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KASHMIR

SrinagarSet like a jeweled crown on the map of India, Kashmir is a many faceted diamond, changing character with the seasons - always extravagantly beautiful. Three Himalayan ranges; Karakoram, Zanskar and Pir Panjal - snow capped, majestic, frame the landscape from northwest to northeast. They are the birthplace of great rivers, which flow through the Kashmir valley. Kashmir is certainly one of India’s most beautiful and popular regions for tourists and has been since the time of the great Moghul emperors.

The Valley of Kashmir owes its fame, doubtless, not less to the wild grandeur of the barriers, which surround it than to its own intrinsic loveliness. It is this contrast, which led the poets of all nations to speak of it as an "Emerald set in Pearls". But the varied beauties of Kashmir appeal to every want and taste. For the cultivator of the soil, there is fertility of land, abundance of water, variety and plenty of natural products, whether grains or fruits. For the herdsman, there is rich pasturage and broad meadows. The sportsman finds game in the jungles and along the mountainsides. The fisherman finds ample use for the rod, the artist for his sketch block and colors, the archaeologist, linguist, botanist or geologist, Luxuriant vegetation, or the many geological problems awaiting their investigation; while they, who have neither hobbies nor inclinations, who want but rest and amusement in lovely countryside and pleasant climate, can take their fill out of Nature's bounty.

As per the legends, the Kashmir valley was once a lake as large as a sea and here lived an abominable demon who was killed after most of the lake had been drained with the collective help of Brahma's grandson, Kashap and the goddess Parvati. She stilled the demon by dropping upon him a mountain and thereby crushing him to death. This legendary mountain is no other than Hari Parbat, Srinagar's 'Takht-i- Sulaiman' hill that forms the famous backdrop to the city


SRINAGAR

Flower seller - Dal LakeSrinagar, the state capital is situated at an altitude of 1,730 metres and is in the heart of Kashmir valley. No destination is quite so romantic, no setting as enchanting as Srinagar. Srinagar is a unique city because of its lakes; the Dal, Nagin and Anchar. The Dal is a kaleidoscope of colours with its beautiful houseboats; its Shikara-boats with their gay canopies. Most delightful and fruitful of experiences is to stay on a houseboat. The Dal is famous not only for its beauty, but for the vibrancy it sustains within its periphery; a life that is uniquely different from anywhere in the world. The Dal is so central to the landscape of Srinagar, many places of tourist interest have, over the ages, been built in its vicinity. Nishat and Shalimar gardens as well as Hazaratbal mosque are directly accessible by shikaras. A shikara ride is one of the most soothing and, relaxing aspects of a holiday in Kashmir. It can take a hour long ride to see the sights of the Dal, a shopping by shikara expedition to visit handicraft shops within the periphery of the lake, or a whole day trip to visit important city landmarks.

Srinagar’s allure changes with the passing of each season. 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 23 degree Celsius or chilly and windy at 6 degree Celsius. This is the season when Srinagar experiences its rains, but showers are brief. Summer extends from May and until end August. Srinagar at this time experiences day temperatures of between 21 to 30 degree Celsius. At this time, the whole valley is a mosaic of varying shades of green - paddy fields, meadows, trees and Srinagar with its lakes and waterways is a haven. The onset of Autumn, perhaps Kashmir's loveliest season, is towards September, when green turns to gold and then to russet and red. The temperatures can go upto a high of 23 degree Celsius and night temperatures can dip to 10 degree Celsius by the end of October. Winter, December through to the beginning of March is the time when most of the snowfall takes place in Srinagar.

With terraced lawns, cascading fountains, paint-box bright flowerbeds with the panorama of the Dal in front of them - the three Mughal Gardens of Chesmashahi, Nishat and Shalimar are the Mughal emperors’' concept of paradise and are today very popular places for picnics and excursions. These gardens are traditionally patterned in the formal gardens of central Asia, Persia and Turkistan. Chesmashahi is the first Mughal garden you will pass after Nehru Park. Built at a height above the city, its views are as stupendous as its layout. The smallest of Srinagar's Mughal gardens, Chesmashahi has only three terraces in addition to a natural spring of water enclosed in a stone pavilion. Nishat, built by Empress Nur Jahan's brother Asaf Khan. The largest of the gardens, Nishat has seven terraces. These terraces rise dramatically off the mountains from the eastern part of the lake and these together with the flowerbeds, a riot of brilliant colors, present an unforgettable sight. Shalimar, the garden of love, was built by Emperor Jehangir, whose love for the Kashmir was legendary. Shaded by magnificient Chinar trees, the Shalimar is a series of stones of pavilions and flowerbeds. Pari Mahal, initially a garden built by Dara Shikoh for his sufi teacher, Mulla Shah, and decorated with several springs that have dried up, the Pari Mahal gardens are now proudly maintained by the state government. Built around a small spring, they house exotic flowering plants laid out in terraces and surmounted by the ruined arches of a once beautiful building. Pari Mahal is illuminated at night, and can be seen located on the spur of a hill.

Around Srinagar, there are a number of interesting mosques, temples and forts and of course, the delightful Moghul gardens - laid out in formal patterns hundreds of years ago and every bit as beautiful today. One has to get away from Srinagar, up to the hill stations around the valley, to really enjoy Kashmir. Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg are all delightful in themselves, but they also serve as the jumping off points for Kashmir’s many hiking and trekking possibilities.

GULMARG

GulmargGulmarg is perhaps the most popular hill station out of Srinagar and situated at an altitude of 2,730 metres, 56 kms north-west. The mountain meadow to which the name properly belongs, is about two miles long, in places half a mile wide, and is somewhat crescent shaped. All around are snowcapped mountains. On a clear day you can see all the way to Nanga Parbat in one direction and Srinagar on the other. Directly above Gulmarg, at the forest limit, are some other places called Khilanmarg, Kongdori and seven Springs. Gulmarg also has one of the world's highest 18-hole golf courses. Through the summer and well into the autumn, Gulmarg is a magnetic attraction for golfers from all over the world. Gulmarg's newly constructed gondola lift from high above Gulmarg, through pine-clad slopes, offers exhilarating views of the surrounding scenery. It is the world’s second highest cable car. Gulmarg is the ultimate beginner's skiing resort.


PAHALGAM & ARU

Kashmir has a wildlife sanctuary, Aru, which is located close to Pahalgam. The best time to see animals is September to April and bird viewing from March till August. Pahalgam has many attractions of its own. Pretty walks and rides and good fishing. Pahalgam, which is situated at altitude of 2,130 metres and 96 kms east of Srinagar is now known as a trekker’s paradise as some of the popular treks from Pahalgam are to the Kolahoi Glacier via Aru, Satlanjan and Dudsar Lake, and to the high altitude lakes that dot the meadowland and mountain ridges between Pahalgam and Sonamarg. 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 back to the 8th century.

CHANDANAWARI

Chandanawari which is 16 kms away from Pahalgam is the starting point of the holy Amarnath yatra, which takes place every year in the month of Shrawan (July-August). The destination is the Amarnath cave, believed to be the abode of lord Shiva. From the roadhead at Chandanawari the track becomes steeper, and is accessible only on foot or by pony. 11 km from Chandanwari is the mountain lake of Sheshnag, after which, 13 km away is the last stop, Panchtarni. The Amarnath cave is 6 km away from there. During the month of Shrawan, an ice stalagmite forms a natural Shivling which waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon. This is Hinduism’s one of the holiest pilgrimage sites.

SONAMARG

Sonamarg is situated at an altitude of 3,000 metres above sea level, 87 km north-east of Srinagar. The drive to Sonamarg is though yet another spectacular facet of the countryside in Kashmir; this time in the Sindh valley. The Sindh valley is the largest tributary of the valley of Kashmir. It is upwards of sixty miles long, and valley and deep rock-girt gorge to open grassy meadow land and village-dotted slopes. Sonamarg, which means 'meadow of gold ' has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. the Sindth meanders along here and abounds with trout and mahseer, snow trout can be caught in the main river. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier a major attraction during the summer months. From Sonamarg, trekking routes lead to the Himalayan lakes of Vishansar, Krishnasar (and Gangabal. Other lakes in the region are Gadsar, stocked with snow trout and Satsar, glacier-fed and surrounded by banks of alpine flowers. A close by excursion is to Baltal, 15 km north of Sonamarg. This little valley lies at the foot of the Zojila, only a day's journey away from the sacred cave of Amarnath. Trekkers can also reach the starkly splendid roof-top of the world – Leh, by crossing over the Zijila Pass.


HOUSEBOATS IN KASHMIR

View from HouseboatKashmir is land of many splendours and surprises but one of the most delightful and fruitful of experiences here is to stay on a houseboat. Kashmir is perhaps most famous for the houseboats on this picturesque Dal Lake. Many tourists visiting the valley succumbed to the temptation of these floating palaces. On the placid, jade-hued waters and the Dal Lake, fringed with willows and chinar trees, houseboats offer a lifestyle of luxury and elegance. Each houseboat has anything between two and four bedrooms in it with attached bathrooms and a common sitting and dining room. The construction of a houseboat entails innovative, imaginative as well as luxurious decor to make the stay of guest's as comfortable as possible. Built of cedar-wood, houseboats exude a pleasant aroma. The terrace is one of its best features and serves as a sun-deck, a place for morning work-outs if one is given to that practice, and for evening cocktails. Shaded by willows, yet offering an unhindered view of the surroundings, one can spend whole evening watching the sun set behind the magnificent circle of mountains and the lake waters shimmering under the golden rays. Generally individual houseboats have their fixed anchorages around the lake's circumference beaded along terraces of flowers. The venue is fixed and at times four-five houseboats are moored together with inter-connecting bridges to enable people to move from one boat to the other. A verandah or balcony on one of these fancily named houseboats is an ideal place to relax. The drawing-room of the houseboat opulent yet tastefully decorated, seems like a leaf out of 'Better Homes and Gardens'. The dining-room and adjoining pantry are equipped with refrigerator and all other facilities to ensure your satisfaction. Bedrooms are generally in a row along the passage. The kitchen-boat is attached to the main houseboat and this is where the boat-keeper resides with his family. A day on the houseboat commences on a very pleasant note. You are woken at dawn to the lyrical call of the early birds: the bulbul, and the nightingale, kingfishers dart about as the first rays of sun set aglow the pink-white and blue-tinged lotus flowers. Gentle water breeze sends soft ripples over the water-surface and mountains emerge from the morning mist, fresh and majestic. The Dal, lightens slowly in the early sunshine, and soon is witness to dappled reflections of gaily decorated houseboats, and the flowers above the shore-line gardens in all their splendour.

KARGIL

The western parts of Ladakh comprising the river valleys, which are drained and formed by the Himalayan tributaries of the high Indus, constitute Kargil district. Prominent among these are the spectacular valleys of Suru and Zanskar, which lie nestled along the northern flank of the Great Himalayan wall. Kargil situated at an altitude of 2704 m, 204 kms from Srinagar in the west and 234 kms from Leh in the east, is the second largest urban centre of Ladakh and headquarters of the district of same name. Kargil is the most important town in the Suru Valley. There are a number of other settlements of significant size in the Suru Valley. Kargil is a fairly busy town servicing the villages of the surrounding region. The important Srinagar-Leh road passes through Kargil. Kargil once served as important trade and transit centre in the Pan-Asian trade network. Numerous caravans carrying exotic merchandise comprising silk, brocade, carpets, felts, tea, poppy, ivory etc. transited in the town on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarkand and Kashmir. The old bazaar displayed a variety of Central Asian and Tibetan commodities even after the cessation of the Central Asian trade in 1949 till these were exhausted about two decades ago. Similarly the ancient trade route passing through the township was lined with several caravanserais. Situated 45 kms East of Kargil on the road to Leh, Mulbek (3230 m) in an area dominated by the Buddhists. It is situated along either banks of the Wakha River. Many monuments of the early Buddhist era dot the landscape and are easily accessible.

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