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ELECTION 2022

A paradise called Kashmir

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Shamlal Puri | May 22nd 2016 | 4 min read

Hugged by striking alpine vistas of snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas and lakes fringed with lotus flowers in the north of India, enchanting Kashmir is a perfect romantic getaway for honeymooners and those in search of a dream destination.

Described as Paradise on Earth, in the summer, the Kashmir Valley bursts into a riot of colours with millions of flowers laid out as a huge carpet on a truly mesmerising landscape.

A mecca for Bollywood film makers, this is the scenic land where hundreds of romantic stories have been shot and turned into blockbusters.

A former princely state in northern India which shares its borders with the Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir has an area of 222,238 square kilometres and a population of more than 12.5 million.

As it is situated in the north-most part of India, it shares its international border with China and the Line of Control which separates it from Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The international borders are sealed because of a political dispute raging between India and Pakistan with each claiming ownership of the Kashmir Valley leading to border skirmishes on both sides.

Years ago, one could only see soldiers in body armour but of late a million tourists have visited Kashmir, including some 32,000 foreigners. Bollywood film makers have also returned.

The state is guarded by over half a million soldiers. Kashmir, particularly Srinagar, enjoys long periods of calm.

The state’s summer capital Srinagar comes alive between March and October as those who can afford go away to fairly warmer second capital in Jammu to spend the harsh winter when temperatures plummet to minus 11 degrees Celsius.

It is the beauty of Kashmir, described as the Switzerland of the Asia, which attracts tourists.

When I arrived in Jammu and Kashmir, there was a communications blackout as non-Kashmiri cell phones were blocked.

Srinagar, which has a population of 1.2 million, is a bigger magnet for tourists than Jammu which, even with its temples, is more of a transit station for those travelling to the rest of India.

There are unbelievably beautiful places to see in and around Srinagar.

These range from lakes, distinctive houseboats, gardens, shrines, temples and mosques. The 284-square city lies at an elevation of 1,585 metres on the banks of Jhelum, a tributary of the Indus River and the famed Dal, Anchar and the tree-lined Nagin lakes.

COLOURFUL DECORATIONS

Top of the attractions is the Dal Lake, referred to as the Jewel in the crown of Kashmir. It has been made popular by Bollywood movies and travel documentaries. Take a trip around the lake in a Shikara, a wooden taxi boat with colourful decorations and witness the beautiful rolling scenery.

The beautiful sight of the floating market — or floating shops — is memorable. Here, locals paddling in their boats sell fruits, flowers and vegetables, handicrafts, handlooms, dry fruit among an array of items.

While shikaras give a short cruise, Dal Lake is also famous for its houseboats or floating palaces anchored offshore which offer five star hotel type of accommodation. Truly worth spending a night there and enjoy the panoramic views of the shore line with boulevards. Also close by are Mughal-era gardens including Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh. Also popular is the centuries-old Shankaracharya Hill temple in the Zabarwan Hill range which thousands of Hindu and Buddhist devotees visit.

The temple, which rests on a solid rock, is also important to Muslims who call it Takht-e-Suleiman because of the Persian inscriptions there.

Christians also believe that Jesus Christ visited this part of Kashmir.

You have to climb more than 240 steps to get to the temple atop the hill. The icing on the cake is that you can enjoy stunning views of Srinagar from here. Photography is prohibited due to security.

The Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Chashmashahi, the largest in Asia is the feather in the cap of Srinagar as. It offers a truly visual; feast with multi-coloured hues from the thousands of tulips in full bloom. The best time to visit is around April.

The fort-like historical Pari Mahal — or the Palace of Fairies — on the Zabarwan hill offers spell-binding views of Srinagar, the Dal Lake and beautiful valley. This beautiful terraced arched garden was built in the 17th Century. The much-desired Saffron spice grows here.

Another eye-catching attraction is Hazratbal, a mosque with a beautiful dome which has a special significance for Muslims.

Devotees say this is the holiest shrine has a strand from the hair from the beard of the Prophet Mohammed enshrined here. This beautiful grand shrine is open to people from all faiths.

Another equally beautiful mosque is the Jamia Masjid in the old city. Built in 1400 AD, this mosque is an architectural gem with a unique pagoda-style minaret. It has room for 33,333 devotees and is full to capacity during Friday prayers. Srinagar city itself is an attractive city but these days it is lined with armed soldiers who make it safe. It is easy to get around in auto-rickshaws.

Local hotels organise excursions around the city and to neighbouring snow resorts such as Gulmarg, Pehalgam and Sonamarg which offer adventurous outdoor activities.

Lal Chowk Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) is a commercial centre popular with shoppers.

Its prices are comparatively better than the Wholesale Market which many rickshaw drivers will encourage you to visit as they get commission from the shopkeepers there.

Kashmir is known for its Cashmere Pashmina shawls, rugs, leather products, jewellery and handicrafts.

There are many eateries serving authentic Kashmiri and Indian dishes including Gushtaba (meatballs in yoghurt), Rogan Gosht, Tabakmaaz (fried lamb ribs) and freshly barbequed local delicacy called Seekh-Tuji — marinated meat chunks.

I found Kashmiris gentle and hospitable people. Their hospitality is awesome and they make you feel at home.

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