Kashmir. the Himalayan State at the Northern end of India, is perhaps the most beautifully landscaped region in the world. The sheer magnificence of sparkling rivers, white rocks, brown cottages and green meadows… with conifer-laden snowpeaks in the background… make you a perfect photographer! But your fun photographic memories arise because you have all things in the right places. Here are five things you must keep in mind to make the most of your trip:
Plan the season and itinerary correctly: Kashmir has different faces at different times of the year. So if you are a nature lover, be there between end-April and end-August (catch fresh Tulips in April/May) and be sure to visit Pahalgam. If you are a skier or snow enthusiast, Gulmarg is a must-be-at between December and March. And if trekking trails excite you, plan for Sonemarg after May and before November. It rains in March-April and June-July, so you may be get cloudy pictures. But the air is fresh all year round and you will always be glad to be there!
Don’t be deterred by media reports: Kashmir is the bugbear of Indian media due to its proximity to Pakistan and consequent militant groups who take shelter in its high mountains. The fact is, the people of Kashmir are extremely peace-loving, friendly and hospitable and the militants keep themselves at another level altogether. They are not targeting tourists and the Government has taken every step to maintain discipline. If you are a foreigner, you must register yourself at the airport on arrival and at departure, so you stay visible to the authorities.
Choose a stay in the houseboat: The most fascinating part about Srinagar, the State capital, is the Dal lake; a huge freshwater body with a mini township residing in its waterways. Since close to a hundred years, the Dal has been home to tourists who stay in amazing houseboats crafted in the wood of walnut and impeccably furnished, with delicious Kashmiri food served on board. Though the boats do not move on the lake, you could choose to be on one that is docked on the shore or one that requires you to travel to it in a small boat (shikara). Also you could choose to be in the part of the lake near the marketplace or the silent-part of the lake… ask your tour planner for the options.
Shop at recognized stores or through Hotel-recommended traders: Paper-machie work, Pashmina shawls, Walnut carvings, Silk/Wool carpets, Embroidered leather bags, Pure saffron, Dry fruits… these are a few products you’ll find best in Kashmir. You’ll find a lot of variety and a lot of duplicates too. Obviously at a lot of prices. Resist the temptation to buy from the first place. Look for a Government-recognized store or a shop with a history… and don’t be shy to ask questions about authenticity to get the price right.
Watch what you carry: With so many goodies to buy, chances are you will have a lot of baggage. The airport at Srinagar is one of the few in India where very few personal bags are allowed when departing. Everything must be checked-in. Security-check points at 3 places scan each handbag/laptop bag and you are not permitted to carry even slippers or clothes in them. Pack everything into cargo, except electronics and jewelry. You will return with upto 22 kgs in cargo, a stock-load of wonderful cherished moments in your head and a feast of delectable Kashmiri delicacies in your stomach!