs and shawls. There’s a variety of pashmina, wool, silk, and shahtoosh fabrics. Kashmir is known for its distinctive embroidery that’s unique to the region’s markets. You can get most of your shopping accomplished in stores on Residency Road and Polo View Road in Srinagar. On Polo View, GM Shah is a great place to find Kashmiri shawls, pherans, and clothes (+91 194 2472394). They’ll fit you in the right-size fabrics and match them with great prices.
Carpets are the most expensive thing you’ll buy in Kashmir but they’re a life-long investment. At Tariq’s Designs (+91 981 1263994), you can rifle through throngs of exquisite wool, silk, and chain-stitch rugs. The showroom also has a range of tapestries from all over of the world. Tourists can find affordable crafts to take back as gifts or souvenirs in Kashmir’s many bazaars and on The Boulevard. Paper Mache is very popular in Kashmir and is made by local villagers and craftsmen. Their price range is based on size and quality. On Residency Road, you’ll find stores filled with spices, nuts, dried fruits, saffron, and honey, and other specialities of Kashmir. Kashmiri jewels are also specific favourites among tourists.
Vacationing in Kashmir is easy and affordable. The state has a range of hotels and house boats for visitors to utilize and enjoy. The Lalit Grand Palace (Gupkar Road, +91 194 2501001) is a five star hotel with incredible facilities and a jaw-dropping garden views. Their concierge can make your journey easier and assist you with travel plans to visit the city. The Centuar Hotel (Chasmesahi, +91 0194 2501236) has reasonably priced packages and has a direct view of Dal Lake. The Taj Vivanta Hotel (Kralsangri, Brien +91 194 246 1111) is located on a hill. The hotel is engulfed with mountain views, making it a peaceful retreat in paradise. For the full cultural experience, tourists can stay on a houseboat and commute back-and-forth via Shikara. Many Indian tourists from other prefer to stay in the one of the many guesthouses that have opened to the public. The guesthouses in Kashmir have safe and comfortable living arrangements. Depending on the guesthouse, you’ll get your own household help and cook to support your needs. If you decide to go camping in the hills or if you enjoy the outdoors way more, you can book a hut or a tent. You can visit http://www.jktdc.co.in to arrange your stay.
Kashmir never fails to entertain its tourists. Every year you can find festivals, concerts, and cultural shows throughout the territory. The tourism department organizes a Tulip and Saffron Festival in the April and October months. Many artists and classical performers also hold concerts every year in the gardens. In September 2013, the German Embassy hosted the “Kashmir Concert,” where international icon Maestro Zubin Mehta conducted the Bavarian State Orchestra in the Shalimar gardens in front of hundreds of guests (http://www.jktourism.org).
The edited version of this post can also be found at: http://www.timeoutdubai.com/travel/features/55415-kashmirs-hidden-paradise.