Everything you have heard about Kashmir, whether it is the state being referred to as paradise on Earth or the poetry and couplets that romanticise the lands of Kashmir, each and every word is true. Kashmir is just as spellbinding and just as beautiful as you have heard. My memory of Kashmir starts from back when I was just 10 years old. But the stories of Kashmir that I have heard date much further back to a time when actually my father was 10 years old and visiting Kashmir. My grandmother would tell me stories about how they explored Kashmir in the 70s and 80s. They mentioned places that overtime don’t see much mention in the “must-visit places” and somehow now that adventurer in all of us craves to visit a place which doesn’t pop up much on the tourist map. So, here are some offbeat places to check out when you visit India’s dreamiest, Kashmir:
How to reach: Fly down to Srinagar or take a train till Jammu. From Srinagar you can take a taxi to reach Yusmarg.
Best time to visit: April to June, late August to October
When I visited Yusmarg, I immediately thought of Heidi. You know the classic book in which a little girl finds herself living in the mountains in her grandfather’s care in the Swiss Alps. Yusmarg is the perfect picnic spot with its vast green meadows, throngs of pine trees and sheep and horses grazing about. The quiet of Yusmarg speaks to you as the clouds puff up a picture in the sky and add to the scenery unfurling below. The name Yusmarg translates to “The Meadow of Jesus”, as “yus” means Jesus and “marg” means meadow. Folklore narrates that Jesus visited this valley and goes on to even suggest that he was buried here! While this is highly debatable, it does make one picture if the god himself found himself smitten with this place. From here go to Dudhganga and Neel Naag where a river flows amidst a canopy of trees. Yusmarg isn’t for every traveller, it is for the ones looking for a quiet time with nature and its simple beauty.
Dachigam National Park
How to reach: Fly down to Srinagar or take a train till Jammu. From Srinagar you can take a taxi to reach Dachigam National Park. To cut cost you can also take a local bus or local jeep to reach the national park but make sure to check their frequency in advance.
Best time to visit: April to August
As you roam about all around Kashmir, if the wild wanderer in you craves for a taste of wilderness then make way to Dachigam National Park. With an area of 141 sq. km, the park is home to residents such as the endangered Kashmir stag and hangul. Inhabitants also include musk deer, Himalayan black bear, brown bear and even the snow leopard amongst many others. Catch your breath and let your keen eyes preen the surroundings to spot these creatures in their natural homes. Adding to the joy of your trip are the backdrop of alpine pastures and steep slopes where you find the animals lounging, grazing or even running in chase. Peer past the rocky outcrops and deep groves to witness the wilderness at this elevated altitude.
How to reach: After reaching Srinagar either by a flight or by road after travelling till Jammu by train, you can travel via the Razdan Pass to reach Gurez by road. Additionally, for those who like the touch of luxury every now and then, there is also the option of taking a helicopter ride from Bandipore or Srinagar to Gurez.
Best time to visit: May to October
Although once plagues with terrorist infiltration, recent years have seen a great revival of Gurez Valley as a tourist spot. Gurez was a key instrument in connecting Kashmir on the Silk Route leading to Kashgar. But Gurez tells a history going over thousands of years, after all it was home to the Dard Shin or Dard tribe at a time. Believed to be descendants of the Aryan settlers, this tribe has found mention in the literary works of Roman and Greek writers from when they were the epitome of power. The last remaining Dardic speaking folk are an estimated 25,000 only, residing in Gurez. The lofty Himalayas make a fence all around the valley where the river flows as a central performer supported by blooming flowers all around it. Visit Gurez for a chance to witness a dying historical tribe, for the beauty of the land and for the ways the two have forged a family with each other.
How to reach: After reaching Srinagar, Wular Lake is just an approximate 60kms away from the city.
Best time to visit: Although it can be visited through the year, months of June to August are preferred due to the volume of water at that time.
Drawing water from the Jhelum itself, meet India’s largest freshwater lake named Wular Lake. With an approximate area of 189 sq. km., the massive lake tells a melancholic tale of how encroachment and silt have caused its expanse to deplete over the years. While that doesn’t take away from its beauty as the calm waters lay in the lap of looming peaks, it certainly does urge one to make their visit soon. Incidentally, the deepest part of the lake at an approximate depth of 14 feet is said to be referred to as “Mota Khon” or the “gulf of corpses”. It eerily tells a tale of being the spot where all those who drowned in the lake washed up to eventually. Ah don’t let that dissuade you or maybe just use it to spook your friend out when you make a visit. Enjoy a boat ride, watch the swans swimming away and let the breeze and the water soothe you gently.
How to reach: It is a short drive from Srinagar, locate 30kms away from the city.
Best time to visit: It can be visited through the year; however, winter months do make movement on the roads a little slower.
If a place’s attraction lays in its vistas and their beauty, then its history and past are the garnishing to add a layer to the finely prepared destination. Thus, if you’re looking to dive into what Kashmir once was, you can visit the ruins of Avantipur or Awantipora which Lonely Plant describes as “a step back in time”. Kashmir was under the reign of the Utpala dynasty from the years 853 AD to 888 AD. It was their ruler king Avantivarman who had these temples constructed which today stand as a mark of the kingdom that once was. It was the British excavation in the 18th century that actually discovered these ruins that were built by a ruler who was praised for bringing prosperity and order to this region. A visit here lets you marvel over the Greek influence and precision in building from many many centuries ago.
How to reach: It is at a distance of approximately 117kms from Srinagar which can be covered by making a journey through a local bus or a private taxi.
Best time to visit: April to June
Lolab Valley is the land of love and beauty. Locally referred to as “Wadi-e-Lolab” it is made up of 3 smaller valleys within it, Kalaroos, Potnai and Brunai. Laden with fruit orchards and rice fields, Lolab is a hidden gem in Kashmir. There is a spring named Lavang nearby, 3 ft in its depth and gushing crystal-clear water. For a detox from the digital world, from crowds and business is what you seek then Lolab is for you. Roam around and take in its prettiness, go on short hikes around the meadows and have yourself a nice lazy vacation where you just cannot stop sighing at your surroundings. In a land of wonderous valleys, this forgotten one is for those who want their time with nature to be dedicated to nature more than anything else, so, this not so touristy town will leave you smiling if that’s what you’re looking for.
How to reach: Reach Pahalgam by road from Srinagar, thereafter, trek and make your way to Tulian Lake. You can alternatively reach with ponies also, however, this is not recommended.
Best time to visit: May to July
Pahalgam is one of the most visited places in all of Kashmir and understandably so, as it is a slice of heaven. But if you are itching to visit an alpine lake away from the crowds then Tulian Lake is what you seek. At an altitude of 11,000 ft this high mountainous lake lays with its gorgeous blue waters amidst a clan of snow-topped peaks. You will pass through two dense forests which simply make your experience even more worthwhile. You will also cross Baisaran which holds the name of mini-Switzerland in India. Quaint villages such as Chuntiyal and a mountain called Ting all take you through an immersive experience of enthralling nature in order to reach Tulian. Marmots and horses roam about, letting you realize just how far you’ve come from the regular world. And you will reach the lake to be stunned by its beauty and the silence around it which only enhances it.
In case your adventurous soul is looking to try out some more treks in Kashmir, check out this post here!
How to reach: From Srinagar first make your way to either Chitergul or Anantnag, for which you can find even local buses and jeeps, in case you don’t wish to hire a private vehicle. On the road connecting these two is the path leading to Chatpal.
Best time to visit: April to June
If a summertime escape is what you’re after during your visit to the mountains of Kashmir, then Chatpal will leave you pleasantly surprised. Lush green lands drape the ground one after the other, flowers start to spring into bloom and the peaks sit prettily with the Sun glistening over them. Chatpal the charmer has next to know hotels or guesthouses waiting to welcome you. So, pack up a picnic or hop by the forest department’s guesthouse. Don’t worry your welcome party includes something better, tall mountains, meadows with rocks strewn around and a strongly gushing stream. Where there is a stream one must get into it! Although there are too many rocks to take a complete dip, you can dip your feet and scream with laughter for it is sure to be chilly! For the most part it is only you and the views around in this little hamlet that will surely leave you as happy as can be.
Other worthy mentions include Daksum, Kokernag, Matan, Dha Hanu Valley and Verinag as well. And of course, many others, but what can one do, after all it is Kashmir – home to a magical sight every few steps. And once you visit, Kashmir will have your heart before you know it but find a way to keep going over and over because there is just so much to see, so much to marvel at and so much to love.