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Old 30th April 2016, 15:07   #1
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Default A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir

A land of Shikaras and Chinar, of pristine beautiful lakes and heavenly colored flower adorned valleys, of snow clad peaks amidst lush green mountains, of flowing rivers that hold our hands while leading us to amazing landscapes and of lip smacking Mughal delicacies like Wazwan and Kababs, the taste of which still lingers.
That's what Kashmir was, is and would be for travelers like us - "Jannat-E-Jahan".

A childhood dream for both of us, a place whose beauty was sketched in our mind in our own way, a place which brought a smile to our face whenever we talked about it. But whenever we planned to visit Kashmir, somehow, the plan had to be dropped. Sometimes the reason was insufficient leave and sometimes financial factor made it impossible. In October 2014, we were all set to visit Kashmir with all members of our extended family (via flight, train and local transport), only to be blocked by flash floods in Kashmir region (Link)

After this, we were very disappointed and thought that we lacked the 'luck' factor required to visit the "Paradise". But seldom we thought that 'luck' factor to be our "Hyundai EON"!

Yes! Our EON took us to the Paradise on Earth and how beautifully it performed. No breakdowns, no hiccups, long (distance and duration) travels made every single day and still it performed like a champion every time. Such was the emotion after the trip, that my wife gave the nickname of "Sher-Dil" (heart of a lion) to our EON.

In the end, we could actually see what, till now, was a beautiful sketch in our heart.

Some excellent roads leading to our favorite Himalayas
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6222.jpg

An amazing stay amidst the silence of Pine forests
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6254.jpg

Beauty of Nature brushed with fresh colors
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The trademark beauty of Dal lake
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An amazing sunset over Dal lake
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Unbelievable festival of colors in the Mughal gardens
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And the supreme of them all - The Tulip Garden
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Awesome colors of Nature
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And the vastness of it
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An off-beat 'chai' break that simply felt out of this world
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And some reflections of a dream of childhood
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Stepping on the world's highest gondola
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And an All-Snowy vista on the other side of it
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A place that has all the beauty
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An alpine valley? No, the Swiss copied it
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6763.jpg

Last edited by gearhead_mait : 30th April 2016 at 18:41.
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Old 30th April 2016, 18:58   #2
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Default The prologue

It was sometime in the first week of February, 2016 that I came across an advertisement of J&K Tourism in the daily newspaper and suddenly the urge rekindled. I discussed with my wife about a road trip from Kolkata to Kashmir. Although she was interested, she was a bit apprehensive of the road trip from Kolkata. First, the traveling distance is huge and secondly, the number of leaves we can manage from office. We finally decided to go ahead with the preparation(for us as well as for our EON) and see how things shape up.

Preparation of the car

I gave my car to the service center in the second week of Feb 2016 (Odometer at 40k kms) for regular service and made the service adviser aware of my plan. I usually mention this before every long trip. He assured me to check each and every part of the car and service it fully. Later, he assured me that my car is now ready for 10K kms.

Then I took my car to Indo Radial Club and replaced the 4 Apollo Acelere stock tires with Apollo Amazer 4G tires of factory specification. Detailed Report here.

I also replaced the 4 year old Stock Amaron Battery with the new one.

Preparation for us

At first, we decided to take 9 working days off. With one Holiday on 14th April on the occasion of Bengali New Years day, we would get 15 days for our travel. I called travel guru and DBHPian H V Kumar Sir to discuss my plan and he promptly answered all my queries. Many thanks to him! He also assured me that 15 days is enough for my plan. With subsequent exchange of emails, the itinerary was finalized and it included Patnitop, Srinagar, Sonamarg, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Yousmarg/Doodhpathri as well as visit to Golden Temple. Amritsar. We were indeed happy.

Surprise #1

Just three weeks before the trip, my wife's manager rejected her 9 working days leave and told her that due to project pressure she can have only four days leave. At that moment, we thought that again our plan for Kashmir is going haywire. I quickly revisited the itinerary and took off Doodhpathri, Yousmarg, Golden Temple-Amritsar and one day from the return trip. But still, atleast 11 days was required for the travel. Even then, that would be aggressive. My wife convinced her manager of 2 extra days leave and now we have 11 days in our hand, with no buffer day.

I called up HV Kumar Sir again. He finalized the itinerary but he mentioned that the return leg was very aggressive.

Surprise #2

Three weeks before our journey, my elder brother went on a road trip to Rambha (Odisha) along with my nephew, sister-in-law and parents in his i20. Disaster struck around 70 kms from Bhubaneshwar when an accident occurred. By God's grace, everyone was safe. On return, the trauma of the accident was visible in their faces. And to add to this, I earlier planned to surprise my family members of my road trip to Kashmir after they return from Odisha.
I was now clueless as how to present my case. At the same time, my wife's parents also heard of this accident. I also overheard my mother speaking to someone saying "I will not allow anyone to do road trips anymore". I was sure that the case was dead.

I first had a discussion with my wife. She was okay and had the confidence that we could do this. Then, together we presented our case in front of my Parents-in-law. They were okay but told us not to take unwanted risks.
Then, I took the courage to talk to my Parents. Surprisingly, they were convinced without much effort. But I knew that my parents and in-laws would be very tensed in our travel period. I told them that we would always stay in touch over the phone.

So, finally, after many incidents even prior to the trip, we are on our way to Kashmir.

Itinerary

Last edited by gearhead_mait : 8th May 2016 at 23:54.
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Old 3rd May 2016, 01:08   #3
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Default Day1(9th April, 2016) : Kolkata(WB)-Allahabad(UP)

Earlier we planned to start at 4 am, but my wife was down with a bit of fever and cold last night. Ultimately we made a 5 am start. We made steady progress through the known stretches of Durgapur Expressway. Soon enough we crossed Shaktigarh, the famous "lyangcha" destination, but this was the sole journey where we didn't stopped for a break there. We had our breakfast on the move.

Soon, we arrived at Panagarh. Just before the bridge, we saw a bypass for Panagarh on the right hand side. Although it was still under construction, the road is already opened for light motor vehicles. We took the bypass and it was a wise decision. The bypass had four lane road and had almost nil traffic. Soon we landed on the other side of the dreaded Panagarh. Only problem is the lack of proper signage for the bypass when coming from westward side.

Just after crossing Panagarh, the road had endless diversions some even within 500 meters. The diversions continued till little after Asansol and this took us a lot of time.

A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160409_100318377.jpg

A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160409_093434309.jpg

We also lost a bit of time by taking the correct flank of Barakar bridge (border between WB and JH) and got stuck between trucks, while the local drivers took the opposite flank. Nevertheless, situation improved after we entered Jharkhand and we made steady progress.

At Topchanchi - hard to miss these shops there
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My wife wanted to click a picture of these shops and so we slowed down a bit. In no time, we were flagged down by the sellers there. But as soon as the photograph was taken, we zoomed off with a loud yell from the sellers.

As we entered Jharkhand, the landscape had changed. Now we could see small hills and some ghat roads. Road condition was good as well.

The roads in Jharkhand
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We had our lunch at a road side dhaba in Jharkhand and filled up at an IOC petrol pump. We made good progress and entered Bihar. The roads in Bihar was even better than Jharkhand. We were enjoying every moment discussing about the places we crossed and the changing landscapes.

Dehri-On-Sone river bridge
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Things went well till we were at the UP-Bihar border. At the border, there was huge truck traffic. The movement was slow with extensive periods of remaining stagnant at one place. Then I followed a local Bolero who took the opposite flank. At first it looked like a good ploy, but later turned out to be a nightmare. As we were on the service road on the opposite flank, we could see the traffic on the side started moving swiftly. But now, we couldn't get to the other side as the truck traffic on this side is now an unending queue.
At last, I got down and asked a truck driver to stop for myself to take an exit via a cut section in the divider, after losing about 1.5 hours in the whole process.

After this, there wasn't more drama. We took the services of Central Hotel Desk of HivayKing for hotel booking on the move. They booked our stay at Hotel Polo Max in Allahabad. We checked in around 9:30 pm.
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Old 3rd May 2016, 01:27   #4
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Default Day2(10th April, 2016) : Allahabad(UP)-Karnal(HR)

We knew that the worse section of NH2 was behind us. Now onward, we would find good to excellent roads as per the various trip reports including that of PapaBravo. So, we were taking things a bit lazily. We woke up a bit late, had our breakfast and started around 8 am. Our destination for the day was Karnal. In no time we crossed Allahabad city and within ~3 hours we had Kanpur in sight.

Allahabad outskirts
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A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160410_082307353.jpg

We
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Between Allahabad and Kanpur
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Kanpur Flyover
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Just before the Kanpur flyover, we were stopped by UP police for regular checking. The police verified each and every document and when they found nothing, they said that we had to pay a fine of INR 3600 as windows of our car had sun film installed. I knew about the rule so there wasn't much to protest and being an out of state vehicle, there was no quick getaway. After 20 minutes of negotiation, case was settled for INR 500 and we were let go.

After crossing the 20 odd km flyover that runs over Kanpur, we stopped at a road side tea stall and inquired about the sun film issue in the subsequent states we were going to enter. All of our TBHP Kolkata Chapter members as well as HV Kumar suggested to remove all sun films immediately. We removed the sun film from each window, but the left over glue made sure that the windows wouldn't open completely.
The tea vendor provided us with some Kerosene and at least we were able to remove the glue stains from the front windows. Many thanks to him!

Already lost a lot of time, we decided to move on. We only stopped for lunch break at Etawah.

Between Etawah and Agra
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As we came near Agra, the urge to see the outstanding Yamuna Expressway and Taj Mahal kept on increasing. Though Taj Mahal had to be skipped this time, but definitely the charm to drive over Yamuna Expressway is unmatched. 6 lane expressway, proper lane markings and outstanding quality of the road definitely makes it one of the top roads in India, if not the best. The toll here, though on the higher side at INR 360, is worth every penny.

The entry to the Expressway
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Photo shoot location
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The "runway"
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Sunset
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The Buddh International Circuit
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We entered Delhi around 6:30 pm. It was a Sunday and Delhi was relatively free of traffic. We recapitulated the beautiful moments in Delhi when we visited Kumaon with all members of our families in 2014. We took the exit to Karnal via the Mukarba Chowk flyover and stopped for dinner at Murthal for the lip smacking "Aloo-ke-parathe" and curd.
In the meantime Central Hotel Desk booked our stay at Hotel Gopinath The Grand, Karnal. We checked in around 10:30 pm.

Last edited by gearhead_mait : 3rd May 2016 at 23:57.
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Old 4th May 2016, 01:18   #5
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Default Day3(11th April, 2016) : Karnal(HR)-Patnitop(JK)

Last day's drive, though similar in distance traveled, was far less stressful than the one till Allahabad. So, we were relatively fresh and started early from Karnal around 7 am. We were looking forward to this day the most as we would in the Himalayas by end of day today. Also, the long wish to see the state of Punjab, the famous wheat fields and famous five rivers added to the excitement.

The roads in Haryana and Punjab are the best we have seen in any State till date. The highways have proper exit for food and fuel joints. Most times, the fuel pumps are located just beside the food courts or malls with proper exit and entry to the main trunk of the Highway. We had our breakfast at one of the McDonalds "Drive Through" outlet.

On the way to Ambala
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We read somewhere that this year there is competition between Haryana and Punjab regarding the majority production of wheat. We found huge wheat harvester trucks all across Haryana and Punjab, and not to mention the huge wheat fields. Being based in the Eastern part of India, we usually get to see paddy fields. So this was a new experience for us as well. The feeling of driving all the way from Kolkata and being able to go through such varied beauty of our Country was just awesome.

Wheat fields on both sides of the Highway
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The road quality made sure that there wasn't any delay. We crossed Ambala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar smoothly. Apart from a few diversion in Ludhiana bypass along with some local traffic, there wasn't anything to write about-just smooth driving.

Pathankot - here we come!
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After Pathankot, we entered into the the state of Jammu and Kashmir. On seeing the Lakhanpur Toll Plaza and the "Welcome to Jammu and Kashmir" we were very excited.

Himalayas calling!
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The road from Lakhanpur to Jammu is a four lane highway. As a result, the progress was smooth as well. We took the Jammu bypass via the Jammu Cantt. and connected to Jammu-Udhampur four lane road.

On the Jammu bypass
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Arrow straight roads

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The Jammu-Udhampur stretch is the best mountain road I have driven on till now. In fact, its the only four lane mountain road I have seen. The road quality was very good but the vistas accompanying it was breathtaking. Many thanks to HV Kumar again for his guidance, otherwise google and MMI was pointing us to take the route via Samba-Mansar-Udhampur.

Few snaps on the Jammu-Udhampur stretch
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A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6225.jpg

After Udhampur as we drove towards Patnitop, not only the four lane road disappeared, but the road condition became torturous with potholes, measuring 1-2 feet deep, scattered all across the road. On top of that, some road work was in progress and hence the air was full of dust. I have never seen cars and trucks being driven at such speeds in mountain roads like this. The drivers of Taveras didn't care about the condition of the road and were constantly honking behind me.

At present, the rule of allowing trucks on alternate days between Jammu and Srinagar is ON. On that day, downhill heavy traffic from Srinagar towards Jammu were being allowed and trucks hurled down in queue at pace.

Nevertheless, at around 7 pm we were at our place of stay amidst the Pine Forest "JKTDC Hotel Alpine, Patnitop". A narrow hill road leads to the JKTDC property from the NH1A. I stopped for barely a minute to confirm the location from a local tea shop, and there was a Force Traveler repeatedly honking from behind. It was so annoying, that we couldn't resist comparing the attitude of driver's here with the one in Sikkim. In Sikkim, the driver would have got down to help any tourists.
As it was a reserved forest, we had to buy passes from the Forest Department @INR 25 per head before entering the hotel premises. As soon as we got down from the car, we could feel the bitter cold. We rushed inside the hotel and ordered Veg Pakoras and hot cup of Tea. The room was cozy and location was just amazing. The room had a heater (not such effective in warming the room) and two heating pads below our mattress. At 7 pm, there was still some daylight left and we could see the pine forest and some snow clad peaks from the window of our room. We enjoyed the ambience very much.

When I went down to park the car properly and get the SJ1000 memory card, I could see a few tourists taking much interest in my car. On inquiring, they told that they are from West Bengal and their driver (a local) told them that car belong to West Bengal. So they came to check for themselves. They were amazed that we drove all the way from Kolkata and that too in 3 days.
I went back inside as the cold was becoming unbearable. We had our dinner around 10pm and retired for the day.

View from our room at Patnitop
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6234.jpg

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Old 4th May 2016, 02:09   #6
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Default Day4(12th April, 2016) : Patnitop(JK)-Srinagar(JK)

We had traveled about 2200 km in the last 3 days. From this day onward, it would be at a relaxed pace for the coming 5 days, exploring the beauty of Kashmir valley that we have been dreaming of. Although we were not in a hurry, as Srinagar(our stay for the next 4 days) is only 190 kms from Patnitop, but we woke up early to enjoy the beauty of Patnitop.

Located amidst pine forest, Patnitop is a gem of a place to relax and unwind. Sitting at an altitude of 2024m (~6641 feet) the view of snow clad peaks all around adds to the visual magic of this hill station. We sat in front of the windows and saw the golden rays of sun first touching the snow clad peaks and then the pine trees. This special moment washed away all the tiredness of traveling long distance from our soul. We felt rejuvenated!

First ray of light on the snow clad peaks
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The pine forest washed in the morning sunlight

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View from our room
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We went for a stroll together around Patnitop, relaxed and slow, enjoying the fresh and cold air. It was windy outside and very cold as well.

A few pictures outside the JKTDC property at Patnitop
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After some photography session, we went inside, packed our bags, had our breakfast and off we went towards Srinagar. After some conversation with a local driver last evening, I came to know that about 140 kms from Patnitop has bad roads. With this mindset, we started around 8:30 am from our hotel.

The roads were bad, full of slush at places and dusty and crater filled at the other. But the vistas were such that it would wash away all the agony.

Driving through the pine forest - A game of shadow and sunshine
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A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6263.jpg

We were spellbound by the beauty around. The vistas getting more beautiful with each passing minute now.

Scenic drive
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Some slushy roads
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R. Chenab in full glory
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At Ramban
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We crossed the Jawahar tunnel around 12 pm and entered into the heaven called "Kashmir". The landscape on this side of the tunnel is quite a contrast to what we have seen till now. The view of the valley is more prominent now surrounded by breathtaking beauty of high mountains.

View just after Jawahar Tunnel on the Kashmir side
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Beautiful valleys start
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In no time we reached the Titanic View Point. From here the first view of Kashmir Valley could be seen. We stopped here for some Maggi and tea break. There were some vendors from local village selling Shawls, Sweaters and Fur hats. They were very cheap and I bought a fur hat for my wife.

We, at Titanic View Point
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EON basking in the Sun
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The Kashmir Valley as seen from Titanic View Point
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After spending about an hour here moved on. The road from here till Srinagar was like plains as it passes through the valley. The beauty of the surroundings reminded us now and then that we are on the "Heaven on Earth".

Colors of Spring
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Suurounded by Mountains
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Surreal beauty
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Even the crop fields had such amazing strokes of color
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Between Bijbehera and Pampore, one could see many shops selling the costliest spice of India - The Saffron. Also, there were many Cricket Bat factories and shops-Pure Kashmir Willow stuff. This reminded me of the writings on the cricket bats we used in the childhood - "Kashmir Willow" and "English Willow". I stopped at a Cricket Bat shop and bought a medium sized cricket bat for my nephew (6 years old). He has joined a cricket academy in Kolkata recently and we thought it would be the best gift for him. The vendor was also selling walnut-price being INR 300/kg (with shell) and INR 500 (without shell). We decided not to buy in a hurry now.

We started again for Srinagar and reached our pre booked Hotel Malik Palace (thanks to CHD again!) at around 3:45pm. After checking in, we got a call from Tanveer. Tanveer, a local in Srinagar, has been our Kashmiri Shawl and Sweater vendor in Kolkata for about 16 years now. We informed him about our journey and he was excited as well.
Tanveer came to our hotel and we had a cup of tea together. He told us that he was afraid when we were crossing Ramban, as a lot of accidents had happened in that area due to landslide. He also told that last week two TATA Sumos were dragged down into Chenab in a landslide. (an image of the place that Tanveer was referring to - link)
He told us that he would guide us to every sightseeing spot in his city, Srinagar.

Our hotel was just opposite the Dal Lake Shikara point 1 on the Boulevard Road. The location of the hotel was excellent and had ample parking space for cars. the hotel also had an in-campus Cafe Coffee Day outlet.

We went for an afternoon walk in the Boulevard road beside the Dal lake and we could see the famous "Shikaras" and Houseboats on a very beautiful lake surrounded by Mountain ranges. Tanveer told us that it has been overcast weather in Srinagar with spells of rain in the last 3 weeks, sun was out that day only after 3 weeks!

The beautiful Dal lake with Houseboats
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Then we took the much awaited "Shikara" ride. For INR 300, it was a good deal.

We, on the Shikara
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Fresh fruits being sold. We found Kashmiri Shawls, Flowers and even BBQ items being sold in Shikaras
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Some shots of Dal lake from the Shikara
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The floating market in the Dal Lake
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Before leaving for his home, Tanveer informed us that there was an ongoing unrest in different parts of Kashmir and curfew was declared at Lal Chowk area. Reason being some problem between local people, CRPF and J&K Police.
But there was no hint of unrest in the Dal gate area. We strolled along the Boulevard road exploring the various shops and food outlets. Majority of food joints here had strictly vegetarian platters and Lal Chowk being out of scope, we had to limit ourselves to vegetarian diet for that day.

We returned to our hotel and called it a day.

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Default Day5(13th April, 2016) : Srinagar(JK) - Local Sight Seeing

This day we had planned to explore the local sightseeing places around Srinagar including the Botanical Garden, Tulip Garden, Mughal Gardens (Chasm-e-shahi, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh), Hazratbal mosque and Shankaracharya temple. Tanveer told us that he would arrive around 9:30 am and he would be our official guide for the day.

We woke up early as usual and went outside for breakfast and tea. Our hotel Malik palace has provision for tea and coffee only.But who wants to have tea inside a room when a perfect weather with clear skies and cool breeze invites one outside! To our surprise, at 7:30 am, there wasn't a single shop open and there was only a handful people on the road. We were unsure whether it is the usual routine or an effect of the curfew. We then went towards the Dal gate bazaar and found only 2 or 3 shops to be open. They were selling Milk Products. On inquiring, we found that 2 people were shot dead at Baramulla district the day before and that's why the curfew has bigger impact now. This made us a bit worried. Nevertheless, we found a Kashmiri Bakery shop open and bought a few bakery products like Kashmiri Kulcha (a sweet biscuit with poppy seeds on top), biscuits, sweet bun bread etc. The taste was just awesome. After this we desperately wanted a hot cup of tea. In the cold morning, there is nothing like it. But we couldn't find a single tea shop. When we were returning back to our hotel, one person whom we inquired earlier told us that there is a tea shop just on the first narrow lane on the right hand side on entering the Dal gate taxi stand and the owner has taken milk supply from him about 15 minutes back. So, he would have tea ready by now. We thanked him, went to the shop and voila! Hot cup of tea was served and it tasted superb.

We came back to our hotel and were ready for our day tour by 9:30 am. Tanveer came around 10 am citing the delay due to the unrest and "Pattharbaazi" for which he had to take a detour to reach our hotel. The situation outside the tourist region in Srinagar and adjoining areas were not good. We didn't let that thought spoil our mood and we were off in our EON.

The Boulevard road just after the Shikara points
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An beautiful lane surrounded by "Fras" trees (as they say in Kashmiri)

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First, we went to the the Botanical Garden. It is the largest of the gardens (in terms of area).
N.B. : Entry fee for all the Mughal Gardens was INR 20 per head, except for Tulip Garden where the entry ticket costs INR 50 per head.

The moment we stepped inside the Botanical garden, we felt excited to see the festival of colors everywhere. Starting from the garden to the amazing backdrop of mountains, beauty was everywhere.

Few pictures inside the Botanical Garden
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Then, we went to Tulip Garden. Tulip Garden is just beside the Botanical Garden, but the entry gates were different. It was our long wish to see the Tulip Garden in full bloom. Although, the garden was thrown open to tourists a week earlier than normal, we could see fair amount of bloom. On top of that, the weather remaining crystal clear added to the visual beauty of the place. I have been to Keukenhof,Amsterdam but the beauty here along with the mountains at the backdrop is unmatched.

Magic of Colors
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A visual treat
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Lines of Color
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Wallpaper quality
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After that, Chasm-e-Shahi was our destination. Its a Mughal garden famous for the sacred fountain of water.

Inside Chasm-e-Shahi
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The sacred fountain

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Then we went to Nishat garden.

Nishat garden
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Then we went to Shalimar Bagh. Shalimar Bagh was full of Chinar trees. We took some rest beneath one such tree.

Below a Chinar tree at Shalimar Bagh
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Next came Hazratbal. Hazratbal is located on the opposite side of the Dal lake. We had to park our car about 300 meters away from the shrine and walk our way towards it. When we reached Hazratbal, we could see the line of hotels on the other side of Dal lake and all the shikaras and houseboats far away on the other side. We could also see the Shankaracharya Hill. This reminded us of the movie "Mission Kashmir".

We visited the interior of Hazratbal and we could feel the silence. Tanveer told us that Chinar trees in front of the shrine was cut to size. Otherwise, the beauty of the place would have been far better.

A picture in front of Hazratbal
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Then we rounded off the tour with a visit to Shankaracharya temple. Cars are allowed up to a certain distance through a hill road. Then one has to climb about 400 stairs to reach the temple. Cameras and mobiles were not allowed, so we don't have any picture inside the temple. On top of the temple one could get a 360 degree panoramic view of Srinagar city.

One photo of Dal lake taken on the way to Shankaracharya
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We thanked Tanveer a lot for all his help. Tanveer had to leave for his home and we went to Kareem's restaurant on Boulevard road for some Kashmiri non veg delicacies. We ordered Tandoori Roti, Mutton Rogan Josh and some kababs. The taste was awesome. We spent the rest of the evening in and around Dal lake and then returned to our hotel.

I had some chats with a local driver regarding the situation outside, as I was supposed to go to either Sonamarg or Gulmarg the next day. He said that Baramulla district is not safe for the next day as well, so better I go to Sonamarg.
So, Sonamarg it was for the next day.

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Default Day6(14th April, 2016): Srinagar(JK)-Sonamarg(JK)-Srinagar(JK)

We started for Sonamarg around 7 am in the morning. The route was the same we followed for Hazratbal and connect to NH1D. For the first 15 kilometers, the road passes through settlements and was relatively narrower. But after that, it opens up to beautiful landscapes on either side.

A lone Shikara on the Dal lake
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A morning that shows the day
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Beautiful landscapes
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River Sindh adds to the magic of the place
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We had our breakfast from a road side dhaba. Around 30 kms from Sonamarg, the highway was closed for repair and we, along with other tourist vehicles, had to take the diversion though a village. The road was narrow and at places, full of potholes. But we didn't care as the beauty of the surroundings left us spellbound.

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We stopped many for taking photos and reached Sonamarg around 10 am. As soon as we entered the Sonamarg area, we were flocked by various parking agents, sledge owners etc. The parking guy started saying that we had to park our car there and take either local vehicle if we want to view the surroundings or take rent the snow boots, jackets and take the sledge for visiting Thajiwas glacier. I quickly thought and said that we had to go to JKTDC Sonamarg. At that moment, seeing no profit, all of the crowd dispersed and we moved forward.

We crossed the Sonamarg market area and had the plan to go to the Baltal Valley. But soon we found a police barricade. One official stopped us there and informed that this is the limit to which any civilian vehicle is allowed as the road beyond was closed due to heavy snowfall. We were a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, we thought we could to do this later during our Ladakh trip.

We turned back and stopped at a roadside dhaba for some tea. At this moment, we came across a group of people who were sledge owners. They told us, that the crowd that we met at the entry point of Sonamarg were actually agents or middlemen between sledge owners and tourists. They assured that we can take our car anywhere.
They insisted us to visit the famous Thajiwas Glacier and they would take us there in their sledge at a budget price. We settled for a price of INR 700 (snow boots two pairs at INR 100 each extra). They helped us park our car in a Hotel parking place free of charge.

We started for the Thajiwas glacier. They brought two sledges and there was one helper. We started climbing heights in their sledge and the vistas were getting more and more beautiful. The job they were doing was very tough but still they tried their heart out to make us happy.

They clicked our picture with scenic backgrounds
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And while they took some rest, I tried my hand on the job
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The vistas were just amazing. Snow and snow everywhere we look
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We were enjoying a lot
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The guys told us that the movie shoot for Bajrangi Bhaijaan was done here. The last scene at the "Narowal Border" was shot at that location. The sledge owners were given INR 1200 per day for transport of goods during that period.

The shooting location
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The border fencing still visible
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With Thajiwas in background
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We went to a place having a beautiful view of Thajiwas glacier. The place had sitting provision and gives panoramic view of the area.

Relax
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Another shot of Thajiwas
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A closer look at the glacier
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After spending some time here, we decided to go downhill. The time taken to move downhill was much quicker and at the same time less stressful for the sledge pullers.

Seeing a crowd of tourists while coming down, we realized we had taken a different route while climbing up and it was serene and amazing. We thanked the sledge owner for everything. They didn't ask for a single penny more but I deliberately handed INR 100 extra. They went happily.

A picture of sledge owner and the helper
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We had our lunch at the same dhaba where we had our morning tea. The food quality was average.

Then we retraced our way back to our hotel in Srinagar.

A picture on the way back
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We did some shopping in the evening. We had our dinner from a Bengali Dhaba that day and retired for the day.

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Default Day7(15th April, 2016) : Srinagar(JK)-Gulmarg(JK)-Srinagar(JK)

Last night I inquired from a local driver about the current situation of Baramulla district. He said that stray incidents are occurring and suggested that we should start as early as possible for Gulmarg. As per his suggestion, we started from our hotel around 6:30 am.
As usual, all the shops were closed and we could feel that the situation was tense. Soon, we reached the Narbal crossing where the straight road leads to Baramulla and the left turn goes to Gulmarg via Tangmarg. Here, we realized that the situation was not good. The environment was abnormally calm and quiet. At places, the police and CRPF jawans were walking in a convoy accompanied by armored vehicles with red flag. We had to take the opposite flank of the road at a few places.
We didn't stop and moved on. After traveling about 30 kms, we followed the local tourist vehicles and stopped for breakfast at a roadside Vaishno Dhaba. The food was very tasty.

Then we moved forward and reached Tangmarg.

Apharwat peak visible just before Tangmarg
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One had to buy tickets for the car here in order to go to Gulmarg. The drama of agents pushing hard to rent snow boots started from here. We ignored them totally. The next 10 kms till Gulmarg is a two lane hill road climbing up. The road had a lot of potholes here and there but easily manageable.

A picture taken while going up the winding road to Gulmarg
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As soon as we entered Gulmarg, the same scenario as Sonamarg was repeated with agents flocking the cars. We applied the same ploy as we had done earlier saying we had to go to JKTDC Gulmarg. It worked again and we went through. But we were not so lucky as there exists a rule citing that we would not be allowed to go till the Gondola if we don't have any bookings for night stay in a hotel in Gulmarg. We started searching for car parking here. An elderly man came to our rescue and told that we could hire snow boots from him @INR 100 per pair and he would gladly keep the car parked under his custody. With his assurance we decided to go ahead. We parked our car and made our way to the Gondola site about 1 km away.

On the way. We were excited to board the World's highest gondola
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Soon, we were at the Gondola ticket counter. There were a lot of agents/guides all over this place and its utter chaos. We stood at the queue and the agents were constantly disturbing us to take them as guides. Their charges are inconsistent and vary from INR 700 - INR 2000 and they were offering tickets without standing in the queue. Although, some of the tourists ignored them, a lot others availed of their service to avoid the hardship to stand in the queue. The ticket counter opened at sharp 10 am and what followed made us rethink our decision to come to Gulmarg. The ticket costed INR 600 (Phase I-Kondoor) and INR 900(Phase II-Apharwat) and a notice board clearly mentions that guide is free of charge with the ticket and a single person wouldn't be given more than 10 tickets. But as soon as the counter opened, the agents pushed themselves in the queue and started getting tickets for themselves. One of them was even supplying the tickets to other agents outside. Leave aside 10 tickets, each of them bagged around 25-30 tickets while we stood and watched. The police intervened but a little too late. The excitement of the Gondola ride was gone and our mood turned bitter.
Nevertheless, we bought tickets for both Phase I and Phase II and made our way to the Gondola after an ordeal.

The Phase I gondola
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At Kongdoor
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We decided to visit the Phase II gondola before exploring Kongdoor as we were told that weather may turn worse at Phase II any moment. Availing the Phase II gondola was the best decision by us. I was amazed at the engineering involved to design this one. The gondola took us to 14000 feet above mean sea level.

On the Phase II gondola
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Higher and higher
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On deboarding the Gondola at Apharwat, we were given a timeline of 40 minutes to return back to the Gondola (may be due to the altitude). We found this place less crowded than Phase I and hence the snow was much cleaner. Moreover the views up here was majestic. Movement of civilians are a bit restricted here as it is a military zone with LOC being a few kilometers away.

Some beautiful snowy landcapes
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Magic of sunlight on snow
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Apharwat is highly recommended for its beauty.
We went down to Kongdoor after spending some quality time here. I personally didn't like Kongdoor as the tourist count was high here, snow was dirty and sledge owners were creating problem as well.

We were a bit hungry and there was a restaurant in Kongdoor but the cost was on the higher side. We decided to move downhill and make our way back to Srinagar early.

Some parting shots of the Gulmarg valley
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We had a tea break and collected back our shoes from the elderly man. We inquired about the present condition of the Baramulla incident and he suggested that we should follow the local tourist vehicles and do exactly what they were doing. We thanked him and he blessed us saying "Jeetey raho, Khush raho, Aate raho. Khuda Hafiz!". The warmth of welcome, that we usually get in Sikkim and what we were missing here till now, seemed to have touched our heart at that moment. We were very happy even after such ordeal while bagging the tickets.

We started following a convoy of tourist vehicles. The convoy had about 5 cars and they were driving fast. I blindly followed them. After Tangmarg, one by one they started stopping by the food joints or the shops selling Kashmiri shawls and handicrafts. We decided to move forward without stopping. A few kilometers ahead suddenly we were the only one moving towards Narbal along with a tourist bus. Just a few kilometers before the Narbal crossing, we saw the bus stopping suddenly. Some local Tata Ace and private vehicles were taking U-Turn in haste. We realized that something was wrong. There was a group of Policemen and CRPF jawans but they refused to talk and pointed us towards Gulmarg side again. Now we were confused. Where to go, what to do!

We saw a private Hyundai xcent just behind us. We stopped them and asked about the direction towards Srinagar. There were 4 local residents inside the car and they asked us to follow them. Our MMI device was constantly pointing us to take U-Turn. We started following them and after about 2kms they turned right and entered into a narrow village road, we followed them. We also saw a bike with three young guys following us. Every villager in black Phiran was looking suspiciously at us as if we were outsiders in their land. I started to feel tensed as my wife was with me and we had no clue where we were heading to. I then lowered the window glass and asked a local whether this road would take us to Srinagar, he said to take right turn after 6 Kms. The bikers were constantly following us and speaking something in their own language while crossing our car. I was getting apprehensive thinking whether it was right decision to follow the car or we should have stayed in the main road with the tourist bus and have continued when the road blocks were cleared. The xcent kept on driving at a sedate pace continuously so that we could keep up with them in the narrow village road full of potholes.Earlier we were asked to avoid the Baramulla district and now we were driving through a village of the Baramulla district itself! After a few kilometers as the road widened we saw a convoy of tourist vehicles ahead of us and an armored vehicle of CRPF with jawans on top with guns in their hand. I got my heartbeat back to normal as I was assured we were heading towards the right direction. The CRPF armored vehicle escorted us till the Baramulla crossing.
A few kilometer after that the xcent stopped as their destination had arrived. The passengers asked us to take right from Parimpora chowk and enter Dalgate area from Batmalloo. There were some disturbances in the straight road leading to Srinagar hence they asked us to take the bypass.
We conveyed our heartfelt thanks to them and thanked God for saving us! But that was not the end of the scene. As we approached towards Parimpora Chowk we saw gatherings here and there and CRPF vehicles patrolling and even heard sounds of firing. Suddenly on reaching Parimpora chowk we saw vehicles taking right turn in high speed and from a distance of about 200 metres I saw a car was set to fire. Not having a second thought I took right turn and followed cars which were in front of me. Gladly the MMI was now pointing that we were heading towards the right direction.
We slowly entered the Lal Chowk area and I must say I have never been such tensed ever in my life! Just about 2 Km before our hotel I stopped at a petrol pump to refill the tank. On hearing our experiences the people said tourists do not need to get panicked as the problem is between the locals and the policemen and a true Kashmiri would never spoil his tourist season. On reaching our hotel we could not get out of our car for sometime. The incidents which happened in last few hours kept flashing in our minds and we were glad that we have returned to our hotel safely. We again thanked God and the xcent passengers to have helped us.

After regaining our breath we started to look for a place to have lunch. It was 5:15 pm and till now we had no time or urge to have our lunch. We found a restaurant which served authentic Kashmiri waazwan . We ordered some of the Kashmiri delicacies. In no time there arrived a plate full of steaming Ghee rice, Sheekh kebab, Methi maaz (a dish prepared with mutton keema), Tabaak maaz (fried lamb ribs), Rista (minced mutton meatballs in a spicy gravy), Goshtaba (minced mutton meatballs cooked with curd) and Rogan Josh. It was sumptuous.

After having a stroll of about half an hour we decided to go back to our hotel as we were very tired after series of incidents we had that day. We packed our things as that was our last day of stay at Srinagar and we had plans of visiting Pahalgam the next day.

Last edited by Rehaan : 10th May 2016 at 10:04. Reason: Fixing the alignment of first pic :)
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Default Day8(16th April, 2016) : Srinagar(JK)-Pahalgam(JK) (Sightseeing, Overnight at Pahalgam)

We woke up early, loaded the luggage in the car, paid the bills and checked out of the hotel at 7 am sharp . The excitement was there to visit Pahalgam and its surrounding places like Aru Valley, Betaab valley, Chandanwari etc. With the experiences the previous day, we decided to cross the Srinagar area early. At such early morning, we could see CRPF jawans patrolling the areas in armored vehicles with Red flag. They didn't bother us and we could make good progress.

Soon, we crossed Awantipora ruins. According to the travel plan provided by HV Kumar, we needed to go till Khanabal junction and take the road to Pahalgam. But we found a J&K tourism pointer to take the left turn for Pahalgam through Apple Valley. We followed that route, and found apple orchards on both side of the road. The road condition was also good. But at one junction, we had to take a right turn as the road was closed for some reason. That road passes through a village and connects to the main road connecting Khanabal and Pahalgam.
This road had wonderful tarmac and offered some wonderful scenic beauty. River Lidder was flowing along the road with mountains ranges constantly visible from the front windscreen.

The road started like this
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160416_085616471.jpg

We couldn't resist a selfie together
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160416_085951714.jpg

Then R. Lidder made her first appearance
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160416_091841848.jpg

Welcome to Lidder Valley
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160416_091734141.jpg

Lidder accompanying us all the way
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_20160416_103443791.jpg

We stopped for breakfast here
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6737.jpg

In the meantime, CHD booked a room for us at Hotel Castle Rock near the rafting point. Rafting point is about 12 kms before Pahalgam town. The strategic location of the hotel being away from the chaos of tourists and with Lidder flowing right in front of the hotel suited us perfectly. It was comparatively cheaper as well.
We checked into the hotel at 10:30 am, kept our luggage in the room and left for the sightseeing around Pahalgam.

Close to our hotel
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6744.jpg

Jubilance!
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6745.jpg

First we went to Aru Valley
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6747.jpg

We would rate Aru as #1 of all the places around Pahalgam. The place was not at all crowded and the beauty of the place was unmatched.

On the way to Aru
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6749.jpg

Amazing view
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6755.jpg

We first thought that these were flowers from the trees above
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6756.jpg

But these were flowers growing on the ground. A flower bed
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6757.jpg

The road to Aru is a narrow hill road. The quality of the road was good but the road was too narrow at places for even two small cars to pass. We reached Aru , parked our car and went for a walk around the village. We deliberately opted out of the Pony rides as we had very limited time in our hands. We decided to walk around the valley. The weather was just perfect that day. We bought some walnuts(w/o shell) from a local villager @INR 350 per kg (super cheap). JKTDC has a property here and I would say it is one of the best location one could stay in. We had a cup of tea together in the open lawn of the JKTDC hotel.

Few pictures around Aru Valley
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6763.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6766.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6771.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6773.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6781.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6783.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6785.jpg

Then we went to Betaab Valley. It was basically a park. The entry fees were INR 100 per head. We personally didn't like the way it was maintained. May be, it was an after effect of Aru valley. We didn't go inside though.

Outside Betaab Valley
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6790.jpg

Then we went towards Chandanwari. About 8 kms before Chandanwari we could see some rock fall on the narrow road and decided against moving further.

Beautiful road towards Chandanwari
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6794.jpg

We came back to Pahalgam town and had our lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called "Danapani". We earlier decided to take Pony ride to Baisaran Valley, but later chose to stroll around and spent some time around Pahalgam only.

Beautiful Pahalgam
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6795.jpg
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6798.jpg

We returned to our hotel around 5 pm and relaxed for the rest of the day.

A parting shot of R. Lidder
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-img_6801.jpg

Last edited by gearhead_mait : 8th May 2016 at 23:48.
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Old 8th May 2016, 18:43   #11
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We knew that a three day return from Pahalgam to Kolkata would be very aggressive.

Day9(17th April, 2016) : Pahalgam(JK)-Pathankot(PB) (correction Pahalgam - Pipli, Kurukshetra) (674 kms, including 278 kms in Hills)

We started early from Pahalgam. We retraced the path we traveled and crossed Patnitop, Udhampur, Jammu and reached Pathankot around 4 pm. We knew if we stayed at Pathankot as per plan, then on the subsequent 2 days we had to drive 1000 kms each day (not easy). So, we decided to move further. We asked CHD to book our room at Karnal but rooms were not available. So, we finally stayed at Pipli Kurukshetra.

Day10(18th April, 2016) : Pathankot(PB)-Kanpur(UP) (correction Pipli - Sirsaganj?? 426 kms)


That day we started late. We knew that the odd even rule was ON in Delhi and ours, being an odd numbered car, will be fined. We had no other option but to pay the fine and continue. We had our breakfast at Karnal around 9:30 am. Then we got a call from HV Kumar Sir mentioning that our car runs the risk of not being allowed to cross Delhi, even after paying the fine. He said that we continue to drive till Panipat and in the meantime he would be letting us know the way to bypass Delhi.
After about 15 minutes, HV Kumar called us and mentioned that we should take the route Panipat-Rohtak-Jhajjar-IMT Manesar-Palwal-Tappal entry for Yamuna Expressway. He also sent the map over our phone and mentioned an exceptional point of contact Mr. Allen Singh an absolute gentleman.
Nearly 90 percent of this road was very good. We got confused at a few places, but Mr Allen Singh guided us out every time. Only for once we missed his advice and took the Old Sohna road to Palwal from IMT Manesar, whereas a new four lane road was in place.
This bypass did let us avoid Delhi altogether but was quite a detour. But this was the best that we could have done. We connected with Yamuna Expressway at Tappal around 4:15 pm.

The Delhi bypass we took
A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-delhibypass.jpg

Map link

We thought that we would be able to move at least till Kanpur that day, although the earlier plan was to travel till Allahabad. But with every road trip adventure and uncertainty comes free and every planning could go for a toss. Same happened for us too. Just after Agra, we were stuck in a complete deadlock congestion for 3 hours. Now, even Kanpur was looking far away. We called up HV Kumar and he advised us to stay at Sirsaganj, about 60 kms from Agra. We agreed but we knew what was in store for us the next day.

Day11(19th April, 2016) : Kanpur(UP)-Kolkata(WB) (correction Sirsaganj-Kolkata 1200+ kms!)

Nothing but drive, drive and drive. Started from Sirsaganj at 4:30 am in the morning. Continuous driving for 22 hours with ~2 hours break and we were at Kolkata at around 3 am in the morning. I used to restrict myself from night driving before this but now see what a road trip does. It changes everything.

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Old 8th May 2016, 19:43   #12
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A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir-route.jpg


Map link


As I bring the travelogue to a close, I would like to thank my wife for her continuous support. Without her, it would never have been possible.
Many thanks to HV Kumar, CHD team and Allen Singh for all the help. Also, I would like to thank our Kolkata TeamBHP team for their support.

Thanks for reading!

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Old 9th May 2016, 10:35   #13
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!

Last edited by GTO : 9th May 2016 at 10:35. Reason: Bump
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Old 9th May 2016, 11:46   #14
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Default Re: A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir

Excellent travelogue with great narration and pictures. Has all the right information in place for others to plan a travel.

The reports of touts and guides pestering tourists , and the cops doing nothing about it , is becoming increasingly common , also reported in this (Honda City i-DTEC: 5300 kms in 13 days! A family road-trip to the Vale of Kashmir!) travelogue . In these days of increased social media usage , such reports tend to discourage tourists from visiting. Hope those people realize their folly and something is done about it.

PS - I remember seeing your messages on the CHD whatsapp group - being stuck at Agra , etc. I was on my MP trip that time.

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Old 9th May 2016, 12:04   #15
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Default Re: A drive to the 'Paradise on Earth' : 5226 km grand road-trip from Kolkata to Kashmir

the closeup picture of that Glacier is just so brilliant. Nature at its best. No human construction can ever match the beauty and the vastness of what nature has given us.

Thank you for sharing a detailed write-up.
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