If winters are your favourite season, the northern belt of India gives you ample opportunities to enjoy the glory and splendour of this season. While it is true that you may need a good deal of woollens and winter clothing, socks and sturdy boots, the fresh vegetables, the bonfires, the snowfall, and the clean crisp air quite make up for the extra baggage load you carry on yourself. Add to this the opportunity for a winter break that the year-end holidays bring and you have a great opportunity to travel to the northern most capital city of India – Srinagar.
Let us be clear, though, Srinagar is not the capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in winters. The snowfall and dipping temperatures make it easier to administer the state from Jammu which is relatively warmer. The Dal Lake is often frozen and landslides or snowfall may disrupt the Srinagar – Leh Highway (National Highway 1D). The opportunities for enjoyment, however, are not diminished by these. While summer months bring their own brand of beauty seekers, the winter brings those who revel in the white splendour of the majestic Himalayas, those who love the flurry of snowflakes, those who love the skiing and skating opportunities this city presents, and the chance to cozy up in front of a fireplace with a steaming cup of hot cocoa in a beautiful homestay in Srinagar.
If you head out to Srinagar in the early winters, you may wish to take a serene and calming ride on a Shikara filled with late fall flowers on the partially frozen Dal Lake. Late winters makes this a great place to learn skiing. Gulmarg, about 56 km from Srinagar, is perhaps the best place to ski with the Gandola Cable Car Lift serving to take skiers from Gulmarg to Apharwat top. Another great attraction that makes this city well worth visiting in winters is the breath-taking hot air balloon rides that takes you across the sprawling white vistas. The Snow Festival of Gulmarg, celebrated in January, is a tribute to winter sports including skiing, ice skating, snow cycling, and snow baseball.
Winters and great food go hand in hand. Srinagar is no exception. Do not miss out on Harissa, the fragrant lamb dish that forms a staple in most Kashmiri households in winters. It is slow cooked for over 12 hours with the most amazing spices including fennel, cardamom, and cinnamon. This is a great time to sip on endless mugs of the Kashmiri noon chai (pink tea), the Kehwa, or the Tibetan butter tea. Other staple delicacies that make this season an experience to remember include the Kashmiri Dum Aloo, the Yakhni, Pulaos and Biryanis and the varieties of Kebabs that Kashmiris dish out.
If snow camping is your thing, you may wish to go camping in Sonmarg, Vishansar, Gadsar, Nichinni, and Naranag. The sheer adventure of setting up tents in the frozen plains, gathering firewood, cooking, exploring and surviving in the wild makes this a trip worth making.
While this may not feature high on your list if you truly love the beauty of winters, but the best flight and hotel discounts in Kashmir are available during the winter season. This is the time to grab the best off-season discounts at one of the best hotels in Gulmarg or even at a luxury hotel in Srinagar such as The LaLiT Grand Palace Srinagar.