Kashmir is my favourite place in the world and I truly believe in Mughal emperor Jahangir’s opinion of, “If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.” I have visited Kashmir many times and have dear friends who make me feel at home there. Although, my stays in Srinagar are nearly always at friends’ places, sometimes I look for cozy homestays which are becoming fast popular in the tourist circuit of Kashmir. It is because of them that I have experienced Kashmiri beauty in all seasons, in sun and shade, for work and play. The landscape of Kashmir is breathtaking, the food is to die for and the handicrafts are one of the finest in the entire country. But it is the people both locals and expats who are the real jewels and a part of my soul will always long to live there.
Although more (in)famous due to controversial political reasons, my friends have allowed me to experience Kashmiri tenderness up, close and personal and their close-knit community feeling have always blown my mind away. My favourite place in Kashmir is my close friend Tasleema’s school for differently abled children in the valley and it is nothing less than a living, breathing example of kindness. Soft-spoken and beautiful, Tasleema has a core of steel and she has broken away from her abusive domestic life to give her sons a fresh lease of life. Her courage to say no to abuse despite being nothing short of heroic, her true miracle lies in what she had done for a handful of children with special needs in the valley. A trained teacher, Tasleema had sold off her jewellery to provide a dignified space for those children, so that they can just be themselves without any admonitions, receive education, physiotherapy and some friendly company. While her school gets some aid from the Indian army and a few corporate, she manages the show on her own and in my eyes she symbolizes the true spirit of Kashmir. To encourage this brave lady, do visit her page at Al – Habib Foundation
Spirited, gentle and beautiful, Kashmir is unforgettable and the seasons seem to have a really good time there. Kashmiri spring is moist, fresh green and fuzzy soft and makes the rivers rush through the valley in a busy murmur. Summer ushers in flowers, sunshine, and dazzling distant peaks, while autumns come bedecked in gold, reds, and rows of blooming violet saffron. Winter is all about pristine white when every home in the capital city of Srinagar, spews curling blue smoke and fruits at local markets bounce off jewel colours. I love Kashmir in all seasons and this post is a tribute to this lovely region. Presenting 21 of my most beautiful travel memories through Kashmir, paradise on earth.
Kashmiri springs are wet, flowery and fragrant. Mustard paints the fields yellow and apple blossoms dapple the trees like a thousand stars. The soft pattering rain creates fuzzy images of the distant peaks and mirror-like puddles reflect laughter, a reinvigoration of energy and sheepherders. Kokkernag is my favourite place in Kashmir during spring and the contrast of blooming apple trees with rich yellow mustard fields is an unforgettable sight.
The Char Chinar stand lonesome and proud in the middle of the vast blue sheet of Dal Lake. Planted several years ago, recently one tree got restructured and it is one of the quintessential sights of Srinagar. Beautiful at all times of the day, the reflection of the trees on the cloudy blue water is truly mesmerizing. It is possible to visit the little island that holds Char Chinar by boat and it is a good sunset point.
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Nigeen Lake is quiet and idyllic. It is a far cry from busy, touristy Dal Lake and a soothing lull exists there. Wooden houseboats dock at its green shores and down its small watery lanes, quintessential Kashmiri gondolas called shikara glide down with their heart-shaped oars. I have stayed at Nigeen Lake quite a few times and the early dawns and dark blue midnight are my favourite hours on the still aqua paradise.
Kashmiri New Years is traditionally heralded by the blossoming of almond flowers and Badamvari in Srinagar is a quiet place to enjoy its full glory. With summer, comes an abundance of flowers, love and the famous Mughal Gardens of Srinagar come alive with people. My favourite among them is the stunning Shalimar Garden and the Pari Mahal offers stupendous views as well as some private space for lovers of the valley.
The city’s most famous flower show is called the Annual Tulip Festival and it is a sight to behold. Rows and rows of multi-hued tulips of various shapes and sizes unfurl at the foot of rough-hewn mountains and it is very easy to lose track of time there. Summer is one of the busiest times in Kashmir valley. Sunshine, clear weather and flowers bring tourists in hordes and mountain passes become accessible for several gorgeous treks.
Recently many new destinations of Kashmir are being promoted by the government tourism board and Kokkernag, Daksum, Yousmarg and Guriez top my list of favourite summer spots. While Guriez is not the easiest place to access, Yousmarg and Daksum are absolute delights and must be explored by intrepid travellers.
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Among all the summer spots, I have spent my most memorable moments at Daksum. The government tourist lodge has been the only accommodation available and the staff had been friendly and homey folks. They had cooked for me whatever they had eaten for meals themselves and nights had been pin drop silent. Herders’ songs had been my wake up calls at dawn and Sinthan Top had not been too far.
The blooming of saffron heralds Kashmiri autumn and the entire family of farmers toils their days at the spice fields. Backbreaking work is required to harvest the spice worth its weight in gold and they are found at acres of rolling land at Pampore.
Chinar trees are dear to all Kashmiri hearts. Believed to have been imported from Persia many years ago, the valley of Kashmir boasts of some of the finest and oldest living chinar trees in the world. Autumn turns the chinar leaves into gorgeous reds and golds and the valley decks up like a bride.
Autumn is also a seriously busy season for the herders or Bakarwals and thousands of these pastoral semi-nomads descend upon the valley from their mountainous heights. Traffic is often thrown off gear due to great numbers of woolly, furry four-footed pedestrians and entire families travel with them. With their belongings secured on horsebacks, sheepdogs and men tend to the animals while the ladies take care of the domestic household duties.
I have been once personally stuck in a traffic congestion of hundreds of goats on a Kashmiri highway for an hour and it had been a fascinating wait.
With autumn, comes a lull in the valley’s tourist season and most of the passes become off limits. I have found myself at Sonammarg once among late-blooming sunflowers and it had been a blissful, quiet visit. Only the rush of the blue-green river had broken the silence and with most resorts closed until next summer, the whole place had nearly belonged to me. Even the hazy mountain peaks had seemed more familiar and I have not minded the low light veiled beauty of Sonammarg.
My Kashmiri winter has involved awkward attempts at skiing, lots of food and spending gossip time with friends by the fire. Kashmiri food is super carb loaded and the harsh white winter had called for the fat. Days have been spent feasting on the famous Kashmiri wazwan and needless to say, I have indulged without any guilt.
Gulmarg receives quite a bit of snow and is world famous for good off-piste skiing. My last winter has been spent in Gulmarg and apart from enjoying gondola rides, taking long walks have made up my days. I like the crunch of snow under my boots and fresh clean air chilling my lungs and Gulmarg have offered both.
It is strange how easy it was to wrap up my Kashmiri love in such few words. I have often been teased by a dear blogger friend for rambling long posts and this one was like a KISS. (Kept It Short and Sweet). While, I have always wanted to dedicate pages to Kashmir, sometimes a lot of words are not required. After all, images speak louder than words and Kashmir’s beauty is impossible to capture in verses.
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