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Old 17th June 2024, 08:46   #1
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A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Imagine standing at the threshold of a destination you've longed to see, heart pounding with anticipation and wonder. This is the story of my unforgettable journey!

In May 2023, my family and I took a wonderful trip to Kashmir. This journey was inspired by a road trip I had taken with friends in May 2019 from Bengaluru to Leh. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which Madhu, a BHPian, has well-documented in the travelogue below. Please read it if you haven't already.

https://www.team-bhp.com/forum/trave...ne-dusted.html (Bengaluru to Leh Ladakh (Fortuner, S-Cross) - One blind summit, done and dusted!)

My wife loved the photos and stories from that trip and wanted to experience the place herself. We decided to plan two separate trips: one to Kashmir and another to Leh and Ladakh. Initially, we chose to visit Kashmir once our daughter was a bit older, around three or four years old. The second trip to Leh and Ladakh would be planned for one or two years later.

Finally, we made it happen and had an amazing time together in Kashmir:

Photo taken in Sonamarg with beautiful snow-filled mountains in the backdrop
A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms-whatsapp-image-20240614-23.47.16.jpeg
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Old 17th June 2024, 08:49   #2
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Planning

Since we were traveling with a small child of 4 years old, we chose to book a package from a reputable travel agency instead of arranging everything ourselves for a hassle-free experience.

As we know, the famous tourist locations in Kashmir are Srinagar, Sonamarg, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam. However, most packages do not include all four places.

We had a call with a customer care executive, explained our requirements, and they suggested a custom package where we could add all four places and select our choice of hotels.

They created the custom package, adding Srinagar, Sonamarg, Pahalgam, and Gulmarg, and sent us a link to select the hotels. We finalized all the hotels and paid online for the package.

The following are the package details, itinerary, and cost:

Hotels:
  • Day 1 (Srinagar): Premium Houseboat by Meena Group.
  • Day 2 (Sonamarg): Country Inn & Suites by Radisson.
  • Day 3-4 (Pahalgam): Radisson Golf Resort.
  • Day 5 (Gulmarg): Nedou's Hotel, Gulmarg.
  • Day 6 (Srinagar): Regenta Central Srinagar.
  • Day 7 (Return Home): Departure
In all the aforementioned hotels, our meal plan included 2 meals - breakfast and either lunch or dinner.

Flight: IndiGo (There was no direct flight from Bengaluru to Srinagar. There was a layover in Amritsar for the round-trip journey), with a total journey time of four hours, including a 30-minute layover in Amritsar for the round-trip

Taxi: The package includes taxi services for airport pick-up, drop-off, and transfers to all destinations. However, it does not cover taxi services for local sightseeing at any of the places. We will need to hire a local taxi ourselves.

Activities included in the package:
  • Exclusive Lounge for refreshment on arrival.
  • 1 hour Shikara ride at Dal Lake.
  • Photoshoot in Srinagar with 10 edited images.
  • Cricket Bat Factory Visit in Pahalgam.

Package cost: 193,746 Rs

The MakeMyTrip team informed us that tickets for the 'Golkonda Ride' in Gulmarg are not part of the package, and we have to book the tickets ourselves. We booked the tickets online a month before our trip, and they cost 740 Rs per person.
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Old 17th June 2024, 09:01   #3
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day1: Bengaluru to Srinagar

Hotel: Premium Houseboat by Meena Group
Activities:
  • On-Ground Assistance by Tour Manager.
  • Exclusive Lounge for refreshment on arrival.
  • 1 hour Shikara ride at Dal Lake.

Our flight was scheduled for 09:25 in the morning. This was my daughter’s first flight journey, and with a lot of excitement, three of us started our day to reach the airport. We arrived two hours in advance and had breakfast at the airport lounge. We were eager to see our daughter’s reaction during take-off and landing, anticipating she might cry due to discomfort. To our surprise, she enjoyed the experience and remained calm throughout both take-off and landing. There was a 30-minute layover at Amritsar, and we reached Srinagar by 2 PM.

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Our driver was waiting outside with a placard, and as per our itinerary, he took us to the MakeMyTrip Lounge where the manager explained the package details, dos and don'ts during the trip. They provided us with lunch and refreshments. Afterward, the driver took us to the houseboat and informed us that we could take a Shikara ride in the evening, with assistance from the houseboat team. The houseboat was situated on the banks of Dal Lake with a clear view. We liked the view from the houseboat, and the rooms were clean and comfortable.

I did not take photos of the houseboat and downloaded the photos below from their Instagram handle ‘meena_houseboats’. It was the same as in the photos below.

Photo by @meena_houseboats | Drone view of houseboats
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Photo by @meena_houseboats | Houseboat entrance
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Photo by @meena_houseboats | Houseboat sitting area
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Photo by @meena_houseboats | Houseboat premium room
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Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 15:11. Reason: Added captions to the photos.
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Old 17th June 2024, 09:11   #4
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day1 continued...

We got ready for the Shikara ride around 6 PM, and the houseboat team assisted us to start the ride. We began at around 6:15 PM. We had a very good time, and the weather was pleasant and calm. After a one-hour ride, the rider asked us if we would like to take another ride, which would cost 2k. Since the weather was still pleasant and there were fewer crowds compared to earlier, we negotiated the price down to 1k and enjoyed another hour-long ride. During the boat ride, we had kahwa, which was one of the best drinks we had, and we also shopped for a few items at the floating market.

Serenity on Dal Lake: Embracing the tranquil beauty
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A glimpse into Kashmir's unique floating market culture
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Bustling scenes at Dal Lake's lively floating bazaar
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Embracing the majestic mountains from Dal Lake
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Dal Lake's majestic backdrop: The Shankaracharya Temple atop the mountain
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Nighttime magic: Houseboat lights painting the lake with shimmering reflections
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After enjoying our second hour-long Shikara ride and exploring the floating market, we returned to the houseboat. The serene view of Dal Lake from our houseboat was mesmerizing, and we spent the evening relaxing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. For dinner, we had a traditional Kashmiri meal prepared by the houseboat staff. The hospitality was exceptional, and we ended our day feeling grateful for such a memorable experience.

Premium Houseboat by Meena Group: 4.5 out of 5
Hospitality: 5 out of 5
Experience: 5 out of 5
Food: 3.5 out of 5

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 11:57. Reason: Added captions to the photos.
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Old 17th June 2024, 09:28   #5
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day 2: Srinagar to Sonamarg (86 kms, 2.30 hours’ drive)

Hotel: Country Inn & Suites by Radisson

Activities:
  • Sightseeing in Sonmarg, Thajwas glacier by pony, and zero-point by local taxi.

We got ready to check out of the houseboat by 8 AM and completed all necessary formalities. We then boarded a boat to reach the gate, where our driver was already waiting for us.

Stepping out from serenity to adventure. Farewell, houseboat life
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We started our drive to Sonamarg, and the weather was pleasant when we began. We stopped on the way for breakfast. The hotel was located on the banks of the Sind River. The breakfast was decent, but the place was too crowded.

Morning tranquility by the Sind River: A refreshing breakfast stop with serene views.
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We then reached Sonamarg and asked the driver to drop us directly at the hotel. We planned to freshen up first and then select the sightseeing package.

Gateway to Sonmarg's majestic landscapes.
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Embracing Sonmarg's beauty from every angle: Our scenic hotel retreat
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After freshening up, we came out and found it was drizzling outside. We met a few people returning from Thajwas Glacier and asked them about the weather and road conditions. They informed us that the weather was very bad up there, the roads were slushy, and it was challenging, especially with a child on a pony ride. They mentioned witnessing a few people falling off horses, including a child. This discouraged us from visiting Thajwas Glacier. We then went to the taxi stand where our driver was waiting. He introduced us to someone who could arrange a local taxi for us. They initially quoted 8k to visit Zero Point, covering three sightseeing spots in a Tata Sumo taxi. After negotiation, we agreed on 5k Rs. Additionally, a photographer approached us and offered to make reels covering all three sightseeing spots for 700 Rs per reel. Initially, we declined, but after his persistence and seeing his previous reels, we agreed, and he joined us in the taxi.

Sonamarg's May symphony: Melting snow reveals nature's timeless beauty
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Waking up to enchanting skyline from our hotel room
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Springtime serenity amidst Sonamarg's snow-crowned mountains
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In the heart of Kashmir: My daughter shines in traditional dress with mountains as her backdrop
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Capturing smiles and shared moments with local children in Kashmir
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After coming back from Zero Point, my daughter asked for a horse ride, and it was already evening around 5:30 PM. We approached one of the pony riders to explore the town of Sonamarg or go halfway to Thajwas Glacier until the road was clear. He took us about 3 km along the way to Thajwas Glacier and stopped at a sightseeing location where we spent around 30 minutes. Then, we returned to the hotel on the pony ride. It was a good experience, and my daughter enjoyed it a lot. We paid him 500 Rs for the three of us.

Country Inn & Suites by Radisson: 4 out of 5
Hospitality: 4.5 out of 5
Experience: 5 out of 5
Food: 4 out of 5

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 14:38. Reason: Added captions to the photos.
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Old 17th June 2024, 10:36   #6
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day 3: Sonamarg to Pahalgam (173 kms, 4.30 hours’ drive)

Hotel: Radisson Golf Resort
Activities:
  • Sightseeing in Avantipura Ruins
  • Cricket Bat Factory Visit

Since we had to travel 4 to 5 hours to Pahalgam and planned to visit both Avantipura Ruins and the Cricket Bat Factory on the way, we woke up early, had breakfast, and left Sonamarg around 8:30 AM.

It was the long travel as it was raining here and there and traffic jam at some places. The driver was not flexible and he was not stopped on the way if we spot any good location.

We visited Cricket Bat Factory and they explained us the bat making process. We bought a small bat for my daughter.

Our next planned stop was the ‘Avantipura Ruins’, but our driver did not take us there. When we asked him, he informed us that the road was blocked due to an accident. He had not informed us beforehand, and we only realized we had passed Avantipura Ruins when we checked the map. Upon reaching the hotel, we contacted MakeMyTrip and inquired about the road closure to Avantipura Ruins. They confirmed that there was no road closure and suggested we ask the driver to take us when we travel to Gulmarg from Pahalgam on the 5th day.

We had lunch on the way, and the food was okay. The driver stopped at an apple plantation where we enjoyed apple juices and took photos with apple trees that had fake apples. We reached the hotel around 3:30 PM.

Amidst Kashmir's apple trees: My daughter and the charm of imitation apples
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We had planned to visit the town for shopping in the evening, but unfortunately, it started raining heavily. The rain did not stop until 8 PM. We decided to enjoy the hotel property, had dinner, and called it a day.

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 12:18.
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Old 17th June 2024, 10:49   #7
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day4: Sightseeing at Pahalgam

Hotel: Radisson Golf Resort
Activities:
  • Tour of Aru Valley, Betab Valley & Chandanwari

We woke up early and had breakfast. Our driver was waiting to take us to the local taxi stand where we hired a taxi to visit Aru Valley, Betab Valley, and Chandanwari. The area was crowded, but he assisted us in getting a taxi. We paid around 2.5k, which was a fixed rate. The local taxi driver was young, energetic, and very helpful.

After walking around 500 meters from the parking lot, we reached a snow-filled small mountain and walked steeply to reach the snow point. The surface was slippery, so we had to walk slowly and carefully. We hired sledges for my daughter and paid him 500 Rs. He was good and also took photos for us. The place was okay but too crowded. The road to reach Chandanwari from Pahalgam is more scenic than the destination.

A glimpse of Chandanwari's breathtaking snowy landscape
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My daughter's excitement at reaching Chandanwari's first snow-point
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After an hour we left Chandanwari to Betab Valley. Here, as well it was the same that we need to come back by an hour otherwise we have to pay 500 Rs per hour.

Betab Valley was a huge garden with the Lidder River flowing through it, offering an excellent view across the garden. There is a good amusement park inside the garden, and the whole place is lush green and very pleasing to the eyes. The views are breathtaking, and the entire experience was fantastic. We ended up staying an extra 30 minutes. The entry fee was 100 Rs per head.

Discovering paradise in Betab Valley's pristine landscapes
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After reaching the parking lot, the driver informed us that we had gone over by 1 hour, but we clarified that only 30 minutes were extra. With that settled, we started our drive to Aru Valley. Both Betaab Valley and Chandanwari are on the same route, while Aru Valley is on a separate route altogether. The road to Aru Valley was also scenic.

Upon reaching Aru Valley, the driver told us the same thing: we had to return within the hour, or there would be an additional charge of 500 Rs per hour.

Aru Valley was encircled by towering green mountains, providing a breathtaking panoramic view. Although there were green meadows and glimpses of snowy mountains, there wasn't much else to do or see there.

In awe of Aru Valley's tranquil charm with my daughter's beaming smile
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Here, we spent 30 mins extra her as well and so total 1 hour extra time we took for both Betab and Aru valley. We paid the driver 500 Rs at the end. He dropped us to hotel and asked him whether he can pick-up and drop for shopping in the evening. He said yes and shared his number. We reached hotel around 4.30 PM and enjoyed the hotel property. The property was very good and had view of golf court.

We called the local taxi driver and asked him to pick us up at 6:30 PM for shopping. He arrived and dropped us at the city market. We explored the area, did some shopping, and returned to the hotel around 8 PM. After a nice dinner, we called it a day.


Radisson Golf Resort: 4.5 out of 5
Hospitality: 4.5 out of 5
Experience: 5 out of 5
Food: 4 out of 5

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 15:24.
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Old 17th June 2024, 10:59   #8
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day5: Pahalgam to Gulmarg (140 kms, 3.30 hours’ drive)

Hotel: Nedou's Hotel
Activities:
  • Avantipura Ruins.
  • Gondola Ride.

We booked ‘Gondala Ride’ for 1.30 to 3.30 pm slot so we have to reach Gulmarg hotel by 12.30 to 1 PM atleast. We got up early and had breakfast by 7 AM and left Pahalgam to Gulmarg.

He stopped at Avantipura Ruins on the way. We spent around 30 to 45 minutes there. It was a good experience and a must-visit. The remains of the temple are beautiful enough to envision what the structure would have been at its peak.

Exploring the ancient whispers of Avantipura Ruins
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After this, we started our ride to Gulmarg. Upon reaching the entry to Gulmarg, the driver stopped to hire coats and shoes as it would be too cold up there after the Gondola Ride in phase 1. Additionally, our driver suggested hiring a guide to help us move through the queue faster and assist with activities in phase 1, especially since we had a kid with us. We agreed to pay 1k and he accompanied us.

We reached the hotel around 12 PM, checked in, and immediately headed for the Gondola ride. However, our driver was not ready to drop us there, insisting we hire a local taxi to avoid potential fines. After waiting for about 30 minutes, during which it also started drizzling, we were unable to find a cab. Eventually, our driver relented and dropped us off.

Upon entering the Gondola area, we encountered a large crowd and a lengthy queue. Our guide said he would check inside and return, so we waited in line. Unfortunately, heavy rain started outside. After standing in the queue for 30 minutes, our guide came back and informed us that the weather might be bad up there. He went to check and update us, asking us to remain in the queue. Meanwhile, chaos ensued as people began pushing and some even started physical fights. Another guide helped others move faster, but our guide did not return. After waiting for three hours, we were nearing the cable car when it was announced that the Gondola ride was cancelled due to the bad weather. They took our reference ID, name, and mobile number for a refund, which was processed without any deductions a few days later.

As it continued to rain, we waited inside and observed people returning from their Gondola rides, completely drenched. One child even became unconscious due to the harsh conditions. Those returning described a chaotic scene with no shelter to queue properly amid the heavy rain. Shortly after, our guide returned and explained he couldn't reach us due to the weather. We were relieved not to have ventured further. Eventually, they allowed us to take pictures inside the cable car.

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After this, we hired the local taxi and reached the hotel without doing any activity. It was bad luck that weather was very bad. We got inside the room and it was too cold. The room was big and clean and had very good scenic view. This was the best scenic hotel view during our trip. The raining slowly was coming down and after an hour it stopped completely. We relaxed at the hotel and took photos and had the evening snack and tea.

Breathtaking view from our hotel room in Gulmarg, complete with a stunning rainbow
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And, we called for a day after the nice dinner.


Nedou's Hotel: 4.5 out of 5
Hospitality: 4.5 out of 5
Experience: 5 out of 5
Food: 4.5 out of 5

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 15:24.
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Old 17th June 2024, 11:38   #9
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day6: Gulmarg to Srinagar (51 kms, 1.20 hours’ drive)

Hotel: Regenta Central Srinagar
Activities:
  • Sightseeing in Cheshma Shahi, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Garden, Shankaracharya Temple.
  • Photoshoot in Srinagar.

We had a relaxed breakfast and left for Gulmarg around 8:30 AM from Srinagar. Upon reaching Srinagar, the driver took us to the 'Shankaracharya Temple' and dropped us at the parking lot.

We started walking towards the temple and underwent security checks at the entrance before beginning to climb the steps. There were around 250-280 steps, and we took a few breaks in between. The steps were well-maintained and the climb was absolutely worth it. At the top, the views of Srinagar city and Dal Lake were mesmerizing.

Overlooking Dal Lake from the heights of Shankaracharya Hills
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A moment of pride and respect with an Army officer
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After lunch, we visited the Mughal Gardens - Cheshma Shahi, Nishat Bagh, and Shalimar Garden. The gardens were extremely crowded, with people bathing and playing in the water fountains and pools. There were lots of school kids. We walked around and enjoyed the splendid beauty of all the gardens, and my daughter had a great time.

Admiring the meticulously landscaped gardens of Mughal architecture
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After this, we went to dal lake for the photoshoot organised by MakeMyTrip and he tooks few photos in the backdrop of Dal Lake and told us that we will be getting 10 Edited copies over the email.

We reached the hotel and checked-in. It was inside the city centred a decent hotel. The rooms were clean and maintained well. But, the road to reach this hotel is narrow and dark. After the nice dinner, we called for a day.

Regenta Central Srinagar: 4 out of 5
Hospitality: 4 out of 5
Experience: 4 out of 5
Food: 4.5 out of 5

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 15:24.
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Old 17th June 2024, 11:40   #10
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Day7: Srinagar to Bengaluru (Flight departure time: 2.30 PM)

Our driver had informed us the previous day that there would be strict checks at multiple places, so we planned to leave the hotel at least three hours early. After having breakfast, we were ready to depart by 9:30 AM. However, our driver arrived around 10 AM, and we set off for the airport. There were checks at two places, but they were conducted swiftly. Along the way, we met a few army officers from Bengaluru and my hometown, which was a pleasant surprise. We reached the airport by 11:30 AM, much earlier than expected, and comfortably made it home by around 9 PM.

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In reflection, our journey to Kashmir was filled with unforgettable experiences and breathtaking landscapes. From the serene houseboat on Dal Lake to the tranquil moments in Srinagar's Mughal Gardens, every moment was cherished. Despite the closure of the Gondola Ride in Gulmarg due to weather, the breathtaking and scenic views in Sonamarg and Pahalgam more than made up for it. Meeting fellow travelers and army officers added a special touch to our trip. We returned home with hearts full of gratitude for the warmth of Kashmiri hospitality and memories that will last a lifetime.

Last edited by TurboTorque : 17th June 2024 at 15:23.
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Old 17th June 2024, 19:10   #11
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 18th June 2024, 20:16   #12
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Nice travelogue, nature at it's best. I travelled this month along with my family and enjoyed it a lot. Fortunately/unfortunately did not get Gondola ride tickets hence our tour operator arranged alternative sightseeing to Sinthan Top
(https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attracti...d_Kashmir.html) which was less crowded and mesmerizing.
Hats off to our army and their security, making our travel more easier and safe
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Old 19th June 2024, 07:31   #13
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Fantabulous travelogue!

Thank you for sharing it with such detail. Would definitely help future travellers.

Happy to know that your family wanted to tag along after your Leh trip. Well, mine just ordered not to count on them for any future adventure rides after my Leh trip .
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Old 19th June 2024, 09:43   #14
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

I personally have visited both, Switzerland and Kashmir state of India, and I can say with absolute certainty that there is no difference between the two, barring the infrastructure. Hoping that Kashmir turns out to be a truly world class and affordable alternative to the Swiss mountains in the coming years.

PS- How about a HMT or Jaipur Watch company outlet among the snowy mountains!

A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms-img_4400.jpeg

A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms-img_4399.jpeg
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Old 19th June 2024, 12:24   #15
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Re: A Tale of Serenity: Discovering Kashmir's Charms

Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ78 View Post
our tour operator arranged alternative sightseeing to Sinthan Top
(https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attracti...d_Kashmir.html) which was less crowded and mesmerizing.
Hats off to our army and their security, making our travel more easier and safe
Thank you! I'm glad to hear you had a wonderful trip with your family. Sinthan Top sounds like an amazing alternative, especially with fewer crowds and stunning views. Thanks for sharing it here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by QuentinTino View Post
I personally have visited both, Switzerland and Kashmir state of India, and I can say with absolute certainty that there is no difference between the two, barring the infrastructure. Hoping that Kashmir turns out to be a truly world class and affordable alternative to the Swiss mountains in the coming years.
That's wonderful! I agree, Kashmir's natural beauty is on par with Switzerland. With improvements in infra, it has the potential to become a world-class and affordable alternative to the Swiss mountains. Let's hope for more developments in the near future!
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