Kashmir has often been described as the jewel in the crown of India's map. This picturesque valley is surrounded by two major Himalayan ranges, the GreatHimalayas from the north and the PirPanjal fromthesouth. The Mughalseulogized Kashmir as the' Paradise on Earth' and travelled every year from the Indian plains to spend the summers in its cool setting. Here they laidout the famous Mughal Gardens , and patronized the development of a corpus of exquisite handicrafts, which remains Kashmir 's living heritage to-date.
Kashmir is a destination of many hues and moods. Inspring and summer , the abundant orchards, rippling lakes and salubrious climate beckon all to experience Kashmir 'snumerousdelights. Golfing in the picturesque courses, water-skiing in the lakes and angling for rainbow trout in the mountain streams-these are but some of the many pleasures you could indulge in on a Kashmir holiday. Or you can simply drift down the placid waters of lakes in shikaras and live in magnificent Houseboats. Inwinter, when themountainsides are covered with snow, you can go on skiing along the rolling slopes of Gulmarg.
Kashmir is blessed with four distinctive seasons, each with its own peculiar character and charm. In spring (March-May) a multitude of flowers carpet the ground, while the weather can be pleasant at 23 C or chilly and windy at less than 10 C. In Summer (June-August) the whole valley transforms into a mosaic of varying shades of greenas the temperatures range between 25 C and 35 C, though the night temperatures drop slightly in higher altitudes. Autumn (September-November) is Kashmir 's best season as the turns to gold and then to russet and red. Day temperatures in September are around 23 C, which may fall to 10 C by October and further drop by November when heavy woollens become essential. Winter (December to early March) presents Kashmir in an entirely different hue when you can watch the bare, snow-covered landscapes from the windows of a heated hotel room, a scene that can only be experienced but cannot be fully described. Or you can go skiing in the picture postcard setting of Gulmag.
|Summer||29.5 C||10.6 C|
|Winter||7.3 C||-1.9 C|
|Population||930136 (2001 Census)|
|Best Season||Throughout the year, though the winter months can be quite cold and snow bound.|
|Clothing Spring and autumn||Light woollens.|
|Languages||Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, English.|
Srinagar (1730 m), capital city of Kashmir , is located in the heart of the valley, spread on both sides of the river Jehlum. The Dal and Nagin Lakes enhance its picturesque setting, while the changing play of the seasons and the salubrious climate makes the city attractive to visitors around the year.
Srinagar is a historic city with its founding dating back to the BC era. Hiuen Tsang, who visited Kashmir in 631 AD, found it at the same site as it is today. The Mughals conquered Kashmir and endowed Srinagar with beautiful mosques and gardens. Today's Srinagar is a resort for the tourist who can experience the peculiar beauty of the valley which had attracted the Chinese , the Mughals and the British through the ages. Its waterways with their quaint lifestyle, the unique houseboats, the blossoming gardens, shopping for hand-crafted souvenirs and the nearby resorts make it a destination for a memorable holiday.
The old city of Srinagar has a quaint medieval charm of its own, with peculiar sights, sounds and smells. It has developed on the banks of river Jehlum which is spanned by nine main bridges, many of which are now replaced with new concrete bridges and a few new ones have also been added.
One of the many features of the old city is its tradition of handicrafts. The well-appointed handicrafts shops in upmarket Srinagar are supplied by the families of craftsmen who create exquisite handicrafts in the labyrinthine old city.
The old city is also blessed with many of Kashmir's ancient shrines and mosques among which the shrines of Shah-i-Hamdan,Makhdoom Sahib , Patthar Masjid , JamaMasjid and PirDastagirSahib are the most prominent ones, which are often found thronged by multitudes of devotees of all faiths.
Srinagar 's most distinctive landmark is the Dal Lake system , two enormous expanses of water, Lokut-Dal and Bod-Dal . Leading from the Dal is the smaller but more picturesque NaginLake , with its banks edged by willow and poplar trees. The Dal Lake is divided by causeways into four parts: Gagribal , Lakut-dal , Bod-dal & Nagin . The best way to explore the lakes and the quaint life that it sustains is by hiring a Shikaras from any of the stepped jetties called 'ghats' .
The Mughal Gardens with their terraced lawns, cascading fountains and neat flower beds, overlooking the sprawling Dal Lake in front, are very popular for picnics and excursions. Shalimar (15 kms), the farthest of the three Mughal gardens, was built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife NurJehan . It is a beautiful garden spread over an area of 539x182 metres and has four terraces, rising one above the other. At 11 Kms. from Srinagar is NishatBagh (or Garden of Bliss ) which was designed in 1633 AD by Asaf Khan, brother of NurJehan. Chashmashahi (Royal Spring) built by Shah Jahan in 1632 AD is a spring of cool, refreshing sweet water which is prized for its digestive properties. This beautiful Mughal garden is tastefully laid in terraces which command magnificent views of the Dal Lake and surrounding mountain ranges.
Nestled on the spur of a mountain overlooking the Dal, this ancient monument was once a royal observatory converted from an earlier Buddhist monastery by Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son. It is surrounded by a beautifully laid out garden and is a five-minute drive from Cheshmashahi.
Hazratbal Mosque is located on the Western shores of Dal Lake, in the part of the city which is known by the same name. Thespecial significance of this famous mosque is that it houses a hair of Prophet Muhammad, which is displayed to the public on religious occasions when devotees in large numbers gather here.
The historic Jama Masjid at Nowhatta, in the heart of the Old City, is the other important mosque of Srinagar where thousands of people congregate for the Friday prayers. Of imposing proportions, the mosque is built around a courtyard and is supported by 370 wooden pillars. Originally built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, and enlarged by his son, Zain-ul- Abidin, it is a classic sample of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
This sacred temple occupiesthe hill known as Takht-I-Sulaiman, located near the Dal Lake . The site dates back to 250 BC and is associated with the Hindu philosopher Shankaracharya who visited Kashmir ten centuries ago to revive Sanatan Dharma. Before this date, the temple was known as Gopadri, as an earlier edifice on the same site was built by king Lalitaditya in the 6th century AD. Raised on a high octagonal plinth and approached by a flight of stone steps, the main surviving shrine consists of a circular cell. It commands a panoramic view of the city and the lake area, and can be approached by a motorable road.
This is the first mosque ever built in Srinagar - the original mosque was built in 1395. Shah-i-Hamdan , who came from Persia in the 13 th century, was responsible for propagating Islam in Kashmir . Khanqah-i-Mualla as this mosque is popularly called, occupies the very spot where Shah-i-Hamdan offered prayers, on the banks of the Jhelum near FatehKadalbridge. The Khanqah is a wooden structure whose chief aesthetic feature is its beautifully carved eaves and hanging bells as well as the richly painted and carved interiors.
ThisMughal Fortoccupies the top of Hari Parbat hill. It was later expanded during the 18 th century by Kashmir 's Afghan GovernorAta Mohammad Khan. Hari Parbat is considered sacred to the Hindus due to the presence of the temple of Sharika , a form of goddess Durga or Shakti . On the southern side of the hill is the historic shrine of the Sufi saint Makhdoom Sahib , which is revered by people of all faiths.
The sixth Sikh Guru travelled through Kashmir, stopping to preach occasionally. A Gurudwarahas been built at the exact site of each of these halts. The most important one among these is the historic ChhattiPadshahiGurudwara, situated below Hari Parbat,near the KathiDarwaza , inRainawari, Srinagar .
Located atop a plateau, close to the city of Anantnag , Martandis a temple dedicated to Surya , the " Sun God" . Built by KingLaitadityaMuktapida(7-8 century AD), it is a medieval temple with a colonnaded courtyard surrounding the shrine in the centre.
The goddess RagnyaDevi is symbolised as a sacred spring at Tula Mula village, 27 kms from Srinagar . Within the spring is a small marble temple. The devotees fast and gather here on the eighth day of the full moon in the month of May when, according to Hindu belief, the goddess changes the colour of the spring's waters. This temple-spring complex is affectionately known as Kheer Bhawani because of the tradition of offering 'kheer'to the sacred spring, which magically turns black to warn of disaster.
Founded by King Avantivarman who reigned Kashmir during the 9th century, this ancient township (29 kms from Srinagar ) has two imposing temples; the larger one of Siva - Avantisvara is marked by huge walls. The subsidiary shrines are to the rear corner of the courtyard. Half a mile up is Avantisvami - Vishnu , a smaller but better preservedtemple.
Srinagar is a shopper's paradise for handicrafts and souvenirs. Kashmiri handicraft are prized everywhere for their exquisite craftsmanship. Kashmir carpets, in both wool and silk with their Persian design, are a lifetime investment, the selection ranging from simple to the most extraordinarily intricate patterns handed down the generations. Other handicrafts include papier-mâché items, intricately carved walnut wood furniture and accessories, stone jewellery boxes, beautiful woollen shawls, crewel embroidery and furnishing material etc.
Kashmir is famous for its long golfing seasons running from April to November. In the verdant golf courses at Srinagar and Gulmarg, one can play for longer hours than in the plains because of the lower temperatures. Srinagar has an 18-hole golf course with common fairways, and a par of 70. The course at Gulmarg is situated at an altitude of 2,650 m, and is the highest green golf course in the world. The Gulmarg Golf Club was established by the British in 1904. The latest addition to Kashmir's golfing infrastructure is the ultra modern Royal Springs Golf Course, located atChashmashahi in Srinagar , which was designed by Robert Trent Jr., theinternationally famous designer golf courses.
One of the major attractions of Kashmir is skiing in winter at Gulmarg, which was India 's first Ski Resort since the establishment of the Ski Club of India here by the British in 1927. Gulmarg has good sunshine as well as good snow, ideal conditions for skiing. It is now one of the highest lift-served ski resorts in the world following installation of the Gandola Cable Car Lift between Gulmarg,Kongdori&Apharwat.
Gulmarg (2700 m/ 56 Kms from Srinagar) is one of the premier hill resorts of India. Originally named ' 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 Jahangir who adored its flowers-bedecked grassy slopes. Gulmarg is not merely a mountain resort of exceptional beauty, but also India 's premier ski resort in the winter.
The journey to Gulmarg is half the excitement of reaching there-- roads bordered by rigid avenues of poplar gives over to flat expanses of rice fields interspersed with picturesque villages. After Tangmarg, the climb to Gulmarg begins through fir-covered hillsides. Nearby is the famous shrine of Baba Reshi which is thronged by devotees all year round.
What to Do & See:
Golfing - It is for golfing that Gulmarg has long been famous. The Gulmarg Golf Club has been in existence for a hundred years. The Clubhouse , reminiscent of a Swiss chalet with its quaintly sloping roof, has a rare old character. Temporary members are also welcome. Payment of a daily fee entitles you to play an 18-hole course maintained by the State Tourism Department.
Horse Riding - Horse riding is the best means by which all the sites of Gulmarg can be visited and enjoyed. Horses are available aplenty for hiring. The farthest site to visit by horse is Alpathar Lake .
Skiing & Winter Sports - Gulmarg has some of the best slopes for beginners and intermediate skiers. Skiing equipment is available on hire from the J&K Tourism Ski-Shop. In winter Gulmarg's natural slopes and inclines turn into the country's premier skiing resort. Some of the slopes are serviced by ski liftsand are especially suited for beginners and intermediate level skiers. With the installation of the Gandola Cable Car, Gulmarg has become one of the highest lift-served ski resorts in the world.
Pahalgam (2, 130 m, 90 Kms from Srinagar), with its spectacular alpine setting is situated at the confluence of the streams flowing from Sheshnag Lake and the Lidder River. Once a shepherd's village, it is now Kashmir 's premier summer resorts, cool even during the height of summer when the maximum temperature does not exceed 25 C. The resort is surrounded by many places of interest, which can be visited by hiring a pony at fixed rates. The best of these sites is the 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. Mamal, one of the 8 hamlets of Phalgam, has a Shiva temple which is considered to be Kashmir 's oldest existing temple, dating back to the 5th century.
Pahalgam is also the main base for the annual AmarnathYatra . Chandanwari (2,895 m / 16 kms from Pahalgam), is the starting point of the Yatra which takes place every year in the month of Sawan (July-August), during which an ice stalagmite evolves into a natural Shivling in the Amarnath cave, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. This is the focal point of the annual pilgrimage. During this period,Pahalgam plays host to more than 150,000 pilgrims to the holly Amarnathji Cave .
Sonamarg (84 Kms from Srinagar) is situated at the head of the Sindh Valley, at an altitude of 2730 metres. The drive to this "Meadow of Gold" through the Sindh valley presentsa spectacular facet of the Kashmir countryside. Thajiwasglacier is a major local attraction during the summer months. Sonamarg isthe take-off station for the drive from or to Ladakh across the Zojila pass. It also serves as a base for the Yatra to the holy Amarnathcave , via the Baltal route.
From Srinagar it's possible to go on day-long excursions for visiting various places of tourist interest in the Kashmir countryside. One of the better known excursions destinations is Achhabal ( 1677 m / 57 Kms.), which was oncethe pleasure retreat of the Mughal Empress, NurJehan. The Mughla garden here is a visual delight. Some distance ahead from here is Daksum (2438 m), tucked away in a densely forested gorge through which the Bringhi river flows. In the Bringhivalley also lies Kokernag (2020 m / 70 Kms.), the spring of sweet and medicinal waters at the foot of the forested mountain, surrounded by a sprawling garden fragrant with thousands of flowers. Another well-known attraction is Yusmarg (47 Kms.), a grassy meadow of exceptional beauty ringed by forests of pine and majestic snow covered mountains, from where great views of TattaKuti and Sang-e-Safed peaks can be had. About 13 Kms away from here, a short detour from the Srinagar road, is Charar-i-Sharief , seat of the shrine of Kashmir's patron saint, Sheikh Nooruddin or NundReshi . Aharbal (65 Kms.) at the foot of the PirPanjal range is famous for its roaring waterfall, picnic spots and hillside walks. The spring of Verinag (80 Kms form Srinagar), believed to be the chief source of the river Jhelum, is located at the foot of the PirPanjal range. The octagonal base of this spring and the arcade around it was started by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and completed by his son, Shah Jahan
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