For centuries, the Indian paradise of Kashmir has inspired poets and travelers alike. Neatly nestled on the banks of the Jhelum River and the mighty Himalayas, the pristine natural beauty of the land – boasting of high mountain peaks, verdant valleys, large lakes, intricately carved temples and remarkable Mughal gardens – has always attracted international and domestic tourists in droves. It’s no wonder, then, that Kashmir Trip in December is a truly delightful experience.
Whilst Kashmir is thoroughly popular with varied crowds in the summer and autumn seasons for touring lush green meadows winter in Kashmir is ideal for witnessing a snow-blanketed valley.Additionally, it is a perfect offbeat destination for winter sports, especially for enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders. The region experiences snowfall in December and during the chilly months, the temperature ranges from -2°C to 10°C, averaging at about 1°C at night.
Ways to travel to Kashmir in December:
By flight – Srinagar is a major airport and is connected to several cities like Delhi, Jammu, Leh, Goa, Mumbai, and Bangalore.
By Taxi or Car – Hiring a private taxi through a travel service or even driving down in your personal vehicle. Srinagar has a vast network of taxi services for tourists and this is the most recommended method by locals to access towns and cities in Kashmir.
By Bus – Kashmir is a state which is well connected by a network of government and private companies plying buses to nearby cities and towns.
The Kashmiri countryside is dotted with numerous towns and cities and a number of them are worth a visit, even in the bone-chilling winter.
Activities and Adventure Sports
Starting with Srinagar, enjoying a Shikara ride on Dal Lake is an unmissable experience. With some parts of the lake frozen, it is still possible to go boating in December. The quietude and calmness of the water at this time of year make it a magical experience. One can also stroll through the intricately laid out ‘gardens of bliss’ or Mughal Gardens, albeit not early in the morning.
Even though one may not get to see the gardens in full bloom at this time, the grounds are partially covered with snow, making it an idyllic setting for a lazy saunter. A few kilometres ahead of Srinagar, lies another interesting spot; the Dachigam National Park which is home to the Kashmir stag or ‘Hangul’. The lower valleys of Dachigam are best visited between September and December and it is the ideal time to see the endangered red deer species.
Gulmarg features next on the list. A picture postcard hill station and popular skiing destination in the Baramulla district, Gulmarg is a special haven during the festive month of December. Apart from admiring its beauty, one can get thoroughly involved in winter sports. At its impressive height, Gulmarg is the world’s third-highest ski resort with the imposing Apharwat peak being the longest ski slope in Asia.
The mountain is divided into 2 phases for skiing and is accessible by a Gondola which connects Gulmarg to Kungdori and ultimately the Apharwat peak. There is also a chair lift from Kungdori, and one can ski back further down to Gulmarg from here. Although the gondolas are well maintained, the ski station can be overcrowded and the wait for the gondola ride can be long.
The day passes for the skiing phases can be purchased at the ski station and can cost between INR 750 to INR 1000 a day. Skiing equipment like skis, boots and poles can be easily rented next to the slopes, but it is recommended to carry one’s own head and eye gear. It is also advisable to hire a local, certified ski instructor. They usually charge INR 2000 for an hour. The instructors even help in renting the equipment, saving skiers the hassle of queuing up.
The slopes in Gulmarg range from bunny slopes for beginners to intermediate and advanced levels. However, for those not interested in skiing, snowboarding, sledging, snow scooters and zorbing ball activities are popular too, especially for children.
Moving on to enchanting Pahalgam in the Anantnag district, the town provides perfect solace for solo travellers. Rich in flora with Oak, Deodar and Fir trees, the upper areas of Betaab Valley, Chandanwari, and Aru Valley, are all covered in a sheet of ice by December. Betaab Valley also offers skiing and sledging, with a spectacular view of the Lidder River. One can simply sit beside the river and enjoy the splendid view of this valley.
The Baisaran Hills and Sheshang Lake in Pahlgam also provide a glorious landscape to soak in with snow-capped peaks and glacial water. As the lakes in the Pahalgam area are coated in a thick layer of ice in December, ice skating is a popular choice to explore. Anantnag is primarily the financial and commercial hub of Kashmir.
Besides enjoying nature, one can visit several temples and sacred spots here, making this an ideal blend of serenity and modernity.
‘The Meadow of Gold’ or Sonmarg, with its captivating beauty of florid meadows, snow-clad peaks, frozen lakes and glaciers, is also home to the finest trekking trails, which are all covered in snow in winter. December also allows one to witness snowfall with the added option to participate in camping experiences.
Prime attractions in Sonmarg, are of course, ‘the hidden jewel of Kashmir’ or the Thajiwas glacier and Zero Point, boasting magnificent beauty with meadows, peaks and the Sindh River flowing alongside. Needless to say, the picturesque site is popular among trekkers.
Kupwara or ‘the walnut district’ is home to the Lolab Valley, which is covered with forests of pine and fir and several varieties of fruit trees. It offers panoramic views of the white surroundings in winter. December is the ideal time to indulge in trekking, hiking and rock climbing.
Yusmarg or Yousmarg, interestingly known as the ‘Meadow of Jesus,’ is an off- the-beaten-track tourist haunt, with fantastic views of the Pir Panjal mountain ranges, meadows and alpine forests, all blanketed in white in December. The small hill station is also famous for trekking through the forests and frozen streams.
Further ahead lies another jewel called Doodhpathri, or the ‘Valley of Milk’ with white valleys in winter. It is closed in January and February but is usually accessible in December. Although it does not offer any winter sports, it is a magnificent place to visit just to immerse oneself in nature’s beauty.
There are, of course, several other less frequented towns and districts in Kashmir like Kargil, Drass, Nubra Valley, Zanskar, and many more, which are mostly reachable in December for sightseeing.
Zoning in on adventure-packed winter activities, apart from skiing, Kashmir is notable for day treks. December may very well be the last month to go for day treks, as most routes close for the next three months due to inclement weather. Due to the undulating topography, the treks can be customised for newbies and experts alike. The trekking sites also offer an experience for camping in Kashmir’s valleys and the camping sites often become a hub of merriment with trekkers.
Interestingly, December also offers the best time for photography. The scenic views in Kashmir at this time of year have traces of late autumn and winter, both. Nature enthusiasts usually throng the state to ring in the New Year as well.
The winter cuisine on offer in Kashmir truly reflects the saying the ‘kitchen is the heart of a home’ and the food is carefully prepared by families to keep the body warm in frigid temperatures. It is a time to especially consume dried vegetables. The practice dates back to the time when the highways and roads were in deplorable condition, making transport of food and grain nearly impossible in winter.
This led to sun-drying vegetables called ‘hokh syun’, such as tomatoes, turnips, gourds and other winter foods. The drying technique varies from vegetable to vegetable and is a tedious process. This technique extends to dried fish as well, called ‘Hokhegad’. Popular winter dishes to try are Wangan Hachi (dried aubergines), Al Hachi (dried bottle gourd), Ruwangan Hachi (dried tomatoes), Gogji Aar (dried turnips) and of course the celebrated ‘Harissa’, a delicacy made of mutton and spices.
All these delights can be savoured with endless cups of warm, delicious tea or Kashmiri Kahwa, often referred to as the ‘drink of the soul’ or Winter Elixir. It is normally lightly flavoured with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and almonds.
The other alternative is Noon Chai or Sheer Chai. Made from special tea leaves, milk, baking soda and salt, it has a pinkish colour and is ideal to drink in winter.
Walnuts are the most widely consumed dry fruit in winter as they are rich in vitamin E and Omega-3 Fatty acids.
Winter also lends to adopting local fashion to keep the body warm. Pheran, a traditional outfit in Kashmir, worn by both men and women, is made of pure wool. Whilst it’s typical to purchase this piece of winter clothing in Kashmir, locals recommend coming largely well-equipped with woollen clothing instead of wasting time buying apparel here. As the temperatures can reach sub-zero degrees even in December, it becomes almost a necessity to invest in snow boots. Those, however, can be rented easily in Kashmir.
One cannot complete one’s visit to the splendid state without indulging in local shopping. Carpets and oriental rugs are popular choices for their durability, patterns and colours. These carpets are hand-knotted and weaved either entirely with pure wool or silk.
Walnut Wood items, with endless patterns on walnut wood, both for décor and furniture, feature next on the shopping list. Papier Mache artefacts from Kashmir also have a significant market. These are richly decorated and colourful, usually in the form of vases, bowls, boxes or trays.
Apart from the customary Pheran for winter, the gorgeous Kashmiri shawls made out of Pashmina, wool and silk are world-renowned. The art of shawl making is usually a family affair, passed down through different generations. Embroidery on the shawls is painstaking work and one shawl can take several weeks to be completed.
Kangri, an earthen pot or bowl encased in a woven wicker basket, is a common sight to see in Kashmiri winter. It is filled with hot embers and held against the body, usually under a ‘pheran’, to keep warm. Apart from their utilitarian use, Kashmiris often gift kangris as a work of art.
Kashmiri spices such as saffron or zaffron or kesar, the Kashmiri red chilli powder and black cumin are indigenous to the region. Dry fruits and kahwa are the next popular buys.
Local copperware or ‘Traam’, is also freely available in the markets. These engraved utensils are adorned with beautifully carved designs and patterns. Copper kettles or Samovar are frequently used for tea.
Although Kashmir offers year-round tourism, there are a few essentials to keep in mind whilst planning a trip in December:
- Be prepared for delays in flights due to snowfall
- Thorough research on weather forecasting and accessibility of roads is
crucial to avoid last-minute cancellations
- Locals recommend booking a prepaid car or private taxi and not relying
on local transport
- Carry adequate clothes and shoes as the weather can be unpredictable
- Make hotel bookings in advance as certain areas in December can get
crowded due to winter sports
- Buy a local prepaid SIM card as your SIM card may not work due to
Accommodation in Kashmir ranges from luxurious 5-star properties to budget hotels and even homestays. The latter is perhaps the best way to learn about local culture and relish the mouth-watering cuisine. The Khanda Kothi, Gogji Bagh and The Cottage Nigeen, Mirza Bagh and Dove Cottage, Rajbagh are a few cosy homestays for the perfect travel experience. The Kashmiris are a warm breed of people who excel in hospitality and extra flourish.
The Lalit Grand Palace, originally known as Gulab Bhavan, with its sprawling lawns, chinar trees and cottages, offers luxury at its best. Extravagance can also be experienced in Vivanta Dal View with fantastic sights of not only the famous lake but the mountains as well.
Avid skiers in Gulmarg can look at budget options like Kolahoi Green Heights and Hotel Hilltop, which offer great views and have also been highly recommended by travelers.
Kashmir is often quoted as a ‘paradise on earth’ and its uniqueness lies in presenting valuable experiences on offer throughout the year. December particularly showcases spectacular scenery of a white landscape dotted with green patches. It is less crowded than in the summer months and is an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The silence is said to have often broken writer’s block for many aspiring novelists!
Naiyya Singh has been an avid traveller for as long as she can remember. Her hunger for travel started young. Her father being in the armed forces had postings in several stations across the country. She followed her appetite for exploring new cultures and cuisines, when she joined Air India as cabin crew, for 11 years. Post her stint in the airline, she worked at The Print, a digital news organisation, and handled marketing and events. Her love for discovering new lands remains intact.