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Kashmir the Paradise on Earth

Set like a jewelled crown on the map of India, Kashmir is a multi-faceted diamond, changing its hues with the seasons - always extravagantly beautiful. Two major Himalayan ranges, the Great Himalayan Range and the Pir Panjal, surround the landscape from the north and south respectively. They are the source of great rivers, which flow down into the valleys, forested with orchards and decorated by lily-laden lakes.

The Mughals aptly called Kashmir ‘Paradise on Earth’ where they journeyed across the hot plains of India, to the valley’s cool environs in summer. Here they laid, with great love and care, Srinagar’s many formal, waterfront gardens, now collectively known as the Mughal Gardens. Anecdotes of four and five centuries ago describe their love for these gardens, and the rivalries that centred around their ownership. They also patronized the development of art & craft among the people of Kashmir, leaving behind a heritage of exquisite artisanship among these people and making the handicrafts of the land prized gifts all over the world.

Kashmir is a land where myriad holiday ideas are realized. In winter, when snow carpets the mountains, there is skiing, tobogganing, sledge-riding, etc. along the gentle slopes. In spring and summer, the honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and blue skies beckon every soul to sample the many delights the mountains and valleys have to offer. Golfing at 2,700 m above the sea, water-skiing in the lakes and angling for prized rainbow trout, or simply drifting down the willow fringed alleys of lakes in shikaras and living in gorgeous houseboats are some of the most favored ones.

Seasons :
Kashmir has four distinct seasons, each with its own peculiar character and distinctive charm. These are spring, summer, autumn and winter.

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 23oC or chilly and windy at 6oC. This is the season when Srinagar experiences rains, but the showers are brief.


Summer : extends from May until the end of August. Light woolens may be required to wear out of Srinagar. In higher altitudes night temperatures drop slightly. Srinagar at this time experiences day temperatures of between 25oC and 35oC. At this time, the whole valley is a mosaic of varying shades of green - rice fields, meadows, trees, etc. and Srinagar with its lakes and waterways is a heaven after the scorching heat of the Indian plains.


Autumn : the onset of autumn, perhaps Kashmir's loveliest season, is towards September, when green turns to gold and then to russet and red. The highest day temperatures in September are around 23oC and night temperatures dip to 10oC by October, and further drop by November, when heavy woolens are essential.

Winter : from December to the beginning of March is winter time, which presents Srinagar in yet another mood. Bare, snow-covered landscapes being watched from beside the warmth of a fire is a joy that cannot be described to anyone who has not experienced it. Some houseboats and hotels remain open in winter-these are either centrally heated or heated with ‘bukharis’, a typically Kashmiri stove kept alight with embers of wood, quite effective in the winter.

Kashmiri Food

Rich and redolent with the flavour of the spices used –cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, saffron, etc. -- Kashmiri food can be the simple meal of a family, or a 36-course wedding banquet called Wazawan. The staple diet of every Kashmiri is rice, the most preferred being the dense, slightly sticky grained Kashmir variety, which is prized in the Valley.

Mutton, chicken or fish are of prime importance in Kashmiri meal and everyday cooking often combines vegetable and meat in the same dish. Mutton and turnips, chicken and spinach, fish and lotus root are also very popular combinations. Pure vegetarian dishes include dum-aloo - roasted potatoes in curd-based gravy, and chaman- fried paneer (cottage cheese), in a thick sauce. Non-vegetarian dishes are considered in Kashmir to be a sign oflavish hospitality and at a Wazwan or banquet, not more than one or two vegetarian dishes are served. Sweets do not play an important role in Kashmiri cuisine. Instead Kahva or green tea is used to wash down a meal.

Wazawan is usually served at weddings and parties. The most commonly served items are rista (meat balls) made of finely pounded mutton and cooked in a gravy; seekh kababs, tabak maz, or flat pieces of meat cut from the ribs and fried till they acquire a crisp crackling texture, roganjosh, which owes its rich red colour to the generous use of Kashmiri chillies. Yakhni, a cream coloured preparation of delicate flavour, is made with curd as a base. Gushtaba, which is the last item to be served in a traditional wazawan, are meatballs moulded from pounded mutton like large-sized Rista but cooked in thick gravy of fresh curd base. Dam-Aaloo and chaman are the commonly served vegetarian dishes - to serve more than this would indicate an unseemly tendency on the part of the host to economize!Several restaurants in Srinagar serve Kashmiri wazawan on their menus. Mughal Durabar, Ahdoos and Grand, on the Residency Road, offer authentic wazawan. Similarly, Broadway Hotel on Maulana Azad Road arranges wazawan prepared by professionals.


Restaurants
All the better hotels in Srinagar have attached restaurants, generally serving Indian, Continental and Kashmiri cuisine. Other restaurants are mainly located on the Boulevard, Shervani (Residency) Road, Lambert Lane and Lal Chowk.

Mughal Durbar and Ahdoos on Shervani Road, Ruby in Lambert Lane and Juniper in Lal Chowk are well known for their Kashmiri cuisine. Solace and Tao Cafe on Shervani Road and Shamyana on the Boulevard are three known garden cafes. There are also several restaurants offering Chinese cuisines such as J&K TDC’s Nun-Kun Restaurant near Nehru Park, Alka Salka on Shervani Road and Lhasa on the Boulevard. Some restaurants, both attached to hotels and independent, cater to the large number of vegetarians who holiday in Kashmir. These are mainly located in the Dalgate Kohna Khan area and on the Boulevard. Amira Kadal and Dalgate have inexpensive eateries where you can get simple, well cooked meals.

There are a number of bakeries at Dalgate and Shervani Road. Some of them, in addition to patties and pastries, serve Kashmiri breads like 'sheermal' and 'baqerkhani', without which no Kashmiri breakfast is complete. Kashmiris use a variety of breads seldom seen elsewhere. Tsot and tsochvoru are small round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds and traditionally washed down with salt tea. Lavas is a cream coloured unleavened bread; baqerkhani is the Kashmiri equivalent of rough puff pastry and kulcha is a melt-in-the mouth variety of short-bread, sweet or savoury, topped with poppy seeds


Places to Visit
Gulmarg :
Gulmarg's legendary beauty, prime location and proximity to Srinagar naturally make it one of the premier hill resorts in the country. Originally called 'Gaurimarg' by shepherds, its present name was given in the 16th century by Sultan Yusuf Shah, who was inspired by the sight of its grassy slopes emblazoned with wild flowers. Gulmarg was a favourite haunt of Emperor Jehangir who once collected 21 different varieties of flowers from here. Today Gulmarg is not merely a mountain resort of exceptional beauty - it also has the highest green golf course in the world, at an altitude of 2,650 m, and is the country's premier ski resort in the winter.

The journey to Gulmarg is half the enchantment of reaching there - roads bordered by rigid avenues of poplar give over to flat expanses of rice fields interspersed with picturesque villages. Depending on the season, nature's colors could be the translucent green of spring, summer's rich emerald, or autumn's golden hues, when scarlet chilies festoon windows of village homes. After Tangmarg, the climb to Gulmarg begins through fir-covered hillsides. At one point, known simply as View Point, travelers generally stop their vehicles for a few minutes and look out a spectacle of snow-covered mountains, almost within touching distance.


Pahalgam - The Valley of Shepherds :
Situated at the confluence of the streams flowing from SheshnagLake and the Lidder river, Pahalgam (2,130 m) was once a humble shepherd's village with breathtaking views. Now it is Kashmir's premier resort, cool even during the height of summer when the maximum temperature does not exceed 250C. A number of hotels and lodges cater to all preferences and budgets, from luxurious hotels to unpretentious trekkers' lodges, including J&K TDC's huts.


Around Pahalgam are many places of interest, and because the resort is set between fairly steep hills, it is worth hiring a pony rather than walking. Pony fares are posted at prominent locations.


The most beautiful of these is the huge, undulating meadow of Baisaran, surrounded by thickly wooded forests of pine. Hajan, on the way to Chandanwari, is an idyllic spot for a picnic. Filmgoers will recognize it instantly as it has been the location of several movie scenes


Sonmarg - The Meadow of Gold : The drive to Sonamarg is throughthe Sindh Valley which presentsyet another spectacular facet of countryside in Kashmir. Situated at an altitude of 2730 m, Sonamarg (‘The meadow of gold’) has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. The Sindh River that meanders through the valley abounds with trout andmahaseer. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier, which is a major local attraction during the summer months.

Sonamarg is the base of a major trek that passes along several mountain lakes –Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar and Gangabal. Sonamarg is also the take off station for the drive to Ladakh across the Zojila, a major pass in the Great Himalayan Range, through which the Srinagar-Leh Road passes.


Shopping and Handicraft
From the amusing trinket to a collector's item, you'll find it all in Srinagar. Row upon row of shops filled with handicrafts line the streets. The array is awesome. There are objects to suit every pocket, for the variety within each craft is wide.


While top-of-the-line products cater to the discerning, some handicrafts cater to the buyers with a modest budget. To the uninitiated, the difference between two shawls may be negligible and hardly worth the enormous disparity in price. However, the dealer knows exactly what he has in his showroom, knows how much skill, labour and material has gone into its fabrication, and so accordingly structures the price.


Kashmiri handicrafts are prized everywhere for their exquisite craftsmanship. Kashmir carpets, in both wool and silk with their Persian design, are a lifetime investment and the shoppers' selection range from the simple to the most extraordinarily intricate patterns handed down the generations. Then there are papier-mâché items ranging from jewellery boxes to mirror frames, a range of intricately carved walnut wood furniture and accessories, stone jewellery boxes, beautiful woollen shawls, crewel embroidery on furnishing material sold by the meter and more. Following is a brief description of the main handicraft legacy of Kashmir.

Sports in Kashmir
Golf : Kashmir offers a unique opportunity to play golf all through the summer - from April to November - in invigorating surroundings, where the wind whispers through enormous trees of chinar and stately pine.In the verdant golf courses at Srinagar and Gulmarg, you will be able to play for longer hours than you can in the plains because of the lower temperatures - Srinagar's highest temperature seldom goes above 35°C. The layout of both the courses, too, will delight the golfers. Srinagar has an 18-hole golf course with common fairways, and a par of 70. This course is open throughout the year, unless snowbound in winter.

While top-of-the-line products cater to the discerning, some handicrafts cater to the buyers with a modest budget. To the uninitiated, the difference between two shawls may be negligible and hardly worth the enormous disparity in price. However, the dealer knows exactly what he has in his showroom, knows how much skill, labour and material has gone into its fabrication, and so accordingly structures the price.

Skiing : One of the major attractions for adventure loving tourists is skiing in the Himalayas. Gulmarg, the best ski resort in the Himalayas, was first established by the British in 1927, when two British Army Officers, Maj. Metcarp and Maj. Hadow had setup the Ski Club of India at Gulmarg.

Skiing had become very popular during the pre-independence years and Gulmarg used to host two main events, one each during Christmas and Easter. In 1938-39 about 500 skiers are reported to have participated in the Christmas and Easter ski races. Gulmarg's atmosphere can generally be identified with 1940's and 50's European skiing-'the Alps of good old days'. It has good sunshine as well as good snow.


How to reach
Srinagar : the summer capital of State, is connected by direct flights operated by Indian Airlines / Jet Airways / Sahara Airways/Kingfisher/GoAir/SpiceJet/AirDeccan, etc. There are daily direct flights from Delhi / Jammu to Srinagar.

Daily Super Deluxe / Sleeper buses also run from Delhi to Srinagar.


Jammu - Tawi is the nearest rail head for the Travelers to Srinagar. There are overnight trains operating from Delhi to Jammu: Shalimar Express / Jammu Mail / Jhelum Express / Pooja Express / Uttar Sampark Kranti Express, besides day trains Viz. Malva Express / Super fast Express. Jammu is also connected by train with Bombay,Calcutta,Madras and other cities in the Country.