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Kashmir - A view from our expert author
Standing on the veranda looking down across Dal and Nagin lakes with Hari Parbat peeking up through the mist, the sunlight glinting on the water as a solitary shikara paddles by, brings a lump to your throat. If there is heaven on earth, can it be anywhere else but here?
It may be a cliché, but there's something in Jammu and Kashmir for everyone. You can marvel at the views from the roof of the world at Khardung La, staring down on mountain peaks and glaciers; stroll through the Eden-like Shalimar Gardens, inspired by the Qu'ranic image of paradise; take a shikara ride with your own Kashmiri gondolier through the lotus-bedecked lakes of Srinagar; and join the Buddhist monks at Thiksey Monastery for early morning prayers or meditation by candlelight.
Adrenalin junkies can scale unclimbed peaks, trek along frozen rivers, heli ski at Gulmarg, raft on the mighty Indus River or paraglide above the forests and slopes of Pahalgam; holiday makers looking for a more relaxing time can read and watch the world go by from the veranda of a cedar-wood houseboat, learn yoga, shop for carpets and pashminas and indulge in all manner of culinary delights.
Encompassing a vast stretch of land from the lush Kashmir Valley in the west, to the striking mountains and epic wilderness of Ladakh and Zanskar, the area now covered by the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has long astounded visitors with its beauty. It was the favourite destination of Mughal kings, British bureaucrats and tourists overlanding along on the hippie trail: they proclaimed it heaven on earth, and we're rather inclined to agree.