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Old 12th June 2016, 22:48   #1
Join Date: Feb 2013
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Default Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat

This is my first travelogue in Team-BHP after I became a member couple of years back. After every trip, the travelogue(s) remained uncompleted and never came close to uploading here. Kashmir trip brought a new resolution that we want to share the experience in this forum which has given us so much, for all of our road trip(s). So, here it is. Waiting for feedbacks.

The usual deliberations followed and with record temperatures soaring on Bangalore it was a no brainer that it had to be a cool destination and preferably drivable on our faithful steed the skoda yeti. After heated discussions between me and better half, the front runner was destined to be Meghalaya and the promise to be an exotic Sikkim like experience, A chance article on Kashmir which promised to be jannat on earth and much research later with the usual security threats firmly on our mind we finally decided on Kashmir the promised heaven on earth! A small geographical detail of the state though. There are three main areas viz Jammu/Kashmir and Ladakh which form the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Our planned trip covered Kashmir valley alone.
Hopeful suggestion of driving down was promptly shot by Kanthi and so a flight it was,(which incidentally is the most preferred mode of travel for Smrithi our seven year old daughter) this time around.

The D day was 18th April with the return planned or 27th and the itinerary was drawn keeping with our usual preference of being with serendipity and not the mundane touristy destinations .However options like Gurez and Lolab valley or a drive to Drass was quickly shot down by home-stay owners at Kashmir who consistently veered us to the usual suspects like Gulmarg/Sonmarg and Pahalgam with srinagar as the base point. So we settled on a plan as under with promise of great trekking options as well as the promise of seeing the exotic tulip gardens in full bloom.

Day 1-Fly to Srinagar via delhi and land at 2 pm. Spend the day strolling around Dal lake and retire to the house boat in the evening. The selection of the ideal house boat again was done by Kanthi after long research. The BBC featured Chicago house boat it was for us from among the many featured in Dal and Nigeen lake.

The actual day unfolded as planned and before we knew it we were met at the airport by our driver for the day Tahir and later on the shikara managed by chachaji, who was little hard on hearing ,taking us on the serene Dal lake which on first impression was mucky. But as we travelled longer it got pleasing on the eyes and we were met with plenty of mobile shops on boats which were peddling anything and everything from kahwa to trinkets and kulfis to flowers.

We were then welcomed on board with warmth by Khan saab in the brand new month old Chicago house boat, Lavishly decorated with oodles of finely carved walnut wood work and magnificent chandeliers, we were ushered to a comfortable looking bedroom. A warm cup of kashmiri milk-less sweet kahwa with home made biscuits to pander to our hunger pangs and we were now in conversation with our host Ijaz planning for our next days programme. To our dismay we were told that the tulip bloom was done for early this year before the usual April end schedule. However the prospect of spending a fruitful day exploring the beauty of Srinagar before we embarked on the rest of our Kashmir trip kept the spirits going.

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Chachaji took us back to Ghat 9 in his shikara where we watched the sun dipping in to the distant horizon transforming Dal lake into a beautiful color riot of orange and pink hue. A walk along the banks of the huge Dal lake with the tempting wares of the spicy bhel puri hawkers and a unique combination of coconut and magic herb powder was a nice experience. Citing a post office on the lake was thrilling for Smrithi. Walking upto ghat number 20 we made our way back to call it a day and dinner at the Chicago

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Day 2:A leisurely start to the day and a drop to ghat 9 after a hot breakfast we were met by Tahir (on his tavera @ Rs 2000 per day)and a start to a promising day ahead. First up was the much famous Shankaracharya temple on the top of a hill,a 5 km drive and we were dropped by Tahir a km before the destination as per K’s insistence. Walking up we reached the base of the temple teeming with hordes of tourists. A short security check later we made our way up the 220 odd steps to the temple which was said to be built on the very spot the Shankaracharya had meditated. The temple was beautiful in its own way and the view of the city of Srinagar was nice without being spectacular. Another small disappointment as the government operated Hot air ballooning was yet to start for the season.(Located at Zabharwan park. Ideally between May running up till July)

Next up were the many gardens of Srinagar which we made our way to driving all along the Dal which seemed to be the nerve centre along which Srinagar revolved. The mughal garden was nice with its manicured green grass and dotted with small colorful flowers. The rippling water falls were the trade mark of all the gardens we visited including Nishab Gardens and after a stopover at the village art building where we made our purchase of Kahmiri shawls and pashminas and multi colored scarfs we proceeded to the old Srinagar side. Point to observe that all shopping places offered us various types of kahwa both with and without milk as well as sweet and salty and the tradesmen were amazing salesmen who sweet talked us into buying their wares. Definitely by a long shot the best salesmen we had ever encountered!

Passing the hot in the news NIT campus we visited the Hazratbal mosque and a brief stopover later asked Tahir to take us to the beautiful Srinagar Fort near the Nigeen lake(a small watered down version of its bigger cousin the Dal lake).The fort was unfortunately not open to public viewing that day but Tahir took us to the badam garden which he assured was lesser known but probably the most beautiful of the many gardens of Srinagar.
As the name suggested the garden was originally a huge grove of Badam trees now maintained by the J & K bank and true to Tahir’s promise was arguably the best of the Srinagar gardens overlooking a beautiful lake on one side and the fort on the other. Smrithi was not complaining and had a ball running up and down the huge gardens and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

Evening had begun to set though very European like sunlight was still on us even at 7.30 pm. Tahir dropped us at ghat 21 from where we walked back to ghat 9 and to chachaji’s shikara back to the Chicago.

Day 2 had come to a close but we were still a tad disappointed as we were now where close to experience the Jannat which was Kashmir.In hind sight we could have cut the days stay at Srinagar and spent the same elsewhere more worthwhile.

A pleasant nights stay later at the Chicago(Which we would definitely recommend to any visitor looking for a nights stay at the Dal lake) we bid adieu to Ijaz and his team and made an early start to day 3 proceeding to Gulmarg.
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Day 3:An early morning start @ 7 am from Ghat 9 this time with our new driver Fayaz(phone 9796776757).The drive took us ages to get off Srinagar and we nearly had a dejavu feeling as it was like home(Bangalore )with bumper to bumper traffic before we hit the highway and off we were heading towards Gulmarg.

A word of caution. Though most of the locations would be around 50-60 km(57 in case of Gulmarg) the typical time taken would be around 1.30 to 2 hours after the highway is hit. The infrastructure is also atrocious with pot holed roads. So when planning the road trips factor these in and make an early start wherever possible.
The Gondola ride being the highlight of any Gulmarg visit there would be the dilemma of whether to book the Gondola tickets online or reach there and book. The natives also recommend going there and buying the tickets whereas online trolls would suggest the advance online booking. Both have their merits as booking on the spot could mean long queues but online booking is oblivious to weather conditions and leave us with no clues whether the second stage is subject to visibility or not. We chose to go with the native advice (in our case Fayaz’s judgement)who suggested we pick a guide in Tangmarg(a small stop over just before Gulmarg) who could get us the tickets in a jiffy.

Now for the drive(journey) which according to us is as much fun and exciting as the destination itself .One of the first things which strike you is the presence of army personnel every 200 metres or so on the road. Took us quite a while to get used to the sight ,though their presence hardly affects a common traveler and slowly they in fact seem to blend in the general background which epitomizes Kashmir.

The other sights of course where the never ending apple/walnut /badam trees which were starting to blossom and formed a carpet of white flowers with a pink tinge. Fayaz was a darling and doubled as a guide. We learnt more about Kashmir and about their people and history than any guide book or google search would ever have thrown up. He was also extremely patient and had no qualms about making any number of stops en route where we would stop at apple/walnut/badam orchards and shoot photos or stop over at quaint little tea shop’s where the tea shop owners would always serve us hot cups of tea with a smile. Another striking fact was the honesty of the natives as Fayaz hardly locked the car anywhere we stopped and kept emphasizing no one would steal anything including mobile phones.

As we neared Gulmarg the pine trees dotted Pir panjal mountains greeted us and there was a noticeable chill in the air as we soaked in the beauty around us. After a stop over at Tangmarg where we picked up our guide for the day Amir(Rs 700 per day) we reached Gulmarg and made our way to our hotel Gulmarg meadows where we were to stay the night.

Drivers are allowed to go ahead if we had a night stay planned or would have to leave after dropping us at Gulmarg. Our hotel, well actually our tent Gulmarg meadows was actually on a beautiful green meadow and we just loved it!

A hot cuppa ginger tea later we were dropped near the gondola point by Fayaz and walked up the final km where Amir got us the tickets up to stage 2 on the gondola. We were fully dressed for the occasion with warm layers of clothing and gloves and trekking shoes and to cap it up a nice monkey cap on our heads. For the not so prepared folks the same is also available on rent including gum boots which we felt were not really necessary if we travel with the right trekking shoes.

Even though a tad expensive it is definitely our recommendation to pick tickets to stage 2 atop the Apharwat peak on the beautiful French built Gondola if you want to truly enjoy Gulmarg. We shared the gondola with a professional skier who said that Gulmarg was a skiers paradise and probably one of the best slopes on earth to ski.

As we ascended the sight below was a sight to behold! Beautiful mountains covered with a thick snow carpet dotted with lovely mud roofed traditional shepherd homes and tall pine trees surrounded us. After a quick change over at stage 1 we finally reached stage 2 and were tingling with excitement as we climbed the slippery snow steps to soak in a sight which literally took our breath away.

We were surrounded by a sea of pristine white snow covered terrain and the spell was broken only with a snow ball thrown by Amir thudding on me. Suddenly with a war cry all four plunged into a huge snow fight and others too joined in the fun. Exhausted with laughter we trekked slowly up the mountain as high as we could. It certainly was a WOW moment for me as the beauty of nature overwhelmed us! Only Schiltron earlier in Switzerland could have a more beautiful place but just.

We took an impulsive decision to take the ski ride who promised to take us to the Pakistan border after negotiating for a total of Rs 2000 from the earlier quoted Rs 6500/-.The ride was fun though hardly was at a distance of half a km which we could have covered on foot itself. The first of many encounters of gross exaggeration by the native operators in Kashmir.

After spending over an hour enjoying the sight and playing with the snow we made our way back to the Gondola to have lunch and see stage one.

The restaurant at Stage one was beautiful and the food was great too. The stage itself though was hugely disappointing teeming as it was with tourists. The snow was also literally black and thin and beaten. Amir took us to a small pond which he said was a popular spring. We actually spent more time in the gondola queue heading back than at stage one.

From the base we decided to take the 5km trek back to the tent and Amirs presence ensured the pony guys did not pester us too much.

We discovered to truly soak in the beauty of the place (and if you love to trek)and enjoy the beautiful weather it is best to walk at every given opportunity. With Amir to guide us back we made our way past a lovely church, a breathtaking top view of the golf club and acres of green carpets against the background of white snow capped mountains. Near a cross road leading up to the tent Amir headed back after showing us the way back to the tent. Smrithi and Kanthi walked on the grass(and soon were submerged in ankle deep water!)along the gurgling clear stream while I safely took the road back.

Back in the comforts of the warm tent we gorged on hot pakodas and some ginger tea and then headed for a short walk on the endless carpet to a nearby potato farm. A great nights sleeps later we were fully refreshed and looking forward to go to our next destination Doodhpatri. Note of caution though, the sun and the snow could give a headache. The little one suffered with a flushed face and headache though it passed by next day.
Places of Interest in and around Gulmarg: Firstly would definitely recommend a nights stay. Gondola visit a must.

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DAY 4: Gulmarg to Doodhpatri. Distance appx 75 km taking roughly 3 hours. Around 42 km from Srinagar.

We start by around 9 am from Gulmarg meadows and make our way towards Doodhpatri a not too popular destination but had Fayaz mighty excited as he said that that’s a place he usually drives his family to, and is a peek into the real Kashmir.

Taking his now familiar offbeat road through the country side we first stopped for a tea break near a local school where the kids were shyly laughing and staring at us. School was a nice wooden building and overlooking the Doodhganga river. A stop over at a roadside “Veg” restaurant for a lunch of dal and rice later we hit the endless green meadows of Doodhpatri. A picture perfect scene with acres of manicured grass lawns dotted with sheep grazing on them with towering snow capped mountains in the background would be etched in our memory for ever. The place is refreshingly much less commercial than Gulmarg with hardly any tourists. We hired a horse which had Smrithi full excited while me and Kanthi preferred to walk. The ride to the valley overlooking the Doodhganga cost us Rs 300/-.After we crossed the vast lawn we reached the pine forests with a wonderful smelling “piney” smell and a sudden chill in the air.

The trek was around 3 km one way and the one word to describe it would be heavenly. Definately a must do trek which is not too strenuous and preferable over the horseback option though the natives again would lead us to believe otherwise. After the refreshing trek we drove towards doodhganga river and were curious to see the “green roofed” homes of the shepherds on the way. It seemed to us that “Sheeping “was the main profession in Kashmir. The homes were made of full single logs with a nice mud roofing and grass growing on the roof. Typically a 4 to 5 bedroom home with natural mud flooring and minimal amenities the shepherds make this their home in the summer when they returned to Kashmir and make their way back to Jammu in the winter. Totally ecofriendly homes with absolutely no cement or manmade material they would be the envy of any urbanite. Imagine having a lovely garden on the roof top and being able to play on the near ground level rooftop!
After spending some time with the shepherd family we reached the doodhganga river.The water was sweet and ice cold and we had a great time playing in the crystal clear water. The hours went by when the watch made us realize that it was time to head back to Srinagar. It was a lovely and enjoyable day spent all by ourselves with no tourists in sight. Truly a place worth going to and a must do when visiting Kashmir.

Places of interest in and around Doodhpatri: The place is a days trip from either Srinagar or Gulmarg but does not seem to have many stay options. A trek past the meadows to the valley as well as a trek to the doodhganga river is a must do. Trek as much as possible and soak in the natural beauty. Pain point is, travelling back to Srinagar
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Day 5:Staying at Hospitality home near Nigeen lake in Srinagar run by Riaz our plan for the day was a day trip to Yusmarg a distance of appx 45 km from Srinagar and takes appx 2 hours.

Again a not too popular destination in Kashmir we were looking forward to some more trekking and vast green meadows.

Fayaz true to his nature again bypassed the more normal highway route via the Charari sharief dargah instead taking us through Chadoora. The route was truly scenic and was a single narrow road with barely place for more than a car to pass and with orchards of badam and walnut and apple trees on both sides of the road and mountains surrounding us.

Abruptly there was a change in the scenery and lo and behold there was now a vast grassland stretching up to the mountains with sprinkling of bright red and yellow wild flowers. We stopped to pick some nice bulbs of spring onions with a nice pungent taste and photos alongside the bright red flowers. We were told by Fayaz that a couple of months from now by June the entire valley would be a carpet of bright red flowers with sprinkle of yellow flowers and met by low hanging pale pink and white apple flowers and fruits I sight which we could only imagine but were not fortunate to experience. We were met by a group of shepherds and their flock of sheep and had the good fortune of witnessing a new born calf just introduced at this piece of heaven on earth. Was fun to hold the warm shivering calf and the concerned mother watchfully checking on us.

The journey was so beautiful that we were actually a tad disappointed when we hit back to the highway just before Yusmarg. However when the serene lake appeared just before Yusmarg we were re energized and looking forward to what Yusmarg had in store for us.

A quick lunch when Fayaz departed for his namaz we were at the base of the Yusmarg valley where again we chose to trek rather than hire the ponies. It was starting to drizzle which actually enhanced the beauty of the place. There were clear markings showing the direction to the river as well as the cherry gardens.

The trek again probably 6-7 kms back to the base is moderately tough but all three of us were game for the same. Again would recommend the trek to the horse ride any day if you are suitably equipped with good hiking shoes. The stone paved pathway led us towards the valley and the river but was slightly difficult to negotiate because of the rain and the slush in the muddy road.

Horse vendors kept following us assuring us that it was not possible for us to trek and that we would miss the cherry gardens as well as the dargah. We kept going along the slippery path and the trek through the rocky terrain till we reached the river was awesome. He river was fun as usual and we were all set to return back when the horse vendors told us that we would not be truly experiencing Yusmarg without going through the pine forests to the dargah and the cherry gardens. They agreed to take the three of us for Rs 300 and though we agreed to pay them what they demanded we said that Smrithi alone would be riding on the horse but we would prefer the walk.

The experience of the walk through the forest and the wet slushy grass was just heavenly. En route was the dargah which was actually a small mosque where it was believed that praying there with a pure heart would grant us anything we desired.

The Cherry gardens though was an anti climax as all we saw were some pink flowers of wild cherry fruit shrubs. The forest opened up to a vast open green meadow and with the light drizzle made a glorious sight. Another day well spent as we reached the base and were met by Fayaz. A hot cup of tea and we made our way back to Srinagar and our last day of stay at the Hospitality Home with Riaz. Places of interest in and around Yusmarg:The scenic route definitely was a high point. Yusmarg again has much to offer without the baggage of being commercialized and with very few tourists.A heaven for trekkers with a wonderful moderately tough terrain and superb scenery.There are a few stay places to be found with JKTDC huts being a good option. Night stay which we missed sadly would have been a much better option than heading back to Srinagar.

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Day 6: We would now be heading away from the relatively warmer locations towards the Himalayan range and the snow covered areas of Kashmir in our final leg of the tour. Next stop being Sonmarg and a night stay planned at Farahs home stay just before Sonmarg. Distance from Srinagar to Sonmarg would be appx 80kms and fortunately Nigeen lake being in the same direction meant that we would not have to endure Srinagar traffic en route.Otherwise can be covered in 2 hours.

We decided to not stop at Walur lake which was a slight detour from the highway with clear boards giving directions for the same. The Sindh river running alongside would be our companion till Sonmarg. The same road runs up to Ladakh-Leh and generally opens up in the first week of May.The road till Sonmarg had in fact only opened a week ago. Stopped for a tea break in the restaurant adjacent to the bridge across the Sindh.

Contemplated and then decided against going for the government run white water rafting facility on the Sindh river(Cost appx Rs 400 per person).After a scenic drive we hit Farahs home stay appx 12 km before Sonmarg just off the highway.

The property has the Sindh river running adjacent to it and we were greeted warmly by Odile and Rashid who run the home stay named after their daughter Farah. Odile is French but can speak good Hindi and they had a set of wonderful dogs with Kalu being the most cutest of the lot. The rooms were just out of the world and Smrithi fell in love with the place. After a quick snack and tea we proceeded to Sonmarg. Rashid incidently opens his place in april after closing for the winter and also organizes trekking tours including the famed Great Lakes trek which is on our to do list.

Fayaz drove us till the base of Sonmarg from where we had the option of taking the pony or the local car up. No prizes for guessing that we decided to trek up instead. Typically the charges range from Rs 6000 to Rs 700 for the distance. The distance though would be appx 4 km and was an easy trek. Pictures rather than words would best describe the journey till the peak where again the journey rather than the destination was arguably more beautiful.

A short stay at the top where the attractions ranged from the sled ride to snow ball throwing options we made our way back and experienced fresh snow fall falling. Superb and wonderful experience which would remain etched in our memories for ever. Must make a mention of the wonderful restaurant at the base where they serve hot delicious meals. Fayaz drove us back to Farahs homestay where we had a great dinner and a good nights rest before our long drive to Pahelgam and aru Valley. Places of interest in and around Sonmarg: Firstly we would mention that a nights stay is fully justified at Sonmarg with various options available. Lots of trekking options to even spend days around Sonmarg. Serves as a base for the great lakes trek which is a must do and would take a minimum of 8 days to cover.

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Day 7: We now had to cover the longest drive of 165 km typically taking 3.5 hours passing through Srinagar and would depend on the traffic condition.

Started the day early so that we could ideally hit Pahelgam by lunch time.The normal idea would be to do Chandanwari/Betaab valley and Baisaran and then proceed to Aru Valley where we were booked for the next three nights at the milkyway Aru valey. On the way we stopped to buy some dry fruits.A word of advice would be to buy as much as you need of the local Kashmir grown fruits as the taste is unmatched especially the walnuts/local badam/black cranberries/anjeers and the red local apricots. We didn’t buy the saffron though.
Another stop was to buy a Kashmir willow cricket bat. Wifey picked the Mangoose variety with kookabara sticker for Rs 800/-.So maybe now I too would at last start hitting those big sixes like Haydo! Seriously if you are in Kashmir buying a good willow is cool and cheap.

Later we got off the Highway 1 and got onto the state highway leading up to Pahalgam. The customary stop at a café bang in the middle of apple orchards for tea and some terribly sweet apple jam followed. The Lidder river was now following us.

Even with all the breaks we did reach Pahalgam by lunch time. Fayaz said goodbye as again only local taxis are allowed in Pahalgam area. We dumped the luggage at the taxi stand where we were to hire the taxi to take us to Aru valley. Lunch was at Nathus café though would suggest to take a walk in Pahalgam town before decide on the place to eat. We spotted lovely looking eateries just a little ahead after nathus.

Since we did not have too much time on hand we decided to skip Chandanwari and Betaab valley which fayaz assured us was good but probably not as great as Baisaran and Aru. No prizes again for guessing that we chose to trek over the normal janta option of taking the pony. The only flip side is that if we do not take the pony the usually friendly Kashmiri’s stop helping even with giving us directions. But all we did was to follow the trail of ponies and we did the first view point overlooking the valley. The trek is moderately tough and could be around 10 to 12 km up and down.

Taking a wrong turn added another 5 km to our trek but we were joined by another group from Bangalore and did negotiate the slushy mud to reach Baisaran.

Baisaran is a huge grass meadow overlooking snow capped mountains and teeming with life and activity of giant rolling balls if you remember the Jackie Chan movie,I think it was Armour of god where he was rolling in one.
We bought a nice shawl for around Rs 300 from a couple of the fantastic persuasive salesmen who assured us that it was the same design as worn by Salman in the movie Bhajrangi Bhaijaan. After spending some time in this beautiful place we made our way back to the car park to pick our luggage and hire a prepaid taxi to the Milky way in Aru valley. On the way we pass through the Aru sanctuary where we spotted some deer. Sighting we were told is generally tough.

The darkness was engulfing us but not before we were treated to some spectacular sights especially the photogenic spot where the whole valley spread out before us though it was too dark to capture the true beauty of the location. It must be said that if Pahalgam is the throne of Kashmir then Aru probably is the Kohinoor jewel of the crown. But that said to truly enjoy the view we would need to avoid the usual half day coverage of Aru/Betaab/Chandanwari/Baisaran option and in fact stay for at least three nights at Aru itself to do justice to the beauty of the place.

The mIlky way hotel was truly comfortable and Bilal and his brothers who run the place are not only extremely hospitable but also offer the best food we enjoyed during our stay .If you are an avid trekker then they have a wealth of trekking options to some exotic and mind blowing locations that you could imagine. They also arrange trekking trips like the 3 day trek to Sonmarg or the 2 day trek to Tarsar –Marsar lakes all unfortunately possible only in the summer from May onwards.

For us he had arranged for two short one day treks the first day covering Green top till the top paragliding point and back appx covering 12 kms and the next day a slightly easier but longer trek of 14 to 16kms to Lidderwat river valley through Gagad pather and arm pather.

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DAY 8: After a yummy breakfast and packed sandwiches we leave with our local guide Ishan arranged by Bilal but with a single horse though all three were walking for a majority of the distance. First up was a small rock temple where a small water outlet from Amarnath flows. As the climb continued it got steeper and we were panting for breath soon. Stopping to look back was the view of the spectacular Aru valley .

We then reached an open grass meadow where we were told was the shepherd hut seen in Bhajrangi Bhaijaan.The movie seemed to play a big role in the daily life of the Aru Valleyians!

Continuing the climb we then needed to cross a small rivulet where we stopped to take a sip of the cool and sweet water to quench our thirst. Pine trees surrounded us and the chill in the air was more noticeable.
A final push up the mountain and there we were. A picturesque sight un folded before us. Azure sky and tranquil setting with an endless carpet of green meadows dotted with tall pine trees.

We had a ball running around and then stopped to have the sandwiches as we were suddenly ravenously hungry. The native bread sandwiches was absolutely heavenly. We lazed around and shot photos like crazy including a few of the little shepherd /cowherd boys who had come to join us with their huge jersey cows in tow.
As we then continued our trek we had a slight incline on the narrow pathway leading to the spot where the para glider struts his wares. Unfortunately he had moved down and our continuing tryst with missed paragliding options continued. Ishaan made a brave attempt by rushing down on his horse to try and get the paraglider up but with little success.

With the promise that we could attempt the paragliding from the much lower in altitude first point we trekked to the spot and promptly Smrithi was harnessed and all excited to try her first paragliding experience. But no winds forced it to be abandoned and her wait to finally experience the paragliding experience is left for another day.
Exhausted we make our way to the village where a young pretty girl(Zubeida)invited us over for a cup of kahwa along with her mom and aunt. Typical Kashmiri hospitality where no one is a stranger. We stopped to try a puff of hookah. Actually to be fair it was only Kanthi who could actually manage a puff while all I got was a mouth full of tobacco water!

Back to the Milky way for a delicious piping hot snack with tea and then we were again ready to explore the Aru village before we retired for the night oh but only after the warm campfire and soulful singing of Bilal enthralled us to bring a closure on a wonderful day and promise of an even more better day to follow.

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Day 9: Ishaan is there on the dot by 9 to pick us up this time without his horse. The road to Tarsar lake is closed we are told and opens up only after the snow melts. Pretty disappointing as the only thing missing from our wish list was a virgin secluded lake but that’s for another time another day.

As we huffed and puffed past the initial ascend we crossed a small meadow and plunged into a dense pine forest with hundreds of strewn pine cones. The winding narrow roads took us through the imposing mountains and a glimpse of the gurgling Lidder river. Smrithi of course kept coming up with the never ending question R we there yet?

The topography now gave way to a boulder strewn road interspersed with small rivulets of water and vast green meadows. The Lidder now no longer shy and was visible in its full glory. A small break when we reached our first stop Gagad pather. A quick play time at the stream and off we proceeded still without a clue to that eternal question R we there yet? And she needed a 30 second break now and then and we were counting reverse to get her going.

We stopped for a quick photo session at a beautiful government log house bang in the middle of no where. This seems to be a familiar pattern having these wonderful quaint little government owned log houses with exquisite locations.

The road forward continued to spring surprises and every moment was a post card moment with the meadows and mountains and scattered shepherd houses and tall pine trees with the omnipresent Lidder river. If this wasn’t heaven on earth I wonder what is!

Crossing a frozen river we reached the Lidderwat where the Lidder culminates into a wide delta and where we finally had an answer to that mystery of life, R we there yet ? Lunch was seldom more delicious and the cool water of the Lidder more thirst quenching than now. With the looming threat of dark clouds and the distinct possibility of rain we rushed back to the valley and brought an end to one more heavenly day spent on this heaven on earth or must I say Jannat on earth.

In and around Aru Valleys: Aru valley is a place where you need to give it some time. If you are planning to just touch the valley and head back packing a few hours in your Pahalgam schedule then it is best to give it a miss. The mesmerizing drive to and fro would only probably linger in your mind.

It is a trekkers paradise and best enjoyed by walk. So be prepared for some of the best trekking spots in your life to soak in the beauty that is Aru. This place by itself captures the true essence of Kashmir.

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Day 10:A drive back to catch our flight back to Bangalore after a wonderful journey which kept getting better with every passing day.
Kashmir you have offered us so much and truly made our life experience richer.
Looking forward to where destiny would next take us.

Last edited by GTO : 13th June 2016 at 12:55. Reason: PM coming up :). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th June 2016, 23:03   #2
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Beautiful log and what a way to enter the forum! Better late than never!
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Old 13th June 2016, 10:54   #3
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Thank you Ampere.Trust I would now shed my laziness.
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Old 13th June 2016, 12:13   #4
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Vijayols. nice debut post...neat details of rarely visited places in Kashmir valley like Doodhpatri and Yusmarg. Thought the post was a bit short on the snaps. Please post more pictures if possible.
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Old 13th June 2016, 17:06   #5
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Awesome travelogue. The pics are really nice. I am planning to go to Kashmir in the month of September for 8 days with family. Is it possible to list down the hotel name and their numbers?


Last edited by GTO : 14th June 2016 at 11:36. Reason: Poorly typed post
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Old 13th June 2016, 17:16   #6
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Hi Vijayols, nice write up. Pics of the houseboats and the food served on board would have been nice.
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Old 14th June 2016, 12:04   #7
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Originally Posted by dsnaveen21 View Post
Awesome travelogue. The pics are really nice. I am planning to go to Kashmir in the month of September for 8 days with family. Is it possible to list down the hotel name and their numbers?

Naveen.The numbers of then hotels we stayed in are as follows
1) Srinagar boat house (Dal Lake) Chicago boat house.Contact Ijaz
Ph: 941 906 1430/969 734 5378.

Alternate suggestion is Peacock House boat.

2) Srinagar Near Nigeen lake Hospitality Home.Contact Riyaz.
Ph: 9596118839.
Great food and reasonable tariff.Basic accomadation.

3) Gulmarg Meadows @ gulmarg.
Ph:941 906 1100.
Tented accommodation. Great location.

4) Farahs Home stay @ Sonmarg.Contact Rashid: 9596 104 245
Odile: +91 9622 618 834
Beautiful Family run homestay.Arranges trekking tour near Sonmarg if interested.

5) Milky Way @ Aru Valley.Contact Bilal. Landline. +91, 01936 200044 , +91,01936 210899
Mobile. +91,9419435832 , +91,9419638392 , +91,9797000434

6) Driver for the trip Fayaz.Tavera Car.
ph: 9796776757.
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Old 14th June 2016, 14:30   #8
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Originally Posted by dsnaveen21 View Post
Awesome travelogue. The pics are really nice. I am planning to go to Kashmir in the month of September for 8 days with family. Is it possible to list down the hotel name and their numbers?

Thanks for liking the travelogue Naveen.Listing the places we stayed in during our trip.

Srinagar: For the Dal lake boat experience we stayed at Chicago boat house.Run by Ijaz he could be contacted on 941 906 1430/969 734 5378.

Another option at Nigeen lake would be Peacock boat house.

Hospitality home run by Riyaz and his family is an option for a standard and basic clean home stay but serving yummy food at Srinagar.

His contact number is 9596118839.

Gulmarg: We booked for this tented accommodation through Go-Ibibo but the same could be contacted directly at 941 906 1100.

A tad expensive but the location is awesome and totally worth the money paid.

Sonmarg:Farah's Home stay about 12 km before Sonmarg.Wonderful home stay.The owners Odile and Rashid could be contacted on 9622 618 834/9596 104 245.

Aru Valley:Milky Way.Excellent food and hospitality.Bilal could be contacted on 9419435832/9419638392/9797000434.

If you encounter any network issues when calling them on their mobiles you could alternatively call them on 01936 200044/01936 210899.

They also can arrange for some wonderful trekking route options or a road trip to Sinthan top.

Have a great trip with your family.
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Old 14th June 2016, 19:19   #9
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Hi vijayols,

Very nice travelogue. You have already shared the hotel contacts. Could you please share the tariff of the hotels if you do not have any problem.
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Old 14th June 2016, 23:17   #10
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Originally Posted by venkatt1800 View Post
Vijayols. nice debut post...neat details of rarely visited places in Kashmir valley like Doodhpatri and Yusmarg. Thought the post was a bit short on the snaps. Please post more pictures if possible.
When I uploaded the first time, I could not upload beyond 30 snaps. I was not sure whether, in one go, one can not upload or per post. (I am sure it can not be per post).

So, here there are:

Sunset in Dal Lake:
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0084.jpg

Badam Gardens (One of the best) in Srinagar near the fort:
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1416-2.jpg

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1425.jpg

Gulmarg II Stage :If you notice our shoes, they are our "own" shoes. In Tanmarg, you will be cajoled and forced by local shop owners to hire gum boots, jacket and so on citing the snow and cold up there in gulmarg. Please don't head to any of their advise, as long as you are wearing decent jacket and shoes. One look at their inventory, Kanthi did not even bother in spite of wearing just running shoes

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1524.jpg

Super restaurant in Ist Stage Gulmarg:
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-restaraunt_in_1ststage.jpg

Golf Course - Gulmarg:
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1549.jpg

Place of Stay - Gulmarg: Very clean, there was no smell of typical tent, clean bath room and food was decent.
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1585.jpg

Our driver/Companion - Fayaz. Driver is part of the journey in Kashmir. He was very knowledgeable and entertained us with various trivia and thought provoking conversations about Kashmir.

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-fayaz-2.jpg

Common scenes on the roadside

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1616.jpg
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1637-2.jpg

I need to hit the sack now. Will upload the remaining tomorrow.
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Old 15th June 2016, 17:17   #11
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I visited Kashmir in June 2014 with family and would definitely say that nature is at its best there with all greens and various colours of flowers.

I would like to share my personal experience.

The tourism sector is very un-organised. People out there are not so friendly and you feel that you have stepped out of your country to some alien land, if not careful, you get cheated on all occasions.

Its not "Atithi Devo Bhavah" but it felt like "Atithi ko loot lo..haha"

I may be a one off case, but couldn't resist sharing.
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Old 16th June 2016, 02:20   #12
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You had a wonderful trip! Reminded me of the places I visited just before you. I traveled on 9th April and was in Kashmir till 16th April, although ours was a road trip all the way from Kolkata.

Excellent pictures to match the good narration. Travel more and keep more such beautiful travelogues coming.
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Old 16th June 2016, 12:24   #13
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Wish you had posted this travelogue a couple of weeks earlier. I have just returned from a 10 day Road Trip to Kashmir. It was a wonderful experience and the place is just amazing. Without going into larger details, some of my thoughts which may or may not concur with other views on the forum
  1. Srinagar requires just 1 day for local sightseeing
  2. Srinagar itself is a crowded place with terrorism probably a big hindrance in the city's development. City looks old and dated
  3. Roads are indeed bad and bumper to bumper traffic is a regular phenomenon
  4. People are not very friendly. Tourism alone can support the state's economy and they ought to understand that.
  5. Found the Dal Lake quite dull and House Boats old, smelly and claustrophobic. Chose not to stay there after a recce visit. Wives got quite scared int he Shikara.
  6. Gulmarg is full of local touts. I practically got mobbed. Had to flex some Army muscles to get in despite booking online. Basically picking up the boarding pass was as issue
  7. Local Taxi unions are as good/bad as on all hill stations. Thankfully we were in personal vehicles so didn't face much hassle.
  8. We missed Aru Valley due to the huge local crowd at Pahalgam. It was actually the last weekend before Ramzans and hence the entire state seemed to be in Pahalagam. All roads were blocked, took us almost an hour plus to get out of the hotel and head to Chandanwadi. by the time we returned it was dark and Aru Valley got missed for a future visit maybe

I also want to share, avoid taking Jammu Srinagar Route. Take the Mughal Route instead. We took the following picturesque route to Srinagar. I read in the local daily that J&K Govt is planning to develop the route and declare it a National Highway. Its a longer route but just awesome. Road between Surankot and Bafliaz is broken but it is worth it. There is a direct 40km shorter route from Rajouri to Bafliaz via Thana Mandi but should be avoided.

Jammu - Rajouri - Nowshera - Rajouri - BG - Surankot - Bafliaz - Peer Ki Gali - Shopiyan - Srinagar

Lastly, My Leh plan got shelved but am glad could see Kashmir and best, I could drive my Manza all through the 2500 kms without a hitch. I plan to do it again and this time cover the unseen parts and beyond.

Last edited by dhondusaxena : 16th June 2016 at 12:25. Reason: grammatical error
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Old 16th June 2016, 18:26   #14
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gearhead thanks. Wow what would have made the trip sweeter if we too would have been driving on our own like you did.

So which places did you cover?
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Old 17th June 2016, 00:05   #15
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Originally Posted by vijayols View Post
When I uploaded the first time, I could not upload beyond 30 snaps. I was not sure whether, in one go, one can not upload or per post. (I am sure it can not be per post).

So, here there are:

Sunset in Dal Lake:
Attachment 1517925

Badam Gardens (One of the best) in Srinagar near the fort:
Attachment 1517926

Attachment 1517927

Gulmarg II Stage :If you notice our shoes, they are our "own" shoes. In Tanmarg, you will be cajoled and forced by local shop owners to hire gum boots, jacket and so on citing the snow and cold up there in gulmarg. Please don't head to any of their advise, as long as you are wearing decent jacket and shoes. One look at their inventory, Kanthi did not even bother in spite of wearing just running shoes

Attachment 1517936

Super restaurant in Ist Stage Gulmarg:
Attachment 1517937

Golf Course - Gulmarg:
Attachment 1517949

Place of Stay - Gulmarg: Very clean, there was no smell of typical tent, clean bath room and food was decent.
Attachment 1517943

Our driver/Companion - Fayaz. Driver is part of the journey in Kashmir. He was very knowledgeable and entertained us with various trivia and thought provoking conversations about Kashmir.

Attachment 1517944

Common scenes on the roadside

Attachment 1517946
Attachment 1517947

I need to hit the sack now. Will upload the remaining tomorrow.
As promised, here is some more.

Mandatory Photo demanded by Smrithi in doodhpathri

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1655.jpg

Naturally manicured(By sheep and ponies) green meadows of Doodhpathri
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1701.jpg
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1702.jpg
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0457.jpg
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0460.jpg

Inside the shepherd's home Doodhpathri
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1669.jpg

On the way to Yousmarg : fantastic green country road clustered with Apple/Badam/Walnat/Willow trees/Spring onion fields
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0600.jpg
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0620.jpg

Happy Shepherd
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0606.jpg

Yousmarg hotel where we had hot yummy parathas.
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1705.jpg

Trekking up in Yousmarg resisting and warding off all the Guides with Ponies
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1739-2.jpg

Destination reached
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1746.jpg
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1759.jpg

Highway route to Srinagar while going back.
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0678.jpg

Road to LEH from Sonmarg, one day we will drive through in Yeti!
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1771.jpg

This was a breath taking sight, with a drizzle and fresh snow falling, picture can not do justice though

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1797.jpg

Some familiar territory for the bangalore kid in Sonmarg! (Farah's home stay)
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1802.jpg

Sindh river in the backyard of the home stay.
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1805.jpg

On the way up to Baisaran(Pahalgam)

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1858.jpg

FInally back to base after getting lost for 5KM or so. This could happen to anybody, If one doesnt hire Ponies. Locals/guides take sweet revenge on you by (mis)directing you!

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1868.jpg

Aru Village from Green Top
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1898.jpg

Supposedly the most expensive mushroom - found in Green top
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0119.jpg

Enroute to Lidder Valley
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0167.jpg

Lidder river beautifully cuts across Aru Village
Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-img_1987.jpg

Heading out of Aru - What a village !

Kashmir: A Trip to Jannat-_dsc0394.jpg
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