Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most beautiful states in India thanks to its scenic, untouched landscapes and breathtaking mountains. Though the state suffered during the years when terrorism was in its most intense and destructive phase, it has slowly limped back to normalcy.

Over the past couple of years Kashmir is quickly becoming one of the most visited states in India. The amazingly beautiful landscape of the land has enthralled emperors and kings for countless generations, and mesmerized visitors for centuries.

If you are planning a trip to Kashmir, it is important that you decide on the places you want to visit beforehand. There are so many picturesque locations that it can be a bit overwhelming. Let’s have a look at some of the places that are must-see for any tourist.

Pahalgam, in Anantnag, part of Jammu and Kashmir, the most beautiful state in India

Anantnag

Anantnag is also known as the rice bowl of Kashmir valley. Kokernag, Verinag, Achabal and Daksum are places noted for their beauty. These scenic towns are also home to many renowned health resorts and spas. Located at 2438m (8,000 ft) above sea level, Daksum is lush, green and rich in exotic flora and fauna. The dense forests are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and offer endless trekking options to enthusiasts. You can also go fishing in the trout-rich streams of Daksum.

Pahalgam is a famous hill station in Anantnag located at an altitude 2740m (8,990 ft) above sea level. Vast meadows and pastures, pine forests and snow clad mountains justify why Kashmir is often referred to as the Switzerland of India. It has featured in several Bollywood romances and still is one of the most favored honeymoon spots for Indian newlyweds.

Lidder River is any angler’s dream come true with bountiful brown trout fishing beats. The beautiful trekking routes through pine and cedar forests, a 9-hole golf course, lovely camping sites and skiing opportunities make Pahalgam an adventure seeker’s paradise. The picturesque Kolahoi glacier is another must-see.

Gulmarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Gulmarg

Gulmarg is famous for its vast expanse of flower-clad meadows set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This exceptionally beautiful mountain resort boasts of the highest green golf course in the world located at a height of 2650m (8,694 ft) above the sea level. The first ski resort in India was established in Gulmarg in 1927 and continues to be the premier skiing destination in the country.

The Gulmarg Gondola is Asia’s highest and longest -- and the world’s second highest -- cable car project. The views are breathtaking and you get to see the Meadow of Flowers, as Gulmarg is popularly known, in all its glory.< If long treks to ski spots are not your thing, you can also opt for a pony ride. Some pony owners may try to overcharge foreign tourists though, so be careful and be sure to haggle.

If you are a skiing enthusiast then head to Apparwath Peak and Shark Fin for what are arguably the best skiing trails in the country.

Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Srinagar

Srinagar is the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and does not in any way fall short where natural beauty is concerned. Lush gardens, historical monuments, ancient shrines and serene lakes make it one of the most sought after and visited tourist destinations in the country.

Shikharas are beautiful decorated wooden boats that are found on the Dal and Nagin lakes in Srinagar. No tourist to Kashmir can afford to miss a ride on the delicate Shikhara. You also get to see quaint floating vegetable and flower markets on the lakes.

There are houseboat hotels where you can book in advance for a luxury stay on the lake. You also can indulge in watersports like kayaking, water surfing, angling and canoeing.

The lakes are the star attractions but, you must also find time to visit other places of interest like Jama Masjid, Hazratbal Mosque, Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden and Shankaracharya Temple. The Mughal Gardens and Dachigam Wildlife Sanctuary are other places that you should visit during your stay in Srinagar.

Sonamarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Sonamarg

Sonamarg means ‘Meadow of Gold’ and is noted for its pristine natural beauty. Sonamarg is blessed with lovely alpine forests and is nestled in the towering snow-clad Himalayan Mountains.

The valley is located at an altitude of 2800 meters, and the journey to Sonamarg is in itself as satisfying and beautiful as the destination. As you meander through the valley you get to see the imposing Harmukh range that dominates the horizon all along the way. If you are a selfie lover, there are plenty of photogenic spots along the route where you can stop to click some good pictures.

Thajiwas Glacier in Sonamarg, Jammu and Kashmir state, India
Thajiwas Glacier

Sonamarg is located on the banks of Sindh River where you can enjoy fishing for the plentiful trout and mahseer. If you are visiting in summer you can plan a trip to the Thajiwas glacier. It is a major tourist attraction and you can choose to trek up the scenic trail or hire a pony ride.

  Sonamarg experiences heavy snowfall and avalanches during winter months, so always check with authorities before you plan a trek into the mountains.

Pangong Lake, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake is a 5-hour drive from Leh and the extreme landscape will give you an experience you will never forget.

The azure-blue lake is a 45km stretch on the Indian side and is fed by inland streams and rivers. The salty water does not allow fish and other flora and fauna to flourish, but small crustaceans can be found in the waters. The marshy surroundings are also home to ducks, gulls, and migratory birds. So you can see this also a great place for bird watching.

Pangong Lake first got noticed when it featured in the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots and has since attracted tourists in thousands. But it’s not Pangong Lake alone that Ladakh has on offer. Located at a distance of 45km from Leh is the quaint town of Hemis. Leh and Ladakh are perfect places to sample India’s incredible diversity, so ensure they are on your itinerary.

Hemis is home to the renowned Hemis National Park which provides shelter to many rare forms of wildlife including the snow leopards and bharals. You can also pay a visit to the Buddhist monastery in Hemis which is the largest in Ladakh and attracts tourists from all over the world.

  Schedule your visit during the Hemis festival to enjoy the true culture of Hemis.

Conclusion   Kashmir is one of the most breathtaking and picturesque places in the world, where you get to enjoy a unique blend of cultural warmth and hospitality. The next time you are in India, make sure to plan a visit to the northernmost tip of India.

See More Incredible India: 24 Off The Beaten Path Destinations

  flickr   //   vinamra   ankurp   shahbasharat   mckaysavage   kashmir-pictures   parthasahana   _pavan_

Published in India

Recently I had the pleasure of discovering a refreshing new side to Ohio, the hidden gem known as Hocking Hills. Nestled in the southeastern portion of the state, this area is known for its rolling hills and glacier-carved valleys. As a result of these iconic valleys the region is also home to a surprising amount of migratory fauna and even several types of flora that are usually only found in the cooler climates of .

In addition to offering a wealth of outdoor activities, the nearby towns provide several interesting sightseeing opportunities and tours that cover a variety of interests and hobbies which visitors of all ages will find appealing. Together they make Hocking Hills a fantastic and inexpensive family getaway that proves there is much more to the Buckeye State than simply the "3 C's." Ohio also has the geographic distinction of being located within a single days drive of 50% of the United States population, further strengthening the region as an ideal destination for a refreshing family vacation.

Get Outdoors And Stretch Those Legs!

Surpassed only by their love of football, Ohio residents are extremely proud of the 200,000 acres of state and national parks scattered across this diverse state. Hocking Hills State Park is one of the most prominent in the region and receives as many as four million visitors each year.

An overwhelming one million of those visitors arrive just during October, when the autumn color change transforms the entire area into a vivid and impressive landscape that attract non-stop hordes of "leaf-peepers."

Overnight the entire forest was stripped naked.

Unfortunately for me I arrived just a couple days after Hurricane Sandy had ravaged this colorful scenery. The storm was so powerful that its effects were felt even this far inland, where 60-70mph winds stripped the deciduous trees of every last leaf and covered the ground in countless shades of auburn. Luckily that in no way diminished the joy of exploring this area.

Hike Or Bike The Many Trails Of Hocking Hills State Park

There are a total of nine hiking trails in varying lengths and difficulties and two great biking trails located within Hocking Hills State Park that allow visitors to choose their route based upon whichever sights appeal to them. One of the most popular of these trails is the hike to Old Man's cave, which you can see pictured below.

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Pat Quackenbush, the naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park
Pat Quackenbush

Although the largest crowds at Hocking Hills State Park occur during the autumn color change, this area happens to be blessed with spectacular wildlife and scenery regardless of the season. In fact each has its own appeal and distinct reasons for visiting. Whether witnessing the first new leaves of the spring awakening or trekking through this snow-covered winter wonderland, Hocking Hills State Park never disappoints!

But believe it or not all of thise natural beauty is trumped by resident naturalist Pat Quackenbush. Pat's all-encompassing knowledge of the local history and climate combined with his vivid storytelling and skills in mimicking the sound of local wildlife culminates in the perfect tour guide. I've traveled extensively through 46 US states, camping and exploring a wide range of both parks and climates, and without a doubt Pat is the all-around best naturalist I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. His love and dedication to the region are undeniable and certainly add that special spark when experiencing the local outdoors.

  A more extensive list of the outdoor adventures offered including upcoming events can be found on the Hocking Hills State Park official web page.

Shawnee story teller Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah
Listen and learn the circle of life as told by Shawnee story teller Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah

An Unforgettable Shawnee Storytelling Experience

For those who crave a more unique outdoor experience there is no better option than a guided tour through Saltpetre Cave State Nature Preserve. The highlight of this two-hour expedition up into the hills is an enthralling session with Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah (pronounced Way-u-per-shenwa), which takes place in the fourth and final cave along the trek. Approaching hikers will be able to hear his traditional Native American flute melodies rising through the hills long before being able to spot the source.

Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah, the Shawnee storyteller at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio
Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah, the Shawnee storyteller at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio

Otherwise known by the much easier to pronounce nickname "Shawnee Storyteller," Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah consistently captivates audiences from his first word to the very last. His stories offer a different perspective on the Hocking Hills region as well as thoughtful insights on our responsibility as the dominant species of this planet. They are comprised of a mixture of local history and knowledge of regional nature and wildlife, engaging Shawnee practices and stories of the past, personal childhood experiences, and even include thought-provoking cultural wisdom that has been passed down through the generations by tribe elders. Visitors are unanimously impressed by Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah and frequently find that leaving is hard to do.

  Here are a few of my photos from both the initial hike through the nature preserve and our subsequent session with the Shawnee Storyteller.  

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hiking to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Shawnee storytelling session in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Shawnee storytelling session in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Shawnee storytelling session in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Shawnee storytelling session in Hocking Hills, Ohio

To learn more about Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah and his stories please consult Hocking Hills Adventure Trek. They also offer several more challenging trails intended only for experienced hikers.

 

Get Your Adrenaline Pumping!

Ohio's First World-Class Zipline Adventure

Canopy tours are the perfect excursion for those nature-lovers whom are also avid thrill-seekers and typically feature multiple ziplines and sky bridges. Just a few weeks before my visit a group from Discovery.com had popped in for a visit, after which they named the Hocking Hills ziplines as one of the top ten ziplines in the world! (View the article)

The canopy tour includes a total of ten ziplines but the prime attraction of this three-hour excursion is the SuperZip, Ohio's answer to the public demand for a "higher, longer, and faster" zipline. It covers more than a quarter mile and includes a breathtaking stretch directly over the Hocking River that makes the most of the zippers' "Superman-style" flying position.

Individuals are launched in pairs from an 85-foot tower perched atop the hillside and reach speeds of up to 50mph, making the SuperZip a fun race for anyone with a competitive nature.

Looking down on the massive SuperZip from the final zipline launch tower
This is the SuperZip as seen from the launch platform. Notice the Hocking River in the distance.

Although the SuperZip can be experienced either by itself or as part of the full canopy tour package, I strongly recommend the latter -- especially if you have never been ziplining or on a canopy tour before. You may be surprised at just how much fun you have been missing out on.

Ziplining in Hocking Hills, Ohio
Always a good day for ziplining. Was joined by my friend Jessie of

Derek Freal preparing to do the SuperZip in Hocking Hills, Ohio

  Canopy tour details and contact information available via Hocking Hills Canopy Tours.

Kayaking & Camping On The Hocking River

From April through October the Hocking River is popular among both kayakers and canoers, as visitors will notice when ziplining over the river. Two different lengths are offered, both filled with a variety of spots suitable for beaching your craft to rest along the shore or bask in the tranquil sounds of nature, allowing participates to extend this into a all-day event if the mood arises.

To get the best of both worlds, ziplining and kayaking, I suggest what is known as the "Float & Fly" special. This trip will take you down the longer of the two kayaking routes and passes directly underneath the SuperZip. Located there is a small landing area on the right side of the river for zippers to safely stow their kayak and make the short walk up to the SuperZip launch tower. After the group has completeled this exhilirating zip then its back into the kayaks for the remaining leg of the cruise.

  Check out a few of the photos from our kayaking adventure below. You may even recognize a couple of my fellow travel bloggers, including Kristen from Hopscotch The Globe and Will from Wake And Wander.  

Kayaking the Hocking River in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Kayaking the Hocking River in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Kayaking the Hocking River in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Kayaking the Hocking River in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Kayaking the Hocking River in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Overnight camping is also an option for anyone wishing to continue this experience past sunset. Visitors can either bring their own tents and set up camp in several designated campgrounds ($7/each) or rent one of the four-person cabins that are scattered along the river. Cabins include basic amenities such as heating/cooling, refrigerator, and microwave and cost $60/night during the week or $70/night on Fridays and Saturdays.

  Further details including specials and upcoming events can be found on the Hocking Hills Canoe Livery website.

Of course these activities are but a fraction of all the outdoor adventures awaiting visitors of Hocking Hills and the surrounding area. Depending on the season other great choices include a variety of haunted hikes and ghost stories, wildlife observation and education treks, fishing, hunting, and even occasional nighttime activities/events. Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself passing through Ohio or searching for an affordable family vacation. And as always, if you have any questions that are not answered by the links included then feel free to give me a shout.

Ever visited Hocking Hills? What were your favorite outdoor adventures?

Published in United States

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