JAMMU & KASHMIR

Kashmir- Paradise on earth- the valley that could make the gods envious-beckons once more.


Kashmir is the principal region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the two other regions being Jammu and Ladakh. Essentially a mountain valley, it is renowned for its beauty. Indeed, it was very popular for movie shoots, especially in the 1950s and 60s- the Golden Era of Indian cinema.



srinagar

Srinagar, the state capital, is situated at an altitude of 1730 metres and is noted for its lakes- the Dal, Nagin and Anchar. The river Jhelum also passes through a part of the town.

In Srinagar, there's little to beat the romance of a houseboat stay on the Dal. The houseboats on the Nagin and Jhelum are mostly situated on the banks, and can be accessed directly from land without a shikara. Those on the Dal require a shikara to get to and from them. On land too, there's much to explore in Srinagar.

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mugalgarden

The Mughal emperors loved escaping to Kashmir to beat the killing heat of the North Indian plains. They planted gardens with stepped terraces and flowing water courses here.

Cheshmashahi is the smallest of Srinagar's Mughal gardens, built at a height above the city and offering stupendous views. The next garden on the road that encircles the Dal is Nishat, the largest of the gardens, with a magnificent locale between Dal Lake and the Zabarwan Hills. Jahangir, planted the third Mughal garden- Shalimar. A series of stone pavilions and flowing water with paint- box brigh flower beds, Shalimar lies in the shade of some magnificent chinars.

Across the Dal from Shalimar is the mosque of Hazratbal, architecturally unique in Kashmir. Made of white marble, it is the repository of a single hair of the Prophet Mohammed exhibited to the public on designated days of the year. Places of pilgrimage in Srinagar include the hill-top.

Shankracharya Temple, built on a site dating back to 2500 BC.

Srinagar is serviced by air. An all- weather road connects Srinagar with Jammu town, which in turn is well connected to the rest of India. Jammu is also the nearest railhead.

gulgarg

Gulmarg is a huge cup-shaped meadow not far from Srinagar surrounded by snow- capped mountains. It also boasts one of the highest golf courses in the world, its club house a historic building in its own right. One-day memberships are available and golf sets can be hired.

From Gulmarg, a pony track leads up to Khilannmarg, Kongdori and Seven Springs. From here, across the Apharwat peak is Lake Alpather, the prettiest of alpine lakes, which stays frozen all winter till late June.

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Pahalgam is said to be the valley of shepherds. At the confluence of streams flowing from the Lidder river and Lake Sheshnag, Pahalgam is now Kashmir's premier resort. Many scenic excursions can be undertaken from Pahalgam. Chandanwari, sixteen kilometres from Pahalgam, is the starting point of the Amarnath Yatra, an annual excursion to the Amarnath cave, said to be the abode of Lord Shiva.

Sonamarg is said to be the meadow of gold. The drive to Sonamarg, on the Srinagar- Leh road, is through the spectacular Sindh Valley.

The snowy mountains and cerulean sky from a backdrop of this 'golden meadow' unfold a mesmerizing scenic beauty. The Sindh river meanders here, abounding in trout and mahseer. The nearby glacier of Thajiwas is a popular attraction.

Romantic green meadows, majestic mountains, bewitching lakes and valleys.. That's surprising Jammu for you. This is also a holy land, the landscape dotted with the towers of ancient temples even as holy shrines sit atop hillsides.

Jammu town itself, the winter capital of the state, boasts quite a few shrines- Raghunath Temple, Rambireshvar Temple, Bawaywali Mata Temple (inside Bahu Fort) and the Dargah of peer Budhan Ali Shah .

The Vaishno Devi Cave, sixty-one kilometres north of Jammu, is one of the most important pilgrim sites in the region. Also to be checked out in town are the Bahu Fort and Amar Mahal museum.

Ladakh- with its spectacular landscape and even more interesting people- continues to draw hordes of tourists each year. The remote Kargil and Suru Valleys continue to draw mountain lovers. Culture vultures head for the ancient monasteries of this region. Today, Ladakh is a high- altitude desert, sheltered from the showers of the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the Great Himalayas. The capital, Leh, is dominated by Sengge Namgyal's nine- storey palace. The monastery of Alchi, near Leh, is a World Heritage Site. Ladakh is best visited during one of its many festivals. Notable are the colourful monastic festivals of the Buddhists.

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Kashmiri handicrafts make exquisite buys. This is the home of the legendary Pashmina shawls. Papier- mache- the art of making objects from paper pulp- flourishes here. The containers are painted up in bright traditional colours and designs and make excellent souvenirs.

Kashmiri cuisine revolves around a legendary community feast-the wazawan. The delicious gushtaba (meatballs in fiery gravy) and rogan josh (a legendary mutton preparation) are key dishes. Kashmiri cuisine employs many exotic ingredients like morels and lotus seeds.

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