Tourist routes of Kashmir: Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg
AFTER many years of violence and border disputes between India and Pakistan, Kashmir – particularly Kashmir Valley – is making a comeback as a travel destination.
Renowned for its snow-capped mountains, lush valley and gardens, Kashmir still ranks as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
While Kashmir still faces ongoing political woes, tourists are encouraged to travel there, as the tourist areas and tourists, in general, are unharmed.
If you’d like to discover this paradise on earth, keep to the tourist routes instead, have an open mind and you will realize that the beauty of Kashmir is unparalleled.
Srinagar is the largest city of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) state and the summer capital of Kashmir.
Among the popular places to visit in Srinagar are their extensive gardens – Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh – that were inspired by Persian gardens of symmetrical structures and water canals. Both gardens have views of Dal Lake, and the locals love to come here for picnics during spring when the flowers are in full bloom.
These Mughal gardens are just as beautiful during autumn when the chinar (maple trees) change colors to golden yellow and crimson red.
Srinagar also has their Old City where you will find traditionally-dressed locals, bustling bazaars, mosques, and shrines.
Flowing right through the Old City is Jhelum River and close to it is the shrine of Shah-e-Hamdan, one of the oldest Muslim shrines in Kashmir. The interiors of the shrine are exquisitely adorned with detailed paper mâché work.
But the real attraction of Srinagar is Dal Lake, and the houseboats moored by the edges of the Dal and its smaller Nigeen Lake.
Take the opportunity to stay in these houseboats which have facilities and conveniences similar to that of hotels, and have the experience of being transported to and from the houseboats on shikara canoes.
You can also explore Dal Lake early in the morning to see shikara wallahs transport goods to the market, parents send their children to school on the canoes or to buy Kashmiri crafts and trinkets from shikara wallahs paddling up to your canoe.
Located three hours’ drive from Srinagar, Pahalgam is a picturesque valley surrounded by giant conifers, green meadows, undulating hills, and snow-clad mountains.
Because of this magical alpine landscape, Pahalgam is a frequent destination for tourists who enjoy trekking, golfing, trout fishing, canoeing, and water rafting.
Water rafting is so popular here especially during spring and summer when the Lidder River gushes through the valley in full force as a result of ice caps melt from the nearby Himalayan mountains. However, the riverbed is completely dry in autumn and frozen in winter.
If you’re not inclined towards water rafting, you can explore Aru Valley and Betaab Valley in Pahalgam. Aru Valley is a small village situated amidst mountains and lush meadows, and a starting point for treks and horseback riding.
Betaab Valley, on the other hand, was named after a 1983 Bollywood movie Betaab which was filmed there.
Gulmarg is a premier resort known for its meadows and valleys carpeted in flowers during spring and summer but is mostly popular as a ski destination in winter. Gulmarg receives some of the heaviest snowfall in Kashmir, and skiers love to come here for the deep powder of snow and off-piste trails in the backcountry.
Gulmarg also attracts non-skiers as its location is just an hour’s drive from Srinagar.
Casual visitors come to experience the highest gondola ride in the world which covers an aerial distance of five kilometers from 2,900 meters high to 4,000 meters above sea level. Imagine seeing panoramic views of vast snow slopes in the middle of winter!
Best time to travel in Kashmir: Domestic tourists from the rest of India travel to Kashmir in spring and summer for cool air, lush greenery and alpine scenery. Some go to Kashmir during autumn to see the soaring leaves of chinar trees turn yellow and red while skiers and snowboarders flock to the higher altitude levels for snowfalls. With spectacular views for every season, diversity in sights and outdoor activities, Kashmir welcomes visitors all year round.
Despite high political tensions that remain till today, and one probably cannot ignore the heavily armed soldiers on the road especially in Srinagar, Kashmiris do their best to ensure that tourist destinations like Pahalgam and Gulmarg, as well as Sonamarg, are not disrupted by protests. This is because Kashmiris depend on tourism for their livelihood, thus they ensure that there is a continuous flow of tourism into Kashmir Valley.
Avoid going to the remote regions of Kashmir but rather keep to the usual tourist routes instead.