Paradise of Earth: The Traveller's Guide to Kashmir
October 18, 2019
With snow-capped mountain ranges, towering sycamore trees, and Persian style architecture that reminisces the ancient world of the Mughal Empire, it is no wonder Kashmir is known the world over as Paradise on Earth. Following mighty Emperor Jehangir’s musings while living on a houseboat on Dal Lake, “If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”
One look at the landscape, and you would, too, fall in love with the splendid beauty of Kashmir. Its unparalleled sights seem straight out of the pages of fairy tale books.
Here is a list of Kashmir's most iconic spots you cannot miss.
A popular town and hill station, Pahalgam is situated right in the middle of lush green meadows and crystal-clear waters that stretch across the Kashmir valley, attracting thousands of local and international tourists each year. It is located on the banks of the Lidder River, at an altitude of 2,200m. Pahalgam is home to many rare animals, like the musk deer, brown bear, and Himalayan mouse hare. While here, don’t forget to visit Baisaran, the area’s most beautiful meadow surrounded by dense pine forests all over.
Set in the midst of the great glaciers of Kashmir, Sonamarg boasts a breathtaking landscape of the tall, snow-capped Himalayan peaks all around, some reaching heights of 5,000m above sea level. Sonmarg means “Meadow of Gold”, with the Sinda river meandering through its verdant valley. This is also a popular spot to embark on Sonamarg’s various trekking routes, that lead to the many lakes of the region. If you are fortunate, you might even catch a glimpse of nomadic shepherds leading their flocks to graze in the seemingly endless fields.
Crowned the “Meadow of Flowers”, Gulmarg was a popular destination for the 16th century Sultan Yusuf Shah and his queen to enjoy the spectacular view of the grassy slopes blooming with wildflowers in the area. It was also a favourite spot of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, who once collected 21 varieties of flowers from here. Now, Gulmarg is the epicentre of winter sports in India and was rated as Asia’s seventh best ski destination by CNN. Dense with fir and pine forests, enjoy the romantic snowscape during the winter months as you take a ride on the Gulmarg Gondola (ropeway), one of the highest in the world at 3,979 metres. Well-loved for its amazing backdrop of snowy mountains against the cerulean sky, Gulmarg has been a shooting location for many Bollywood films like Haider and Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
Mughal Gardens (Shalimar Bagh)
Built during the Mughal Era, Shalimar Bagh covers an area of 31 acres, with three terraces fitted with fountains and vistas lined with sycamore trees (known locally as “chinar”). It is situated on the banks of the tranquil Dal lake and named “House of Love” by Emperor Jehangir as a dedication to his beloved wife. All over, you will see the vibrant flowers blooming under the golden sun covering the landscape, complete with many pavilions and a central canal. Here, experience the brightest colours of the region and marvel at the stunning backdrop of the Himalayas.
At an altitude of 4,522m, Tso Moriri is the largest of the high altitude lakes within India, spanning 26km across and up to 5km wide. The view here is like no other; its deep blue waters reflect the huge skyline against the backdrop of lofty mountain peaks. You can also spot many species of birds and animals native to the Changthang Plateau, such as the black-necked cranes and the Tibetan gazelle. This visual treat you of the ethereal landscape is bound to mesmerise you.
Saffron trail (Pampore)
Known as the Saffron Town of Kashmir, Pampore is one of the few places in the world where saffron, the world’s most precious spice, is grown. Entire families engage in the backbreaking work of harvesting the spice that is worth its weight in gold. In October, you will smell the gentle perfume and see the fields of purple saffron flowers in full bloom, a delightful treat amidst the peaceful mountains of the Himalayas. Full of autumnal splendour, Pampore in the fall is definitely a place like a scene straight out of Persian poetry.
The most popular lake in Kashmir’s summer capital, prepare to be charmed by the glistening lake, and the various houseboats and shikaras (small wooden boats for transportation) painted with a myriad of bright colours and patterns. Here lies the life of Kashmir: the floating gardens, the lively market, the serene mountains. There is much to do and see here; take a relaxing boat ride around the lake, stop and see the intricate hand-carved walnut woodwork on sale, enjoy some piping hot nun chai (pink Kashmiri milk tea) or kahwah (Kashmiri spiced saffron tea) as you sit back and watch the world go by. At dusk, catch a glimpse of the bustling river as it transforms into a glowing landscape basking in the golden rays of the setting sun.
credit: Shakir Wani/shutterstock.com
Surrounded by pine trees and evergreen, the octagonal arcade at the heart of Verinag Spring features a spectacular view of its clear, jade green waters. You will also find stone slabs on the western and southern walls, upon which are inscribed verses of Persian prose in praise of the spring. Outside, enjoy the idyllic surroundings of the huge Mughal garden built in a style reminiscent of the traditional Persian Charbagh (four gardens), inspired by Quranic descriptions of heaven as having four rivers of water, milk, honey, and wine.
Situated in the middle of Srinagar's Old City, Jamia Masjid was completed in 1402 and is regarded as one of the most important mosques in Kashmir. Blending Indian and Mughal styles of architecture, the mosque bears semblances to Buddhist pagodas. Here, admire the towering structures straight out of pages in history, and marvel at the beautiful prayer halls nestled within that glow in the daylight.
Bonus: Kashmiri Cuisine
credit: Paul Cowan/shutterstock.com
Experience Indian food like you've never had before! Kashmiri cuisine is a wonderful combination of Muslim, Mughal, and Pandit cooking styles. As a result, be prepared to feast on specialities like Rogan Josh (lamb stew), Goshtaba (meatballs), Kashmiri Pulao (rice dish with saffron and dried fruits) and Bakarkhani (local spiced bread). Sit at a little tea stall on the mountains and enjoy freshly brewed saffron tea garnished with sliced almonds while you admire the breathtaking scenery. Kashmir's richest dishes are soaked in tradition and have developed through the ages with its unique flavour and spice blends. The exquisite aroma of a traditional meal is sure to tantalize your taste buds.
No matter the season, your visit to Kashmir will leave you enamoured of the beautiful sights of the region. From the lush green meadows to the snowy mountain peaks, Kashmir is sure to enthral you with its heavenly landscapes and impressive architecture. Indeed, this place beckons every soul to indulge in the rich delights it has to offer. Let the valley and its people welcome you with immense warmth and hospitality. It's no wonder this well-loved region is known the world over as Paradise on Earth.
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