Gar firdaus baruhe zamin ast-Hamin asto, hamin asto , hamin asto ~
(If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.)
I wanted to see whether this famous quote for Jammu and Kashmir still stands true or the paradise has lost its touch in today’s time owing to the turbulent times in the valley. However, my 3-day vacation to this beautiful state answered all my queries and now I am strongly recommending a trip to the mesmerising valley of Kashmir!
1. Srinagar- The first stop
Srinagar, the beautiful city. Shehr-i Khas, the special city. Even today, after almost 25 years of insurgency, army occupation and then two seasons of frenetic tourism, Srinagar lives up to these names. It shows off the natural beauty that had generations, from Mughal emperors to fans of Kashmir ki Kali sighing!
Where to Stay: There are a number of good stay options, ranging from Vivanta by Taj (you can actually spot the hotel while taking the shikara ride on Dal Lake) to mid-range properties, from regular budget hotels to the old world houseboats, which are perfect for enjoying the local life of Dal Lake.
Eat: Even though the hotels have in-house restaurants, don’t miss eating out at Ahdoo’s (Residency Road). Ask a waiter to guide you through the menu and sit back amidst the old world, ghazal-laden ambience. The waiter will also help you plan your walk by the nearby Jhelum after the meal. Towards the beginning of the Boulevard Stand, a slew of restaurants and dhabas offer your usual north Indian dal, paneer dishes and non-veg items.
Sightseeing: A full day sightseeing tour will cover places like Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Gardens, Chashme-Shahi, Pari Mahal and Dal Lake (all these places are in close proximity to each other). Ask your taxi driver to start early as each of these local attractions will take at least an hour. Don’t miss the shikara rides on Dal Lake. The rides come in two parts–a short route covering 4 points (more than an hour and it will cost you around INR 1,200) and the longer one which includes 7 sightseeing points at INR 2,000.
Other notable attractions include Shankaracharya Hill, Jama Masjid, Khanqah of Shah Hamdani, Pathar Masjid and Dastgir Sahib in Khanyar.
Taxi Fare: The local sightseeing will cost you somewhere between INR 1,600 to INR 2,000, it is recommended to start early to make most of your time here!
2. Gulmarg- The second pick
Want to go on a trek in the snow covered Gulmarg with your friends on the lines of Ranbir Kapoor in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or want to have your own “yahooooo” moment like Shammi Kapoor in Junglee? Plan a trip to Gulmarg to get your favourite moments from these famous movies which were shot in the breathtaking landscape of this hill station.
Often treated as a day trip away from Srinagar, Gulmarg is a slice of paradise on the earth. The journey to Gulmarg from Srinagar is itself so beautiful that one completely forgets about the destination, soaking up the blissful natural beauty.
Where to stay: Stay options in Gulmarg are good but limited and the latest addition is the Golf Course Resort, a super luxury property right in the middle of Golf Course. The resort has an array of options of rooms to choose from. You can actually visit the rooms, dining areas and sitting areas of the resort as a tourist.
Eat: You can satiate your hunger pangs with delicious dishes near the local taxi stand in Gulmarg.Also, most of the hotels have in-house restaurants which are your best bets.
Sightseeing: Try your hand at golfing at the Golf Course, which is said to be the highest of its kind in the world. You can have a game of golf at the golf club here, using hired clubs. Go for Gondola Cable Rides which makes Gulmarg the highest lift-accessible ski terrain in the world. I paid around INR 700 for Phase 1 ride and the cost for Phase 2 ride is around INR 1,200 and I must say that the cable ride will stay with me as one of my most memorable memories of Kashmir. The beautiful Children’s Park is the best place for some leisure time amidst natural beauty; don’t forget to take out your camera here!
You can also visit the Maharani Temple, St. Mary Church and Maharaja Hari Singh’s Palace which still stands tall with all its royal grandeur. It was under renovation when I visited the place in October 2015 and the authorities told me that it will be open for general public by early next year.
Taxi Fare: Srinagar to Gulmarg costs INR 1,800 (round trip). Once you enter Gulmarg, you have to leave your taxi at bus/taxi stand as there are local pony wallahs who will take you to the Inner Ring Road (7 km walk) covering some of the attractions including Gondola Cable Car, Children’s Park and Golf Course. You have to shell around INR 2,000 for a 2-hour pony ride.
Horse Ride: Around INR 2,000 for a 2-hour trip, you can opt for an hour’s ride for INR 900 to INR 1,000. There are loads of local vendors near the taxi stand which is the pick and drop point for pony rides.
3. Pahalgam- Last but definitely not the least!
Once a humble shepherd’s village, Pahalgam is now a bustling tourist spot that caters to thousands of visitors every year. A lovely 2.5 hour drive from Srinagar will take you to the Pahalgam Valley. You know that you are about to reach when you spot the gushing Lidder River which flows through the valley and rows of autumnal trees!
Where to Stay: Most hotels are located in Pahalgam’s only street, near the river. Some of the notable options are Hotel Woodstock, Hotel Mount View and Hotel Heevan. JKTDC’s Hotel Complex & Tourist Bungalow has fine cottages on the hillside just above the town. The complex is surrounded by tall pine trees.
Eat: There are loads of local restaurants in Pahalgam and most of them are situated in the main market area of the city. Don’t miss Volga Restaurant for authentic Kashmiri dishes and step in at Dana Paani for an all vegetarian fare.
Sightseeing: Two of the most famous sightseeing options are Aru and Betaab Valley, however, you have to take the local taxi to cover these points. Aru Valley is about an hour’s drive from Pahalgam and it takes almost 45 minutes from Aru to reach Betaab Valley, which is named after the famous bollywood blockbuster movie which was shot here in the early ‘80s. You have to shell around INR 1,300 for half-day sightseeing tour for these places.
Taxi Fare: Taxi fare from Srinagar to Pahalgam is somewhere between INR 1,800 to INR 2,000. However, I was surprised to hear that I can’t take the same cab for local sightseeing in Pahalgam. I had to take another cab for visiting Betaab Valley and Aru Valley and thus had to pay extra, around INR 1,300.
Horse Rides: Pony rides are the only option if you want to visit Chandanwari as cabs are not allowed beyond a certain point. Chandanwari is also the starting point for Amarnath Yatra Treks. You have to pay around INR 1,000 for almost a 2-hour pony ride from Betaab Valley to Chandanwari (round trip).
Finally it was the fourth and last day of my Kashmir trip and with a heavy heart I said goodbye with a promise that I will visit this place again and very soon……
About the author:
Jigyasha loves to read and travel!