“Paradise on Earth!”, that’s what our Varanasi guide (a man whom I found to be very wise) exclaimed when he learned that we planned to visit Kashmir. And I have to admit that I was sceptical initially. After all, there are simply too many destinations claiming to be “paradise”. Beyond that, this “paradise” has her own shares of problems. The Kashmir Conflict, a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir region, has seen at least 3 wars to date. This explains why armed soldiers seems to be everywhere from the moment we disembarked at Srinagar. Whilst others might feel tense or worried with the presence of so many soldiers on the streets, i actually felt safer.
For your information, Srinagar is the capital of the northernmost Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Situated in Kashmir Valley, it lies on the banks of the Jhelum River and remains one of the biggest cities in India without a Hindu majority. This city is famous for its gardens, lakes and houseboats – which we soon discovered to our delight!
Amid shikara rides along a tranquil lake that borne reflections of the beautiful Himalayan mountains, cosy accommodations in a luxury houseboat, inspiring interactions with a down-to-earth butler who can rival with the world’s best personal concierge, magnificent sunrise views, charming locals and wonderful landscapes, I found myself indeed at a paradise on earth!
(Shikara, Kashmir dated Sept 2011)
Things To Do
No trip to Kashmir is complete without a Shikara Ride! We took a Shikara (a type of wooden boat also known as the Gandola of Kashmir) from our houseboat and sailed to the Dal lake and beyond – to a place with fountain and rainbows! Along our way, we passed by the “village” where locals live. Our boatman made us a bouquet with lotus flowers that float around the lake and even let us tried our hands at operating the Shikara!
“Perhaps in the whole world there is no corner as pleasant as Dal Lake. The water of the Dal is clear and soft as silk, and the people say that the shawls of Kashmir owe much of their excellence to being washed in the soft waters of the lake.” <extracted from “The Valley of Kashmir” by Walter Roper Lawrence>
Enjoy the tranquility of Kashmir lakes! The Dal Lake, which is also nicknamed “Srinagar’s Jewel”, is the 2nd largest urban lake in the state. Famous for its magnificent beauty, it attracted tons of tourists from around the world. Beyond a thin causeway lies the Nagin lake which is located at East Kashmir. Known as the “Jewel in the Ring”, it tends to be more peaceful with fewer houseboats and you should definitely considering staying here!
(Houseboat Exterior, Kashmir dated Sept 2011)
Stay in a houseboat & feel at home! During our trip, we spent 3 nights on one of the Gurkha Houseboats operated by Welcome Heritage (check out my review here!). Awed by its finery and cosy ambience, we fell in love the moment we stepped onboard. Like excited children, we can’t help paddling to and fro along the entire boat, oohing and ahhings as we discovered tiny treasures! One afternoon, i found several albums of old letters and postcards from happy guests who stayed there and guess what? Some letters were dated back to the 80s! (I’m a sentimental geek.) Besides that, you can catch the beautiful sight of the sun rising from behind the Himalayan mountains at the comfort of your verandah!
Indulge in a haircut/massage or get some snacks from the floating shops! Believe it or not, 7’Eleven comes in the form of a wooden boat well-stocked with chilled apple teas and a variety of unhealthy (but yummy) tidbits. Needless to say, we waited patiently at our verandah daily to see what each seller that sails towards us have to offer. We even got some souvenirs, although our butler was not very impressed! (He does not encourage vendors onboard the houseboat as there were cases of theft previously.)
Take a stroll in Gulmarg… our initial plans to take a gondola at Gulmarg were thwarted as the gondolas were not working. Yet, we had an enjoyable time exploring the grounds and strolling along this beautiful landscape. Gulmarg (translated as Meadows of Flowers) is a town, hill station and popular skiing destination (when there is snow). Standing tall at an average elevation of 2,690m, this hilltop destination is a wonder to visit! The only drawback would be the constant touters hassling you to take a pony/horse ride. Be firm if you are not interested and you will be left alone (or so, until the next touter comes along. 😉
(Gulmarg, Kashmir dated Sept 2011)
Explore the Mughal Gardens and fall in love! With terraced lawns, cascading fountains and vibrant flowers set afore the panorama of the Dal, the three Mughal Gardens of Chesmashahi, Nishat and Shalimar are the Mughal Emperors’ concept of paradise. At one of the gardens, an elderly fruit seller gave me an apple for free and made my day. 🙂 Crispy and sweet, this blushing red fruit is a speciality of Kashmir!
Do consider a pashmina (cashmere) shawl. Manufactured for thousands of years in Kashmir, these shawls are very popular items! It is important to check the quality before purchasing and as usual, always haggle for the best price. To check, you should note that 100% pashmina can keep warm, feels good to touch and will pass through a ring smoothly. According to my travel buddy, prices quoted for good quality cashmere in Singapore are horribly inflated (approximately >80%) as compared to the real deal in Kashmir!
From Me to You:
A Simple Reference Guide For Your Travel In India
- Northern India
- 05 Things That I Appreciate About India
- 09 Must-Know Travel Tips To Enjoy Your India Trip
- Experience North India in 13 Days (PDF Itinerary by KaZ)
(Involving 6 cities & 2 towns in 4 states by plane, rail, car and boat travel!)
- Personal List of Things to Bring When Travelling To India (PDF)
(Includes free space for you to add additional items!)
The above information has been complied based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, please visit: http://www.incredibleindia.org/