A favourite summer retreat of the Mughals, a popular holiday spot for the British Raj and a regular haunt along the 1960s hippy trail, Kashmir is now being rediscovered by a new generation of visitors. After decades of unrest, this breathtakingly beautiful corner of northern India is opening up again, and it’s well worth exploring - though restrictions remain in place in many areas, so make sure you read the latest advice before booking a trip.
The region is a lush, green swathe of meadows, backed by forested slopes that rise up towards the soaring Himalayas; it’s also surprisingly accessible via direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai, so it’s easily combined with a stay elsewhere. We’re starting our coverage around serene Dal Lake, whose mirror-like, lotus-studded surface reflects the misty peaks looming above. On its banks sits the city of Srinagar, often dubbed the “Venice of the East” due to its canals and magnificent 17th-century pleasure gardens. The old town is a picturesque jumble of beamed houses, ornate wooden mosques and colourful markets that buzz with life. Spreading out beyond is a maze of sleepy backwaters, where women wrapped in jewel-hued saris paddle between stilted villages, flower-growers sell their blooms at floating markets, and kingfishers and herons swoop in and out of the reeds. The best way to soak it all up is from the water - stay on converted houseboat Sukoon, whose staff can arrange gentle cruises on traditional, gondola-like shikaras, as well as hikes into the hills to visit Gujar tribes and even overnight camping in a verdant Himalayan valley.