Emperor Jahangir once said about Kashmir, “If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.” A magical place where earth seems to rise high to meet the heavens, mountains gently cradle the valleys in their green bosom and the wonderful shikara (houseboat) communities which practically never set foot on land. Touring Kashmir feels as if you’ve entered a Van Gogh painting where you see one beautiful vista after another. Whether it’s the famous floating market on Dal Lake or feasting on surreal views from atop the gondola ride in Gulmarg, the feeling of euphoria will leave you in awe. Kashmir has something to offer everyone – the Tulip Festival in Srinagar for nature lovers, skiing at Gulmarg, white-water rafting in Sonmarg and camping in the green valleys of Pahalgam for adventure enthusiasts. For epicureans, a wazwan meal (traditional Kashmiri cuisine comprising 36 courses) with Kashmiri kahwah (saffron infused green tea) in the end is a must try. No traveler’s journey is complete without experiencing the ‘Paradise on Earth’. One of the more famous tourist destinations in India, Kashmir is also the most conflicted region in India. But the recent extended period of peace in the Valley has seen tourism booming in Kashmir, which has gloriously risen from the ashes of insurgency.
A trip to Kashmir is an adventure filled with picturesque views unlikely to be found anywhere else in India, coming across a rich culture flourishing for generations in an amalgamation of different religions, exquisite food prepared with unique herbs that will leave their imprint on your for the rest of your life, and many other experiences which will make your trip to Kashmir one of a kind. There is so much to see, so much to experience and wonder at that it is easy to miss some essential tourist spots trying to fill in the days. It is essential to have a well balanced itinerary when undertaking such trips. The tourist season in Kashmir lasts from April to October-November and reaches its peak during the months of May, June and July. We have prepared the most common itinerary which most tourists follow when they visit Kashmir for a vacation. This is similar to the itinerary that most travel agencies provide for Kashmir trips.
You can reach Kashmir through the roads, namely the Manali-Leh-Srinagar highway. This route leading to Kashmir is famous for the enchanting and scenic sights along the way as well as the constant army presence which is friendly, unless you have a nefarious purpose. Another way to reach Kashmir is via direct flight which drops you off at the Srinagar airport. You will also get to travel on Asia’s highest cable car ride. For travelling to sightseeing sights you can book an exclusive taxi or travel in your own vehicle.
Kashmir is a very popular travel destination in India where national and international tourists visit every year. Though there are plenty of hotels to accommodate the growing tourist population in Kashmir, during the peak of the tourist season it may become difficult to find a hotel to book. That is why it is better to make all the preparations well in advance. All the travel major tourist spots have well maintained hotels for night stays and there are a few where you can even experience the joys of Kashmiri cuisine.
Going to Kashmir and missing out on the wonders of the Kashmiri food is a travesty. Abounding with spices and fresh ingredients, the cuisine of Kashmir is strongly influenced by its geographical location and imbibed in religious culture. Kashmiri cuisine or kashur khyon, is of two distinct varieties – One is that of the Kashmiri Pandits, which is marked by an absence of garlic and onion but an abundance of turmeric and yoghurt. The other is prepared in Muslim households, which is flavorsome and has a lot of spices, primarily used to enhance the taste of meat. There are plenty of restaurants, their population being denser in Srinagar, along the way which will offer you many traditional mouthwatering dishes. Whether you are a vegetarian or prefer the succulent taste of meats, Kashmiri food will leave you delighted with its rich flavor. Don’t forget to experience Wazwan, a traditional elaborate royal meal prepared of 36 dishes. It is a laborious task, but certain signature dishes include Rista (meatballs made by pounding meat), Seekh kababs, Tabakhmaaz (fried spare ribs) and Kashmiri pulao. Gushtaba– large meatballs served in yoghurt – is usually the grand finale in the main course. The meal is rounded off with Phirni as dessert and Kahwa (hot green tea infused with herbs) to digest the food. Enjoy this majestic spread of amazing rich food and make sure you come empty-stomached to do justice to the spread. Food Gali at Lal Chowk and Shamyana Restaurant serve authentic wazwan. Some wazas or master chefs in houseboats in Dal Lake also prepare wazwan with prior notice.
Day 1 ARRIVAL AT SRINAGAR
You can reach Srinagar by flight or by road. You flight would drop you off at the Srinagar airport. If you have booked a travel guide or made arrangements with a travel agency beforehand, they would pick you up from the airport and thus begins your tour of the exotic Kashmir. Instead of booking a hotel room, experience the wonder living in houseboats scattered all over Dal Lake. Over 15km around, Dal Lake is Srinagar’s crown jewel, a vast, mirror-flat sheet of water reflecting the carved wooden balconies of the houseboats and the misty peaks of the Pir Panjal mountains.
The houseboats, nicknamed “floating palaces”, are left over from the British Raj and built according to British customs. Most tourists spend at least one night at these houseboats which is a one of a kind experience. Each houseboat comes with its own shikara for ferrying guests to the shore. A shikara is a small padded taxi boat which is the cultural symbol of Kashmir and is used not only for ferrying visitors but is also used for the vending of fruits, vegetables and flowers and for the fishing and harvesting of aquatic vegetation. It can seat about six people with heavily cushioned seats and backrests to provide comfort in Mughul style.
All the places nearby the lake such as the surrounding gardens are approachable with the shikaras. It is a thriving community as you can see flotillas of merrily painted shikaras skiff around the lake transporting goods to market, children to school and travelers from houseboat to shore. Though in this colorful spectacle, be prepared to expect plenty of attention from souvenir vendors.
Stay at least one night to fully enjoy the serene and matchless experience of Dal Lake. You can also take this time to explore the Srinagar, the Lake city. For the shopping enthusiast, there are endless options to fill your bags with – handmade carpets, papier-mâché accessories, walnut boxes and hand crafted silver jewellery.
Day 2 SRINAGAR TO GULMARG
After a lavish breakfast, we drove down to Gulmarg which is translated to as The Meadow of Flowers. Its timeless beauty has attracted tourists throughout generations from many parts of the world. Gulmarg is at a distance of about 60kms, that is, 2hrs of drive through the scenic tour destination enjoying the splendor of nature and the snowy mountains in Kashmir. Trip to Gulmarg focuses primarily on famous ski slopes and a natural 18 holes golf course, which is also the highest golf course in the world. Gulmarg golf course offers the splendor of Srinagar and Nanga Parvat on either side. The snow-clad peaks and the lovely landscapes of Gulmarg has provided background for several Bollywood projects. The slopes of Gulmarg make it Asia’s only heli-skiing resort. You can also indulge in some horse riding. There are immense beauty and adventure activities that make Gulmarg much more than a cool hill resort.
But the main attraction of Gulmarg is the famous Gondola Cable car ride. It takes you from Gulmarg to Gandola which is at about 10,000 ft. through a cable car system. With nothing but the security of the Gondola cable car between you and the valley below, it is a surreal experience. It is an eight minute ride and you can see people’s houses becoming tiny dots in the background as your rise higher and higher. At this point, you can either stay overnight at Gulmarg or come back to Srinagar.
Day 3 SRINAGAR TO SONMARG
After a fulfilling breakfast prepare for a whole day excursion to Sonmarg, which plainly translates into ‘Meadow of Gold’, is a flower laden meadow in between the imposing Himalayan range that boasts of wafting scents of fir and pine forests. Sonmarg is a little hill station situated in a quiet corner of Kashmir providing ample solitude to wayward tourists. Surrounded by meadows of lush gold, sun-kissed peaks, breathtaking serene lakes and towering glaciers bring a heavenly quality to this region which feels like the Garden of Eden in paradise of Kashmir. Tucked away from the lightening fast pace of urban life, Sonmarg at an altitude of 8,000 ft. is a secluded haven in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It’s a popular base for trekking to nearby locales and is as much a preferred family destination as it is for the adventure enthusiasts. The Indus River flowing through it offers fresh trout and mahaseer (freshwater carp fish) and glistening rapids for whitewater rafting, which is a major tourist attraction. Thajiwas glacier at an altitude of 9,186 feet is a striking silvery scene set against emerald meadows and a clear blue sky. We took a half-day hike to numerous waterfalls around this glacier. There is a long and tiring trek on road but the captivating views makes it all worthwhile. And a snowball fight at the top will ease all the tension! 9 km from Sonmarg is a high mountain pass called Zoji la which provides spectacular views of Himalayan peaks. We went to Zero Point Glacier which is 35 km from Sonmarg, on Srinagar-Leh road. But be wary that the taxi prices are pretty steep.
Enjoy the day exploring this golden valley unlike anything you’ve ever seen. After a day’s excursion, we came back to Srinagar. You can opt to stay overnight at Gulmarg as well but hotel accommodation might be hard to find during peak of tourist season.
Day 4 SRINAGAR TO PAHALGAM
The next day we headed for Pahalgam which is a popular tourist destination and a popular place for the shooting of Bollywood movie. Mesmerizing green mountains surrounded by light wispy clouds on the canvas of a brilliant blue sky as a river cuts path in a valley, this is the breathtaking view that will great you at Pahalgam. Things one can do here include trekking, trout fishing and white water rafting against the backdrop of the Himalayan ranges.
It is also a health resort as people come here to relax their body and senses by staying in one of the cottages beside the river. Home to a fantastic 9-hole golf course perched atop the valley at 7,800 ft, Pahalgam is a picturesque sporting experience. The apple orchards spread across the north eastern part of Pahalgam are a thing to behold. A day at Pahalgam is an experience that will be etched in your memory forever. Towards the evening we returned back to Srinagar.
Day 5 Srinagar to Patnitop
Usually people, who arrive to Kashmir via road, travel through Patnitop. We had a relaxing day here and clicked pictures of the scenic views visible from this place. A small picnic at a hilltop with the view of Kashmiri valleys in the background is one of the most relaxing things you’ll experience.
We went back to Srinagar around afternoon and spend the rest of the day exploring the local markets and bought beautiful souvenirs.
Day 6 BACK AGAIN.
After a delicious breakfast, it was time to head to the Srinagar airport where a plane was ready to take us home.
But as you prepare to leave the lush valleys behind, one can’t help but agree that it is still true hundreds of years later that Kashmir is truly a heaven on earth.