Crown of India

“Agar Firdaus ba roy-i zamin ast, hamin ast-u hamin ast-u hamin ast-u,” Mughal Emperor Jehangir once said this about Kashmir. The quote literally translates to “if there is a Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.” How true!

Movies, poets and storytellers have shown and described the splendour of Kashmir in ways us mere mortals can never hope to do. Situated at the foothills of the Pir Panjal ranges of the Himalayas, Kashmir, known as the Crown of India, is truly a paradise on earth. Home to abundant woods, sparkling rivers, golden chinars and snow-capped mountains, the valleys of Kashmir offer positively stunning views of azure blue skies & lakes. The beauty of Kashmir has attracted Bollywood filmmakers and over 20 films have been shot in and around the famous Dal Lake of Srinagar. Mainstream Hindi films like Junglee, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Kashmir Ki Kali, Jaanwar, Mission Kashmir, Dil Se, Kabhi Kabhi, Rockstar and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani were shot or have scenes in which Dal Lake forms the backdrop. Who would ever forget the sight of Shammi Kapoor frolicking on a shikara in Kashmir Ki Kali or Deepika & Ranbir Kapoor trekking through the mountain ranges of Himalayas in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani! This goes to show that generations have passed but the beauty of Kashmir remains the same, mesmerizing us, alluring us, beckoning us!

Here, nature changes its hues beautifully every season making Kashmir a year-round destination. However, the special time to visit Kashmir is during March-April when the tulip season is at its peak. The spring time is the best time if you want to witness the beauty of tulips. The striking colours of the flowering tulip bulbs are a typical sight in the gardens of Kashmir during the spring. The bright red, pink and yellow colors are overwhelmingly beautiful and are a must see, or should we say, a must experience! The tulip gardens of Kashmir are all geared up to give a serious competition to Keukenhof tulip gardens of Netherlands. God himself must have decided to decorate this place with his best designed flowers – you will find Kashmir filled with gardens like Nishat Bagh or Mughal Garden, which will introduce you to a lot of unknown species of tulips, roses, daffodils and various other flowers. The beauty of Srinagar’s gardens is therapeutic and a photographers’ delight.

For the uninitiated, Gulmarg, about 70 kilometres from Srinagar is a world-famous skiing destination and also attracts tourists for its famed gondola ride. A ropeway cable car takes you at an altitude of over 13,000 feet for stunning views and endless snow for as far as the eye can see. Gulmarg is of pristine beauty with lush meadows, golf courses, glaciers and slopes of snow topping the conifers that dot the hills. The gondola ride treats you to some eye popping breathless views as the snow and the mist veils and unveils in front of you, even as it rains and snows. It’s a virtual paradise for skiers and adventure enthusiasts, but for the regular tourists, you can try your hand at skiing and can roll down the slopes on sledges. Far in the distant view of Gulmarg, you can see a small temple, known as the Mohinashwar Shivalaya Temple. It is the same temple from the song ‘jai jai shiv Shankar, kata lagey na kankar’. You have loads of fun getting there riding the ponies and getting clicked with the locals who are always warm, friendly and welcoming. Places like Vaishnodevi and Patnitop are breathtaking and you must visit them to witness and admire its beauty. As the fog engulfs, the realization hits you that the heaven on earth is spread before your eyes.

Srinagar’s Dal Lake, houseboats, shikaras and gardens are an absolute treat, made nicer by the politeness and friendliness of the locals. Known as the Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir, the glorious Dal Lake is one of the major tourist attractions of Srinagar. Have you ever imagined how wonderful it would be to live in a floating house! Made of wood and with intricate carved wood paneling, the houseboats are of different sizes, some even have three bedrooms, living room and a kitchen. A houseboat stay is a unique experience and a real delight. There’s a lot to do in Kashmir. Take a tour of the Dal Lake for hours in a shikara after sunset, hear stories from soldiers, interact with locals over Kashmiri kawa, eat Wazwan(a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine) and delicious kebabs in a downtown restaurant, shop at Lal Chowk, meet the shepherds and womenfolk from villages near the border, visit the three mosques; the list is endless. Kashmir has really evolved over the years since opening up for tourists. The tourism is flourishing and the tourists are flocking back to Kashmir, which is really heartening as it indicates that all’s well in our paradise state.

Kashmir is also a paradise for shoppers. At Lal Chowk you can buy the very specialities of Kashmir- from beautifully carved out wooden shikaras, Kashmiri shawls, salwar suits to restaurants serving Kashmiri delicacies. Visiting the local bazaars of Lal Chowk helps you get all the gifts and souvenirs in no time.

There’s an adage that ‘you have to see it to believe it‘ and Kashmir is one such destination. Sometimes photographs don’t do justice to nature's charisma and you have to see it with your own eyes to admire its breathtaking beauty. Kashmir, our very own paradise, is calling. Get planning your own Kashmir odyssey this summer!

Team Veena World