From the beautiful snow-capped peaks to the stunning backdrops for visitors, Kashmir is a winter wonderland. Harleen Osahan tells us in her postcard.
Kashmir, recently in the news for a flare up of its ongoing conflict that dates back to 1947, is situated at the northern tip of India. Partitioned between India and Pakistan, the Himalayan region is in a delicate position. Most of the population, almost 79 per cent, are Muslim.
Last December (when the region was experiencing a quieter period), my parents planned a trip to Kashmir to reminisce about their childhood days spent in army quarters where their parents were posted in the 1980s as civil engineers, and I went with them. Little has changed in Kashmir since my parents were there: the mountains are still snowy, and the shikaras – classic small Kashmiri wooden boats – are still as colourful as ever. With its abundant collection of Mughal gardens and those snow-frosted peaks (it is home to the ninth-highest mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat, at 8,126 metres), Kashmir has become my favourite holiday destination. We booked our flights to Srinagar, the winter capital of Kashmir, in mid-December and completely underestimated the low temperatures (it can drop as low -2 degrees Celsius). But after cups of hot Kashmiri kahwah and extra layers of woollen sweaters and scarves, we warmed up (literally) to the idea of Kashmiri winters. While the spring months of March and April attract the most tourists due to the pleasant weather and the flowers being in full bloom, winter in Kashmir is a whole other affair. Everywhere you look, the view is postcard perfect.
My favourite place- It has to be Srinagar. We stayed in Srinagar for three days and managed to squeeze in a trip to Chashme-Shahi, a Mughal garden overlooking the Dal Lake; Shalimar Bagh, a shikara ride on the lake; a two-day stay in a houseboat and a visit to the Taj Vivanta, a resort, where we had dinner on the final day of our stay.
Highlights- Head to Gulmarg, an hour’s drive from Srinagar to grab a cable-car ride on Asia’s highest and longest cable car, the Gulmarg Gondola. Around 600 people an hour can be ferried to and from Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Apharwat Peak (4,200m). Have a hot cup of coffee at the restaurant, ski down a slope and come back down on the cable car.
Lowlights- The biting cold. As I said, I underestimated it and didn’t carry thick enough sweaters, so at night when the temperatures dropped below zero, I was freezing. However, if you ask the staff at the hotel, they will be kind enough to provide you with extra comforters and blankets. As it’s a volatile region, it is also essential to stay up to date with government travel warnings to Kashmir.
Souvenirs- You cannot go to Kashmir and not splurge on some beautiful pashmina shawls. If you don’t find pure woollen shawls practical for the Middle Eastern heat, buy something for your home, like papier mâché crafts with intricate floral patterns painted on them, or wooden handicrafts.
Where to stay- Online booking a couple of months before you intend to be in Kashmir will be your saviour as Kashmir is always brimming with tourists. The average three-star hotel in Srinagar costs about US$44 (RO17) and the average five-star, such as The Lalit Grand Palace or the Taj Vivanta, costs US$200 (RO77).You can even book a stay on a houseboat on the Dal online, which will cost from $55 (RO21) to $100 (RO38).
1. Try a wazwan – a meat lover’s treat that is a multi-course traditional Kashmiri meal
2. Stay in a houseboat on Dal Lake
3. Watch the sun set over the Dal from the Chashme-Shahi garden
4. Paraglide at Astanmarg, near Srinagar.
5. Picnic by the Lidder River in Pahalgam