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Old 9th May 2022, 11:34   #1
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Default Two weeks in Kashmir and Ladakh

It was Summer 2022. We had looked forward to this time of the year for a long time. Covid was no longer as threatening as it was in 2020 and 2021. We are a family of four and three of us are double vaccinated and all of us had also gotten Covid and were none for the worse.

We started looking at destinations for our holiday, any trip outside India was ruled out due to the pandemic / endemic and the different restrictions countries had in place.

We had always wanted to go to Kashmir but due to all the news in the recent decades about terrorism we could never get ourselves to do it. However with the current administration in place terrorist incident have greatly reduced and gave us more confidence to make the trip.

We visited the southernmost city of Kanyakumari (A 1,700 km tour of Tirunelveli, Alleppey and Munnar) in December 2021, and it seemed apt to visit our northernmost state in the middle of April.

In February, we booked our holiday to Kashmir and Ladakh through Swastik India Journeys, Karni was our contact person. Karni was extremely professional and tailor made our holiday. We wanted to spend 4 days in Kashmir and 10 days in Ladakh. The plan was to fly in from Chennai to Srinagar, and at the of the trip fly out from Leh to Chennai. We got quotations from 3 other tour operators and we found Karni to be the best option in terms of what was included and the price. They took care of hotels, breakfast, dinner and Innovas for all transportation. They even said we do not have to tip our drivers (we did anyway).

So our flight to Srinagar was uneventful with a stop over in Delhi. We arrived in the evening in Srinagar. We were met by our driver and his Innova at the airport. He was very friendly and spoke fluent Hindi. Srinagar was very cold in comparison to Chennai.

Our first impression of Srinagar was not very different from Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh. However the sheer number of police and army personnel changed that perception pretty fast.

Our first night's stay was to be in a houseboat. Our driver drove us to Dal lake. The boat jetty was very crowded. He mentioned that after five years the tourist season has had a very good beginning in Kashmir. He sounded very hopeful it continues as most people in Kashmir depend on tourism for their living expenses.

We got into a tiny rickety boat into which our bags were loaded and we also found a place to sit in. The only way to get to the Dal lake houseboats was by other boats.

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Our boatman was very friendly and made light conversation while rowing. He tried talking about politics and his hate for our Prime Minister but we did not encourage him. This theme continued with most of the Kashmiris we spoke to, more on this later.

We arrived in De-Laila HouseBoat after about ten minutes. We had been on houseboats in Alleppey but this one was bigger and better equipped. Apparently the boat was made of walnut wood. It was actually quite luxurious. We had two rooms which were very large. There was electricity, cable tv and running hot water in the bathrooms. There was a hall and a dining room.

It was a full moon night and the view of the lake was brilliant.

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Once we settled in, we were met by one of the merchants who plied their trade on the lake. He came into our boat and showed us his shawls and other clothes. We bought a few, and found him to be reasonable. While talking to him it was clear he considered us foreigners in Kashmir. No Kashmiri we spoke to considered themselves Indians.

We drank delicious Kawha and ate a good dinner which consisted of rotis, sabji and rice.

The next day we checked out of the house boat and were met by our driver who took us to Shankaracharya hill which also provided us with a stunning view of the city of Srinagar.

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The temple is up a hill as its name suggests. The car takes you up most of the way and we need to climb up some steps to reach the temple. The temple itself was very nice and there was a separate shrine where Shankaracharya did tapas. The security was very strict and the cars were checked thoroughly at the entrance. This was really the first place we visited in Kashmir and we felt really safe with the police doing their job well.

Once we were finished with the temple, we proceeded to the Tulip Garden. We were there on 15th April. The garden itself is breathtaking but unfortunately for us only a few of the tulips were in bloom. Apparently they bloom for only one to two weeks. The lawn was very well manicured and despite the huge crowd the garden was very clean. The garden is fairly large and it is a great place to spend with the family. We had lunch at a restaurant near the parking lot. We had to wait for a table with the crowds present there.

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After lunch we went to Nishat Bagh. This is a large Mughal terraced garden. The flowers, fountains and lawns were very beautiful. The Mughal emperors sure knew how to build gardens.

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We saw this majestic 350 year old Chinnar tree there.

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Our next stop was Shalimar Bagh. After having already seen 2 gardens during the day, we were finding it tough to get excited for this garden, but man once again we were not disappointed. This garden was spectacular and was a great way to end our day. We then went and checked into Hotel Nadis

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The hotel is a boutique hotel away from the crowds of the city. The hotel was very nice, comfortable and gave us a taste of Kashmiri cuisine for dinner. The room was so beautiful with woodwork on the roof. They had some really beautiful portraits up in the rooms and in the common areas.

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The time we visited was during the holy month of Ramzan and this meant most Kashmiris observed a fast and we felt a little guilty because everywhere we went in Kashmir for food, we were served by people who were fasting. It must have been tough for them, and all of them were really friendly and never complained once.

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After a good night's sleep we set off to Gulmarg. We were informed the previous day that there are no tickets available for the Gondola. This meant that there was almost no point going to Gulmarg. According to our taxi driver, people usually go to Gulmarg to see snow and do activities in the snow like skiing etc. We were disappointed to hear that the gondola tickets were unavailable.

We decided to make the trip anyway because we had already paid for the travel costs there. On the way to Gulmarg we stopped at the saffron fields. It wasn't the season for saffron but the farmers had left a small patch of flowers untouched for tourists to see.

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We stopped at a shop where we purchased a little saffron as gifts for our friends and family back home.

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We went to the base of Gulmarg and rented ATVs for the four of us. We had drivers who drove us on these ATVs, they let me and my wife drive the ATVs as well for a short stretch. The trip was alright with some nice sights, we also ran into a flock of sheep which was great.

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After Gulmarg on our way back to Srinagar we stopped at an apple orchard, like the saffron it was not in season and so we saw trees devoid of fruit and drank some apple juice.


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Once back in Srinagar, we took a boat ride on Dal lake. The lake was serene. We were frequently disturbed by vendors on their own boats peddling their wares. We saw a floating post office! We also navigated through some channels where there were floating shops. It was quite the experience.

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Kashmir is really expensive. We need to have to negotiate with everyone and sometimes people reduce the costs by almost 50%. This really ruins the holiday experience because you need to be argumentative every day with so many people. Everything from hiring a boat, to renting horses, ATVs to sleds requires hard negotiations and everything is so expensive. I am one of those guys who love Ola and Uber because I no longer have to sit and argue with auto drivers every time I need to get somewhere.

When I brought this up to the taxi driver, he told me Kashmiris have had a really bad run over the last 5 years with regards to tourism which is their main source of income. They need a good couple of years of tourism to make up for their loss of revenue.

His timeline is as follows

2016 to 2017 Burhan Wani protests
2019 - 2021 Lock down after revocation of article 370

By now our driver had become friendly with us and gave us his explanation as to what had happened in the valley. I want to preface this by mentioning that I am a proud Indian who wholeheartedly believes all of J&K is an Indian territory. I am proud of our army and am a patriot.

I think after the last regime change at the centre the army and police have become a lot tougher and their tolerance for terrorism and terrorist sympathizers is zero. I felt while speaking to Kashmiris that they are losing any hopes of independance now and also they now believe that terrorism is not the path towards independance. They dislike the party in power and are hoping we get a new party in power soon.

Last edited by GTO : 26th May 2022 at 08:23. Reason: PM'ing you, thanks for sharing!
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Old 16th May 2022, 14:45   #2
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This was to be our last day in Kashmir. We were to visit Pahalgam. We drove to Pehalgam and then rented some ponies to take us up to an area which the locals called Indian Switzerland.

The ponies were very sure footed and followed some very precarious tracks. It was a fairly long climb and for me was really uncomfortable. I guess it is a small price to pay for some really beautiful sights.

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The climb back down was even more uncomfortable. I can imagine what the poor ponies thought of having to do this everyday. We quietly swore never to get on ponies again when we finally caught sight of town. We had a good lunch in Pahalgam town and returned to Srinagar.

We were planning to drive to Sonmarg the next day and continue on to Kargil. As the journey was supposed to be a little strenuous we called it an early night.

In the morning we checked out of our hotel in Srinagar and proceeded to Sonmarg. The vehicle remained the same Innova but the driver changed. He was the cousin brother to the person who had driven us so far. We stopped for tea on the banks of the river Sind and made it to Sonmarg. During this trip we caught sight of the construction of the Z-Morh tunnel.

Once we reached Sonmarg town, we heard the news that the only way we could experience the snow here was to once again sit on the ponies. We mentally prepared ourselves to once again feel discomfort in our posteriors and set off on our ponies. This time around the trip was not as difficult as Pehalgam, but certainly not comfortable.

Sonmarg was just beautiful but, as expected, crowded. We were able to walk / slip and fall on the snow. We also rented sleds and had fun sliding down at scary speeds.

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By the time we reached our taxi again it was 3 PM. We decided to forgo lunch and drive straight to Kargil. However the army had other ideas, due to security reasons the road to Kargil was closed until 4 PM. So we decided to have a late lunch at a restaurant at the edge of town.

The drive from Sonmarg to Kargil was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen. We first crossed a small town called Zero Point which is effectively the border of Kashmir and Ladakh. Until this place the traffic was a little heavy because people also go to zero point to experience snow without having to sit on ponies (I wish I had known this in advance).

Once we crossed zero point the landscape was just fabulous. High majestic snow capped peaks, watching ice melt on the side of the roads and make tiny streams. We crossed some of the highest motorable roads in the world. It was a testament to our army's engineering prowess.

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Enroute we had the privilege to visit the Kargil War Memorial. We were lucky to enter the museum as they were just about to close. We saw the graves of our heroes and also plaques of some outstanding army personnel.


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We reached Kargil at around 8 PM. We checked into Hotel The Kargil. This hotel was very good, probably one of the better ones we have stayed in during this trip. Dinner was great and so was breakfast. We planned to stay in Kargil only for the night and proceed on to Leh the next morning.

The drive to Leh from Kargil was very scenic and interesting. However some of us were a little under the weather perhaps because of some dicey pakodas in Sonmarg.

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A huge statue of Maitreya Buddha at the Diskit Monastery

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A covid checkpost where they made us all show them our vaccination certificates before entering Leh. We were all double vaccinated except for our 12 year old daughter who was exempt.

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Last edited by Chrome6Boy : 23rd May 2022 at 15:27.
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Old 20th May 2022, 15:10   #3
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We arrived in Leh into Hotel Saraha. This is a beautiful hotel situated about a 10 minute drive away from the Leh Market. The rooms are spacious and the food was good too. The staff especially were very friendly and helpful.

We were in Leh for only a day before we left for the Nubra valley. The plan was to come back to Leh and do the sightseeing before we flew back to Chennai.

We were met by an Innova with a Ladhaki driver. He was once again very friendly like everyone so far on the trip. He had a very loud infectious laugh which was really cool. He explained to us that Ladakh becoming a union territory was the best thing that has happened. According to him, previously all the money J&K received from the centre went to Kashmir and Kahsmiris. There was no development in Ladakh. Even today Leh gets its electricity from Srinagar, but now development has been great for instance*10 GW solar plant is being setup as we speak.

The road to Nubra was surrounded by snow and was a very cold drive. We made this trip mainly for these experiences.

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We arrived at The Dunes hotel. It was a very picturesque hotel with great rooms and an even better view of the mountains.

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The view from our room.

We were planning a day trip to Turtuk, but since 2 in our family were unwell, only 2 made the trip. The trip was to the Indo - Pakistani border town of Turtuk. This used to be a Pakistani town which we took over after the Kargil war.

The next day we left for the famed Pangong lake. This lake was made famous by movies like 3 Idiots. The road from Nubra to Pangong was very different from the roads we had encountered so far. We were basically in desert land now surrounded by mountains.

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As we approached the lake we realised how incredibly huge this lake is. It was so still and so blue that it looked photoshopped!

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We checked into Pangong House. It is a home stay with very few amenities. Our driver explained to us that after the success of 3 idiots, people started coming to Pangong for tourism. A lot of homestays started coming up on the banks of the lake. They followed none of the norms put forward by the government. They were pumping raw sewage into the lake and tourists were allowed to drive their SUVs in and around the banks of the lake. However when things got out of hand the army stepped in and actually destroyed the new buildings on the banks and only allowed places a little further away. No pollution of the lake was allowed, there were very few places where tourists are allowed to access the lake and it is monitored for any misbehaviour.

The place we stayed in had no electricity, they had to use a diesel generator for electricity. It was turned on around sunset and was turned off around 10:30 PM. There was a huge kerosene heater at the corner of our rooms. These heaters were quite powerful but pumped in kerosene fumes into the room! Also these were turned off at 9 PM as our hosts said it was dangerous to leave it on at night due to fear of suffocation. Pangong hit -6 degrees that night, for us Chennai people this was incredibly difficult!

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The heater in our room.

We were ready for the last leg of our trip. We left for Hanle which houses the highest observatory in the world. The route from Pangong to Hanle was very different from anything we had experienced so far. Most of *the roads were just dirt tracks which cut across huge flat areas. The Innova did really well, it is one really capable car!



On the way to Hanle we stopped at Rezangla war memorial. It is on the line of control between China and India. It was a very well maintained and informative memorial of the 114 jawans who gave their lives for our country against really tough odds against the Chinese in 1963.

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As we approached Hanle we encountered a tiny road which was arrow straight cutting through the desert. In the rare circumstances that we encountered *oncoming traffic we had to give way by going off road. The only traffic we saw was Army trucks.

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Attachment 2311692

We reached Padma Homestay. The woman who owned it was very nice to us and tried to make everything comfortable for us. The rooms were spacious and luckily they had a room heater for us. It was incredibly cold once again, especially after sunset.

Hanle has the world's highest astronomical observatory at an elevation of 4,500 m. The telescope is remotely controlled by scientists at ISRO Bangalore. They only have about 3 technicians at the observatory to maintain the equipment.

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At night we got to see the night sky on a clear night without any artificial lights anywhere nearby. I used Google's astrophotography camera on my cheap a** Chinese phone to take this photo so please excuse the poor quality. This has to be one of the most beautiful sights on our earth and cannot see it from the cities we live in.

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Last edited by Chrome6Boy : 23rd May 2022 at 15:34.
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Old 23rd May 2022, 14:33   #4
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The trip was coming to an end, we drove back from Hanle to Leh. The roads were much better than any we had experienced so far. We followed the river Indus most of the way.

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We checked into the same Hotel Saraha in Leh. We planned to spend a couple of days in Leh and see the local sights.

We visited the Hall of Fame museum which had a lot of information about the history of Ladakh. This included very interesting news like how Ladakh became a state in India, how much land was given up during the Chinese war, Ladakh's war against the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

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The Shanti Stupa was very nice. It gave a great view of the town of Leh and also the monastery was very peaceful and beautiful.

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The Sindu Ghat was a very nice area built on the banks of the river Indus.The background views were stunning.

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We also visited Shey Palace and the really impressive Thiksey Monastery. Not only are these monasteries great to see, but since most of them are built on hills they offer a great view of the surrounding areas.

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Our last stop was at the Leh Market which is a lovely little street cut off from traffic which has shops, mosques, monasteries and restaurants.

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It was time to fly back to Chennai (delayed because Indigo cancelled our flight) but we got back eventually.

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Overall it was a trip to remember. For us while Kashmir was great, Ladakh was the real attraction. I encourage people to make this trip if they haven't been there. It is really a unique experience.

Last edited by Chrome6Boy : 23rd May 2022 at 15:41.
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Old 23rd May 2022, 17:37   #5
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 24th May 2022, 14:50   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrome6Boy View Post
The trip was coming to an end,

Overall it was a trip to remember. For us while Kashmir was great, Ladakh was the real attraction. I encourage people to make this trip if they haven't been there. It is really a unique experience.
Great trip there! Nice photos too.

How much did you pay per head approx for this trip?
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Old 24th May 2022, 17:48   #7
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Default Re: Two weeks in Kashmir and Ladakh

Nice trip details and photos. I am more keen on the beautiful Ladakh however the sheer distance means either travel via Himachal or Kashmir which adds to additional days. Flight to Leh seem to be more costlier than international flights as of today.
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Old 25th May 2022, 07:55   #8
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A nice t"log with amazing pics, thanks for sharing.

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Originally Posted by Chrome6Boy View Post

A huge statue of Maitreya Buddha at the Diskit Monastery
Just a small clarification, this statue/ stone carving is in Mulbekh Village in Srinagar - Leh highway...
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Old 25th May 2022, 12:39   #9
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Hanle has the world's highest astronomical observatory at an elevation of 4,500 m. The telescope is remotely controlled by scientists at ISRO Bangalore. They only have about 3 technicians at the observatory to maintain the equipment.
Great trip you had! Nice photos too!

Hanle observatory is one place I missed in my previous Ladakh trips. Is there any prior permission required to visit the observatory? Can you please detail the procedure for entry permit to go inside the observatory?
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Old 25th May 2022, 14:45   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unoczar View Post
Great trip there! Nice photos too.

How much did you pay per head approx for this trip?
Thank you.

The quotations ranged from 55,000 to 80,000 per person depending on the hotels and verhicle you opt for. This includes transportation, hotel stay, breakfast and dinner. All parking and toll fees are also included.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rajshenoy View Post
Nice trip details and photos. I am more keen on the beautiful Ladakh however the sheer distance means either travel via Himachal or Kashmir which adds to additional days. Flight to Leh seem to be more costlier than international flights as of today.
Thank you.

You are right this leg is expensive. We booked this trip in February and paid Rs. 5000 per person from Leh to Chennai.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SJM1214 View Post
A nice t"log with amazing pics, thanks for sharing.



Just a small clarification, this statue/ stone carving is in Mulbekh Village in Srinagar - Leh highway...
Thank you.

Good catch, I am mistaken.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dhar's View Post
Great trip you had! Nice photos too!

Hanle observatory is one place I missed in my previous Ladakh trips. Is there any prior permission required to visit the observatory? Can you please detail the procedure for entry permit to go inside the observatory?
No permit was required, we just walked in and a technician was kind enought to take us on a little tour. To be honest there isn't much to see except the telescope itself and also the view once you climb the stairs is fantastic.
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