Kokernag Botanical Garden & largest trout fishery
Kashmir Valley offers some enthralling beauty, justifying its affectionate name ‘Paradise on Earth’. Kashmir is not just mountains, but enshrouded greenery that is unparalleled in India. One of these less known green vistas is located in the centre of Bringhi Valley in Kokernag at a height of 6627 feet above the sea level. Kokernag Botanical Garden is the focal point of this place, which is surrounded by lush green pine trees and home to almost one lakh species of flora including trees, roses, shrubs, and bushes. One fascinating part of this garden is a natural cool water spring, a source of pure cool mineral water.
Journey from Srinagar to Kokernag
I always believe the journey is more fun than the destination, but from Srinagar to Kokernag, it was an education where I had witnessed changing landscapes, an entirely different culture, variety of natural colors, and of course mountains. The best thing of Srinagar is that the network of government buses and public transport where you can get buses to Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Anantnag, and other places.
Although Kokernag was just 85 km away from Srinagar, I couldn’t find a direct transport. So, I took a shared jeep to Anantnag (56km) and then another vehicle from Anantnag to Kokernag. From Srinagar to Anantnag, the most exciting part was the Saffron Town of Kashmir. After traveling till Pampore (12 km), the saffron fields were clearly visible. Locally the saffron is called Mogra, and probably the best saffron flowers in the world. Pampore town was full of shops selling pure saffron and different dry fruits.
The town of Awantipur is one of the few places where relics of Hindu temples still stand with their inconsolable faces. Awantipur is located 14 kmwi from Parampore and no taxi really cared to stop there to let tourists watch these 1000 years old Vishnu temples.
Inside the Kokernag Garden
The best place to stay, of course, is the JKTDC tourist lodge, which is now named as Hotel Alpine. The hotel is located on the main road but the entrance is within the garden. The funny thing is even if you have a booking, you have to buy a ticket on your first entry.
The advantage of staying inside the garden is to watch glorious sunrise and variety of known and unknown birds. I was first familiar with birds in Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan and fell in love with this creature. It is the biggest garden in Kashmir, maintained by the government of Jammu & Kashmir. The garden was extraordinarily delightful but at the same time insanely quiet.
Other than hundreds of trees, the variety of shrubs, plants, and other a natural spring, some artificial structures are created to give a look of the garden than a sanctuary. There are small water channels such as water ponds, Japanese bridges, rosary, live garden seats and topiary works.
Visit to Kokernag Trout Fishery
Kokernag is known for gardens, freshwater springs, and trout streams. Their small villages surrounded the valley such as Wangam, Hangalgund, Nagam, Zalergam, Dacksum, Soaf Shali and others. Kokernag trout fishery department is Asia’s largest trout hatchery department. The total area of Kokernag is 300 Canals; 129 of them are for the purpose of gardening and fishery and the rest is forest area.
The weather is congenial for trout breeding. The trout breeding potential was tapped by a Norwegian researcher who had started the first breeding here. Along with another traveler, I went to this institute. There were students who guided at the training center to show different methods of breeding.
Unlike other parts of India where weekend means going for theatre or shopping, Kashmir has a weekend culture of going to gardens. Kokernag was also not exception. Almost all age group of people I had witnessed on that Sunday afternoon. It was curious to see every family had carried a multi-layered lunch box. I never asked but I believe it is a preserved culture of Kashmiri families to spend together in the gardens.
Best time to visit: You can visit this garden during March-October. The temperature will be drastic from November-February hence better to avoid those winter months.
How to reach
Most of the website says the distance between Srinagar and Kokernag is 65 km, but it is actually 85 km. J&K State Transport buses operate daily but it goes till Anantnag. You won’t find any direct bus or as a matter of fact shared taxi to Kokernag.
Jammu Tawi Railway station is the nearest station, which is around 275 km from Kokernag. You can get private taxi or shared taxi and government bus till Srinagar. It is recommended to stay in Srinagar for a day or two and then head towards the garden.
If you don’t have much time, you can directly come to Srinagar by air. Srinagar airport is connected to major cities in India.
Traveling to Kashmir feels like you have entered ever changing paradise when one after one beautiful vista come and go, and a feeling of euphoria will be consistent. I only remember one old Kashmiri proverb that perfectly suits with this nature’s wonder.
“Obeisance to the self that is a reflection of eternal reality.”