“Maine toh khuda se sirf thodi khushi maangi thi, usne mujhe jannat ki sair kara di” – Sachin Shah
Kashmir, the land crystal clear lakes, snow-capped mountains, blooming flowers and ancient architecture is indeed heaven on Earth for anyone looking for an out-of-the-world experience. Don’t go by what people say about this place, you have to experience this first hand. The beauty of this place is unmatched.
The capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar is a mix of city life with picturesque backdrops that makes it one of the finest places in the country. Located on the banks of River Jhelum, Srinagar lies in the centre of the Kashmir Valley. The best thing to do in Srinagar is to take abode in one of the houseboats and relax amidst the calm lake water.
Srinagar is a major city and is very well connected to other major cities. If you’re travelling from Delhi, it would take you about an hour to reach Srinagar by flight. As you might have already guessed, the airport checks can get a little tiresome so be prepared to cross at least 3 to 4 travel check-points at Srinagar airport before you come out of the airport to breathe the freshest of air in Srinagar.
Accommodation in Srinagar:
You can stay at Clarks Srinagar or Sarovar Portico / Houseboat. Make sure that you spend at least one night in the houseboat or your visit to Srinagar will be incomplete in my opinion. The chirping birds, the beautiful mountains, the shikaras selling things and the sound of the paddle hitting the water makes it a soothing experience.
Dal Lake in Srinagar:
The Dal lake is one of the serenest places I’ve been too all my life. A very popular shooting destination, Dal lake is one of the best sights you’ll visit when you’re in Kashmir. When in Srinagar, don’t forget to gorge on the delicious Kashmiri cuisine and shop for some ethnic shawls and cloth materials like pure silk. Known as the “Jewel in the Kashmir’s Crown”, the Dal Lake has floating gardens that are full of blooming lotus flowers in the months of July and August.
Pari Mahal in Srinagar:
The Pari Mahal translated as The Angels’ Abode is a garden situated on top of the Zabarwan mountain range. The Mahal is just about five minutes away from Chashmasahi. Established by Shah Jahan’s son, Dara Sikoh in the 1600s and then dedicated to Sikoh’s Sufi teacher Mullah Shah, the Mahal has now come under the governance of the Srinagar Government. The Pari Mahal is not only a garden but also has an ancient Buddhist monastery which is now turned into a school of astrology. The most beautiful part about the Pari Mahal is that it is located on the edge of the mountain, overlooking the Dal lake and at night when the Pari Mahal is lit up, you can see its reflection in the lake water.
Best places to eat at in Srinagar:
1) Stream restaurant
Stream restaurant is one of the most popular restaurants in Srinagar and serves authentic Kashmiri cuisine. Go to the restaurant after you have visited the Dal Lake as it is right in front of the lake. If you’re a non-vegetarian, you should order the Tandoor starters, Rogan Josh (a lamb dish), Goshtaba and the walnut tart for dessert at Stream restaurant.
Where? Boulevard, Srinagar.
Almost a 100-year old restaurant, Ahdoos is famous for its Kashmiri and North Indian cuisines. Some recommended dishes are the Tarami, Mutton biryani, Tandoori chicken and Dhaniwal Qorma (a mutton dish). They also have a bakery on the ground floor which churns out some of the best walnut cookies you’ll ever eat.
Where? Ahdoos Hotel, Residency Road, Srinagar.
Gulmarg, also popularly known as ‘ Meadow of Flowers’ is a visual treat as you see a colourful bed of flowers against pure white snow-capped mountains. Gulmarg has a lot of tourist activities that include riding on Gondolas to get a panoramic view of the gorgeous Valley, skiing through the snow, mountain biking and trekking. The Maharani Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati is striking and has an extravagantly designed infrastructure.
If you’re travelling from Srinagar to Gulmarg, which is about 50 kilometres away, you can travel via road and hire a car or bus. However, if you’re travelling with a bigger group, consider booking tempo travellers and make the drive more enjoyable with your loved ones. Make sure you leave early in the morning so you avoid the rush and reach your destination in time.
Accommodation in Gulmarg:
Gulmarg is a very popular tourist destination and often gets very crowded. Stay at the Kolahoi Greens, located away from the hustle and bustle of the main city, the hotel has a centralized heating system that will keep you warm even in the worst weather conditions. The interiors are designed traditionally and it dishes up tasty food, as well. Make sure you drink the Kahwa, which is a traditional Kashmiri chai (tea) that the chef happily prepares whenever you ask.
Best places to eat at in Srinagar:
1) Cloves Restaurant
A multi-cuisine restaurant, it is a part of The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa. Cloves serves Wazwan, a multi-course Kashmiri fare prepared with the freshest of spices and ingredients that makes for the best meal in the chilly weather. The restaurant has Victorian decor and great ambiance, as well.
Where? The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, Hotel Khyber Rd, Gulmarg
2) Nedous Dining Room
If you’re feeling a little homesick while in Kashmir, head to the Nedous Dining room. The restaurant has a very retro feel to it and is made to be cottage-like. The food is prepared with organic vegetables right from their kitchen garden and so, you can taste the freshness in each bite. Ask the chef for recommendations.
Where? Opp. Gulmarg Golf Club, Ski Institute Road, Gulmarg.
The best time to visit Gulmarg would be in the month of October but if you want to experience snow-fall, you should go in the months of December and January. Make sure to carry warm clothes so you don’t turn into a frozen popsicle.
Kashmir has always been in the news for the conflicts and turmoil, however, once you visit Kashmir, you’ll never forget the experience. The warm people, the mesmerizing lakes, the snow-clad mountains, blooming flower gardens, old architecture and a lot more! After all, there’s a reason behind why it is one of the most sought after travel destinations in the world.