It is difficult to describe in mere words the beguiling beauty of Wular Lake. For one, its formidable size - this is one of Asia's largest fresh water lakes - for another, it changes character with every few miles.
The drive from Srinagar will take you to the calm waters of Manasbal Lake, where there is no other sound but birdsongs. Manasbal has often been described as the bird watcher's paradise, and as your shikara glides through this mirror of tranquillity, you will experience yet another facet of Kashmir.
Driving through the town of Bandipora, which has a delightfully laid out Mughal Garden, the Wular will always be to your left. Here and there, you will hear women chanting some age-old ditty as they pick water chestnuts, deftly navigating the weeds in flat-bottomed skiffs.
Watlab: Gradually, the panoply of the 'real Kashmir', miles away from well-traversed areas, will unfold before you, and you will reach Watlab. Here, high on a hilltop is the shrine of a Muslim mystic, Baba Shukurddin. From here, the Wular Lake stretches away as far as the eye can see, edged by picturesque villages around terraced breeze-rippled fields of paddy, in a riotous burst of colour. At Watlab there is a Forest Rest House amidst sprawling apple orchards. You can rest here to enjoy the sheer grandeur of the spectacular countryside at leisure.
Achabal: Once the pleasure retreat of Empress Nur Jehan, Achabal (1,677 m) has a fine garden in the Mughal style, with its own special charm and character. It was in Kashmir that the Mughal Garden was brought to perfection, and Achabal is one such masterpiece.
Situated at the foot of a hill with a row of majestic chinars framing it, the Mughal garden is a visual delight with their stepped terraces, formal elegance, ornamental shrubs, sparkling fountains and falling water. Achabal is 58 kms from Srinagar, via Anantnag.
Past the Mughal Gardens of Achabal, with their tinkling fountains, through the breathtaking splendour of the springs at Kokarnag, lies Daksum.
Tucked away in a densely forested gorge at an altitude of 2438 m, Daksum would be completely silent but for the Bringhi river which gushes through it.
Daksum is a walker's paradise. Up the hills which are swathed in coniferous trees, past gurgling brooks, the simple, haunting notes of a flute will waft down to you from where an unseen shepherd tends his flock. For in the hills surrounding Daksum, suddenly you will find yourself in grassy meadows where sheep are taken to pasture.
Daksum is a reviving experience -the bracing mountain air, the solitude, the densely clad hills, and beyond them, snow covered mountains, all contribute to Daksum's mystique, making it the perfect retreat.
Kokernag: Situated in the heart of Bringhi valley, Kokernag (2,020 m, 70 kms from Srinagar), is set amidst sprawling gardens fragrant with the bloom of thousands of flowers. The Kokernag spring bubbles at seven places at the foot of the forested mountain. The water of the spring is famous for its medicinal and digestive properties.
A two hour drive from Srinagar ( 47 kms ) will take you to acres upon acres of grassy meadow ringed by forests of pine, and towering beyond them, awesome and majestic snow clad mountains. This is Yusmarg- close enough to Srinagar for a picnic, idyllic enough to make you want to stay for a few days. Here are walks of every sort - a leisurely amble along flower-strewn meadows or away to where a mighty river froths and crashes its way over rocks, its mild white foam earning it the name of Dudh Ganga. Further away, a captivating lake, Nilnag, is cradled by hills. Nearby are several peaks-Tatta Kutti and Sang Safed to name a couple of them. About 13 kms from Yusmarg, a short detour away from the Srinagar road, is Charari- Sharief, the Shrine of Kashmir’s patron saint Sheikh Noor-ud-din or Nund Reshi, now rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1994 which engulfed the entire building.
Aharbal: Gradually, the distant rumble becomes a roar as one approach the waterfall of Aharbal, which crashes down a narrow gorge. Aharbal is more than just a waterfall.
There are several places to picnic in the surrounding areas, as well as delightful walks of varying lengths all over the hillsides. Interesting treks-one of them to the high altitude lake of Kounsernag at 13,500 ft above sea level-takes off from Aharbal.
Verinag: Located 80 kms from Srinagar at an altitude of 1,876 m, the spring of Verinag is believed to be the chief source of the river Jhelum.
Construction of the octagonal base of the spring and the arcade around it was undertaken by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and completed during the reign of Shah Jahan.
Down the stream to the east lie the remains of a Mughal pavilion and baths. Verinag can be approached through the link road, which turns off, from the national highway at Lower Munda.