Soaking in the views of snow-capped peaks, enjoying a quiet moment by a tranquil lake, feasting on some mood lifting local fare — if that’s your idea of a perfect summer vacation, you’ll never regret a trip to Srinagar. And what if you get to play with snow too, even in peak summer months? Well, this one came as a pleasant surprise on my recent visit to Kashmir valley. About 52km southwest of Srinagar is Gulmarg — the place where you can enjoy the world’s highest Gondola ride (rope-way car) and experience the ski and sledge ride on an altitude of 13,780 ft.
The valley, that was left wounded due to militancy some years ago, is now seeing a tourism boost again, and when I arrived in Srinagar, I saw tourists happily mingling with locals, enjoying local cuisines, buying handicrafts, and I was glad that I couldn’t spot any fear or sadness anywhere.
A city of houseboats
Srinagar is famous for its gardens, lakes and of course, houseboats. It is also known for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts and dry fruits. If you love flowers, try visiting between March end to April end. The city has Asia’s largest garden — the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, blossoming with over 80 varieties of exotic flowers. A total of over 1.5 million tulips are seen in the garden. The Grand Mughal Gardens are also equally scenic.
Also visit Pari Mahal (built by Dara-Shikoh, eldest son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan) situated on a hillock overlooking the beautiful Dal Lake. This terraced, arched garden is nearer to Cheshmashahi (Royal fountains), another garden also brimming with tourists this time. One can pay and get a chance to try on the traditional Kashmiri dress, and take a picture. You can also buy a variety of gift items such as elephant key chains made of paper mache, and ornaments inside the garden.
Meadow of flowers
Gulmarg (it literally means meadow of flowers) is a town, a hill station and a popular skiing destination. I had a great time skiing, enjoying a sledge ride, and playing with snow.
Kashmiri cuisine is of two distinct varieties — one that is prepared by Kashmiri Pandits, marked by absence of garlic and onion but an abundance of turmeric and yoghurt. The other is cooked in Muslim households, which has lots of spices, primarily used to enhance the taste of meat. One can easily sample these cuisines in Srinagar.
Also, Dal Lake is littered with several Kashmiri snacks. Lotus stems, potatoes and peas deep fried in gram flour are some of the most popular snacks here. One can’t miss the fragrant concoction of hot green tea, cardamom and saffron called kahwa. On special occasions, a Wazwan or an elaborate royal meal of 36 dishes is prepared. The most commonly served items are rista (meat balls), seekh kababs, tabakhmaaz, Kashmiri pulao and roganjosh. Vegetarian dishes include dum-aloo in curd-based gravy and chaman-fried paneer in thick sauce.
Gulmarg rate card
Pony ride: Rs. 300 for the first hour. Rs. 200 for every subsequent hour.
Sledge: Same as above
You need not pack your woollens with you to make your trip easier. You can rent coats, boots, trousers, gloves etc at nominal rates.
Ski suit: Rs. 200 per day
Tourist guide: Rs. 600 per day
Porter/helper: Rs. 350 per day
Skiing equipments: Rs. 1,000 per day
Mountain/trekking guides: Rs. 900 per day
Plan your trip:
How to go: Srinagar is a 1 hour 20 minute journey by air from Delhi.
Where to stay: RK Sarovar Portico, Hotel Blooming Dale, Wangnoo Houseboats, Kolohai
Where to shop: Lal Chowk, Badshah Chowk, Polo View and JK Govt Emporium opposite Dal Lake