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Kashmir is on everyone's bucket list! Here are 15 things to do in Kashmir, that I learned after my recent visit to the paradise on Earth!
Kashmir is on everyone’s bucket list! Here are 15 things to do in Kashmir, that I learned after my recent visit to the paradise on Earth!
I finally made my travel dream come true! Kashmir— the crown of India, rightfully called ‘heaven on earth’, and a place right up there on my bucket list, wasn’t just a place on the bucket list. Kashmir was a dream, I had been dreaming for years. The breathtaking snowfall in Gulmarg, the green meadows of Pahalgam, and the shikaras on Dal Lake, were beckoning me for too long now.
This summer, I went on a ‘women’s special’ guided group tour to Kashmir, which turned out to be such a memorable experience!
It also turned out that after coming back, I couldn’t seem to get over the post-holiday blues, which was so tough, all I wanted was to go back and relive that trip all, over, again!
I cannot go relive that trip, I can certainly relive the memories of that trip. One of the best ways to relive memories, to make them last, is by writing about them!
So, I am going to do that, and in the process, take you along to all the places we went, and give you my personal recommendations, tips, and dos and don’ts, along the way!
This was a short but sweet 6 days, 5 nights tours. We were a group of 21 women altogether, and we not only had each other’s company, but, we also had two tour managers to guide us throughout our tour — one joining us at Pune airport (where our journey began) taking us all the way up to Srinagar, and the other joining us at Srinagar airport, and then bringing us all back home at the end of the tour; which was cool.
Pune- Delhi- Srinagar: It was a long night, a long journey, but never a dull moment, with so many lovely ladies to hang out with, to talk to. They made the waiting time at airports so much easier to bear.
This was the best moment of the tour, one I am sure everyone had been waiting for.
All I wanted to do after landing, was take in the vibes/ views of a brand-new place – the weather, the reassuring presence of so many security personnel, the local people with glowing skin tones, with different demeanours ( men outnumbered women!) tall ornamental trees outside the airport which looked like giant Christmas trees to me, and this may sound strange, but seriously, even the dogs there looked taller to me! (in hindsight, wish I had taken a video of it all).
It was sunny but cold, even the luggage trolleys were icy cold to the touch. But when you get welcomed at Srinagar airport with a warm smile, guided to your bus, luggage loaded, and then the whole gang is taken to a breakfast place, where a hot, hearty breakfast awaits you, you just forget how cold, tired, sleepy you are.
To reach our houseboats, we drove down to Dal lake, got off our bus, towed our luggage up to the ghats( steps leading down to the lake) got into our own shikaras (which are boats, which hold about 6 to 7 people, including the driver) then transported to our houseboats (around 10 of us on each houseboat) All houseboats looked almost similar, but had different names assigned to them.
Your trip to Kashmir remains incomplete without that ‘one-of-a-kind’ ‘ experience of staying on a houseboat ( which is essentially a floating house), and I am so glad it was part of our itinerary.
Houseboats are a unique part of the cultural heritage of Kashmir; so to catch that cultural charm/ vibe of the whole place, this is one of the must-do’s. Unlike houseboats in Kerala, which take you along the backwaters, the houseboats in Kashmir are firmly anchored.
What impressed me the most was the wood it was made of walnut and deodhar wood (which does not decompose in water)the intricately carved wood panellings/the ceiling, the furnishing/ decor, comfy sofas etc (where everyone lounged/ chilled out) pretty wall mirrors, and most of all the embroidered carpets, all of which collectively created a warm, welcoming, luxurious look/feel.
I even loved the narrow aisle leading up to our rooms (it felt like being inside a railway coach) with its glazed windows, offering views of the Dal Lake right outside.
The best part of the houseboat was the sit-out area, where we stood/ sat, and sipped tea; I enjoyed gazing at the shikaras going by, listening to the sweet sound of the birds, and watching ducks bobbing up and down the lake. It was an absolute delight waking up on the houseboat; surrounded by peaceful waters, and distant views of mountains.
Expect– electricity to be intermittent on a houseboat, so charge your phone, when you can.
Carry slippers/ flip-flops– to wear indoors, as shoes are not allowed inside( to maintain cleanliness) slippers also come very handy when it rains – either to save your shoes from getting wet/ as a replacement, if your shoes get wet/ soggy.
Remember the bygone, golden era of Hindi cinema, when Kashmir was the ultimate go-to destination for Hindi cinema, epitomizing nothing but love? Besides, who can forget the iconic song from the movie Kashmir Ki Kali- Shammi Kapoor, and Sharmila Tagore (in a Kashmiri costume) in a shikara on Dal Lake?
Well, Dal Lake gives you the opportunity to ‘live out’ that song! So while we were at Dal Lake, one of the first things I did was to dress up in a local Kashmiri outfit, and get professionally photographed, on a Shikara. This was one of my long-standing memories from this trip.
They are cute, colourful, light, flat-bottomed, wooden boats seen on the lakes of Kashmir – used for transportation, fishing, joyrides for tourists etc Getting in/ out of them was slightly tricky, as they wobble.
Which takes you around Dal lake, was one of the most relaxing rides, I’ve ever had! The late afternoon, gentle breeze, blowing on my face (which turned into a chilly wind towards the evening) just being there in the midst of tranquillity, was mentally so refreshing.
This time was therapy. I highly recommend it.
Since I had opted for a single occupancy room, I had a shikara all to myself, which was fun, no doubt- it felt like royalty! While I enjoyed my own company while going while returning to the houseboat, the journey was much longer (as it took you through the floating market), and I felt just a bit lost, and lonely.
As you go through the floating markets, you see vendors in shikaras, selling all kinds of stuff- jewellery (must-buys) corn, cut fruits, ice cream, and even barbecued items like tikkas of different types – fish, chicken, mutton, paneer, even mushroom! I also saw maggi noodle points on the lake.
The shikara ride was followed by a speed boat ride. We enjoyed it, and just couldn’t get enough of it!
If you’re a tea lover, then you should definitely try kahwa, the most popular drink in the Kashmir Valley. You will find vendors selling kawha everywhere you go. It’s a green tea, infused with fragrant spices like cinnamon, cardamom, clove etc which give it a unique aroma.
The tea is topped with slivered almonds, walnuts, and strands of saffron, sweetened with honey/sugar, which give it a delicate, light golden colour. Kawha is meant to keep you warm, healthy, and refreshed, in the cold weather. I enjoyed the taste.
For anyone interested in history, archaeology, or the ‘feel of old places’ as I do, then this is a must-stop on the way to Pahalgam. If you love photography, you will have a great time, clicking pictures against fascinating backgrounds.
These ruins once belonged to two massive Hindu temples of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva. They have an interesting story to them, which only a tour guide can tell you about.
I am not a movie buff, but literally everywhere you go in Kashmir, the locations are associated with some Bollywood movie song/scene at these very ruins, a song from the 1975 movie ‘Aandhi’ was filmed.
On day two, as our bus drove through the highway stretch between Srinagar to Pahalgam, our eyes were treated to stretches, and stretches of green, and yellow hues of mustard fields, against a backdrop of white snow capped mountains.
No, we were not in Punjab, what we were seeing is what I call ‘a piece of Punjab in Kashmir’. It’s a stopover you cannot resist. These sarson ke khet give you nothing but ‘DDLJ’ vibes.
Although touristy places are commercialized/crowded, the beauty of Kashmir remains timeless, and one such place is the beautiful Betaab valley (after the 1983 hit movie Betaab).
I found it to be extremely peaceful, and picturesque- with panoramic views of snow-clad mountains, green meadows, a landscape dotted with innumerable trees (pine, deodhar, willow etc) and the Lidder river flowing through. This is a place where you can enjoy long strolls, have a picnic, or simply sit/ relax, and take in the views.
If you’re visiting Kashmir during the apple season( roughly around September/ October ) you should visit an apple orchard. If you are visiting during the off-season like we did, do try out the fresh apple juice here. Standing in the peaceful, picturesque environment, sipping sweet apple juice, was totally satisfying.
Kashmir is famous for producing high-quality cricket bats. Any cricket lover should make it a point to visit one of the cricket bat factories of Kashmir, to see/observe, and understand what goes behind the process of bat making. You can purchase a willow cricket bat( even a tiny/mini cricket bat) at their outlet.
Cannot come to Kashmir, and not check out their carpets! Kashmir is well known for its craftsmanship, and carpet-making is one of the most important industries of Kashmir. You will find some of the most exquisite designs and exotic colours of carpets.
The handmade ones, hand-knotted ones, take months to complete and are quite expensive. Even if you’re not buying one, just go there to see them with your own eyes, to feel it with your own hands— you’ll be amazed.
I am not a big fan of fallen snow (because it gets slushy, and slippery) big queues, crowds, or very high-altitude areas… I would rather visit a lower altitude area, during peak winters, to experience fresh snowfall.
But, if you’re someone who has never seen snow before, Kashmir gives you plenty of options, even during the summers. The two places that we went to.
The drive there was just so astonishing. I can never forget the scenic beauty of that long drive.
What I enjoyed now is like contradicting myself, but honestly, I loved the Gulmarg gondola ride (a cable car ride). It was thrilling, at times frightening, but the views were to die for. This ride takes you higher, and higher up the mountains to a maximum height of 13,000 feet above sea level (due to weather conditions, we couldn’t go all the way up).
Caution: if you think your body cannot handle very high altitudes, please avoid going to Gulmarg.
Didn’t enjoy: The sledge ride. With just a rope to hold on to, you get heaved haphazardly, and rapidly, in a zigzag manner; taking you up the snowy/icy mountain slope. There are patches where the ground is rough, it’s a struggle, but they take you fast; so fast that you almost get thrown off the sledge! Then while you’re riding, suddenly the sledge driver is on the sledge, sitting with you! Not recommended.
On a chilly, drizzly April morning as we walked up to the tulip gardens (a lovely, leisurely, nature walk ) and then stepped inside; it was like stepping into a picture-perfect painting- spectacular mountains with rain clouds hovering in the backdrop, and a riot of beautiful, colourful, tulips in its lap. It just takes your breath away! (loved the purple and orange variety of tulips the most) There are also several types of other flowers in this garden— daffodils, hyacinths, roses, narcissus, and ornamental plants.
The lovely weather that morning, and the beautiful landscaping, with water fountains in between, was the perfect place to spend the morning. An absolute must-see attraction.
Tulip gardens- it’s tentatively open between March end- early/ end April each year(do check on their official website before visiting).
We next went to Shalimar and Nishat Baug, and they were just as nice (but only if you don’t compare them with the tulips). The rain was coming down steadily now, but that didn’t dampen our spirits, the cameras clicked away.
No trip can be complete without shopping! Some items unique to Kashmir.
Kashmir is well-known for its beautiful Pashmina shawls/ stoles. These are expensive, but the important thing before buying one, is to ask an expert, in helping you choose a genuine product.
Kashmir offers an extensive range of dry fruits -walnuts, almonds, dried cherries, blueberries etc
It is the most expensive spice in the world, and Kashmir is one of the few places in the world where saffron is harvested. Only buy saffron with the help of a certified guide.
They are important to keep the memories alive – keychain, fridge magnets, decorative items like wooden shikara, paper mache items – boxes, bells, agarbatti stand etc were some of my purchases.
What better way to remember your travel, and feel forever connected to a place, than collecting nature souvenirs like flowers, leaves, stones/ shells? As a nature lover, I wanted to, but could not get myself a Chinar leaf! (chinar trees are the oldest trees in Kashmir) though I made it up by buying a chinar printed stole instead.
Before you decide to go Kashmir, remember these things!
Pre-paid SIMs do not work in Kashmir (for security reasons) only post-paid ones do. Wi-Fi at the houseboat/hotels was pretty decent (Wi-Fi is not SIM dependent) but do not rely on that.
Can change in a jiffy. It can be warm and sunny one moment, and suddenly get super chilly/windy, so while outdoors, always carry light woollens. Check the weather forecast – carry an umbrella/lightweight poncho.
Every season in Kashmir has its own charm, so time your visit based on the experience you want— spring for the tulips, autumn for the apple/walnut plantations, winter for the snowfall etc
This was my first visit to the valley, and this piece of paradise was nothing short of a dream. This dream, and those memories, feel more special, only because of all the amazing people I travelled with.
Kashmir is an experience of a lifetime – one that you won’t want to forget. Like the famous poet, Amir Khusro said- ‘If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here…’
That is so true! I truly think I left a piece of my heart behind in this paradise. Maybe I should go find it?
Image source: Free and edited on CanvaPro
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