Friday, May 20, 2011

Kashmir the paradise on Earth

Set like a jewelled crown on the map of India, Kashmir is a multi-faceted diamond, changing its hues with the seasons - always extravagantly beautiful. Two major Himalayan ranges, the Great Himalayan Range and the Pir Panjal, surround the landscape from the north and south respectively. They are the source of great rivers, which flow down into the valleys, forested with orchards and decorated by lily-laden lakes.
The Mughals aptly called Kashmir ‘Paradise on Earth’ where they journeyed across the hot plains of India, to the valley’s cool environs in summer. Here they laid, with great love and care, Srinagar’s many formal, waterfront gardens, now collectively known as the Mughal Gardens. Anecdotes of four and five centuries ago describe their love for these gardens, and the rivalries that centred around their ownership. They also patronized the development of art & craft among the people of Kashmir, leaving behind a heritage of exquisite artisanship among thes people and making the handicrafts of the land prized gifts all over the world.

Kashmir is a land where myriad holiday ideas are realised. In winter, when snow carpets the mountains, there is skiing, tobogganing, sledge-riding, etc. along the gentle slopes. In spring and summer, the honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and blue skies beckon every soul to sample the many delights the mountains and valleys have to offer. Golfing at 2,700 m above the sea, water-skiing in the lakes and angling for prized rainbow trout, or simply drifting down the willow fringed alleys of lakes in shikaras and living in gorgeous houseboats are some of the most favoured ones.

                                                           PLACES TO VISIT

Gulmarg's legendary beauty, prime location and proximity to Srinagar naturally make it one of the premier hill resorts in the country. The journey to Gulmarg is half the enchantment of reaching there-- roads bordered by rigid avenues of poplar give over to flat expanses of rice fields interspersed with picturesque villages. Depending on the season, nature's colours could be the translucent green of spring, summer's rich emerald, or autumn's golden hues, when scarlet chillies festoon windows of village homes. After Tangmarg, the climb to Gulmarg begins through fir-covered hillsides. At one point, known simply as View Point, travellers generally stop their vehicles for a few minutes and look out a spectacle of snow-covered mountains, almost within touching distance

The Valley of Shepherds : Pahalgam (2,130 m) was once a humble shepherd's village with breathtaking views. Now it is Kashmir's premier resort, cool even during the height of summer when the maximum temperature does not exceed 250C. Around Pahalgam are many places of interest, and because the resort is set between fairly steep hills, it is worth hiring a pony rather than walking. Pony fares are posted at prominent locations. The most beautiful of these is the huge, undulating meadow of Baisaran, surrounded by thickly wooded forests of pine. Hajan, on the way to Chandanwari, is an idyllic spot for a picnic. Filmgoers will recognize it instantly as it has been the location of several movie scenes.

The Meadow of Gold : Sonamarg is the base of a major trek that passes along several mountain lakes –Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar and Gangabal. Sonamarg is also the take off station for the drive to Ladakh across the Zojila, a major pass in the Great Himalayan Range, through which the Srinagar-Leh Road passes.

A journey into faith : "The Himalayan pilgrimages are the oldest organised travel system, evolved over time by Hindu sages and embodying the spirit of wander, adventure and spirituality" One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time. Shiva is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for "he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud."

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