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Kashmir – with melodious valleys, gushing waters, mighty snow covered mountains and magnificent landscapes has surely become as one of the most sought after destinations in the world. Nesting in the lap of the dazzling, snowcapped Himalayas, the Kashmir valley is undoubtedly a jewel in India’s crown. An inspiration for so much art, music, poetry & sport, Kashmir is also a honeymooner’s paradise, a shopper’s dream come true and an adventure lover’s wonderland. There is a whole bunch of adventure sports on offer – like snow skiing, trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, water skiing, parasailing and paragliding to name a few. For each sport there are centers all over Kashmir where one can hire equipment and also take advice from professionals. Trained instructors are available to help the beginners.
One of the major attractions for adventure lovers is skiing in Gulmarg, the best ski resort in the Himalayas, which was first established by the British in 1927, when two British Army Officers, Maj. Metcarp and Maj. Hadow had setup the Ski Club of India at Gulmarg.
In 1938-39 about 500 skiers are reported to have participated in the Christmas and Easter ski races. Gulmarg’s atmosphere can generally be identified with 1940’s and 50’s European skiing – ‘the Alps of good old days’. It has good sunshine as well as good snow.
Gulmarg holds a position as one of the highest lift served ski resorts in the world. This is due to setting up of a Gondola Cable Car Lift from Gulmarg (8700 ft) to Apharwat top (13400 ft). The skiing season in Gulmarg usually commences before Christmas (around middle of December) and continues till middle of April. Good quality equipment, including skis, snow-boards, sticks, gloves and goggles are available on hire from the Government run ski shops. Trained instructors are also available for guiding the tourists. Gulmarg certainly is the most affordable ski resort in the world.
During the skiing season, rescue and avalanche mitigation operations in Gulmarg are carried out by Ski Patrol Team.The most enjoyable aspect of a winter sojourn in Gulmarg is the friendly atmosphere. It is like being in a family where everybody knows every one else.
WHITE WATER RAFTING
Plunging down the icy rivers in a raft must certainly rank as the most adventurous way of seeing Kashmir. The Lidder river in Pahalgam has stretches where its gentle gradients are particularly well-suited to the beginners. Sonamarg is another favorite place for rafting in Kashmir as the river Sindh roars through the area. River rafting in Ladakh provides the best opportunity to enjoy and experience the natural beauty of the spectacular landscape with deep gorges, towering snow-capped peaks, hilltop monasteries, hillside villages, and glimpses of the unique wildlife. Ladakh offers a range of rafting options on the Indus and its major tributaries. The best stretch for professionally guided runs in white water is on the Indus between Spituk and Nimu or Saspol, which rates 2 to 3 in the international rivers grading scale of 1 to 6. Upstream of Spituk, the Indus has the easiest stretch up to Karu, which is ideal for basic training or “scenic floating”. The most difficult but exciting rafting option is available on the Zanskar River, among its spectacular course through a gorge in the Zanskar Mountains, between Padum and Nimu. This is suitable only for well organized white-water expeditions, prepared for about a week of rafting and camping in absolute wilderness. Participants are required to be trained rafters.
On the waters of the famous lakes of Kashmir, like the Dal, Nigeen and Manasbal, one can go water skiing. Skiing against the backdrop of lovely mountains surrounding the lakes makes it an unforgettable experience. The Department of Tourism has also set up Water Sports Centres at the Dal and Nigeen Lakes, where one can enjoy a ride on high speed boats.
This is one of the newest entries in the long list of adventure sports in the state. One can choose to glide over valleys, mountains or lakes as paragliding sites include Affarwat, Gulmarg, Patnitop, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and more recently Manasbal lake site.
MOTOR AND BIKE SAFARIS
From Sonamarg onwards as the terrain gets rough and adventurous, while heading towards Ladakh, the area beckons for all types of motor Safaris. Certainly one can enjoy the nature while testing his nerves on the wheels.
While the summer (June-August) temperature of Srinagar are between 20 deg and 30 deg C. Temperatures in the hill resorts are considerably lower. In the evening, light woolen are required for Gulmarg, Pahalgam & Sonamarg, but not for Srinagar. Spring (March-May) and autumn (October-November) are cold. With minimum temperature plunging down to 7 deg C, woolens are necessary. During winter (December February), temperatures sometimes reaches minus 10 deg C in Srinagar and heavy woolen are required.
The state has a visibly varied terrain and offers some spectacular contrasts in nature with its alpine pastures in Kashmir and barren wastelands & rugged mountains in Ladakh. Srinagar is a good takeoff point for trekking in the Kashmir valley or in Zanskar (by road to Kargil). In the Ladakh region, Leh is the best point for base camp. The ideal trekking months spread from April to October.
Treks can be set for a week or even for a day. While on trek in Kashmir, one can come across the nomadic shepherds grazing their sheep on the hill sides, high altitude lakes and above all the bounties of nature, just as some treks in Ladakh have monasteries as their focus, most in Kashmir have lakes as their focus. One trek in particular covers half a dozen high altitude glacier-fed lakes, encircled by snow covered mountains.
With the mighty ranges of the Himalayas towering 10,000 to 28,000 feet above the sea level, mountaineering options in Kashmir are unlimited. Several mountain ranges run through the state of Jammu & Kashmir, among them are Pir Panjal, Great Himalayas, Zanskar, Ladakh and Karakoram. Climbing in these Himalayas can be very stimulating and typically an expedition can take a month, Srinagar to Srinagar. Rich in flora and fauna, the summits of most peaks and an exhilarating experience and from atop them one can look beyond to neighboring countries, Pakistan and Tibet. Off Sonamarg are the lesser peaks Kolahoi (5,425m) and Harmukh (5,148 m). These are peaks one can get to quickly making an alpine ascent. Similarly the peaks in the Kishtwar region are not too high but offer technically difficult climbing with many challenging faces and ridges. Some are still virgin peaks. The popular peaks are Sickle Moon (6,575 m), Riger (6,001m), Brammah-I (6,416m), Crooked Finger (5,630m), Arjuna (6,230m), Katori (6,138m) and flat Top (6,100m). In the Zanskar region are the famous peaks of Nun (7,135m) and Kun (7, 077m). Around these are white Needle (6,500m), Pinacle (6,930m) and Z-1 (6,400m). In the Ladakh region are the Stok Kangri (6,153m), Parcha Kangri (6,065m) and Kanglcha (6,400m). Nun-Kun in the Zanskar region and Harmukh in the Kashmir valley are very popular peaks, which have successfully been ascended by various mountaineering expeditions.
Kashmir’s two natural advantages are its mountains on the one hand, and lakes and rivers on the other. These waterways enhance the beauty of the land and are among the chief sources that attract tourists to its verdant valleys. But more than just a means of pleasure, the waterways are an activity-oriented way of discovering new leisure sports.
Heliski was started in Kashmir in the early 1980’s by a French national. After a gap of two decades, this thrilling sport was revived again in Gulmarg, with the support of Tourism Department, by a local Kashmiri ski guide Billa Majeed Bakshi. Heliskiing provides access to the southeast Pir Panjal Range providing top landings on over 22 mountain peaks of 4,000 – 5,570 mt. altitude. Preferred Heliski locations are on the north and east slopes, which have the best powder snow. Valley pick up is at 2,000m depending on choice of guides to ski the trees or remain up on the high alpine terrain and also on the north faces of Lein Marag, Sunshine and Punch peaks.
Being more adventurous, one can fish in one of the many high altitude streams and lakes (14,000 ft and above) that are reached by trek. One of the most beaten treks is Sonamarg to Gangabal lake that runs through some of the spectacular Alpine lakes like, Vishansar, Krishansar, Gadsar and Satsar. The trek alone takes eight days of adventurous journey that is rewarded by the lovely lakes cradled by snow clad mountains.
All major airlines operate regular daily flight to Srinagar from New Delhi and other major cities in India, Srinagar Airport is 14Kms from the city.
Jammu Tawi, a major railway junction of Northern India, and Srinagar’s nearest railhead, receives a large number of trains from most parts of India, Srinagar is also being connected by rail with Jammu and the project is expected to be commissioned in the near future.
National Highway, 1-A connecting Srinagar with Jammu (300Kms) is an all-weather road. Jammu in turn is connected to many parts of North India, including New Delhi. The famous Jawahar Tunnel and Banihal pass fall on the Jammu Srinagar Highway. Buses and all types of taxis to Srinagar are available from the Jammu railway station and city centre.
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