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July 20, 2024

Skiing & saffron season in Kashmir: plan your itinerary

Arushi Sakhuja
Picturesque beauty that’s reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, India’s paradise Kashmir is known for its beauty and verdant landscapes. And for many, it’s even a notch above the Alps, whether you wish to experience spring/summer in full bloom or the pristine white expanse covered with snow, visiting the valley of Kashmir is always a magical experience.  Its alpine appearance, with green, cloud-scraping mountains and vast blue lakes and fields strewn with wild lavender and Queen Anne’s lace has given it the moniker of Paradise on Earth. With apple orchards, saffron fields, glittering lakes and breath-taking meadows, Kashmir also draws the attention of tourists from across the globe. A paradise for meat lovers, don’t forget to try the street food, fresh sheermal or baqerkhayn, yakhni and goashtaba.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Owing to the tranquil settings, magnificent views, and pristine nature, Kashmir is a perfect holiday destination that should be visited once in a lifetime. However, narrowing down an itinerary can be a mammoth task. Some of the unmissable destinations include Pahalgam, Srinagar, Gulmarg, and a visit to the Dal Lake. The best time to visit Kashmir is from March to August, but if you wish to ski and witness snow then make your way there from December to March.
How to reach Kashmir
Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport in Srinagar offers regular flights that connect Kashmir to other major cities of India. And for those who want to travel by rail, Jammu Tawi is the nearest, which is around 300 km away from Srinagar.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Srinagar
The capital of Kashmir, Srinagar commands a lot of attention, and rightly so. Known as the land of lakes and gardens, Srinagar is surrounded by the Himalayan mountains. Home to two of the most famous lakes, Dal and Nigeen lakes, it is known for its unique experiences of a shikara ride and a houseboat stay on the lakes. Another experience to relish is witnessing a one-of-its kind floating vegetable market on Dal Lake.
Srinagar’s most popular attractions are the Mughal gardens which include Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Garden, and Chashme Shahi Garden, and Asia’s largest Tulip gardens that bloom during March and April.
If you’re looking to get a flavour of the city, don’t forget to try the famous Kashmiri delicacy wazwan. Make a stop at Stream for their mouth-watering butter chicken, Ahdoos Restaurant, the yakhni at Linz Café, and Chai Jaai which are some of the must-visit places. Kashmir is famous for its handicrafts which include traditional embroidered clothes, leather goods, woodcraft, and carpets.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Where to stay
Some of the best hotel options in Srinagar include LaLit Grand Palace, Srinagar, and Vivanta Dal View, Srinagar. Both properties offer scintillating views of nature, snow-peaked mountains, surrounded by lush greenery, and a glimmering lake. You can also opt to stay at the Mascot Houseboats for a more traditional experience.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Vivanta Dal Lake
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Vivanta Dal Lake
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: LaLit Grand Palace
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: LaLit Grand Palace
Pahalgam
Nestled in the Anantnag District of Kashmir, Pahalgam is known as the Valley of Shepherds, an ideal retreat for nature lovers. The true definition of paradise, you can enjoy the sound of flowing rivers, lush mountains, sky-kissing mountains, and more mesmerizing scenic views, along with a very peaceful environment.
But getting a taste of the culture of Kashmir is easy in the city. Being a top tourist destination, Pahalgam is known for amazing camping and sightseeing opportunities with multiple religious sites. Soak in the beauty of the venue as you spend a day by the bank of the Lidder River or take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Aru and Betaab valleys.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: ITC Pahalgam
Pahalgam is also popular as a spiritual destination for being the starting point of the Amarnath Yatra, which is undertaken by Hindu pilgrims during the months of June and August and begins at a town called Chandanwari, located almost 16 kilometers from it. The city is even home to the popular Amarnath Cave which calls ardent devotees to Lord Shiva from across the world.
For adventure enthusiasts, camping at Tarsar Lake is ideal to take the Tarsar Marsar which s arguably the prettiest trek in India. Tarsar Marsar is a trek where alpine lakes take a life of their own. You get to camp beside these royal blue, snow-fed lakes and the secluded campsites. The Marsar is almost always hidden under a shroud of clouds. We see this lake from an overhang, sitting 600–700 ft below. It is a perfect spot to witness the grandeur of the lake, with the sun rising right above it. Kolahoi Glacier is a valley glacier called the Goddess of Light for being the perennial source of water. You will greeted by acres and acres of beautiful coniferous forests that extend as far as the horizon goes. And Panchtarni will give you the much-desired adrenaline rush. Located at an elevation of 3,500 m and surrounded by enchanting snow-capped mountains, Panchtarni is a high-altitude meadow on the banks of the Panchtarni River. 
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: ITC Pahalgam
Food lovers, The Shepherd’s meal is served at Pahalgam Hotel. Wazwan & Saal at WelcomHotel by ITC Hotels, Pine-n-Peak, and Pahalgam are must-tries!
Where to stay
Radisson Golf Resort Pahalgam and Welcomhotel By ITC Hotels, Pine N Peak, Pahalgam are the best options. The former combines modern style amenities combined with authentic Kashmiri craftwork. The latter is perched atop the stunning Rajwas Plateau being the only luxury retreat in Pahalgam. The hotel opens up to picturesque views of snow-capped mountains and the Valley of Shepherds.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: ITC Pahalgam
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Radisson Golf Resort Pahalgam
Gulmarg
The magnificent beauty of Gulmarg makes it heaven on earth and it is dubbed as one the best skiing destinations in India.  Gulmarg is adorned with lofty snow-capped mountains, lush greenery, small lakes, and a large variety of flowers. It is the ultimate skiing resort for all levels of skiers, with runs ranging from gentle beginner slopes to the massive [2 km+] ski run accessible by the Gondola.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Highlands Park
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Highlands Park
Make your way to the winter wonderland in reality as you visit Gulmarg in the Kashmir Valley. Offering a range of adventures including ski and Gandola ride that is Asia’s highest Ropeway (cable cars).  The best time to visit Gulmarg is between October-March.
Gulmarg offers more than just skiing, the thrill and adventure can be continued with a Gondola cable car ride, trekking, and trout fishing. If you are an avid golf player, another interesting activity that you should try is visiting the 18-hole Golf Course which is the highest golf course in India. Gulmarg has a number of walkways through charming meadows and pine forests, along mountain streams, and over snow-capped peaks making it ideal for treks. Leopard and Strawberry valleys are excellent for picnics.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Highlands Park
In Gulmarg, some of the top spots for delicious food include Cloves Restaurant, Highland Park Restaurant,  Bakshi Restaurant, The Lounge by Alpine Ridge Hotel, Tujji at Imran Cafeteria, Srinagar and Nedous Dining Room. The Igloo Café–built entirely of snow is also worth a visit.
Where to stay
When it comes to staying options in Gulmarg, The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa should be on the top of your list if you’re looking for luxury in the lap of nature, with the world’s highest golf course. Another option is The Highlands Park – a boutique and heritage property located in the center of Gulmarg, boasting some of the best views of the Apharwat range, with easy access to the Gulmarg Gondola and the Gulmarg Golf Club.
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Highlands Park
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Highlands Park
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: The Khyber
Places to visit for a day trip

Aru valley
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Located around 12 km from Pahalgam, Aru Valley is one of the most underrated places to visit in Kashmir. Blessed with mountain lakes and scenic meadows, the untrodden valley can be a great place for a weekend escapade or a day picnic. And if you are someone seeking adventure, trout fishing in their waters, horse riding and trekking are also popular. 
Aharbal Waterfall
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
India also has its version of Niagara Falls, and it’s called Aharbal Waterfall in Kashmir. Being among the least known of Kashmir’s famous places, the beauty of Aharbal is largely untouched. The waterfall is created by the famous river Vishav at a height of 25 ft — although the height is not much, the volume of Aharbal’s water creates a roar so majestic that it can be heard from quite some distance. You can opt to trek to the waterfall to add an element of thrill. 
Doodhpathri Gurez Valley
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
A two-hour drive from Srinagar, nestled in the Budgam district of Kashmir, Doodhpathri is one of the quietest places to visit in Kashmir, and makes for a great picnic and trekking spot. Not only is the meadow home to some of the most scenic picnic spots in the hill station, but several hiking trails are of moderate difficulty. 
Pampore
Kashmir
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Known as the city of saffron, Pampore is one of the most famous locations for the ingredient in Kashmir and hence it is the Saffron town of Kashmir. Pampore is one of the few places in the world where saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, grows. The area is about 11km from Srinagar. Currently the saffron harvest season is on, so hurry if you want to witness fields full of these verdant purple flowers, and the locals singing traditional songs as they harvest them! 
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Arushi Sakhuja

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