Kashmir – The stunning beauty of heaven on Earth
The summers in Delhi have set a new record this year. It touched 49.2 °C. It was scorching hot, and we desperately needed a break to a cooler location. As we could take leave for an entire week, we zeroed upon two choices – Chitkul in Himachal or Kashmir. Since my mother also agreed to join us, we ruled out Chitkul since it required two days of tedious driving. For Kashmir, we could fly directly to Srinagar and then take a local cab to Pahalgam and Gulmarg. So, after much deliberation, we finalized Kashmir.
My old school friend and travel companion, Dr. Gaurav Arya, and his wife, from Bhopal, also decided to join us.
Day 1: Fly to Srinagar from Delhi – Srinagar airport to Pahalgam drop by cab
Day 2: Betaab valley, Aru valley, and Chandanwadi
Day 3: Pahalgam local attractions
Day 4: Drive to Srinagar – Srinagar’s local attractions
Day 5: Drive to Gulmarg – Take Gandola for phases 1 & 2 – Drive back to Srinagar
Day 6: Srinagar local or a day trip to Sonmarg
Day 7: Fly back to Delhi – Dr. Arya travels back to Bhopal.
Pahalgam: Beach Resorts near Pahalgam Club
Srinagar: Serene House (Airbnb), Batpora, Srinagar
Important Contact Numbers
Srinagar Airport taxi – Aaina – 9541178731
Srinagar local taxi (Aamir) – He owns a Tata Sumo and can be reached at 9149674546
Beach Resorts (Arif) – 7006828875 (He can arrange a local cab for sightseeing). Alternatively, one can directly call Pahalgam Tourist Taxi Stand at 01936-243120 / 243320 and book a cab.
Kashmir Trip, Day-1 (Delhi – Pahalgam)
Our Air Asia flight was scheduled to depart from Delhi’s Terminal-3 at 06.00 hrs. So, we boarded Uber and arrived at the departure terminal by 03.00 hrs. We expected check-in would be a cakewalk and we could have a good time at the airport lounge. Fate had a different plan, though. The queue at the check-in counter was long, and it took us more than an hour to drop off our bags. Quickly, we rushed to the security check, but unfortunately, our bags contained liquid cosmetics and camera batteries, which took a long time to clear.
The boarding gate was quite far, and finally, we jogged to reach there just in the nick of time. Ironically, our seats were 1A-F, and we were the last ones to board. The start of the trip was unexpected. We missed our visit to the airport lounge. Finally, the plane took off, and the flight was uneventful. It landed at Srinagar on time, around 07.30 hrs. The temperature outside was 21°C, and it was drizzling. There was a nip in the air.
We noticed a significant temperature difference between Delhi and Srinagar when we stepped off the plane. Quickly, the sweatshirts were out and worn by us. Our vacation had finally started.
Feel aa Gayi!
We rented an Innova from Srinagar airport to our Pahalgam Hotel – The beach resort. On the way, we stopped to buy Kashmiri Kesar and then for breakfast at The Evergreen Resort near Mattan. The parathas exceeded our expectations, but the best part was the mixed pickle. We even got some packed from there for the rest of the trip.
The Beach Resort was conveniently located near the main market and the Pahalgam Club. The best part of our stay was being right next to the Lidder River. The view from the hotel was breathtaking. This, combined with the drizzly weather, made it even more beautiful. We rested and enjoyed the scenery with a hot cup of tea from our hotel on the first day.
Kashmir Trip, Day-2 (Pahalgam – Chandanwadi – Betaab Valley)
It had rained incessantly last night. The river was roaring louder now, and we could observe that the color of the water had changed. It was more greyish today. In addition, the river swelled slightly more. The weather was good, so we decided to walk up to the main market of Pahalgam, which was around 1.5 km away. The salubrious weather kept us agile as we walked towards the market for breakfast. There is a Sagar Ratna which serves delectable North & South Indian cuisine. After a scrumptious breakfast, we called a cab from the taxi stand which we rented for Aru valley, Betaab valley, and Chandanwadi.
The drizzle turned to rain as we got into the cab. As we climbed up to Chandanwadi, the river accompanied us. The view outside was breathtaking though the rains had now turned heavy into a downpour. As we zipped past Betaab valley, we stopped for a moment to catch a glimpse of it. As we stepped outside the car, the rain began to fall heavily. Strong winds with heavy downpours made it difficult for us to even pose for a photo. Quickly, we jumped back into our car and drove to Chandanwadi, the famous starting point for the Amarnath Yatra.
As we parked our car at Chandanwadi parking, we noticed nothing touristy about this place. It was the starting point for the yatra, and there were plenty of shops selling woollens and raincoats and a few Tea-Maggi stalls, nothing more. The road was slushy and in a mess. So, we had a cup of Kashmiri kahwa, clicked a few pics, and began our journey back to the Betaab valley.
Betaab valley was quite crowded that day, and since cabs only allow one hour to explore the area, practically it is impossible to explore, savor and absorb the beauty on a strict time leash. Nevertheless, we jostled for space while getting past the entry gate, explored, clicked pics and videos, and were back to the cab within an hour. The checklist was ticked against the Betaab valley. If you’re reading this, please make some arrangements with the cab driver to allow you more time. It is worthwhile to pay a premium to spend more time there. Since it was raining profusely, Aru valley road was closed. Damn.
We returned to the hotel after lunch at Dana Pani, another good restaurant next to Sagar Ratna. We had planned to go to the Pahalgam Club in the evening for dinner. After some rest, we were ready to head out by 5.30 pm. The entry fee to Pahalgam Club is Rs 50 per person. It is a massive property and is practically a landmark in Pahalgam. One can sit on the back side and gaze at the Lidder River view.
The sounds of nature – the river’s flow, the crooning of birds, the rustle of leaves is hypnotic. One just needs to listen, absorb & feel it. Since we had some time before the dinner buffet was served, we enjoyed a game of snooker there. However, we relished everything besides food, as it was pretty basic and bland. When we returned to our hotel, it was cold and drizzling. However, it was fantastic to feel the chills of the winter months in June.
Kashmir Trip, Day-3 (Pahalgam – Aru Valley)
This day was primarily intended for rest. However, since Aru valley was still pending, we again rented a cab exclusively for Aru. As we stepped into our taxi, it started drizzling. We were concerned that the road would be closed again, but we decided to take a chance because we were leaving for Srinagar the following day. The serpentine roads from Pahalgam slowly gained elevation. The road became narrower as the scenery started turning panoramic. We discovered several waterfalls on the hill opposite our road. The dilapidated road was crammed with cars as we reached Aru valley. We had to park around half a km away from the actual entry gate. The car driver gave us exactly one hour to return.
Aru Valley looked as if it had stepped out from the pages of a storybook. But, it wasn’t just the sights that pleased the senses. The sounds, smells, and snow-cladded mountains in the backdrop were out of this world. The sky above the meadow was a feast for the eyes. It stretched as far as the eye could see in a dome of cocktail blue, punched with fluffy clouds. White water river ran through the side of the meadow. The song of the river was very gentle as it went plinking and tinkling over the gravel bed. If Gods do exist, this meadow is their hideaway. As I just had an hour, I swore I would return someday to this meadow, a piece of lost heaven.
It was still drizzling as we headed back to the hotel. We enjoyed the flowing Lidder river from our patio in the evening with hot pakoras and tea. Later, instead of heading out for dinner, we got the meal packed. We booked a taxi for Srinagar the next day, paid the hotel bill, packed our stuff, and called it a day.
Srinagar, here we come!
Kashmir Trip, Day-4 (Pahalgam – Srinagar)
The drizzle was our constant companion as we drove from Pahalgam to Srinagar. It took us three hours with one breakfast stop to reach our abode ‘Serene Villa’ for the next three days at Srinagar. It is a beautiful, well-decorated, fully carpeted house in a quiet neighborhood of Srinagar. We booked it through Airbnb.
After we had settled in, the villa owners arranged for us a rental cab, which took us to the lifeline of Srinagar – The Dal Lake, after showing us the Shalimar and Nishat Bagh. At Dal Lake, we started with the most touristy thing: a ride in the ubiquitous Shikara, something yesteryear’s movie superstar Shammi Kapoor did in style. While enjoying the Shikara ride, the song ‘yeh chand sa roshan chehra’ reverberated in my mind. Finally, the short ride ended, and with it returned the human emotions of hunger. Fortunately, we were dropped at Pier 18, which is close to NATHU’S, a fast-food joint opposite to Dal Lake.
The Hazratbal Dargah, located on the banks of Dal Lake, was our next stop. The view of the mountains and lake from the Dargah is spectacular. Truly captivating! After satiating the avid photographer in us, we returned to our Airbnb. As the next day was planned for Gulmarg, we slept by 10 pm.
Kashmir Trip, Day-5 (Srinagar – Gulmarg)
We left our stay at 7 am. Srinagar, like any other Indian city, has terrible traffic and roads. So, we decided to stop for breakfast on our way somewhere. We took more than an hour to get to Batpora, where we had breakfast at Raja Dhaba. The Aloo Parathas with pickles and tea were delicious. Traffic and breakfast delayed our arrival at Gulmarg. I could see a lot of tourists flocking to Gulmarg by the time we reached. We parked our car and walked 1.5-2 kilometers to the Gandola ride area. The line was long but moving quickly. We discovered that there was snow in Phase 2 of the ride, so we proceeded to the Phase 2 queue as soon as we arrived at Phase 1.
Soon after, the Gandola ride began, and we started taking pictures and making GoPro videos. The view from Gandola was breathtaking. We could see tiny horses making their way up the trail to phase 1. We soon arrived at the top of the cliff, at the phase-1 area. It was teeming with tourists, vendors, and security. We, too, acted smart, and headed straight to the phase-2 line. Unfortunately, sometimes following the rules makes us look foolish. People were pushing, elbowing, and getting ahead of us near the phase-2 Gandola point. Neither the people nor the security personnel objected.
The queue moved at a snail’s pace, and it took us more than 1.5 hrs to get to the Gandola boarding point. Our Dr. Arya once yelled at a tourist who was trying to squeeze into the queue. Good Job, Dr. Saab. Sometimes people misinterpret our silence as a yes, which is not the case. Glad you were vocal that day. I am proud of you.
Eventually, we boarded the phase-2 Gandola. As we ascended, the landscape beneath us changed quickly. During the first phase of the ride, we only saw tall trees, green pastures, horses, and wooden logs. Now, we saw barren mountains sparsely cladded in the snow at first, and sooner, all we could see was snow all around. The hills appeared to be vampire-white. The mountain’s peaks resembled harpoon tips. They were shrouded in ghost-grey mist. The air was icy and numbing. Finally, we arrived at the summit, and it was time to disembark the Gandola and enjoy the snow.
As my mother was with us, I had to be extra cautious while walking on snow with her. A minor slip could be dangerous. I held her hands, and we slowly tiptoed to the nearest wooden log, which was being used as a bench. While she sat there, we decided to walk around in the snow and enjoy the scenery. The snow was fresh, and there were numerous areas where no one had stepped. We decided to explore a few new snow areas with the trekking stick in my hand. It was slippery, but we wanted to find out how deep the snow was.
At one instance, Dr. Arya went half inside the snow, and nearby tourists pulled him out. He was unharmed, thankfully. Else, we would have required a doctor, for a doctor. After spending around one hour, we decided to return to the base. The phase-2 Gandola took us back to the Phase-1 spot. At this moment, the weather deteriorated, and the Gandola operator suggested we head back to the ground. Anyway, after phase 2 enjoyment, phase 1 had nothing better to offer. So, we left.
Soon, we were back to the base and started walking towards parking. As we began from Gulmarg, we realized we still had time to see the Chashmeshahi bagh and Botanical Garden. We reached the garden at around 5 pm and explored the place for more than an hour. By the time we got to our accommodation, it was around 7 pm. We chit-chatted with our hosts on a plethora of subjects. It was an exciting conversation that lasted till 10 pm. A memorable day had finally come to an end.
Kashmir Trip, Day-6 (Srinagar Local)
We had planned to book a taxi for a day’s trip to Sonmarg. However, as the last two days were pretty hectic, we decided to take it easy and relax. So we got up leisurely and basked in the sun in the garden overlooking the ripe apples on the tree. Again, we started chatting with the owners, and time flew by. It was almost noon when we started from there. We rented a local cab (Amir – 9149674546) to the Shankaracharya Temple this time. It is situated on a hilltop overlooking Dal Lake. The view from the temple is breathtaking.
After visiting the temple, it was almost 2 pm when we reached Dal Lake. No matter how many times you take a ride in shikara, it is not enough. So we went on another one-hour shikara ride, relishing the life of actor Shammi Kapoor. India’s only floating post office is also located at Dal Lake. After a scrumptious meal at Nathu’s again, we returned home by 5 pm. We asked Amir to drop us off at the airport the next day, and he agreed. So with the cab to the airport arranged, all that remained was to fix dinner.
This time, Dr. Arya and I decided to walk to the nearest market and get dinner instead of ordering it. After walking for around 2 km, we stumbled across Café Central Park in Habak. We ordered some sandwiches and pizzas to be packed while sipping virgin mojitos. Then, we got a lift from an auto driver heading back our way. It was fun to travel like a localite on unfamiliar Srinagar roads. After feasting on sandwiches and pizza, we dozed off.
Kashmir Trip, Day-7 (Srinagar – Delhi)
This was the last day of our vacation. Since the flight was at 2 pm, we got up a bit late and had our final cup of Kashmiri Kahwa. We intended to pack a few sandwiches from the same Café. We called up the Café manager and requested him to get the order packed by 10 am. The cab driver Amir arrived on time. We loaded the luggage, bid adieu to our hosts, and started our travel to Srinagar airport via Café. It took us more than 1.5 hrs to reach the airport owing to heavy traffic.
Also, just before entering the airport premises, we were asked by security personnel to manually unload all the luggage, pass it through the scanner, load it back on our cab and then finally unload it again at the airport departures. It was undoubtedly a hassle, but as it was done to ensure our security, we did not complain. Finally, we checked the luggage, ate our breakfast, and patiently waited for the boarding announcement.
Our flight left Srinagar at 14.00 hrs and arrived in Delhi an hour later. We booked an Uber for home while Dr. Arya continued his onward journey to Bhopal. We were home on a Saturday and had precisely one more off day to download all pics, wash dirty clothes and be mentally prepared for Monday’s ordeal ahead.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip as we saw the gushing river and meadows at Pahalgam, the polar-white snow at Gulmarg, and the placid Dal Lake, met some lovely local people, enjoyed Kashmiri delicacies, and had a pleasant time with friends.