In India, one can find a diversity of landscapes and breath-taking nature beauties – from endless beaches, tall mountain ranges, lush green rain forests, glacial terrains, sandy deserts to beautiful grasslands. But when we speak of Kashmir, a very quirky kind of emotions flow through the nerves. What makes Kashmir specifically a heavenly place is better fathomed when experienced than explained.
It was the autumn 2020, when I made an impromptu plan to fly to Kashmir as my “Himachal Pradesh” road trip plan got cancelled due to road jams. There are two versions of Himalayan beauty you will find in Kashmir – one you will experience in the summers when the gardens are blooming with varieties of tulips and the other version is what I experienced – when the valley gets its dreamy features.
DAY 1: Srinagar
If you are going to Srinagar by air, then I will suggest to reserve a window seat. This is how the Himalayan range view will like from the window.
We landed at Srinagar air port and went to an hotel to freshen up. We were welcomed at the reception with “Kashmiri Kahwa”. It’s a classic Kashmiri drink that’s so soul warming, that will tempt you to drink it whenever you find a chance. But don’t do that mistake like I did, as it’s made with kesar, dry fruits, cardamom besides other Indian spices, it warms up your body. It’s best to have 1-2 drinks in a day, otherwise you will get a bad stomach due to over heating of body.
On the first day, we went to all the baghs that you will find in Srinagar. As it was fall, the tulips were not there. But there was another extraordinary beauty that was waiting to our surprise. The entire area was covered with thick layers of golden autumn leaves.
Besides this, you will get to see a wave of green wild parrots flying and chirping in the vicinity. I tried to take a close up shot of them, but failed. I am no photographer. Please don’t judge my photography skills.
This was an unique experience which you probably won’t find anywhere other than Kashmir – the scenic view of the entire valley including Dal lake from the top of the forts, wild flocks of parrots and the beautiful autumn colours.
DAY 2 & 3: Gulmarg
We headed for Gulmarg. Well, everyone knows what we can expect to find in Gulmarg. But it’s much much incredible an experience when you get there.
We had planned a one day stay at Gulmarg, but we ended up extending by one more day as it didn’t feel enough. Every walk through the glossy white terrains seemed so fulfilling, the mornings and sunsets were heavenly, every terrain you find will be having special uniqueness to it that will leave you wondering have I really seen all beautiful views that were there.
At Gandola, do take as many long rides that you can like sledge, motor ride besides the fun skiing activities if you are not a professional at it. You can see the Kargil range from there. The sledge experience is super awesome, you just slip smoothly through the 8 feet tall ice covers, pine trees, snow capped shelter homes for nearly 20-30 mins. We went through the rope way to the top and came back to hotel through sledge ride. Do ensure you take a -5 degree sustaining and water resistant winter wear & gloves with you. Else it will be difficult to enjoy in the freezing cold post sunset.
If you have a tight budget, I would suggest that plan your stay at cheap hotels in other days, but keep budget for Gulmarg stay. We luckily found a room in a good hotel at a great discount; traffic had reduced by 60% due to COVID.
Day 4: Pahalgam
It’s a scenic ride to enjoy on horse. You will meet multiple shepherd on the way with herds of sheep, snow clad peaks, river streams, meadows, dense forests with ice capped pine trees..finding yourself wandering right between the glittering mountains shining bright white in the sunlight.
What makes the ride more memorable are the sweet, friendly and humble locals who will be guiding you on the tour as you enjoy the fresh & pure air sitting on horse. Unless you have serious back pain issue, I will suggest to have a full round tour in the hills on the horse to savour the astounding views. The final destination of the 5 hour long tour is a place which they call “Mini Switzerland”. There will be ice sheets covering the land surrounded by snow capped green pine trees with a splendid view of glossy white Himalayan range which looks like to be within a few metres distance. Here is how it looks during autumn.
Day 5: Dal Lake
Ideally, you should plan a night of extra stay to stay in a boat house, which we sort of traded off for 1 day more stay at Gulmarg. The best scenic views in Shikara rides are during summers when the weather is not foggy and you can see the snow-clad mountains. When we went, there was fog. But there were migratory mandarin ducks who swam besides us which you won’t get during summers. You will not get to see this in any other parts of India.
There are many boat houses, but before booking, you should know the parking area of the boat. Some of the parking areas are road facing and some of them are wider lake and mountain facing. The mountain views is something which one would love to enjoy during the sunrise as the sunlight makes them shine bright white and the lake water orange.
We headed back to airport at 3 PM after a 3 hours of shikara ride. Every travel experience has some unique experiences. But there are few which leaves you at a blissful state of mind, making you want to love and connect with yourself, people and nature. Kashmir is one such beauty that will leave a mark not just for the splendour but also for the people you will meet in the journey. The locals are really sweet, kind and humble souls welcoming all kinds of people that visit their land.