Srinagar, Feb 28 (IANS): Adventure and adrenaline on the road not taken can beat the charisma of popular resorts at any time. While Gulmarg, Sonmang and Pahalgam in Kashmir are the main tourist attraction, the lesser known fantastic destinations of J&K occupy places in every tourist’s bucket list.
Hikers have long enjoyed these scenic hidden gems in UT, but now these God-given landscapes are being explored to their full potential. J&T UT’s tourism department aggressively promotes these places, so that tourists can witness a more “authentic” and raw Kashmir.
They also promote rural tourism through special activities in J&K rural tours including Hokersar-Parihaspora-Gohan in Gulmarg, Waderbala, Nowgam Mawar – Lolab in Kupwara, Chari-Sharief-Doodhpathri-Yousmarg in Budgam and Saderkoot Payeen-Watlab in Bandipora. At least 75 new tourist destinations are underway with modern facilities and recreational activities in UT.
These hidden treasures are finally seeing the light of day and bewitching travelers who want more.
Located in a bowl-shaped valley in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, Doodhpathri is an alpine valley covered with undiscovered snow-capped peaks, deep and silent deodar forests and hidden grasslands shrouded in wild-growing forget-me-nots and daisies . Last month, a first all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rally was held in Budgam’s Doodhpathri. A ski show to demonstrate the extent of the adventure sports potential of Doodhpathri has also been set up by the authorities. This destination is being developed as a winter tourism destination for snow sports like skiing, snowboarding and snow biking.
The J&K Skiing & Mountaineering Association (JKSMA), which has played a central role in nurturing and promoting UT’s talent since 1975, along with adventure sports experts, are in association with the Department of Tourism to developing Doodhpathri’s sporting prospects.
Just 40 km south of downtown Srinagar lies Yusmarg, a series of wooded grasslands of the Pir Panjal range in a wide, saucer-shaped valley. It is a scenic recreation site, higher in elevation than Srinagar, making it a popular picnic spot. Its artificial reservoir reflecting the fir trees and pines against the azure sky is perfect for a romance with nature. Visitors usually combine their trip to Char-e-Sharief with a lazy afternoon in Yusmarg. Hikers enjoy day trips from here to Doodganga (milky white water stream) and Nil Nag (blue spring in thick forest).
Forty-nine kilometers from Srinagar, Bijbehara is an ancient city raised on the banks of the Jhelum and known for its intricate lattice work and blanket production. It was formerly called Vijaya Para, the city of victory. Several temples and ziarats dot this city. The tomb and pond of Lal Ded (the most revered Kashmiri mystical poetess) are in this city. Hindus and Muslims pay homage to him by pouring the first milk of their cows into the pond, and as in recognition of the offering, the water in the pond retains the shape of the pitcher from which the milk was poured .
Bijbehara is also known as the city of Chinars; trees were specially imported from Iran during Mughal rule to mark this city as the gateway to the Kashmir Valley.
Seventy-five kilometers from Srinagar, Kokernag is a botanical garden blooming with roses practically everywhere around a freshwater stream. Koker means rooster (male hen) and Nag means stream. The five springs of Kokernag are shaped like the five claws of a rooster. A lush, forested mountain rising dramatically from the source is the soul of Kokernag. The water from the stream has magical healing properties. Long paved paths surrounded by rhododendrons and wild trees make it a great place to feel alive with nature with the support of your own thoughts. In the 1980s, the best roses, aromatic and medicinal plants of Kashmir were grown there.
Eighty kilometers from Srinagar, Verinag is a magnificent, densely forested mountain. Its spring is perennial, never known to have dried up, and a major source of the Jhelum River. It captivates visitors with its pleasant summer climate, a respite from the heat of the city. Its deep blue-green water is home to sacred fish. There is an octagonal stone basin at the spring and an arcade surrounding it, erected by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1620 AD A lush garden lies next to the spring. Persian carvings on the wall said, “This fountain comes from the springs of Paradise.”
“Gurez” or “the abandoned land” is a beautiful W-shaped valley in northern Kashmir, 86 km from Bandipore (123 km from Srinagar) on the Bandipore-Gilgit road. It is a part of the Silk Road that ran through Kashmir to Gilgit and further to Kashgar. Stone carvings in Brahmi, Hebrew, Tibetan, Kharoshthi, have been found in the northern valleys of Gurez. They contain historical information about Kashmir’s past. The Haramukh, Nanga Parbat and Shamsabari peaks surround this isolated land which is cut off for five winter months. The Kishen Ganga flows through Gurez, and downstream along the river are the ruins of the medieval Sharda University. Mighty mountains, blue rivers, rustic hamlets make Gurez a dream country. The inhabitants of Gurez, the Dards, are warm and welcoming people. This enchanting and offbeat land can hypnotize into a trance-like state. It’s a treat for history and geography buffs.
Peace and quiet is the USP of all these destinations in Kashmir. The government is striving to put these regions in the limelight, especially because 2021 has seen a peak in tourism in Kashmir after a decade. The days when tourism was synonymous with wonders in big cities are over. People are looking for the simplicity of small town living. Less glitzy distractions, the chirping of birds, the ivy-green blur, and the connection to nature are the main draws of these lesser-known lands that lurk there in plain sight. And now that we’ve discovered these J&K fairy tale lands, our fantasy is complete.