In the 15th century, Emperor Jahangir uttered these famous lines — “Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o, hameen ast-o, hameen ast.”
It translates to this – If there is ever a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.
He was talking about Kashmir.
This is, of course, not a lone sentiment. In fact, we get to hear about the breathtaking beauty of Kashmir on a regular basis from our trekkers who head out to two of our most popular treks — the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek and the Tarsar Marsar Trek.
So, it comes as no surprise that many of our trekkers want to linger just a little longer and fall a little more in love with this slice of paradise.
While we firmly believe that our treks are one of the best ways to view Kashmir in all its glory, we have put together a list of offbeat experiences and destinations that will allow you to gain a deeper appreciation of Kashmir’s beauty, culture, and history.
Here are our top recommendations –
1. Drive from Pahalgam to Aru Valley
The 13 km drive from Pahalgam to Aru Valley is considered to be one of the most scenic routes in Kashmir. The journey takes you right along the gushing white Lidder River even as it twists and turns and crashes into rocks, presenting a striking contrast against the green slopes and twinning with snow-dusted peaks in the distance.
Vishnu, our Head of Operations who has traveled extensively in Kashmir, recalls the almost perfect beauty of this drive. “Not one tree is misplaced,” he says.
Aru Valley is the basecamp of the Tarsar Marsar Trek and those who have signed up for this trail will get to ride this route.
How to get there – Pahalgam is 91 km from Srinagar and it takes around 2.5 hours to cover this distance. You can get to Pahalgam by bus, shared jeep, or taxi.
Keep your camera ready for this ride! You will want to pull over your vehicle many times to take pictures of the scenery that unfolds in front of you. Picture by Vishnu Benne
2. Take the gondola ride in Gulmarg
While Gulmarg is a popular tourist destination, Vishnu recommends taking the Gondola ride for unforgettable views of Nanga Parbhat, the LOC, and the impressive Pir Panjal range.
How to get there – The distance from Srinagar to Gulmarg is 50 km and takes around 1.5 hours to cover this distance. You can take a local bus, jeep, taxi or mini-coach.
The Gulmarg Gondola is the second-largest and highest in the world and climbs up to a height of 12,293 feet. Picture source: Wikimedia commons
3. Head out for a day hike in Dachigam National Park
Located 22 km from Srinagar, Dachigam is known for its verdant mountains, lush plains, and incredible diversity in wildlife.
If you arrive in Srinagar a couple of days before your trek, Vishnu suggests you head to the Dachigam for a day trek. It’s the perfect way to get yourself ready for your KGL Trek and Tarsar Marsar Trek. And who knows, you might get lucky and spot a Hangul or Kashmiri Stag!
The best months to visit are April to October.
How to get there – Lower Dachigam is well connected to Srinagar by road and the best way to reach the national park is to rent a private vehicle.
4. Pedal your way around Dal Lake
A popular activity amongst locals, cycling around Dal lake is a wonderful way to lap up the delightful surroundings and explore neighboring localities. Pass through tree-lined boulevards, the Kashmir Golf Course, Nishat, Shalimar Bagh, and the upscale residential neighborhoods of Srinagar.
Start just as the sun peeks out from the horizon; the roads will be free from traffic, and temperatures will be pleasant. Watch the skies, the lake, and the mountains beyond take on different hues of blue as the sun climbs up. Finish your ride with a hot cup of chai at one of the cafes that line the loop. A well-deserved reward for all the hard work!
Rent a cycle and cycle around the 23 km loop around Dal Lake. Picture by Vijay M Verma
5. Discover why Lolab Valley is dubbed the ‘land of love and beauty’
The pristine beauty of Wadi-e-Lolab is yet another reminder of why Kashmir is called Paradise on Earth. Apple, cherry, peach, apricot, and walnut orchards abound, making Lolab Valley the ‘Fruit bowl of Kashmir.’
Chandigam and Kupwara are, in particular, known for their breathtaking landscapes.
Located around three hours from Srinagar, you can visit Lolab Valley as a day trip. However, an overnight stay will allow you to revel in its (still) untouched charm at a more leisurely pace.
How to get there – Lolab Valley is located a little more than 100 km from Srinagar. Travel time by bus or taxi is around 3-3.5 hrs.
Green meadows, dense pine, fir forests, and gurgling brooks make Lolab Valley simply picture perfect. Picture by Chetan Karkhanis (Full blog here)
6. Feel the power of the majestic Aharbal Waterfalls
While the region is famous for its valleys and meadows, one seldom hears the words ‘Kashmir’ and ‘waterfalls’ in the same sentence. But one look at the awe-inspiring Aharbal waterfalls, and you just might change your opinion.
After roaring through a narrow gorge with imposing granite boulders rising on either side, the Aharbal Falls drops down 25 meters into a pool of turquoise blue waters.
“Equally alluring is the drive to the falls,” says Manish, our Head of Research and Development who has visited the region every year for the last 25 years. “You go through small, charming Kashmiri villages and get a peek into local culture,” he mentions.
How to get there – Located around 65 km from Srinagar, the falls make for an ideal day trip from Srinagar. The best way to get there is by private taxi. If you prefer to take a bus or shared taxi, then take one that is headed for Shopian and then transfer to a shared taxi that is going towards Aharbal Falls.
Due to the force of water, Aharbal is often dubbed as the Niagara Falls of Kashmir. Picture by Chetan Karkhanis (Full blog here)
7. Vist Doodhpathri – the Valley of Milk
A landscape of rolling meadows, the sight of locals tending to their sheep flocks, and views of snow-kissed mountains make Doodhpathri an idyllic and incredibly scenic destination. Adding to its allure is the river Shaliganga that takes on a milky appearance when seen from a distance.
Despite its unmistakable charm, the valley is often overlooked in favor of some of the more popular tourist attractions making this one of the best offbeat spots to visit in Kashmir. Interestingly, Manish rates it on par with the meadows of Gulmarg and Sonmarg.
How to get there – A two-hour travel time makes this a perfect day trip from Srinagar. We recommend taking a private taxi to Doodhpathri. If budget is a concern, you can consider taking a shared taxi.
According to legend, Saint Sheik Noor Din Noorani struck the ground in hopes of finding water in the valley. Instead, milk came gushing out. Not wanting to wash his hands and legs with milk, he prayed for the milk to turn into water and thus was born Doodhpathri!
Shepherds from nearby villages bring their cattle for grazing during summer. Due to heavy snow, the valley is inaccessible during winter. Picture by Aashay Surve
View Doodhpathri Trek Details
8. For an authentic Kashmiri experience, visit Gurez
Located close to the Line of Control, Gurez is a little-visited valley that is a four-hour drive from Srinagar. While it opened up to visitors a few years back, it is still relatively untouched by mainstream tourism.
As is with many regions in Kashmir, Gurez seems like a picture straight out of a glossy calendar. Charming wooden houses sit at the base of imposing mountains enveloped by a light mist even as streams and waterfalls cascade down its plains. Simply put, it’s magical.
However, the main reason to visit Gurez is to get a feel of real Kashmir and to experience the warmth of the locals.
You can find quite a few accommodation options in nearby Dawar.
How to get there – Located around 125 km from Srinagar, it takes 4-5 hrs to get to Gurez. You can rent a private taxi to cover the distance. To promote tourism, the state government runs a helicopter service that takes a little more than half an hour to cover the distance. If you are taking a bus or a shared cab, then you will have to take one that is headed towards Bandipore and then transfer to a bus/taxi going towards Dawar.
Catch sight of the towering Habba Khatoon mountain peak at Gurez. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons
9. Lose yourself in Old Srinagar
If you are looking to experience the Kashmir of yesteryears, make your way to the atmospheric lanes of downtown Srinagar, also known as Lal Chowk or Shahar-e-Khaas.
The site of the beautiful Jamia Masjid mosque and the Hazratbal Dargah, the neighborhood is considered the spiritual and religious center of the city.
Steeped in culture, a walk down this densely populated area will take you past exquisitely carved wooden houses and allow you to experience a more traditional way of life.
“It’s my all-time favorite neighborhood,” says Manish wistfully. “The lanes just transport you to some other world!”
This old part of Kashmir is a wonderful place to shop for traditional souvenirs and handicrafts. Picture by Chetan Karkhanis (See source here)
10. Trek up a glacier at Sonmarg
If you have signed up for the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek and are planning on arriving at Sonmarg a couple of days before the trek, taking a tour of the Thajiwas Glacier is a great idea.
Located just 3 km from Sonmarg, the hike takes you through scenes of horses grazing on lush green alpine meadows, delightful waterfalls, and a frozen lake. You might even come across Gujjar tribe camps and get invited to a friendly game of cricket by the local children.
How to get there – If you are hiking up the Thajiwas Glacier upon reaching Sonmarg, then you can either walk to the start point or take a local taxi. If you are traveling from Srinagar, the fastest way is to take a private taxi (2.5 hours travel time). But if you are on a budget, you could take a shared taxi. The downside is that you will have to transfer multiple times. The local JKSRTC bus also runs a direct service from Srinagar to Sonmarg.
Vishnu recommends the Thajiwas Glacier trek as a great way to get acclimatized to the altitude and weather conditions
11. Stay a night on a houseboat
We admit. This really isn’t an offbeat experience. In fact, it is one of the most popular things to do when in Kashmir. But that does not take away the charm. With richly decorated rooms featuring elegantly carved furniture and traditional Kashmiri handicrafts, spellbinding views of the mountains in the distance, sumptuous Kashmiri fare, and the endearing hospitality of the locals, this, according to us, is a must-do activity when in Kashmir.
If, however, your schedule does not allow for this, set out on a Shikara ride and spend a little time on Dal Lake. Visit the floating handicraft shops on the lake and pick up woodwork items, silverware, or maybe, a rug to take back home.
Have a memorable overnight stay in a houseboat on Dal Lake or Nagin Lake.
One Of A Kind Food Experiences In Kashmir
Kashmir is known for its rich gravy and meat dishes with mutton and chicken, breads, dry fruits, flavourful chais, and so much more.
- The best way to savor a range of traditional Kashmiri dishes is to try out the Wazwan, a multi-course meal consisting primarily of lamb and chicken dishes such as Rogan Josh, Kabab, Waza Kokur, and more. Just make sure to work up an appetite before sitting down for this feast!
- Try out the Harissa; a popular meat-based winter breakfast dish that is served with Girda bread and tea.
- You will also find different types of kebabs sold on carts and other small eateries around the city. The mutton and beef seekh kebabs are particularly popular.
- The valley is famous for its irresistible bakery items. And you will find a mind-boggling variety of breads, fresh out of the oven, at local bakeries, known as Kandurs, everywhere. And with names like Chochwor, Lavasa Masala Tchot, Ghyev Czhot, and Bakarkhani, they are quite the tongue twister too!
- Manisha, our Head of Design (who also happens to be a complete foodie!), recommends Ahdoos bakery in Srinagar. She says, “The bakery has the most amazing cream buns. They are known for their Wazwan too, but the bakery is why I would go back to it.”
- No doubt, the region is heavy on meat dishes, but vegetarians will find plenty to tickle their taste buds too. Manisha recommends lotus stem-based dishes such as Nadru Yakhni and Nadru pakoras, a Kashmiri specialty. You can also try the Kashmiri Haak, a green leafy vegetable sabzi. Kashmiri Dum Aloo is another local specialty that she recommends. “It tastes very, very different from what we eat here in North Indian restaurants,” says Manisha.
- Kashmir’s cool weather is best experienced with cups of piping hot tea. Fancy a salty, pink-colored tea? That’s Noon chai for you, a popular breakfast staple! If that’s not quite ‘your cup of tea’ (pardon the pun!), then how about a cup of Kahwah, a traditional hot Kashmiri drink made with green tea, dry fruits, saffron, and spices.
Food souvenirs and gifts to take back home
- Saffron – It is the most expensive spice in the world, and Kashmiri saffron is known for its sublime flavor. They are available in shops all over Srinagar, including the floating market on Dal Lake. Purchasing one from a Shikara makes the entire experience an unforgettable one.
- Dry fruits – Pick up apricots, figs, walnuts, pinenuts, cashews, and more at one of the many stores in Lal Chowk or Residency Road. Amin Bin Khalik is one of the best-known stores for buying dry fruits.
Did we miss out on any unique or must-see places and experiences in Kashmir?
Which one are you most looking forward to visiting? Tell us in the comments!