The Snow Paradise - Kashmir

5th May 2014
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 1/10 by Tasneem Merchant
The Dal Lake spans 22
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 2/10 by Tasneem Merchant
The Hazratbal Mosque
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 3/10 by Tasneem Merchant
Enjoy a Shikara ride on the Dal Lake
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 4/10 by Tasneem Merchant
View of the Yousmarg Forest
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 5/10 by Tasneem Merchant
On the way to Pahalgam
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 6/10 by Tasneem Merchant
Baisaran, the Mini Switzerland
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 7/10 by Tasneem Merchant
A houseboat on the Dal Lake
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 8/10 by Tasneem Merchant
The brew of spices - Kahwa
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 9/10 by Tasneem Merchant
The Meadow of Gold, Sonamarg
Photo of The Snow Paradise - Kashmir 10/10 by Tasneem Merchant
The Gondola at Gulmarg

Nestled in the bosom of the Himalayas, and watched over by fluff, pristine white clouds, Kashmir has been monikered as the 'Paradise on Earth'. Many have talked about its beauty and praised it in their poetry, but no words can possibly do justice to the wonderful scenery that envelopes this land. The most popular tourist attraction in Kashmir is the Dal Lake in Srinagar. No matter where you drive to in the city, the Lake will always be within sight at all times. The numerous house boats which dot this lake are remarkable for their hospitality and ambience.

The people here are extremely hospitable and kind and will talk about everything under the sun. When I visited Kashmir, I was lost in its snow capped peaks and the dreamy quality of the valley. Life in the valley goes at a slow pace, it's not sluggish, but is a good break from the hullabaloo and din of the city life. It provides a great breakaway from tedious monotonous routines. The Valley is so scenic, it feels like living inside a painting.

Many countries have a travel advisory against Kashmir due to safety reasons as it is an area of political turmoil, however, the Valley is calm during peak tourist season as tourism is the mainstay of the people there. Complementing the tourism industry is the handicrafts industry which is famous for the Kashmiri embroidery. Don't be fooled by the modesty of the shops, they might be exporting their wares to places as far and diverse as England and America.

The cuisine, called zaffran is exceptional and will leave you licking your fingers. I can still smell the fragrant spices wafting through the air, and taste the delicate hints of saffron. The experience of Kashmir would be incomplete without tasting the kahwa - a brew of spices that will keep your taste buds tingling for more.

From Srinagar, the main city,I travelled to Yousmarg, Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam and Baisaran, which are also popular tourist destinations. These places are quite a drive away and are through curvaceous roads hugging the mountains, but the views along the way are mesmerising, and you can watch the clouds descend upon the Earth as you travel higher up. One is bound to fall in love with the places as I did during my trip there. The horseback rides on the narrow trails amidst the mountains will leave you spell bound.

I stayed for around 2 - 3 days in each of these places. Since it is a popular tourist destination, the hotels around provide excellent service and several facilities. The best time to visit Kashmir is during March - June. The months of December and January are preferred by those who are interested in winter sports such as skiing.

Srinagar is the capital of the state and the main city which is connected by air. The famous Dal Lake attracts plenty of visitors. The houseboats are a pretty sight and have intricate wood carvings for decor. I spent my time not only relaxing in the houseboat, but also took a ride in the shikaras which is a really calming experience. I even saw shikaras selling fruit salads and what not! Other places to visit in Srinagar are the Mughal gardens which reflect on the grandeur of an era gone by. Built by the Mughals, one can find roses of almost all hues and even get their photos clicked in traditional kashmiri dresses. The Hazratbal Shrine, which contains the Moi - e - Muqaddas relic, is widely believed to contain a hair of the Prophet Mohammed. So do go have a look at this shrine which is considered the holiest in Kashmir.

Photo of Srinagar by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Srinagar by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Srinagar by Tasneem Merchant

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.

Photo of Yousmarg, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant

Gulmarg is another scenic beauty to go to when in Kashmir. It forms the circuit of Srinagar - Gulmarg and Sonmarg which is a route followed by most of those who visit the place. Gulmarg is reknowned for sports such as skiing and also hosts the worlds second highest gondola ride. Covered in snow, Gulmarg, which translates to meadow of flowers, is located 52 kilometres from Srinagar and has beautiful views along the way. there are several good hotels in Gulmarg. A night's stay over should be enough before heading out to other destinations.

Photo of Gulmarg by Tasneem Merchant

Sonamarg, or Meadow of Gold, is the first stop to the Holy Cave of the Amarnath. During the Yatra, pilgrims flock to Sonamarg in order to gain access to the Amarnath Cave. The path is usually blocked at all other times of the year, though one can still visit the glacier near Sonamarg. Don't be startled by the presence of the Army at Sonamarg, they are there in order to prevent from going up to the cave during off season. Enjoy a snow fight on the slopes of Sonamarg cradled by the mighty Himalayas on all sides.

Photo of Sonamarg by Tasneem Merchant

Pahalgam is the place to go if you want to indulge in some white water rafting. The experience of feeling the ice cold water splash all over you will zap your senses and awaken your body. The road leading to this beautiful place is dotted with bewitching views that are sure to take your breath away. Apple orchards appear on either sides of the road and the aroma lingers on for miles together. It is the ideal place to rest and unwind and just let go of all worries and tensions. I had a stop over of about 3 days in Pahalgam as it was the last destination on my itinerary. Calm and peaceful, Pahalgam is the ideal destination to escape to after a day of hectic activity and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. While you are in Pahalgam, be sure to visit the Betaab and Aru Valley too which offer splendid views of the mighty Himalayas and a breath of sweet mountain air.

Photo of Pahalgam by Tasneem Merchant

Known as Mini Switzerland, Baisaran is a clear opening among the mountains with lush green grass. It can be reached from Pahalgam on horseback and takes a total of about 3 to 4 hours. The sojourn through the forest is quite exciting and interesting. One gets to meet a lot of locals on this trail. They even offer rabbits and lambs to the tourists to take photos with. with huge conifers dwarfed by the gigantic mountains, Baisaran is an enchanting place, and a sight for sore eyes.

Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant
Photo of Baisaran Pahalgam, Baisaran Rd, Forest Block by Tasneem Merchant

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