I wanted to see if this famous quote for Jammu and Kashmir is still true or if paradise has lost touch in today’s times due to the turbulent times in the valley. However, my 3-day vacation to this beautiful state answered all my questions and now I highly recommend a trip to the enchanting valley of Kashmir!
1. Srinagar- The first stop Srinagar, the beautiful city. Shehr-i Khas, the special city. Even today, after nearly 25 years of insurgency, army occupation and then two seasons of frenetic tourism, Srinagar lives up to these names. It showcases the natural beauty that had generations from Mughal emperors to fans of Kali of Kashmir to sigh!
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Where to stay: There are a number of good lodging options, ranging from Vivanta by Taj (you can see the hotel while doing the shikara tour on Dal Lake) to medium-sized accommodations, from normal budget hotels to the old houseboats, which are perfect for enjoying the local life from Dal Lake.
To eat: Although the hotels have their own restaurants, don’t miss eating at Ahdoo’s (Residency Road). Ask a waiter to guide you through the menu and kick back in the old ghazal-laden ambiance. The waiter will also help you plan your walk through nearby Jhelum after the meal. Towards the start of the boulevard are an array of restaurants and dhabas for your usual North Indian dal, paneer dishes and non-vegetarian items.
Sightseeing: A full day sightseeing tour will cover places like Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Gardens, Chashme-Shahi, Pari Mahal and Dal Lake (all these places are close to each other). Ask your taxi driver to get an early start as each of these local attractions takes at least an hour. Don’t miss the shikara rides on Dal Lake. The rides consist of two parts: a short route of 4 points (more than an hour and it will cost you around INR 1200) and the longer route, which includes 7 points of interest for INR 2000.
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Taxitarief: The local attractions will cost you anywhere from INR 1600 to INR 2000, it is recommended to start early to make the most of your time here!
2. Gulmarg- The second choice
Do you want to go on a trekking tour in the snow capped Gulmarg on the lines of Ranbir Kapoor in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or do you want to have your own “yahooooo” moment like Shammi Kapoor in Junglee? Plan a trip to Gulmarg to catch your favorite moments from these famous movies shot in the breathtaking scenery of this hill station.
Often treated as a day trip away from Srinagar, Gulmarg is a piece of paradise on earth. The journey to Gulmarg from Srinagar is itself so beautiful that you completely forget about the destination, as you enjoy the blissful natural beauty.
Where to stay: Accommodation options in Gulmarg are good but limited and the latest addition is the Golf Course Resort, a super luxury property in the middle of the golf course. The resort offers several options to choose from. As a tourist you can visit the rooms, dining areas and sitting areas of the resort.
To eat: You can satiate your hunger pangs with delicious food near the local taxi stand in Gulmarg. Also, most hotels have in-house restaurants that are your best bet.
Sightseeing: Try your hand at golfing on the golf course, said to be the highest of its kind in the world. You can play golf here at the golf club, using rented clubs. Go for Gondola cable rides, making Gulmarg the world’s highest ski pass with lift. I paid about INR 700 for stage 1 ride and the cost for stage 2 ride is about INR 1200 and I must say that the cable ride remains with me as one of my most memorable memories of Kashmir. The beautiful Children’s Park is the best place for some leisure time amidst natural beauty; don’t forget to get your camera here!
Taxitarief: Srinagar to Gulmarg costs INR 1,800 (round trip). Once you enter Gulmarg you will need to leave your taxi at the bus/taxi rank as there are local pony wallahs that will take you to the Inner Ring Road (7km walk) with some of the attractions including Gondola Cable Car, Children’s Park and Golf Class. You have to shell out around INR 2000 for a two hour pony ride.
Horse riding: At around INR 2,000 for a 2-hour journey, you can opt for an hour drive for INR 900 to INR 1,000. There are plenty of local vendors near the taxi rank, the pick & drop point for pony rides.
3. Pahalgam- Last but certainly not the least!
As a humble shepherd’s village, Pahalgam is now a busy tourist spot that attracts thousands of visitors every year. A scenic 2.5 hours drive from Srinagar brings you to the Pahalgam valley. You know you’re about to reach out when you see the gushing Lidder River flowing through the valley and rows of autumn trees!
Where to stay: Most of the hotels are located in the only street of Pahalgam near the river. Some of the notable options include Hotel Woodstock, Hotel Mount View, and Hotel Heevan. JKTDC’s Hotel Complex & Tourist Bungalow has pretty cottages on the hill just above town. The complex is surrounded by tall pine trees.
Photo from the official JKTDC website
To eat: There are plenty of local restaurants in Pahalgam and most of them are located in the main market area of the town. Don’t miss Volga Restaurant for authentic Kashmiri dishes and pop in at Dana Paani for a vegetarian dish. Sightseeing: Two of the most famous landmarks are Aru and Betaab Valley, but you need to take local taxi to cover these points. Aru Valley is about an hour’s drive from Pahalgam and it takes about 45 minutes from Aru to reach Betaab Valley, which is named after the famous Bollywood blockbuster filmed here in the early 80’s. You need to look around for half a day around INR 1,300 for these places.
Taxitarief: The taxi fare from Srinagar to Pahalgam is between INR 1,800 and INR 2,000. However, I was surprised to learn that I cannot take the same taxi for local attractions in Pahalgam. I had to take another taxi to visit Betaab Valley and Aru Valley and thus had to pay extra, about INR 1,300.
Horse Rides: Pony riding is the only option if you want to visit Chandanwari as cabs are not allowed after a certain point. Chandanwari is also the starting point for Amarnath Yatra Treks. You have to pay about INR 1,000 for a pony ride of almost two hours from Betaab Valley to Chandanwari (round trip).