Introducing our new series called 60 Hours, which will give you all the inside info you need to maximise your trip somewhere and make it truly memorable. For the first one, we travelled to Srinagar in Kashmir and explored its exquisitely ethereal beauty over five days. Here’s how we did it…
The city of Srinagar, and Kashmir as a whole, have always been considered one of the most beautiful parts of India. But it often happens that you plan an exciting holiday to a droolworthy destination but don’t land up seeing many of the things you find out about only once you’re there or even later! You may not always trust a travel agent with all the newest and best that there is to see and trawling the internet for information can be quite exhausting.
We made it easy for you by going there ourselves and scouting around for all that’s fascinating and fabulous, bringing back vignettes from our epic journey, so you can use the insights and inspiration on your own Srinagar sojourn.
Day 1: Arriving in Paradise
One pm: ‘Welcome to Paradise on Earth’ read the signs at Srinagar’s Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport. As you drive down broad tree-lined avenues towards Dal Lake, you start to get an idea of the sights that await you.The highlight for anyone visiting Srinagar is the sight of the colourful shikaras on the lakes. There’s a certain poetry to gliding over the water in one, which transports you to a blissful state.
2.30 pm: The word Sukoon symbolises an elevated state of mind combining peace, wisdom, and contentment. The luxurious Sukoon Houseboat that we check in to has been lovingly restored by owner Altaf Chapri who spent his childhood on it. The elegant eight-room wooden boat combines contemporary comforts with old-world charm.
Each of their beautifully appointed rooms is named for a Mughal Garden of Kashmir. I was in the largest, the Shalimar, which has the added luxury of a bathtub in the en suite, as well as a chaise lounge placed by the window, from where you can watch shikaras pass by and the cutest coots nesting in the reeds.
3 pm: Get a shower, lunch, and some rest since you woke up early for your flight to Kashmir.
6.30 pm: Expect to be pampered, be it high tea on the top deck with stunning views of the Dal Lake and misty Pir Panjal mountains set to live Sufi music, the multi-course dinner served in the ornate dining room, or a soak in the tub before you head to bed.
The day’s details
Sukoon Houseboat: Kabootar Khana, Near Rani Mahal, Dal Lake, Durgjan. Reach by shikara from Ghat 19 A.
Day 2: Deep dive into Downtown and Uptown Srinagar
5 am: Greet the dawn with sonorous prayers from the nearby mosques as you swish through the canals conversing with Danish Syed, your philosophical boatman. The Sukoon team brings you to the floating vegetable market, where you can watch the fast yet relaxed buying and selling of fresh produce over a cup of the deliciously rich rose-petal kahwa made by the famous Mushtaq.
Or, like I did, you can give in to temptation and buy many-hued flowers, lily bulbs, and seeds from one vendor, and gorgeous embroidered leatherware from another!
9 am: Post-breakfast, your inner shopaholic can continue in downtown Srinagar, where you can visit the copperware artisans, the purveyors of silk thread, and reed artefacts. Watch the papier-mâché artisans who work with NGOs such as Commitment to Kashmir at work, so you understand the genesis and thoughtfulness of these beautiful handmade products.
10.30 am: Visit the Zero Bridge, one of the city’s oldest bridges over the river Jhelum, for some pretty pictures. With deodar wood decks on either side, the pedestrian-only walkthrough, has a food court designed like a houseboat at one end.
11 am: A good pit stop for some fabulous French pastry is Le Délice, a patisserie and boulangerie right on the Boulevard fringing Dal Lake. Saqib Mir, who spent many years perfecting his pastry in France, has brought back the tastes and techniques to provide a treat to the tastebuds of locals as well as tourists. He has now expanded to another location with a patisserie and chocolaterie in the City Mall.
11.30 pm: You can head out for an old-city tour with Srinagar expert Nisar Malik, via Sukoon. He will bring you to the historic Hazratbal shrine, take you on a tantalising food trail around it, introducing you to the local snacks. I was amazed by the sheer variety of Kashmiri breads, one for each time of the day and several occasions!
2 pm: Stop for a lavish lunch at one of the famous wazwan restaurants such as Ahdoos (more than a hundred years old and said to be the very first restaurant in the Kashmir valley!). Try a mini ‘tarami wazwan’ if you don’t have space for 36 dishes in the middle of the day! Pop into their stylish new bakery called Crème by Ahdoo’s for a sampling of more modern Srinagar.
3.30 pm: Nearby, is the posh Polo View market, a stretch where you can buy local as well as high-street brands you’re familiar with. Pick hand-embroidered pashmina shawls, phirans and tunics from Nik Nax, or choose from all-natural soaps and cosmetics from Saklain’s Coterie.
5 pm: Walking down the Bund Road is a must, and not just for the view from the Zero bridge across the river Jhelum. A number of intriguing establishments exist here. Suffering Moses, known for its papier-mâché collection and suave owner Mohamed Sadiq Wani, whose great-grandfather started the enterprise in 1840 AD.
Vintage photography studio Mahatta & Co has some lovely old photographs that take you back to Srinagar of a different. Enjoy the salty pink noon chai that pours from an ornate samovar at Chai Jaai or even an elaborate high tea here if you have the appetite.
The day’s details
Old city and Bund Walk with Nisar Malik: Curated by Sukoon Houseboat Srinagar
Commitment to Kashmir: Shop at @zainabyctok | Know more https://www.ctok.org.in
Le Délice: Opposite Ghat number 9, Boulevard, Srinagar | 2nd floor, City Mall, Maulana Azad Road, Regal Chowk, Munshi Bagh, Srinagar
Ahdoos: Residency Road, Srinagar | www.ahdooshotel.com
Suffering Moses, Mahatta & Co, and Chai Jaai: The Bund Road, Srinagar
Day 3: Gallivanting in Gulmarg
7 am: Get to an early start, climb up to the ancient Shankaracharya temple, the oldest in Kashmir. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it’s an important archaeological landmark as well as a spiritual centre.
8 am: Breakfast on the upper deck of the houseboat is a blissful affair, with impeccable service and an extensive menu. And yes, that fantastic view!
9 am: It’s time to drive about 50 kms away up into the mountains to get a glimpse of the heaven that is Gulmarg.
10 am: Stop by a street stall for salty noon chai by a babbling brook.
11 am: Be it spring, summer, or autumn, the highlands are lush with flowers. See the world’s highest Golf course here and have the locals proudly point out various landmarks used in Hindi films down the years!
Noon: The lavish 85-key Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa here has all the bells and whistles you want in a luxury getaway. The rooms, each with a spacious balcony and a sunken bathtub that fits two, are the perfect retreat.
Through the day: Get your personal butler to fix you a picnic lunch on their sprawling lawns, step out to ride the Gulmarg Gondola (book a slot online before you travel), or just explore the many facets of the hotel.
6 pm: The al fresco restaurant called Nouf is a treat in any season, with glorious colours greeting the eye in summer and a heated floor keeping you warm when the trees all around wear a snow coat. Have a relaxed BBQ evening outdoors, where the rainbow trout from the tandoor is as delicious as the pink-tinged sky at dusk.
The day’s details
Shankaracharya temple: Temple Path, Durgjan, Srinagar
The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa: Pinnacle Site, Near Gondola, Gulmarg
Gulmarg Gondola: District Baramulla, Alambal Road, Gulmarg
Day 4: Eclectic experiences on the road
7 am: Ease into the morning with a steaming cuppa and that stellar view.
8 am: Spend some time at The Khyber’s state-of-the-art gym, glorious, heated pool, and get a much-needed back massage at the L’Occitane spa.
10 am: Head back to your balcony for a lavish in-room breakfast. Count your blessings as you savour your saffron kahwa.
11 am: On the way back from Gulmarg, stop to walk through an apple orchard, and shop for walnuts and saffron.
12.30 pm: Try some succulent gushtaba (they have plenty of vegetarian options too) at the Pineview Restaurant at the town of Tangmarg, which has been the gateway to and from Gulmarg since Mughal times.
2 pm: Budget for a long visit to the newly created Artisane Art & Cultural Centre at Batpora, which spotlights the unsung artisans of exquisite crafts. You can see Kashmiri carpets and pashminas being woven, carved walnut wood furniture and sozni embroidery in the making, and perhaps buy some as well.
Ask in-house historian Ishtiaq Hussain Mir for a tour of the workshop for some expert insights. Young Aqib Siddiqui, who handles their digital profile, tells me their café will be open soon and they will also be hosting workshops and performances that will showcase the richness of Kashmiri culture.
4 pm: Take the opportunity to visit Shalimar, one of the many Mughal gardens in Kashmir, known for their incredibly symmetrical layouts in the Char Bagh style, filled with architectural flourishes, flowers and fountains.
5.30 pm: Reach the Nadis, an 18-room boutique property that is part of Rare India’s clutch of sustainable and storied select hotels. Evolved travellers will appreciate the sensibilities of owner Yaser Shaw, for whom this has been a passion project. Think, authentic Kashmiri cuisine served in a no-fuss, homey ambience with Jazz playing in the lobby, woollen rugs with intricate aari embroidery and their own natural, indigenously-sourced, cruelty-free bath products in the room.
6 pm: Relax on the lawn that boasts a profusion of flowers, a population of birds, and plenty of space to unwind and be kind.
The day’s details
Pine View Restaurant: Tangmarg
Shalimar Bagh: Nishat Harwan Road, Shalimar, Rainawari, Srinagar
Nadis: Harwan Road, Royal Foods, Harwan Bagh, Srinagar
Day 5: Connecting with nature
5.30 am: Today, how about a walk on the wild side inside the Dachigam National Park, the only place in the world you can hope to catch a glimpse of the rare Hangul deer? Pick berries, spend time inside a forest hide, drink from a sparkling mountain stream, refresh yourself inside and out.
8 am: You could stop your electric cart to look around the Trout Culture Farm at Laribal along the way.
9 am: Enjoy a hearty and wholesome breakfast in the sunlit dining room.
10 am: Go over to Harwan Bagh, right opposite Nadis, where you can see the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery dating back to the times when Buddhism was the main religion of Kashmir.
11 am: Head to the Himalayan Cheese Company, to see how Dutch cheese maker Chris Zandee works with local Bakarwal and Gujjar nomadic herders to make artisanal cheese like cheddar and gouda along with local ones like kalari or maish krej (fondly called the ‘mozzarella of Kashmir’), and qudam, as well as preserves and honey.
Noon: On the other side of the same Zabarwan mountain is Qayaam Gah, a high-end Sufi retreat, which has been the talk of the travel world ever since it opened in mid-2022. A short four-wheel drive ride away from the buzzing city of Srinagar, this resort, with just four luxury villas and three sumptuous suites is all about connecting with nature and yourself.
The ample rooms give you mountain views as soon as you open your eyes in bed in the morning and vistas of the Dal Lake shimmering below from your comfy couch on the verandah through the day. Expect delicately scented bath products, clean, fluffy towels, sunlit showers, and stone bathtubs. State-of-the-art speakers set the mood, while a traditional bukhari promises cosy winter evenings.
Dine like royalty under the plum trees in the open-air part of the restaurant called Rooh. Enjoy a lunch of chilled soup with chochwor bread and perfectly done Himalayan trout.
2 pm: Relax with an inspiring book on a Sufi saint thoughtfully placed in your room.
4 pm: Learn about the local fare, as homemaker-turned-Chef Tabassum, who specialises in Kashmiri cuisine, demonstrates the most delectable rogan josh or haak saag.
5 pm: You could birdwatch with binoculars from your verandah or have the team at Qayaam Gah arrange a birding trail, nature walk, or even a hiking/camping trip if a more active and outdoorsy vacay is what you’re after.
6 pm: The live Sufi musicians start to tune their instruments, a signal that a lavish high tea is being served on their Qalb Deck, overlooking the valley and the shimmering Dal Lake in the distance.
8 pm: Continue this enchanting evening with a romantic rendezvous in the pavilion, where you can savour a private wazwan dinner.
The next morning, the magic goes one, with a sunrise Yoga session, a refreshing dip in the infinity pool, before breakfast with the bulbuls, and your flight back.
The day’s details
Dachigam National Park: Near Harwan Mughal Garden, Dachigam Road, Srinagar. Book your visit here. http://dachigambooking-front.jkwildlife.com/dachigam/portal/login_front/main.asp?client=dachigam
Harwan Bagh: Harwan Road, Harwan, Srinagar
Qayaam Gah: Bren Hills, Astaan Rd, Srinagar
Seeking some more bliss?
If you have more time, apart from the other, more well-known spots such as the alpine meadows of Pahalgam, the snowy scenery of Sonamarg, etc, we’d definitely recommend more offbeat places such as the Aharbal waterfall, about 70 kms away from Srinagar; or Yusmarg, less than 50 kms away, where you can see the Doodh Ganga; and Doodhpathri in Budgam, 45 kms, which has a lovely river running through the meadows.
Now you can glide over Srinagar in a hot air balloon!
Are you ready for a taste of the high life at Patnitop?
Offbeat destinations in Kashmir you shouldn’t be missing out on!