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This was like a childhood dream coming true. A trip to Kashmir was long awaited.I had my air tickets booked via Air Asia but due to the unrest situation in Kashmir the plan was hazy. I was disheartened.I decided that I had to go and the day came when I picked my bags up and left for Kashmir.I booked my first night stay through Air BNB as it was comparatively cheaper than other hotels. The house owner came to pick me up at Srinagar Airport. I reached at his place, got myself freshen up and went off to roam around Srinagar.To be very frank, at first I felt that the Kashmir I have heard about and seen in movies is not what it looks in real. Srinagar was a little disappointing against my expectations.
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This monastery is the oldest one in the area belonging to the Kargyu School. The Gompa is a unique example of a monastic complex of this period, which manifests in its structure the geomantic principles which underlie religious constructions of this type. In addition, there are examples of construction techniques and details that are not found elsewhere. This place is a home for several hundreds of monks, thousands of devotees, villagers and tourists during the most memorable festival celebrated in Hemis Gompa, the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh.
Reach Spituk before night from Leh and take accommodation with one of the many families here, who charge around Rs. 200 for the night stay, dinner and breakfast. Alternatively, you could pitch your own tent if you like to and get food from these families or from the tea-tents.
The Lamayuru Monastery
The year 2013 was the first time I visited the Lamayuru Monastery. It was here that I befriended two young bhikkus, aged 1 and 4. After 4 years when I visited the monastery again in 2016, I met the older one who was all grown up, but as naughty as ever. Funny thing was that he recognised me too. Out of the swarm of tourists that visit Lamayuru every year, maybe our acquaintance was the beginning of a deep friendship.
Situated in Sumur village of the picturesque Nubra Valley, the Samstanling Monastery is considered to be an important Buddhist shrine. The founder of this monastery was Lama Tsultim Nima, who establishes it is 1841 (probably the newest that we visited). Painted in bright and beautiful shades of re, golden and white, the gompa can be spotted from a distance. The flights of stairs that lead to the shrine is also colored in red and adorned with brightly colored traditional prayer flage. Point to be noted: Doors. Awesome bright red doors.
Karma Dupgyud Choeling Monastery
For breakfast, Ringchen served Khambir, the traditional bread of Ladakh and locally produced apricot jam along with honey, cheese spread and tea. The morning rays seemed to make peace with the frigid hours of the night. Having worked as a tourist guide before, Dorjee was the most resourceful host we could ask for. He gave us a map of the region, providing an overview of the places to visit and how to get there. Shey Palace, Thikse Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Stok Palace and Spituk Monastery were on our list. When we were about to leave, Azal noticed that the front tires of the Thar were balding out towards the edges. A visit to the service station was in order. On the way to Shey Palace, we dropped in at the Mahindra Service Center in Leh. Since it was a good three to four hour job, we decided to come back in the evening before the garage closed. Going ahead in search of Shey Palace, we came across a magnificent Buddhist institution of which we hadn't heard before - Karma Dupgyud Choeling Monastery. We decided to take a peek inside.
Breathing trek through the rocks to reach this place. Starting from Sumur crossing the final check post at Panamik beyond which the road leads to Siachin base camp which is closed for civilians unless you have a special permission from Diskit SHO. Few meters from check post follow the road down to left end at a bridge crossing Nubra and turn left. Watch out for the Monastery on the top of the hill. You can take your vehicle till top or can trek through the rocks, actually rock climbing. The priest lives in the near by village so before proceeding enquir about the monk at the village before the bridge.
Shah E Hamdan (R.H) Mosque
We began the city tour from Shah E Hamdan Mosque in Shamswari.On the bank of Jhelum, this shrine hidden amidst tall green chinar trees. First built in 1395AD, the shrine has been destroyed and rebuilt in the course of history multiple times and stands as a memorial for the advent of Islam in Kashmir.
Next stop on this tour with the two girls was Jamia Masjid.For those looking for a silent spot to spend a great afternoon, this sacred shrine in the centre of the city can be a great hideout. Even for those who don't believe in God, the aura of Jamia Masjid evokes a certain calmness and it would find a place in your travel recollections for years to come.
To end our day we went to Hazratbal Shrine (dargah)- a holy place. It contained the hair of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Being a girl I was not allowed to go from the front gate and I had to go from the back gate. I entered from the back gate and a policeman told me that I should cover my head. I took out my handkerchief and covered it. That man started a conversation with me- he was a polite, humble person. When I told him I was a lawyer he felt as if he had met one of his relatives. He shook my hand so tightly I almost got a jerk and he happily bade goodbye to me saying "phir aana (come again)".
Sringar also boasts of a very diverse religious representation along with it's incomparable natural and scenic beauty. I was pleasantly surprised to visit temples, mosques and gurudwaras in close distances of each other. Yet, the beauty and exclusivity of each was better than the other and in a league of it's own. I first visited the Shankaracharya Temple, also known as Takht-e-Suleiman. It was constructed in 371 B.C. and as such is the oldest shrine in Kashmir. The location commands a magnificent panoramic view of the entire Srinagar city. Then I moved on to visit Imambara Hassanabad, which was a developed city during the Mughal rule. It is the 2nd oldest shrine and is a world famous place of mourning and worship of one million shia population of J&K. Like I mentioned earlier, on one side of the Imambara was the Chatti Padshahi Sikh Gurudwara which is a must stop for all the sikhs coming to Srinagar.
As we packed our tents and got ready everyone were drowned in their own thoughts. Few were anxious to reach the base camp and many more were saddened that the trek had come to an end. With mixed feelings we started our final leg of the trek. I bid one final goodbye to Mt. Harmukh which stood head high in all magnificence.The trail started with a small ascent and then it opened into meadows where we started to bump into people.The feeling of trek had passed and it was more like a walk through the forest. How mistaken I was to think this way! Post lunch the actual challenge began.The initial descent was steep and full of rocks with slippery sand. Many had their first, second and innumerable falls here.The trail got steeper as the time progressed and the knees were abused to glory. One was forced to descend without stopping as legs had started to shiver in agony. After four hours of descent we reached Naranag. It took a couple of minutes to adjust to the voices around and realize we were back into the civilization. An aura of accomplishment filled the room and everyone burst into loud cheers!!!
Martand Sun Temple
How to Reach: Easily reached from Anantnag main market (about five miles).Mythology: (More like history) The temple was built by King Lalitaditya of Karkota Dynasty. The temple has been described in scriptures as a sight to behold. It stood grand and glowed in the snow with all it's valour. Now it stands ruined (but not completely) as Mughal emperor Sikander Butshikan completely destroyed it. I is said and noted that many rulers tried to wipe out Martand's structure before Sikander, but were unable to. Built in an estimated period of 370-500 A.D., the temple (as per local legend) has been given a boon to stand until the apocalypse and now human power will ever be able to completely erase it.(The sight is heart breaking. Especially when you imagine the glory in which it must have stood, the sheer grandeur is overwhelming. And now I am overcome with grief that my eyes will never have such privileged.)
Avantiswami Temple Ruins
A centuries old ruins symbolizing the history of Hindu culture in the region. There are guides who will show you around. There is not a lot to see, but without someone telling you what you are looking at, you will probably be at a loss to understand the significance of the place.
On 25th Jan morning, we left for the Naag Temple, a local temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. While climbing up the steps of the temple itself, one can see them covered with snow and some starting to melt. One should be careful walking on the melting snow, as there is every chance of slipping on them. Here too, undoubtedly, the landscape was beautiful and beyond words to describe. Then shopping time unleashed ! We each spent around Rs. 17,000/- buying local handmade blankets, carpets, the Pashmina shawls, scarfs etc, but each of them was too beautiful and worth every rupee ! Finally we moved around enjoying random sceneries and the apple garden (with no apple at our time of visit !) Finally, all good things have to end (that too end quickly !!) The next day, we headed back to Jammu Railway Station via Kud Sweet Market, to board train to Delhi and from there, back to day to day life.