The areas around Srinagar valley, and including Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam, have been hub of tourism for ages. Within Srinagar, the shikaras and house boats of the Dal Lake, the beautiful gardens and the scenery all around are incomparable. As you move to any of the excursions, the entire journey is heavenly.
Dealing with a sense of unease over the presence of security forces, and locating comfortable places to stay are mild irritants that are likely to matter less and less with returning normalcy in the region. Even now, the joy of the splendors of nature far outweighs the discomforts that one faces.
An ideal itinerary would have to be for about 8 days. Two-day-one-night stay in a houseboat, 2 days each in Gulmarg and Pahalgam and one day each for Srinagar and Sonmarg are the bare minimum. Ideally one should extend the period of stay to about double this period for really enjoying and soaking in the atmosphere.
The ideal time to visit would be the summer months, but Gulmarg in winters is awesome, and should be considered as a separate holiday in itself. Here we should concentrate on a summer holiday, when the valley is green, full of flowers and birds and butterflies. In summer months, all communication modes function smoothly and the tourist industry delivers on the essentials.
Practical aspects taken care of, one must devote full attention on how to enjoy. Nature is ‘the’ attraction, and all activities revolve around some aspect of it. Golf, fishing, shikara rides, long walks in the historical parks, sightseeing and house boat experience in Srinagar; camping, river rafting, fishing, mountain climbing, horse riding and skiing in Pahalgam; a fabulous Gandola ride (cable car) in Gulmarg will keep you riveted to the place; and the glaciers, lakes and the journey to Sonemarg is an altogether different experience.
In the end I need to wax eloquent on the Gandola ride of Gulmarg – I can’t resist the temptation. The experience was stunning – I felt like being in a James Bond movie. The sights of the pine and snow covered mighty Himalayas all around, was something that remains with you forever. That one event was the highlight of the entire trip for me – something not to be missed at any cost.
I can vouch from personal experience that all the beautiful photographs that you see of Kashmir, pale into insignificance when compared to the real thing. Some of the movies like ‘Roja’ and ‘Dil Se’ have captured some of the charm of the place, but one needs to go there to realize that God did take some time out, to plan and embellish Kashmir with his Grace.