Pilgrim to Paradise
Vaishno Devi is a much sought for visit by most devotees. And so is the dream to enjoy the beauty of theParadise on Earth – Kashmir. We can always plan the two together. A much easier route is readily available to accomplish one’s dream with a little advance planning from the pilgrim base. All we need is a week’s time for these everlasting memories to become part of your life for ever.
Katra, the base from where you start your journey for Mata’s Darshan now forms the hub for onward tourism to Srinagar and further north. All you need is to reach Katra which is well connected with bus and taxi, a half an hour journey from Jammu, the rail head. You check in one of the hotels which is flooded in the town. Once you check in and before you start your visit for Mata Darshan, just spend half an hour and finalize your onward journey to Kashmir with one of the tourist operators over there. Best way is to hire a full taxi for the entire trip (Katra – Patnitop – Srinagar – Gulmarg – Sonmarg – Pahalgam - Jammu). This needs a weeks time. They would also book the stay accordingly. Make your one night stay at Patnitop and the balance in a house boat at Srinagar.
Once you return from Vaishno Devi Mandir have an over night rest at Katra and then the next day move to your first destination – Patnitop.
Patnitop : Just 80 kms from Katra, it would take around 3 hrs to reach to Patnitop. The spot got its name from Patan da Talab meaning Pond of Princess. It is believed that the princess used to take their bath here. It’s a thorough green patch on a hill top with beautiful consortiums. Make your arrangements to stay here.
Take an excursion to Nathatop about 18 kms uphill from here. You would be lucky to see Snow Caped Peaks from here. Don’t miss to see the Nag temple,
Srinagar: The next day start your journey further. Leave Patnitop early in the morning for Sri Nagar. A picturesque view and enticing journey of 5 to 6 hrs. Check in one of the House Boats (already booked through Katra) planked in Dal Lake. A small rest after launch and the rest of the day spend in the city visiting the parks – Mughal Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh,
The must – a cruise in Shikara on the Dal Lake and explore Srinagar in its varied hues. The shikara ride would uncover the true essence of this town as you glide past willow-shaded channels and canals, through water lilies and lotus, under bridges, across rice fields, on to the splendid Mughal gardens, handicraft shops spread along the lake. Visit the other gardens - Nishat bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Hazratbal Shrine and the Shankaracharya temple of Bhole Nath.
Gulmarg: The next day move to the snow capped Golf Course and Skiing base – Gulmarg. A three hour drive of the 56 km distance would never appear tiring due to the refreshing splendor of the nature. On the way collect Jackets and Gum boots to walk on ice available on rent.
The hill offers the best skiing slopes in the world. Enjoy the skiing and the sledge ride. Don’t forget to have the Gondola Ride (cable car) from Gulmarg to Khianmarg. After enriching with unforgettable memories return to Srinagar to spend a romantic night in the house boat.
The next day can again be local sight seeing or an excursion to Sonmarg.
Sonmarg: Sonmarg (2690 m.), the gateway to Laddakh offers the most beautiful drive from Srinagar. A distance of 88 kms with turns and twists paralleled with spruce, pines and willows. Enjoy the horse ride to Thajiwas glacier flooded with snow sledges.
Pahalgam: Pahalgam(2440m.), around 96 kms from Srinagar offers rarest Saffron fields, a view of Anantnag, Sulphur springs and the roaring rivers. It is a quaint little village sitting on the banks of river Lidde untouched by urban development. Pahalgam is an angler's paradise, promising to please even an amateur with a rainbow trout. The thick pine and cedar forests around this hill town provides a natural habitat for the large brown bear. It has a golf course at 2400 metres above sea level. For adventure-seekers, camping equipment, ponies and skiing equipment are easily available. Kolahoi is a popular destination for trekkers via Aru, a fascinating meadow. Pahalgam is also the base camp for pilgrims proceeding to the shrine of Lord Shiva at Amarnath. Enjoy and return to your house boat by evening to rejuvenate.
Next day start your journey back to Jammu. Take notice of the small markets in Qazigunda and the Jawahar tunnel, the pass that offers life to the valley. By the evening you would be in Jammu to get to your train and have eternal memories with you to share with your friends throughout your life.
Seasons to visit : The valley offers two different seasons to visit and thus two distinct shades of valley to enjoy. Spring in April to November is full of flowers in different hue. The valley blooms and has vibrant colours. The trees are adorned and juvenile. The winter December to February on the other hand covers the valley with white snow sheet. Its serene all the way. Chilling weather and snow peaks for winter sports. Thus enjoy the paradise as you feel.
A travelogue originally posted on Sulekha about five years back : http://travel.sulekha.com/pilgrim-to-paradise_travelogue_3904