Kashmir the pradise on Earth
Set like a jewelled crown on the map of India, Kashmir is a multi-faceted diamond, changing its hues with the seasons - always extravagantly beautiful. Two major Himalayan ranges, the Great Himalayan Range and the Pir Panjal, surround the landscape from the north and south respectively. They are the source of great rivers, which flow down into the valleys, forested with orchards and decorated by lily-laden lakes.
The Mughals aptly called Kashmir ‘Paradise on Earth’ where they journeyed across the hot plains of India, to the valley’s cool environs in summer. Here they laid, with great love and care, Srinagar’s many formal, waterfront gardens, now collectively known as the Mughal Gardens. Anecdotes of four and five centuries ago describe their love for these gardens, and the rivalries that centred around their ownership. They also patronized the development of art & craft among the people of Kashmir, leaving behind a heritage of exquisite artisanship among thes people and making the handicrafts of the land prized gifts all over the world.
Kashmir is a land where myriad holiday ideas are realised. In winter, when snow carpets the mountains, there is skiing, tobogganing, sledge-riding, etc. along the gentle slopes. In spring and summer, the honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and blue skies beckon every soul to sample the many delights the mountains and valleys have to offer. Golfing at 2,700 m above the sea, water-skiing in the lakes and angling for prized rainbow trout, or simply drifting down the willow fringed alleys of lakes in shikaras and living in gorgeous houseboats are some of the most favoured ones.
Kashmir has four distinct seasons, each with its own peculiar character and distinctive charm. These are spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Spring- which extends roughly from March to early May, is when a million blossoms carpet the ground. The weather during this time can be gloriously pleasant at 23oC or chilly and windy at 6oC. This is the season when Srinagar experiences rains, but the showers are brief.
Summer- extends from May until the end of August.
Light woollens may be required to wear out of Srinagar. In higher altitudes night temperatures drop slightly. Srinagar at this time experiences day temperatures of between 25oC and 35oC. At this time, the whole valley is a mosaic of varying shades of green - rice fields, meadows, trees, etc. and Srinagar with its lakes and waterways is a heaven after the scorching heat of the Indian plains.
Autumn- the onset of autumn, perhaps Kashmir's loveliest season, is towards September, when green turns to gold and then to russet and red. The highest day temperatures in September are around 23oC and night temperatures dip to 10oC by October, and further drop by November, when heavy woollens are essential.
Winter- from December to the beginning of March is winter time, which presents Srinagar in yet another mood.
Bare, snow-covered landscapes being watched from beside the warmth of a fire is a joy that cannot be described to anyone who has not experienced it. Some houseboats and hotels remain open in winter-these are either centrally heated or heated with ‘bukharis’, a typically Kashmiri stove kept alight with embers of wood, quite effective in the winter.
Places to visit in Kashmir
Gulmarg's legendary beauty, prime location and proximity to Srinagar naturally make it one of the premier hill resorts in the country. Originally called ‘Gaurimarg’ by shepherds, its present name was given in the 16th century by Sultan Yusuf Shah, who was inspired by the sight of its grassy slopes emblazoned with wild flowers. Gulmarg was a favourite haunt of Emperor Jehangir who once collected 21 different varieties of flowers from here. Today Gulmarg is not merely a mountain resort of exceptional beauty- it also has the highest green golf course in the world, at an altitude of 2,650 m, and is the country's premier ski resort in the winter.
The journey to Gulmarg is half the enchantment of reaching there-- roads bordered by rigid avenues of poplar give over to flat expanses of rice fields interspersed with picturesque villages. Depending on the season, nature's colours could be the translucent green of spring, summer’s rich emerald, or autumn’s golden hues, when scarlet chillies festoon windows of village homes. After Tangmarg, the climb to Gulmarg begins through fir-covered hillsides. At one point, known simply as View Point, travelers generally stop their vehicles for a few minutes and look out a spectacle of snow-covered mountains, almost within touching distance.
What to do:
Cable car riding to Khilanmarg
Snow Skiing during winter months (End Dec -Middle March)
How to Reach Gulmarg
By Air : The airport at Srinagar at 57 km is nearest to Gulmarg. The airport caters to the air transport to the hill resort. Regular flights connect Srinagar with the other major cities in India. By Rail: The railway station in Jammu is the nearest to Gulmarg that caters to the rail transport to the hill resort.
PAHALGAM - The Valley of Shepherds
Situated at the confluence of the streams flowing from Sheshnag Lake and the Lidder river, Pahalgam (2,130 m) was once a humble shepherd's village with breathtaking views. Now it is Kashmir's premier resort, cool even during the height of summer when the maximum temperature does not exceed 250C. A number of hotels and lodges cater to all preferences and budgets, from luxurious hotels to unpretentious trekkers' lodges. The most beautiful of these is the huge, undulating meadow of Baisaran, surrounded by thickly wooded forests of pine. Hajan, on the way to Chandanwari, is an idyllic spot for a picnic. Filmgoers will recognize it instantly as it has been the location of several movie scenes. Pahalgam has within it no fewer than eight tiny villages, one of which is Mamal. There is a Shiva temple here, generally considered to be Kashmir's oldest existing temple, dating to the 5th century.
Pahalgam is also associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra. Chandanwari (2,895 m), 16 kms from Pahalgam, is the starting point of the yatra that takes place every year in the month of Sawan (July to August). The road from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is on fairly flat terrain and can be undertaken by car. From Chandanwari onwards the track becomes much steeper, and is accessible on foot or by pony. About 11 kms from Chandanwari is the mountain lake of Sheshnag (3,574 m), after which, 13 kms away is the last stop, Panchtarni. The Amarnath cave is 6 kms away from there. During the month of Sawan, an ice stalagmite forms a natural shivling in the Amarnath cave, which waxes and wanes with the moon.
Pahalgam is the base of a major trek that passes along Aru and Kolohi Glacier
Pahalgam Club has a 9-hole golf course, which can be used by tourists. Golf sets can be hired on the spot.
SONAMARG - The Meadow of Gold.
The drive to Sonamarg is through the Sindh Valley which presents yet another spectacular facet of countryside in Kashmir. Situated at an altitude of 2730 m, Sonamarg (‘The meadow of gold’) has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. The Sindh River that meanders through the valley abounds with trout and mahaseer. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier, which is a major local attraction during the summer months. Sonamarg is the base of a major trek that passes along several mountain lakes –Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar and Gangabal. Sonamarg is also the take off station for the drive to Ladakh across the Zojila, a major pass in the Great Himalayan Range, through which the Srinagar-Leh Road passes. Sonamarg is also a base for undertaking the yatra to the holy Amarnath cave, during Sawan Purnima. For details about the yatra, refer to the Amaranathji Yatra Link.
How to get there
Sonamarg is situated at a distance of 84 kms from Srinagar, on the Srinagar-Ladakh Road. kashmirtourism.com operates regular buses as well as sightseeing buses during the season. The route passes through the picturesque town of Ganderbal (21 kms), Kangan (40 kms) and Gund of the Sindh Valley, before reaching the resort. Spectacular views of the Harmukh range dominate the horizon all along the route.
Tourist Information & Assistance
The Tourist Office at Sonamarg is within the premises of the Tourist Complex, behind the cafeteria. Tourists are advised to visit the office for information and assistance. In particular, trekking trips into the mountains should be undertaken only after consulting the Tourist Office at Srinagar or Sonamarg for safety and feasibility.
Amarnathji Yatra - a journey into faith
"The Himalayan pilgrimages are the oldest organised travel system, evolved over time by Hindu sages and embodying the spirit of wander, adventure and spirituality"
One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time.
Shiva is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for "he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud.
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
Yet another legend has it that when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnathji for them became Shiva's abode and a centre of pilgrimage.
Whatever the legends and the history of Amarnathji's discovery, it is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and though the route is as difficult to negotiate as it is exciting, every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in four or five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.
Since the base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam, a large tented township springs up to accommodate the pilgrims. The conduct of the yatra is a gigantic task in which the State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam, and a Yatra Officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.
HOTELS IN KASHMIR
In Srinagar there are hotels to suit every requirement in terms of price, location and facilities. The most desirable location for a hotel is considered the Boulevard, which overlooks the Dal Lake. Hotel rooms that overlook the lake cost more than those opening in the opposite direction. Dalgate, which is fairly central for shopping and nearest to the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC), at Jammu and Kashmir Tourism has mostly budget accommodation. Some good hotels are also located in Sonawar and Rajbagh, which are largely residential areas within 2 kms of the TRC. Also there are several hotels on Residency Road, which is right in the middle of a shopping centre, very close to the TRC. Lal Chowk, in the city’s centre, has several medium category hotels, mostly preferred by visiting traders. The brief particulars of some of the reputed group of hotels are as under:-
Centaur Lake View Hotel
Category 5 Star
Location Chasmesahi, Srinagar -190001, India.
Amenities Audio/Visual Equiped, Business Center, Computer, Fax Service, Internet Facilities, Meeting Facilities, Photocopy Service, Printer, Secretarial Services, Banquet Facilities, BarBarber / Beauty Services, Doctor On Call, Fire Safeguards, Health Club, Laundry FacilitiesMoney Changer, Parking, Power Back-Up, Restaurant, Safe Deposit, Travel Desk, Wheel ChairBilliards, Game Room, Golf, Tennis
Group Centaur Group Of Hotels.
Centaur Lake View Hotel is a spectacular 5 star hotel, bounded by the world famous Dal Lake from three sides. The hotel's central location and close proximity to many of Srinagar's attractions make it the perfect base for both holidaymakers and business travelers. The responsive staff is always at hand to help make your stay at Centaur Lake View Hotel an unforgettable experience.
Centaur Lake View Hotel offers stylish rooms, with a wealth of modern amenities. The hotel has 242 well appointed rooms which are equipped with everything you might need, including satellite television, Direct STD/ISD and Hot & Cold Water facility. The comfort of accommodation and service are, undoubtedly, second to none.
Here you are into the world of Akbar Hospitality!
Retire yourself into the Akbar Lawns; A natural carpet of thick green grass, and share the intimate moments or enjoy the solitude amongst the natural fragnance of rose garden and the tall trees casting gentle shadows over the colourful green world of Akbar.
** Centrally located
** 12 kms from Srinagar Airport
** Half a kilometer from Bus Stand
It has been designed to provide personalised care and comfort. It makes you feel at home. Its warm and personalised service is a tradition.
The gracious lobby, where you can feel relaxed, a perfect blend of culture & comfort.
Suit Comfort :
The rooms and the suites are tastefully designed and furnished for comfort to give the a taste of life-style, away from the home. The rooms and the suites are well furnished with wall to wall carpet, and atttached baths.
The cozy resturant offers Mughlai, Indian, Kashmiri Wazan, Chinese and continental cuisines, Darbar -e-Akbar serves you a variety of kitchen warm foods tasty to the last bite.Food is served fast with individual acre and attention.
Telephone Connectivity in the rooms
Running hot and cold water
Close circuit TV with 32 channels
STD and ISD facility
Laundary & Dry cleaning
Safe deposit lockers
Doctor on call
Transpot / Travel desk
Spacious rose garden
HOUSEBOATS IN KASHMIR
Many tourists are attracted to Srinagar by the charm of staying on a houseboat, which provides the unique experience of living on the water in a cedar-panelled elegant bedroom, with all the conveniences of a luxury hotel. Srinagar's thousand or so houseboats are moored along sections of the Dal and Nagin Lakes and river Jhelum, each decorated fancifully and named romantically and even whimsically. Like hotels, houseboats vary in degree of luxury and have been accordingly graded by the Department of Tourism. A luxury houseboat, like a luxury hotel has fine furniture, good carpets and modern bathroom fittings, while the ‘D category’ (the lowest category) of houseboats, like low-budget hotels, is spartanly furnished. Like hotels too, houseboats vary widely in their locations. Some overlook the main road, others look out onto lotus gardens and yet others face tiny local markets and villages, all right in the middle of the lake! All houseboats, regardless of category, have highly personalized service. Not only is there always a "houseboy" for every boat, but the owner and his family are never far away. The cost per day of hiring a houseboat includes all meals and free rides from the houseboat to the nearest jetty and back, as no houseboat on the lakes is directly accessible from the banks.
The brief particulars of some of the reputed group of houseboats are as under:-
Zaffer Group of Houseboats
Zaffer Group of deluxe Houseboats accommodate every venture from honeymoons to family reunions. And onboard a houseboat, there is every comfort a romantic couple might want.
Conveniences that allow time for each other and, most especially, a privacy that stretches for miles and miles! The houseboats are grand with hand - carved furniture and rich Kashmiri carpets. A houseboat boy is always on call and three meals are served daily from a menu of western, Kashmiri or Indian cuisine.
Golden Lotus group of Houseboats
When we think of Kashmir, the first thing that comes to our Mind is "Houseboats". Staying on a Houseboat means like living in Paradise, an experience one is not likely to find anywhere else on the surface of the earth. "Golden Lotus Group" has luxurious houseboats each beautifully furnished with 2 to 3 bedrooms (attached bathrooms having modern amenities) a sitting room, a dinning room and a front lake view balcony. The Houseboats are moored on the most charming sites on Nageen Lake
SHOPPING AND HANDICRAFTS
From the amusing trinket to a collector's item, you'll find it all in Srinagar. Row upon row of shops filled with handicrafts line the streets. The array is awesome. There are objects to suit every pocket, for the variety within each craft is wide.
While top-of-the-line products cater to the discerning, some handicrafts cater to the buyers with a modest budget. To the uninitiated, the difference between two shawls may be negligible and hardly worth the enormous disparity in price. However, the dealer knows exactly what he has in his showroom, knows how much skill, labour and material has gone into its fabrication, and so accordingly structures the price.
Kashmiri handicrafts are prized everywhere for their exquisite craftsmanship. Kashmir carpets, in both wool and silk with their Persian design, are a lifetime investment and the shoppers' selection range from the simple to the most extraordinarily intricate patterns handed down the generations.
Then there are papier-mâché items ranging from jewellery boxes to mirror frames, a range of intricately carved walnut wood furniture and accessories, stone jewellery boxes, beautiful woollen shawls, crewel embroidery on furnishing material sold by the meter and more. Following is a brief description of the main handicraft legacy of Kashmir.
The handmade carpets of Kashmir are famous throughout the world. Though quite expensive, Kashmiri carpets are a worthwhile lifelong investment. Apart from being always handmade, another quality of Kashmir carpets is that they are always knotted, never tufted. The craft of carpet weaving did not originate in Kashmir, rather it is believed to have been acquired from Persia. The designs on the carpets, even today, reflect a Persian touch. One of the most common designs seen on carpets of Kashmir is that of the "tree of life". These carpets are quite unique in themselves, differentiated from others by their color-way (subtle) and other details.
The durability as well as the price of a carpet depends upon it's knotting. The more knots per square inch, the higher will be the carpet's price as well as durability. The knots are counted on the reverse side of the carpet. Also, there are both single and double-knotted carpets. You can quite easily identify one from the other on the reverse of the carpet. A single knotted carpet is fluffier and more resistant to the touch than the double knotted one.
The yarn used for carpets in Kashmir is generally silk, wool or a combination of silk and wool. The woolen carpets always make use of a cotton base for both warp & weft. On the other hand, the silk carpets usually have a cotton base. In case a base of silk is used, the price of the carpets increases accordingly. Occasionally, a cotton base, mainly of woolen pile with silk yarn, is used to make carpets. Another yarn staple used in carpet making is mercerized cotton. Although traditionally not Kashmiri, it is a man-made fiber with a shine somewhat close to that of silk. It is cheaper than silk, but costlier than wool.
Kashmir Papier Mache
The papier-mâché of Kashmir is a popular handicraft item. Even though all the paper-maches of Kashmir look similar at first glance, they command different prices. The price depends upon the type and the quality of the product. There are no less than three different qualities of papier-mache, each having a distinct value. The procedure of making paper-mache is quite complex. The first step is to soak papier-mache in water till the time it starts disintegrating. After that, pounding of the papier-mache is followed by addition of an adhesive solution to it. Then, the blend is shaped over moulds and allowed to dry and set. The last step in the process is printing and varnishing of the papier-mache.
If the papier-mache is not thoroughly pounded, a smooth finish will not come through. Kashmiri Papier-mache products are painted with brightly colored designs. The products can be easily differentiated on the basis of the creativity and skill of the craftsmen as well as the choice of the colors used. Papier-mache objects make extensive use of Gold. Either the whole of the design is painted in gold or certain motifs are highlighted with the color. The quality of the gold used is another determinant of the value of the product. Papier-mache products with pure gold leaf are costlier than bronze dust or gold poster paint.
There are numerous papier-mache products available in Kashmir, right from the highly expensive ones to the quite cheaper ones. Amongst the cheaper options are eggcups, candle stands, pen stands, kumkum boxes, cigarette boxes, etc. These products make use of poster paint. On the other hand are much expensive vases, bowls, trays and a number of other products. Painted by expert artisans, they make use of the real gold leaf. It can be concluded that what determines the value of a papier-mache product is the skill of the artisan and the type of gold used.
The Kashmir valley is known for its shawls throughout the world. Kashmir shawls are mainly of three types- wool, pashmina and shahtoosh. They differ on the basis of the fabric used to make them. Simultaneously, all these shawls differ to a great extent in their prices also. The woolen shawls are the most affordable, being within reach of the common man. While, the shahtoosh shawls are the most expensive, usually a one-in-a-lifetime purchase. The pashmina shawls fall in between. Have a look at different types of Kashmiri shawls yourself!
The woolen shawls of Kashmir have beautiful embroidery work done on them. The price of the woolen shawls depends upon the type of wool used and the fineness of the embroidery. Kashmiri wool, known as raffel, is 100 percent pure and the embroidery done is quite unique to the valley.
Kashmiri Pashmina shawl is one of the most popular shopping items of the state. The shawls are adorned with exquisite embroidery and are extremely soft. The main types of embroidery done on the Pashmina shawls are sozni, papier-mache and aari. Sozni, needlework in a panel on the sides of the shawl, uses abstract designs or stylized paisleys and flowers as motifs. Papier-mache and needlework is done either in broad panels on either side along the breadth of a shawl or covers the entire surface of a shawl. Motifs consist of flowers and leaves outlined in black. Aari is hook embroidery that makes use of flower design for its motifs.
Shahtoosh shawls are made from the hair of the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops Hodgsoni). It is found in the plateau of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 m. Shahtoosh shawls are extremely light, soft and warm. These shawls are awfully expensive, because of the scarcity of the raw material. The shawls may be pure, made from shahtoosh yarn alone, or mixed with pashmina. Within the pure shahtoosh shawls also, there are many qualities. Shahtoosh shawls are rarely dyed and have little embroidery on them.
Kashmir Silk & Tweed
Kashmir silk and tweed are some of the items that are invariably high on the shopping list of all those coming to the Kashmir valley. Infact, sericulture and tweed weaving counts amongst the important occupations of the Kashmiris. However, one thing worth mentioning is that the raw material for the tweed of Kashmir comes from outside the valley. Also, weaving and printing of the silk is not carried out in the valley. But, Kashmir boasts of rearing the best and the most exclusive cocoon. The valley of Kashmir is known for the quality of silk throughout the world.
Inspite of the whole product not being completed here, the silk and tweed of Kashmir counts amongst the best in the world. The cocoons reared in Kashmir yield an exceptionally fine fiber. As a result, the silk woven from this thread becomes known. Apart from the famous silk weave, the other renowned weaves of the Kashmiri silk are the 'chinon' and 'crepe de chine'. Kashmiri tweed, on the other hand, is woven with pure wool. Made with imported techniques, Kashmiri tweeds, can match with the best in the world. So, if you are planning to visit the valley, don't forget to buy the world renowned Kashmiri silk and tweed.
Trout Fishing in Kashmir - World Class Fishing Tour
Full day for fishing with expert Gillies, or Shikaries, these men know the waters intimately - in many cases their fathers and grandmothers before them have accompanied visiting anglers on fishing trips. Overnight at hotel.
Sonamarg - Full day for fishing. Evening walk or rest around the camp.
Morning free. Afternoon drive back to houseboat for overnight stay.
Evening Shikara ride to back waters. Overnight at houseboat.
Map of Kashmir