They say if there is heaven, then it’s here, in Kashmir! And you start realising this once your flight hovers over the stunning snow-clad Himlayan peaks, it almost seems surreal. Written and spoken about umpteen times, Kashmir’s beauty has maintained its demeanour even after years of political volatility. But as you enter Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, you are convinced that security is the last thing you need to worry about here.

Exploring Srinagar

Dal Lake in Kashmir

Dal Lake in Kashmir

Laced with green hills and colourful flowers, Srinagar puts up the first picture of Kashmir as perfect. And the famous Dal Lake adds serenity to its ethereal beauty. Don’t miss a shikara ride on the Dal Lake even if you do not like to do touristy things or better still stay on a houseboat to get the real flavour of life in Kashmir.

Climb up a few hundred steps to witness the grand Shankaracharya Temple, built on a hilltop which offers a divine view of Srinagar. As you move around, you cannot miss the flowers smiling at you, which are found in abundance at the famous Mughal Gardens – Chashme Shahi, Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh. Built by the Mughals as their summer retreat, these gardens have various fountains with Persian carvings, giving them a royal look. It’s hard to find so much grace and elegance at one place.

Enter Pahalgam

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If you almost fell in love with Srinagar, then hold your heart for Pahalgam, also known as the ‘Village of Shepherds’. Almost 4 hours away from Srinagar, as you start approaching this quaint little village, you find breathtaking views of snow-clad mountain peaks and gushing water streams. Soak in the beauty of this stunning hamlet by taking a stroll around or taking a pony ride; go for white water rafting or trekking or just camp at the lush green view points like Aru Valley and Betaab Valley.

Adrenaline rush junkies can move further up towards the mountain peaks and reach Chandanwaari where they can try their hands at skiing or sledging or just keep falling while trying to conquer the peak! And if all this sounds too tiring to you, then just sit beside the flowing river with your fishing rod, admiring nature’s bounty while you catch a trout or two. Some of the best things in life are free. Sigh!

Gulmarg, Check!

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To enjoy some more of these free things, you have to see Gulmarg, which is almost 2 hours away from Srinagar and 5 hours away from Pahalgam. Also known as the ‘Meadow of Flowers’, here, lovely wild flowers decorate your ways as you move ahead to catch a Gondola to reach the Kongdoori Mountain peak. The ride up to the peak is divided into two phases. Once you cover phase one, you will have to buy tickets for the second phase if you want to reach the peak. The total cost of tickets for both the phases will be Rs. 800 which is not a hefty amount for the kind of sight you will witness. Once you reach the peak, you will know what it means to be on top of the world with only snow and sun around. It’s almost impossible to not think of giving skiing a try. Move downhill to Tangmarg to catch some fresh air and fragrance of strawberries coming from the orchards. Don’t forget to buy a carton of these juicy delights!

The Delights of Sonmarg

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From strawberries to cherries, nature has been kind to Kashmir. While Gulmarg will charm you with its out-of-the-world sights, Sonmarg, also known as ‘Meadow of Gold’, will startle you with sudden rains and sunshine. Just 3 hours away from Srinagar, Sonmarg is a good destination for a day-long excursion.

Sit down anywhere amidst lush greenery in Sonmarg and soak in the blissful environs or just ride up till the foothill for some of the most heart-warming views. Serpentine roads and cherry-laden trees will follow you while you drive in and out of Sonmarg and do not miss the cheerful faces of Kashmiri people who innocently smile at you.

Calling all Foodies

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It is criminal to leave Kashmir without tasting Wazwaan, the famous Kashmiri cuisine, which is popular for its rich and spicy preparations with meat and vegetables. Rista and Gostaba are must-try dishes which are prepared with meat, dry fruits and lots of yoghurt. Served mostly during weddings, it is easily available at any restaurant in Kashmir.

Keep yourself warm with a hot cup of Kahwa, a drink made of tea, dry fruits and cardamom. Don’t forget to buy packs of kahwa for friends back home as well.

Natural splendour, benign faces, fresh air, beautiful mountains, mouth-watering cuisine and truck loads of memories, what else would one want from a holiday!