It was my long felt desire to visit Kashmir the Switzerland of India. Although I had booked the tour twice, disturbances in the state prevented us from proceeding. But, I decided to go ahead this season.
My family and I took a flight to Kashmir via Jammu which is just 3 hours from Mumbai. In Kashmir a warm welcome awaited us. People were so friendly and hospitable, much more than our expectations. On arrival, we were shifted to Boat house at Dal Lake which is a beautiful set up with much bigger boats than Kerala backwaters. The Boats had beautiful carpet floorings with self -contained posh 3-4 bed rooms. In the evening we were taken for a tranquil ride in the Shikara (decorated boats) around the panoramic lake. It was an awesome experience. The Lake has a floating bazaar, where beautiful flowers and variety of vegetables are sold. Also available, are walnut and other local dry fruits. Shikara took us to the floating tea shop, textile shop and so on. The authentic Pasmina shawls are available in these floating markets. Back from the Shikara ride, we spent the night at the Boat house with a sumptuous non-veg cooked meal by the boat attendant.
The next day, we proceeded to Sonamarg, known as the meadow of golden route via rafting point. As it was the beginning of summer we could watch the beautiful sight of melting snow from the glaciers and flowing by the side of the road. In Sonamarg we spent a cool night and the next day we proceeded to Pahalgam, the valley of shepherds which is situated at the confluence of streams flowing from river Lidder and Sheshnag Lake. On the way visited Awantipura, an archaeological site with ruins of two temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu which reflect Greek style architecture.
After Pahalgam, we went on an excursion to Chandanwari. It is a starting point for the AmarnathYatra held in the months of July and August. The same route took us to “Zero point” located at an elevation of about 9600 ft. blessed with natural beauty and is renowned for its snow bridge and activities like trekking, hiking, pony ride and snow sledging. The same road further leads to Drass, Kargill and Ladhak. We observed a heavy movement of convoy of Army trucks. At one point, we had to wait for the JCB to clear the Ice boulders fallen from the mountains. It was indeed a wonderful experience.
“Betaab” valley is one of the most beautiful places which is named after the Bollywood movie “Betab”which was shot there. The picturesque landscape and snow clad mountains, lush meadows and splashing streams added to the beauty of this valley where you feel like spending hours with nature. After a number of climbs you reach a picturesque place called “Little Switzerland”.
To reach Gulmarg, we had to drive past willow trees, following streams. Gulmarg is called “Meadow of Flowers” which is an apt term for this idyllic flower laden spot. The world’s highest golf course is situated here. We took Gondola (cable car) ride up to 10,000 feet.It is a spectacular view of dense forest of tall conifers, gigantic firs and pine trees. The second stage goes up to 14,000 feet and one can see snow- capped peaks of mountains. It reminds us of “Titlis” of Switzerland.
Srinagar is full of Gardens like “Mogul Garden”, an area of 30 acres built by Emperor Jahangir. “Chasma-shahi” is a garden by Emperor Shah Jahan. Another one “Nishant Garden” is on the banks of picturesque Dal Lake with “Zabarwan” mountains forming the backdrop. This is called the “Garden of Bliss” with 12 terraces of colorful flower beds and lush green lawns. Also located here is a Tulip botanical garden.
On our way back, we did not come across any encounters, road blocks or any sort of terrorist resistances. Students were attending classes; restaurants are doing brisk business everywhere. Only missing thing is Liquor bars / selling points. It is worth the visit!