Places and people are best known only after you visit or interact with them yourself.
After a tiresome road journey to Kashmir, you do not reach Kashmir. You straight land up in heaven, a place from your dreams, amongst people who will only know the language of love. You will know that too by the end of this blog post.
From Delhi, after an overnight journey in a sleeper bus, Jammu was our next stop. From here after bargain and discussions, we booked a shared cab which took us to Srinagar.
Life around Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
It was 9 pm in the night and we reached the Dal Lake. The water was shimmering with all the glittery lights from the houseboats scattered all over the surface of Dal and my itch to see its beauty in broad daylight was increasing with a drop in temperature in the season of late October.
Dal is a place of hope, of imbibing a spirit of an animal like a phoenix. A stream of unending songs, half-written poetry and incomplete verses, the life of a being, being constructed and manipulated every hour. Every morning it thrives and gets back to life as if nothing happened, as if it breathes and sustains every second. Each day I saw its beings and bazaars coming back to life like rising from the ashes, just like a phoenix. And I hope one day this phoenix grows up and takes care of what it needs to take care of.
The next morning, we took a Shikara ride with Gulzar uncle who was sweet enough to listen to our nonsense and also respond to our questions about Kashmir.
Our stay was so comfortable and lavish in the NEW MANORA HOUSEBOAT which is at Ghat no.7.
You can contact them here for direct bookings- Javed 09697904613
Life around Dal is never dull. Some or the other vendor either keeps visiting your houseboat to sell things like Pherans, Kesar etc or he would just keep chatting with you from his Shikara.
Our mornings usually composed of hot Kehwa and delicious girda (Kashmiri bread).
It feels like a beautiful floating reality, something which you might sense as a dream sometimes because Dal is a different city in itself. It is away from reality but still close to being true and alive.
Early Morning Vegetable Market at Dal Lake
I was in a Shikara at around 4:30 am, in pitch darkness. The only guiding factor was the little lights from the houseboats that were encountered occasionally. After sometime, with the rising sun and the sound of the Oar beating against the Shikara, Azaan brought me to my senses.
This is a very old market where the vegetables which are grown on the lakeside are retrieved to be sold every day between 5 am to 7 am. This is how the people living on Dal buy their fruits and vegetable supplies.
It took me 800 INR for both ways, to visit the market and the Nigeen Lake that morning.
Kashmiri people lend a healing hand to your soul no matter how broken or fractured their own limbs are. What’s happening with the state is barely reflected upon their own faces. Brighter than the surface of shining Dal while the sun bestows its force upon it, the smiles of these people that are, lights up your day even better than those rays.
This answered my first question about Kashmir, “ARE KASHMIRI PEOPLE HOSTILE TOWARDS TOURISTS GIVEN ITS RECENT CONDITION?’
The answer, “They are still as sweet to everyone visiting their land as they were a few years ago when the tourism of Kashmir was booming. They will respect and love you with open arms and also a cup of Kehwa.”
I think while riding on a shikara during early morning, seeing the sun rise while moving in sync with the melody of nature and having a good 1-hour sleep to the lullaby of the water; was the first time I fell in love with Dal.
Nigeen Lake, ‘The Jewel in the Ring’
We slipped almost effortlessly into Nigeen lake as I was drifting away in a Shikara while coming from the Dal vegetable market. This lake is connected to Dal lake via a narrow passage.
On the contrary to Dal, it looks like a wide expanse of water with houseboats placed only in the corners. In the west, you see Hari Parbat hills in a panoramic line of sight and Shankaracharya hill towards the south.
Discover Srinagar in its Past and Present
To learn astrology and astronomy during the Mughal reign, Darah Sikoh got this structure built. It beautifully sits on Zabarwan mountain and offers some of the finest panoramic views of Srinagar.
Architecturally, it is a six terraced garden, made up of large stones with high and low arches set in the retaining walls.
Visiting time: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (closed on Fridays)
Chashme Shahi Bagh
It is another Mughal garden set overlooking the Dal Lake. It was built around a spring source in the 17th century by Ali Mardan. It is the smallest amongst the 3 Mughal gardens of Srinagar.
The garden has been designed principally keeping the use of spring water and topography of the hill which the garden is built on. An aqueduct, waterfall, and fountains, these are the three main components architecturally.
Timings: 10 am – 6 pm
It is the second largest Mughal garden in Srinagar, Shalimar Bagh being the largest one.
Nishat Bagh is a 12 terraced garden where 12 terraces represent the 12 zodiac signs. It literally translates to Garden of Joy, and in autumn, trust me it literally gives you joy when surrounded by chinar trees all around.
It is a great example of how the Persian garden inspired design was modified as per the topographical site conditions. Here the main source of water originates from the top and flows down as per the terraces. A rectangular layout instead of a square one was the final result.
Pro Tip: Visit these places during early morning to be less disappointed by touristic crowds
Find Peace at the Darghas and the Temples
Hazratbal Dargah is considered as the holiest shrine in Kashmir since the single hair of the Prophet Mohammed is preserved here.
It is a glorious white structure followed by layers of Pir Panjal mountains in the background and the presence of Mughal fort Hari Parbat in between.
I sat here for like an hour soaking in the goodness and the blessings during the Azaan time.
One should also visit these magically beautiful mosques too- Ziyarat Naqshband Sahab, Hamza Makhdoom shrine, Khanqah-e-Moula and Dastgeer Sahib.
Jama Masjid is also a must visit while in Srinagar.
Likewise, the Hindu temples of Srinagar are stunning as well. Shankaracharya Temple is the oldest one in Srinagar
Zero Bridge, Srinagar
See this old wooden glory standing strong over the Jhelum and dive into the historical facts of the city. It was named as Zero bridge once it was constructed in 1950 because it was the first bridge to be built over Jhelum. This bridge connects Rajbagh to Sonwar and has gotten a complete makeover with food courts, kiosks and seating. It is a perfect place to spend your evenings.
On my trip to Ladakh, I took a scenic route from Kashmir till Kargil via Zojila Pass. Read about it here.
The Magic of Kashmiri Autumn
The picture is taken in the backyard of the Pahalgam Club while on an Autumn Fam Tour with Kashmir Tourism. My crazy blogger friends went total nuts in a pile of fallen Chinar leaves.This answered my second question regarding Kashmir,” WHICH IS THE BEST SEASON TO VISIT KASHMIR?”
The answer came falling down with the Chinar leaves. Autumn it was for me. It is the magic of all the possible shades of red, orange and yellow in the month of October. The beauty of life was in the autumn. Spring came easy, autumn came with difficulties but with also new promises, hopes and colours of happiness.
The roads became magically lit with bright colours during the day.
Autumn in Srinagar
On my last day, in Srinagar, I took an auto for 200 INR from Raj Bagh till Kashmiri University where then the last bit of the autumn had to be documented. I was dropped near a bus stop and from there I conveniently hitch-hiked till the University gate. My destination was the majestic NASEEM BAGH.
This answered my third question,” IS IT SAFE TO HITCH HIKE IN KASHMIR?”
The answer was an affirmative yes from my personal experiences. Another example is when I was standing near a highway but couldn’t fund an auto at 9 pm in the night. I reached out for a lift where a Kashmiri family stopped their car for me and dropped me closest to my destination. I had a good interaction with their little boy who suffered from down syndrome. He kept making me smile with his innocent questions and the family with their constant blessings.
Char Chinar in Dal Lake is another beautiful location to witness Autumn magic. It is an island on Dal lake which is cornered with four Chinar trees.
I experienced ATV ride for the first time with Gulmarg Riders, a prime adventure company from Gulmarg. (Contact: +919596296714)
Our journey in Gulmarg was all about little adventures, memorable nights and the panoramic snow-capped mountain views.
This little mud house was our abode for 2 days while on a backpacking tour to Kashmir with Go4explore. This actually is used during summers as a nomadic home. In winters this area completely submerges under the snow.
I was unaware of the fact that I will be having an opulent dinner in The Khyber Himalayan Resort which is just in front of this mud house, that too only after a gap of 56 hours. Thanks to the Autumn Fam Tour (#kashmirautumnfest) organised by Kashmir Tourism.
Horse Ride till Khilanmarg
This beautiful valley is located at an altitide of 10,000 ft and is accessible either by Gondola or ponies. It is a 600m accent from Gulmarg.
Khilanmarg is named so due to the feasibility of adventure activities like skiing, snowboarding etc, which can happen here. Basically, a place to play. An Avalanche in 2010 killed a few army soldiers here so the government made avalanche breakers to stop heavy avalanches.
These Ponies will cost you 400-500 INR for a day trip to Khilnamarg. Gondola ride costs almost the same. Alternatively is it a 15 hr hike from Kangodori (first station of Gondola). Ponies are available from here also. Kongdoori to Apharwat takes about 12 min ride of Gondola.
I sat here for long, quite long. The close up of such mountain views was something new to me.
Some shenanigans with man-made snowfall
Our trip with go4explore was absolutely amazing with some amazing company. Mir and Tanveer paji from Gulmarg Riders are like a family now.
Gondola Ride till PhaseII
Gondola ride till Phase II was completely worth the cost and time. We were gradually gaining altitude while sitting and enjoying the views as seen from the cable car. The views at the end were breathtaking. We chose our own boulders and sat there contemplating our time in Kashmir.
Phase I: Gulmarg resort-Kangodori station = 750 INR
Phase II: Kangodori station-Kongdoori Mountain = 950 INR (altitude: 3,747 m)
It is advised to go up to phase II because the real views are there to be spotted.
Timings: 10 am – 5 pm
Hike to Drung-Tungmarg
We did a 3 km downhill hike from Gulmarg to Tungmarg where our friend Mir had his parental home.
What surprises me about Kashmir is the presence of endless lush-green meadows. ABSOLUTELY ENCHANTING, like a treat for eyes wherever you go.
This Ferozpura Nalah, that we encountered in the middle somewhere, goes towards Sunshine peak. This way is for trekkers going towards the peak.
Drung Waterfall which is 3 km away from Tangmarg looked abslutely mesmerising. It freezes during winters and looks even more enchanting.
We also had tea and snacks with unknown faces from the valley who didn’t take a step backwards in inviting us. I was more than happy to answer their questions about a girl travelling in their valley and loving it.
A Few Hours in a Village of Tangmarg, Baramulla
The hike down from Gulmarg was beautiful and memorable.
We finally went to Kazipura village where Mir Fayaz made us meet his family. Time slipped by in running around this small village and playing with little kids. We tried pherans and of course the snacks presented to us.
We also visited IIIM where we saw a giant Sequoia tree, the only Sequoia tree of Asia and that too in Kashmir.
Bota Pathri, Gulmarg
Also known as Nagin valley, this placed got opened for tourists after a period of 22 years. It is located 9 km from Gulmarg. The valley is beyond beautiful and immediately set my heart pounding with its stillness. It is set between Ferozpora and Nighli Nallahs.
Bilala bones lake was a sight to see. I was stunned to see a crystal-clear water body. It is an ecologically fragile area which was quite evident from its virgin state.
Strawberry Valley, Gulmarg
It is one of the best places to see the emerald meadows with the views of Mt. Apharwat, Khilanmarg and Kangodori in the backdrop. Summer season (May) is the best time to spot and pick ripe strawberries.
Note: camping isn’t permitted in both areas.
A visit to Cricket Bat factory, Anantnag
Halmullah village of Anantnag district is famous for manufacturing high-quality willow cricket bats. In fact, a few villages from South Kashmir produce some of the finest quality of cricket bats in India.
We also bought some genuine, as per, locals, Kesar from Zamindar Kesar Shop which had all sorts of Kashmiri specialities from kehwa powder to dried apricots to Kesar.
Apparently, when you soak a saffron strand in a little water, if the taste of the saffron afterwards comes sweet instead of bitter, then probably you are buying fake saffron.
On the way to Gulmarg from Pahalgam, we spotted some purple from afar. Got to know about these pretty Saffron fields then.
Pahalgam, Anantnag District
The beautiful valley is blessed with the best of green meadows and a gushing Lidder river. This small town takes you years back where all you see is rivers, meadows, horses, sheep and pheran clad Kashmiris.
Imagine playing golf in such a stunning setting of the Pahalgam Golf Course. You will be playing at an altitude of 2400 m above sea level.
Entrance fee: 1200 INR for Walk-In Guests
The drive to Aru valley was amongst the best parts of this trip. Apart from spending an hour in the valley, which is just enough, spend more time on the roads interacting with the locals.
You can also explore Betaab Valley, Baisaran, Sheshnag Lake and Mamleshwar Temple from here.
These Kashmir valleys answered another question of mine, “HOW HOSPITABLE AND WELCOMING ARE THE PEOPLE OF KASHMIR?”
I can answer this for you but this needs to be personally experienced by anyone looking for answers on Kashmir. Kashmiriyat felt like the most honest and warm person to me. A person full of feelings, a feeling within every Kashmiri, to serve their guest in the best possible way and to help any outsider with an open heart, this was Kashmiriyat.
Cafes and Bakery’s That You Must Try While in Kashmir
Chai Jaai in Srinagar has to be the most Pinteresty café of the state. No corner goes unnoticed. The food though a little pricy for its taste, seems worth for all the décor.
Gulshan Coffee Shop on Dal Lake in Srinagar is arguably the best place to have coffee while getting immersed in a world of books. Visit this one for the nerd in you.
Games of Thrones fans, brace yourselves for the dream that is now a reality. Winterfell Café in Srinagar literally takes you to a GOT set. One can’t stop wondering and getting clicked on the throne which definitively is the centre of attraction. Visit this one for all the right vibes and amazing events that keep happening here.
Jee Enn Sons Bakery, Crème Bakery Café, Ground Zero Café, Le Delice The French Bakery, Sultan Bakers; are some of the bakery recommendations from Srinagar.
Ahdoos Restaurant for Kashmiri Wazwaan, Lhasa Restaurant, Imran`s Dine Inn and Take Away; are some other restaurant suggestions from the city.
Black Bear Brew in Gulmarg is a must try coffee place.
List of Stay Options
· New Manora Houseboat, Dal Lake, Srinagar, Ghat no.7
· Fortune Hotels, Srinagar
· Four points, Srinagar
· Zostel, Srinagar
· Hotel Royal Hilton, Pahalgam
· PinenPeak by Welcome Group, Pahalgam
· Hill Top, Gulmarg
· Yemberzal Hotel, Gulmarg
Now did you get the answer to your question,” Why You Should Visit Kashmir Once in Your Life?” I HOPE, YES!
How to Reach Srinagar?
Delhi to Srinagar
This special bus can be booked on redbus.com. It runs between Delhi`s Sarai Kale Khan to Srinagar`s TRC bus stand. A non-AC bus costs around 1500 INR and the Volvo is around 2000 INR.
Delhi to Srinagar via Jammu
You can also book a sleeper Volvo for 750 INR to 1000 INR till Jammu bus stand. From there shared taxis and JKSRTC buses ply regularly to drop you in Srinagar.
Shared taxi charges from Jammu – Srinagar = 300 INR to 1000 INR
Time = 10 – 12 hours
The train takes about 12 to 13 hours from Delhi to reach Jammu. Further, from here, take shared taxis or buses.
Srinagar is well connected to all the Indian cities via flights as well.
Shuttle service from TRC bus stand plies till airport at these timings- 9 am, 10 am and 11 am (charges= 90 INR)
Things to remember
· In Kashmir, only post-paid sim or Kashmiri prepaid sims are operational
· Do carry your ID card with you all the time. Checking can be initiated at any time.
· Don’t get into a debate with people on the topic of freedom and the Indian army. Respect their value and space.
Emergency Contact Numbers-
- Police Station- 0194 250 6504, 0194-2453897, 100
- Police Women Cell- 0194-2466971
- Ambulance- 092059 09876, 102
- Fire Station- 101
- Tourist Police Railway station Jammu +91-9596751241
- SMHS Hospital Srinagar- 0194-2504801/802
Please Note: I visited Kashmir before the abolition of Article 370, which happened on 5 august 2019. I wish to visit this heaven soon and feel the Kashmiriyat yet again.