Three regions, different religions, different landscapes are all connected by one singular fact: beauty. Jammu & Kashmir is one of the most strikingly gorgeous places you will ever see. Territorial conflict may dissuade some from venturing to this northern Indian state, but it’s done little to diminish its alpine allure and rich culture.
A land of palaces and temples
Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu & Kashmir, is peppered with palaces and temples, some of which date back to the 19th century. The stately Mubarak Mandi Palace, which was the seat of the Dogra dynasty, still stands proud despite sections now lying ruins owing to fires and earthquakes. Within, you can find the Dogra Art Museum that finds its home in the Pink Hall. Art lovers (and not alike) will enjoy exploring the famous Basohli miniature paintings that take pride of place amidst sculptures, weaponry, and rare manuscripts.
About two kilometers from the Mubarak Mandi Palace is one of Jammu’s most famous temples, the Raghunath Temple. Constructed in the mid-19th century, there are seven shrines with the main sanctuary dedicated to Rama, Vishnu’s seventh avatar. As you explore the complex, you’ll notice numerous Mughal architectural elements such as arches and carvings. Keep an eye out for the Pahari panels depicting images from the Bhagavad Gita and the great Indian epics.
Where nature reigns supreme
Kashmir Valley has a beauty that’s all its own and is one of the most popular tourist destinations for people looking to bask in nature’s beauty. Granted, spates of violence and curfews take some of the sheen off visiting this part of the country. However, hospitable locals go out of their way to make you feel welcome and you forget that trouble sometimes brews.
Kashmir Valley’s crown jewel, Dal Lake in Srinagar, is a testament to the region’s beauty. Rimmed by colorful houseboats (shikaras) with the Pir Panjal mountains serving as the backdrop, you could gaze out for hours and not get bored. Early mornings are especially delightful as the lake comes to life with the floating veggie market. If you’re eager to witness the unforgettable sight, you’ll have to wake up early; the market opens from 5 am to 7 am, after which leftover produce is taken to street markets to be sold.
As you move towards the east of Dal Lake, you’ll come upon Nishat Bagh, a glorious 17th-century Mughal garden that translates to ‘garden of joy’. And it is. The 12-terrace garden with the Zabarwan range as the backdrop creates an idyllic setting for relaxation. Huge trees that are many decades old provide shade while flowers add pops of color everywhere.
Adventure BECKONS in Ladakh
Few places offer so many opportunities for outdoor adventure as Ladakh. Its stark beauty is worlds apart from that of Jammu & Kashmir Valley but it’s no less splendid. In fact, if you want to be close to nature, yet get your pulse racing with motorcycle expeditions, rafting, trekking et al, this is where you need to be.
Where Jammu is dominated by Hinduism and Kashmir Valley by Islam, Ladakh is largely Buddhist and you see examples of this everywhere. Of the many, you should try to visit Hemis Monastery, Spituk Gompa, and Stok Gompa, which are centuries old and are among the most popular monasteries. You should plan your trip during annual festivals such as Gustor and the Ladakh festival.
Jammu & Kashmir has held the imagination of adventurers for years. Beauty, mystery, history, and culture are everywhere you look. Whether you choose to delve into the past through majestic palaces and landscaped gardens or choose to challenge yourself with day-long treks and biking expeditions, this Himalayan land has hidden wonders just waiting to be explored.
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