Later that day, we left for Srinagar- a distance of approx. 90 km. This journey takes the same route we took while coming from Anantnag for few kilometres and then takes a short cut bypassing Anantnag town through well-kept Kashmiri villages and apple orchards. This internal road after a journey of 45-50 minutes comes out on NH-1A near town of Bijbehera. Bijbehera city is famous for the factories of bats. Everyone even little interested in cricket knows about these famous bats from Kashmir. You can stop your vehicle at any of these shops and maybe catch a live demonstration and shop for bats if interested. This time it’s the Jhelum River that gives us company along the way. After approx. 20 km from Bijbehera, we arrive at Avantipora town. Awantipora is famous for the ruins of Awantiswamin temple (dedicated to Vishnu) and Awantishwar temple (dedicated to Shiva)- both of which are in ruins today. These 8th century temples were built by Awantivarman- the king of Utpala dynasty. The Avantiswamin temple is in fractionally better state than the other and one can observe interesting sculptures of Vishnu, Ganga- Jamuna and the king himself among others. Both these temples are now protected by Archaeological survey of India. Entry fee Rs.5 for residents of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Thailand and Myanmar. For others, the entry fee is Rs. 100. Another 13km ahead from Avantipora is Pampore- famous for the saffron fields. We did some quick shopping for saffron and dry fruits at a shop there and sipped a cup of Kahwa- the Kashmiri tea prepared using saffron and almonds. October is the right season if one wants to see the flowers blooming. When we visited, the fields were dry.
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Dal LakeHave always heard about Kashmir’s Dal Lake – either, parents have always spoken about this one place or it has been made tremendously popular with the numerous movies & songs shot here. Truly scenic, Dal Lake could definitely do with some less crowd to preserve its natural beauty. Nevertheless, the lake surrounded by towering mountains on three sides is scattered with colourful & brightly painted shikaras all along it - the most unique feature of the lake being the floating market. There would be shikaras rowing all the way up to you giving you options of buying veggies & flowers, shawls & souvenirs or just wearing the already-worn-a-million-times traditional Kashmiri attire & pose for a snap. Don’t forget to grab some kulfi from a vendor sailing by!Mughal GardensShalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Chashme Shahi & Pari Mahal, together form the touristy Mughal Gardens in and around the Dal Lake. All of them are pretty botanical gardens built during the Mughal times, blooming with roses, the hundred odd years old traditional Chinar trees, refreshing fountains & natural springs, making it a perfect picnic spot for a bright Sunday afternoon. Kashmir for foodies!How can you travel to Kashmir & not taste the rich & regal Kashmiri kahwa – light liquor tea drenched with dry fruits – clearly tea for the rich, what with one small ‘paper’ cup costing some 30 bucks.For dinner, we zeroed in on ‘Mughal Darbar’. Mughal Darbar is to Kashmir what Peter Cat is to Kolkata, Britannia to Mumbai & Kareem’s to Delhi – old, traditional, authentic, oozing with culture & lots of food! Being thorough carnivours, we ordered the Kashmiri Wazwan – a state of the art dish with various kinds of meat preparations served on a heap of rice. Guests sit together & share this meal, out of a large plate. Apparently the original Wazwan is supposed to have around 36 courses – after this, all I could say was...burrrp!
Shankaracharya temple- a temple devoted to Lord Shiva. It was at the hill top at a height of approx 1000 ft. I was sceptical to climb so many stairs but finally made it. I was curious as to how many stairs I climbed, so while coming back I counted them- total stairs up and down was 500. It was freezing cold and we had to take of our shoes to enter the temple- it felt as if we were walking on the ice slab. It was the small temple with a huge beautiful Shivling inside. From top of the temple we got the breathtaking bird's eye view of Srinagar (Unfortunately the camera was not allowed there because of security reasons).
Tulip Garden Srinagar
You can spend a day visiting all the gardens in Srinagar - Tulip Gardens, Shalimar, Nishat and Chashmeshahi. The gardens are well maintained and beautifully landscaped. It is enthralling to be surrounded by such greenery and riot of colors. However, if you want to see the gardens in full bloom, the best time to visit is May-June. When we were there, the flowers had just started to bloom, so even though they did look beautiful, we couldn't see them in all their splendor.
Yousmarg is a land of rolling green hills. I went horse riding through these green meadows and explored the inner secrets of this forest. When I reached the river flowing through its heart, I wasn't disappointed at all. There are lush conifers all around and the silence is broken only by the persistent gurgling of the river rushing through the rocks. Sit back and enjoy Nature's beauty while you sip on some golden kahwa. Let me warn you though, the narrow trail leading to the river is not for the faint hearted. It requires quite some endurance and conquering over ones fear of heights.
National Highway 1D
Day 2 | 3rd August 2015 Enjoy the breathtaking vistas of Kashmir as we start early from Srinagar and head towards Sonamarg through NH 1D or more popularly known as the Srinagar-Leh Highway. Post Sonamarg, the ascend to Zozi La (11649 ft) begins. As we descend from Zozi La, we would finally enter the Ladakh valley. After a brief stop at the Dras War Memorial, we would head straight for Kargil. Overnight at Kargil. Drive Distance – 200 km Drive Time – 8 hours
Day 1: Arrive at Srinagar. Depart Srinagar by 2 pm and drive to Shitkari base camp (4 hrs).
Shitkari Campsite is the most beautiful Base Camp imaginable to start a Himalayan Trek. The camping grounds next to a rivulet gives a beautiful setting. With Thajwas Glacier at the background, one does not feel like leaving the spot.
Shelter group of Houseboats in Srinagar | Kashmir Houseboats
Budget friendly, yet clean and luxurious, Shelter's houseboats are the best place to stay in Kashmir. the staff is warm and cordial, and always at your service. They are happy to accommodate requests from the guests and make them feel at home. The rooms are neat and clean, with lavish decors. They have heating options for cold nights and 24hrs hot water supply (which is a great and essential thing in Kashmir).
Dachigam National Park
16. Dachigam National Park, Jammu & Kashmir – Where a rare species is caught in the crossfireDachigam National Park is just 22 kms away from Srinagar and it is home to the rare Hangul (Red Stag) species of deer. According to a survey done in 2011, only about 300 of them live today. The political turmoil of the region has a lot to do with it. The locals graze their cattle in the Hangul's terrain which leaves less for the deer. On top of that, it is said that during the peak of terrorism in the region, the insurgents often hunted the deer for meat.
Day 7: Gangabal lake to Naranag. Drive to Srinagar and reach by 6.30 pm. Stay overnight at Srinagar
Key Highlights of the Day 1. The beautiful meadows with Harmukh peak looming in the background. 2. The interaction with local shepherds with family and livestock on the slopes.
Srinagar - Leh Highway
To better acclimatize for the expedition, my trek mates and I deliberately flew to Srinagar and planned to travel by road to Leh. But, the minute we landed in Srinagar our cab driver told us about the cloud burst and landslides in the region due to which the Srinagar-Leh highway was blocked. Our trek was to start in 3 days and we were perturbed by the situation and gave up on the Ladakh plans after waiting 2 days. On the 3rd day at 4am our cab driver called up to tell us that the BRO (Border Road Organization) had cleared up the highway. We bundled into the cab and did a straight 26hrs journey on one of the world’s deadliest roads, crossing places like Zoji La (3528m), Dras (3280m) and Kargil(2676m) in the middle of the night. We reached Leh at 7am the next day and were grateful that we had made it to our expedition start camp just in time.
The lifeline of Srinagar-the picturesque never ending Dal Lake which stretches on and on. Dotted with innumerable houseboats and floating shops, the Dal is like balm to a roving traveler spirit. Highly recommended is staying in one of the houseboats, and savoring Kashmiri hospitality.
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.