Forbidden paradise is what I was calling it before the trip actually. My thoughts of Kashmir were the same like rest of the world. The very idea of visiting Kashmir makes people nervous and it did the same with me. But then things changed when I went and spent some time there; rode through its valleys and got talking to its people. My trip to Kashmir was much more than enjoying the lush green mountains and clicking numerous photos. It was a learning to be honest; about the struggles of both a common man of Kashmir and a soldier of Indian Army. While writing this Kashmir Travelogue, I am really hoping to give you a true picture on how you can plan a trip here; things you should keep in mind; places you must explore and experiences that you must gain.
The first time I landed in Srinagar was about a decade ago while returning from Ladakh. Was I nervous back then? Yes definitely. I stayed in the city for a night and got out the first thing next morning. Same routine followed in coming years as well. Then I finally made friends with a local from Srinagar city; a gem of a person called Faisal. He runs his own motorcycle rental firm there and that is how I got talking to him. After more than a year of remaining in touch and discussing Kashmir, my perspective of the state started to change. That is when I started to consider visiting and exploring the valleys of Kashmir. Faisal helped in two ways. First was the assurance that Kashmir is as safe as any other part of the country; and secondly a list of offbeat places that I must see.
Where to Go?
It all really started with a simple idea and that too several months in advance. A close friend of mine, Shoaib, and I were talking about how it had been a long time since we were out on a long trip together; and how we must plan a trip to some place new sometime soon. We talked about a few places and I suggested Kashmir; that neither of us had really been to. After that, there was not really much of a discussion and we both immediately agreed. Next came the question of when. Faisal suggested that we should plan for either August or September as it would be all lush green then. Neither Shoaib nor I could afford to be away from work in September; and visiting Kashmir before or around 15th August did not sound like a good idea. Hence 3rd week of August was finalized.
How and When?
After when came “for how long”. This one proved to be a really short discussion because 9 days is all that we could afford; including 2 weekends. Last but not the least was the question of “how to go”. First we thought about traveling by my Thar; but that meant 2 days spent in going to Srinagar from Delhi; and then 2 days in coming back home. So out of 9 days, we will spend 4 days in just going to and coming back from Kashmir; in countless hours of driving. And hence, we dumped the idea of driving and decided to book a flight instead. That way, we could just fly in and out of Srinagar and rent bikes from Faisal for traveling locally; and be able to dedicate all 9 days in exploring as much as possible.
Now all this was happening several months in advance. Our trip was finalized for late August and we booked our tickets in early May, about 4 months before the travel dates. Then in early June, It just so happened that I was talking to another close friend of mine, Lavish, on a different topic when the idea of asking him about coming along occurred. Shoaib, Lavish and I had been on several trips together before and I was actually surprised that I did not ask him sooner. When I mentioned of the plan to Lavish, he too agreed and after about an half an hour of getting his leaves approved, his flight ticket too was booked. The only difference was that Shoaib and I were both in Delhi whereas Lavish would have to first travel from Dehradun to Delhi and then fly to Srinagar.
After numerous discussions and taking inputs from Faisal (and after multiple changes); the following itinerary was decided. This however was just the initial plan; and I was certain that the actual travel will turn out to be completely different.
- Arrive in Srinagar and head straight to Gulmarg – Day 1
- Travel from Gulmarg to Doodhpathri and reach Srinagar by evening – Day 2
- Srinagar local sightseeing – Day 3
- Srinagar to Pahalgam – Day 4
- Pahalgam to Aharbal and Srinagar by evening – Day 5
- Srinagar to Gurez – Day 6
- Gurez to Sonamarg – Day 7
- Sonamarg to Srinagar – Day 8
- Fly Out of Srinagar – Day 9
I wanted to rent motorcycles for the entire duration of the trip but Faisal had prior bookings he had to keep up with. So for the first 2 days, it was decided that we will rent a cab and then take handover of motorcycles from Faisal on Day 3. The driver would pick us up straight from the airport and take us to Gulmarg.
After this, it was pretty much just the wait for the D-Day to arrive and getting the travel plan ready. We literally counted days to the day of the trip and all 3 of us were quite excited. I kept changing the itinerary multiple times trying to find the best way to explore the best that I could. Faisal of course was my primary source of information and I really thank the guy for being so patient with my wild amount of questions.
Is Kashmir Safe for Travel?
Before going any further in the travelogue, let me first address the elephant in the room. The million dollar question of whether or not it is safe for a tourist to visit Kashmir. A one line answer to this query is that “yes it is as long as you know how to keep your own nose out of trouble”. For more information, please read How to Travel to Kashmir Safely where I have discussed this topic in detail.
All three of us knew that this was going to be an amazing experience. The last time I was so excited about a trip was when I first visited Ladakh. And we weren’t wrong. It indeed turned out to be a grand journey; one that was going to be etched in our memories for a long time.
Journey Ahead – Delhi to Srinagar and to Gulmarg
I will be posting and completing this travelogue in next few articles. Please read Delhi to Srinagar and Gulmarg to continue reading the next part of this travelogue. If you have any other questions; please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.