We know Kashmir for many reasons and above all, for its pristine mountains, enchanting lakes and flavourful cuisines. Kashmir is also a melting pot of culture and traditions with a glimpse of not only India but also present-day China, Tibet, Central Asian cities, Afghanistan, and Iran due to its close cultural relations in the past. But today, I am only going to tell you about a mixed bag of my experiences and stories from our last trip to Kashmir in April this year.
We started planning this trip only a month back when Apoorva and Himanshu (my wife’s friends) asked us if we could also join them on their next trip to Kashmir. The answer was undoubtedly a Yes. The credit for planning this trip also goes to this lovely couple, with us only giving our input and helping with the logistics.
April is the time of the year when you can witness tulips blooming in very few parts of India, and Srinagar always tops this list, followed by Munsiyari in Uttarakhand.
It was a five days trip covering Srinagar, Sonamarg, Pahalgam, Gulmarg and back to Srinagar. However, a meticulously planned trip started taking shape of an impromptu one when the hotels we booked cancelled our stay due to the unprecedented rush of tourists in Kashmir this year. What happened later definitely calls for a story to be told.
Mumbai – Srinagar
Srinagar – Sonamarg
Srinagar – Pahalgam
We reached Srinagar in the afternoon only to find ourselves desperately searching for another houseboat, as the houseboats we had booked were cancelled, not only once but thrice, for frivolous reasons, just because someone else was willing to pay more. Hard luck! Our plan to stay in a houseboat shattered when we could not find anything till late afternoon and had to settle ourselves with a small room in a decent hotel.
Nonetheless, we did not let our day go in vain and experienced a heartful 2-3 hours of Shikara ride on Dal lake enjoying the beautiful hues of the late evening and shopping in the floating market. The rest of the evening was all about enjoying the local street food and having some good times with friends.
The next day, I woke up a bit earlier to ensure I have early-morning pictures of Dal Lake. One hour of solo Shikara ride and I had all the amazing pictures I needed to post for this blog and test my photography skills. The next destination was Sonamarg with one hour stop at IG Memorial Tulip Garden.
What to buy:
- Pashmina shawls
- Kashmiri embroidery work
- Walnut-wood handicrafts,
- Papier-mâché artwork
- Kahwah powder
Things to do in Srinagar
- Shikara Ride at Dal Lake/ Nigeen Lake
- IG Memorial Tulip Garden (April only)
- Pari Mahal
- Have authentic Kashmiri food (details below)
- Book your houseboat well in advance, but keep an alternative (if possible), as the owner may not respect his/her commitment if the demands are high.
- Go for a houseboat at Nigeen Lake which is more peaceful and less crowded.
We spent around an hour at the Tulip garden, had our breakfast and headed for Sonamarg, our next destination. The journey was not long but what followed later made it an interesting story.
Once our driver took us to Sonamarg, we had to take another car to reach Zero Point. To our utter shock, the manager of this car demanded INR 10,000 to cover a distance of hardly 24×2 km in an old rickety SUV.
With no other options left, we agreed to pay this crazy amount and chose to get exploited unwillingly. A few miles later, we were stopped by two policemen and a state tourism officer asking us how much we were going to pay for this short trip. We told the truth and the next thing that happened was an impending seizure of the car for overcharging tourists by more than two times the actual fare. i.e., INR 4000. Thankfully, we did not have to stop for long and the tourism officer let us visit Zero Point on two conditions: firstly, the car has to be seized on our way back and secondly, we should not pay more than INR 4K to the driver.
Happy with this turn of events saving us INR 6K, we went ahead. However, little did we know, we will get stranded for more than an hour due to car breakdown on our way up the hills. While it seemed like a hit of another bad luck after the houseboat fiasco on Day 1, the silver lining was that it did give me ample time and unique vantage points to click some great pictures. Once we reached Zero Point, we indulged in sledging and clicked some fun pictures for the memories. On our way back, as promised to the tourist officer we paid INR 4k to the driver and the car was seized for exploiting gullible tourists like us.
Where to stay
You can choose to stay in Srinagar itself, as Sonamarg is less than 100 Km. drive.
Things to do in Sonamarg
- Thajiwas glacier
- Zero point
- Once you reach Sonamarg, do not pay more than INR 4000 (the official rate fixed by the tourism department) to reach Zero Point.
- Do not fall prey to the middle-men for snow sports, as they charge exorbitantly (but pay very less to the ground worker).
- Carry your own snow boots, caps and warm clothes to avoid using others’ and also paying for the same.
Learning from our pathetic experience with multiple houseboat cancellations, we called the hotel owner at Pahalgam in the morning to reconfirm our stay. But, how come things could be this smooth for us on this trip? The moment we landed at our booked stay, the hotel manager refused to provide us rooms as they were under renovation. Many arguments later, we began a whole new quest for another stay at Pahalgam wandering from hotel to hotel.
Thankfully, we found a decent one after more than two hours of ordeal. This left us with very little time to explore Pahalgam; literally, an hour to cover Betab Valley and Chandanwari. However, we did not let our Day 3 go in vain and managed to visit both the places in a jiffy with some keep-worthy pictures. It was more like touching a line and coming back to tell yes I did.
The two girls on this trip, having been disappointed with me for not clicking enough pictures of them, finally made me promise that the next day will be theirs. As promised, when we visited Aru Valley the next morning, I made sure my life is spared and I am not pushed down the hill for my obsession with landscapes.
Where to stay
- The Hermitage By Grand Resorts (Premium)
- Paradise Inn (Affordable)
- River Front Guest House (Budget).
Things to do in Pahalgam
- Aru Valley
- Betaab Valley
- Tulian Lake/ Sheshnag Lake
- Book a stay near a river stream. River Front Guest House is a great option.
- Take a stop near Apple orchard and have fresh apples or juice along the way.
- You may find so-called Mini Switzerland overrated and may very well skip it
Pahalgam – Gulmarg – Srinagar
The highlight of our Day 4 plan was Gandola Ride at Gulmarg. But, hard luck was still chasing us. No prize for guessing, we could not get any tickets for Gandola ride as it was sold out for the next few days. We turned our bad luck into a good one when Apoorva decided to twist the plan and head for Srinagar straight away with the hope of finding a good houseboat at Nigeen lake.
Srinagar – Delhi
Our hopes, however, did not shatter to the ground this time. With luck on our side, we could manage to get one room with three beds for four of us. It was still better than not having experienced houseboat at all. We spent the rest of the evening on a nice houseboat at Nigeen lake compensating for all the hard luck we had to face on this trip so far. As they say, all’s well that ends well.
WHAT TO EAt IN KASHMIR
Kashmir is a true paradise for food lovers. Its unique local cuisines are hard to find in the rest of India. While we did not have time to try all of them, we did try some of these and loved the taste. The next time we visit Kashmir, it could be just for the food.
Wazwan (a multi-course non-vegetarian meal, which includes, Goshtaba, Tabak Maaz, Rista, Kabab, Aab Gosh, Rogan Josh, and Nate-yakhni among others), Harisa (similar to Haleem) and street food like Seekh Tuje and Masala Tchot.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo/Olav, Modur Pulao, Nadur Monji (snacks made of lotus stem and gram flour), Haakh (similar to Saag), Nadru Yakhni (lotus stem curry) and Kashmiri Rajma
Bread and Beverages
Sheermal/Krippè, Halwa Paratha, Kashmiri Naan, Czot/Girda
Kahwah and Noon Chai
WHERE TO EAT IN KASHMIR
Ahdoo’s Restaurant | Mughal Darbar
Try some of these Kashmiri foods at home with recipes from Whisk Affairs!
- Raja, Rasoi aur Anya Kahaniyan, Season 1, Episode 4, Release year 2014 available on Netflix here;
- 20 Must Have Foods From the Kashmiri Cuisine by Mir Saeid published on Jul 23 2021 available here;
- Kashmiri Wazwan: A Multicultural Repository by Aejaz Mohammed Sheikh and Shabina published on 6 June 2011 available here;
- Srinagar Shopping Guide: Top Things To Buy & Best Markets by Karan Kaushik as published in Travel + Leisure India on 31 May 2022 available here.