Set like a jewelled crown on the map of India, Kashmir is a many-faceted diamond, changing its character with the seasons always extravagantly beautiful. Three Himalayan ranges - Karakoram, Zanskarand Pir Panjal - snow-capped, majestic, frame the landscape from northwest to northeast. They are the birthplace of great rivers which flow down into the valleys below, forested with wild orchards and lily laden lakes.
It is not enough to say that Kashmir is beautiful. Kashmir has captured within its territories the quintessence of all the elements that poetry demands of nature. Awesome grandeur, serenity, a wild profusion of color. The Mughals, who celebrated beauty, planted their symmetrical gardens and added a further dimension to the valleys of Kashmir. They also left behind a heritage of exquisite artisanship among the people, making the handicrafts of the land prized gifts the world over.
A land where myriad holiday ideas take shape. In winter, when snow carpets the mountains, skiing, toboganning, sled-riding are popular sports. 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. Golf at 3000 meters above the sea, water-skiing sailing and angling for prized rainbow trout. Or simply drift into dreams down the willow fringed alleys of lakes in gorgeous houseboats. The possibilities are endless.
Unspoilt by the ravages of progress, 96 kms east of Srinagar, nestled on the banks of the river Lidder lies the quaint village of Pahalgam. The serious angler's delight, even amateurs manage a fair catch of rainbow trout from the rushing streams with bustling schools of fish. The large brown bear is a natural inhabitant of the thick pine and fir forests that cover the mountainside. Pahalgam offers a golf course at 2400 meters above sea level and is well equipped as a base for trekkers. Camping equipment, ponies and porters are readily available. Kolahoi glacier is the popular destination via Aru, a charming meadow. Pilgrims bound for Amarnath stop at Pahalgam, their first point of worship.
India's finest ski resort, Gulmarg, 53 kms from Srinagar, is known as the meadow of flowers. It also has the distinction of offering the highest natural golf course in the world at 2890 meters. Mid-December to March, Gulmarg becomes an exciting winter sports resort. Skiing, toboganning, ski- bobbing, are some of the activities offered here, with instruction and equipment facilities. The resort has one T-bar lift, a chair lift and three modern ski-lifts.
Gateway to Ladakh, at an altitude of 2470 meters with brilliant forests of sycamore and alpine flowers, silver birch, fir and pine, Sonamarg is a golden meadow of enthralling beauty. Three lakes Krishnasar, Vishensar andGangabal can be viewed from the snow-covered Nichinai pass. 20 kms east of Sonamarg is the Zojila pass at 3540 meters which leads into the Ladakh plateau.
In the heart of the Bhringi valley, 70 kms away, is Kokernag with its famous springs flowing at an altitude of 2000 meters said to posses miraculous curative powers. The remains of a pavilion and baths built by the Moghuls can be seen at Verinag, 80 kms away from Srinagar. The river Jhelum has its source here.
The Dachigam wildlife sanctuary, with the Himalayan black and brown bear, musk deer and the Kashmiri stag hangul is worth a visit. Then there isBurzahom with the remains of a settlement dating back to 2,500 BC. Chrar-e-Sharif, the shrine of the patron saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Nooruddin.Daksum, famous for its trout fishing, at the far end of the densely forested Bhringi valley.
About 56 kms away from Srinagar, to the south, is Avantipur. Famous for its sulphur springs and Moghul summer palaces, Anantnag is also nearby. On the way to Pahalgam is Martand with a 7th century Vishnu temple built by king Lalitaditya Muktapid. Martand is also famous for its hot springs with curative powers. A Surya temple built by Lalitaditya lies in ruins 3 kms away, revealing a definite Roman influence with Bengali Pala architecture.
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