This post is in continuation with a previous one; and a part of my Kashmir Travelogue. This was our 5th day of the trip. We celebrated the festival of Bakra-Eid in Srinagar; made a day trip from Srinagar to Yusmarg via Charar-e-Shariff; and enjoyed a delicious Kashmiri dinner at a friend’s place. Details of this day’s journey are described in the post below. In order to read previous parts of this travelogue, please click on the link below.
Journey So Far: A Journey to Aharbal – The Niagara Falls of Kashmir
Shoaib and I had planned this trip to Kashmir several months in advance; and after much discussion, decided on the month of August. Now just to make sure that the trip happens in August; and we do not end up cancelling or postponing for some reason, we actually booked our flights in May itself; followed by Lavish’s flight in June. What neither of us thought at that time were the dates of Eid. And it just so happened that date of Bakra-Eid was in the same week that we were in Srinagar. We did think about postponing the trip later after we realized our mistake; but then decided to let the plans be the way they were.
Eid in Srinagar
So yes, today was the day of Eid and we were celebrating it in Srinagar; away from our families for which both of us got scolded quite a lot by our folks. We were up till late last night and almost paid the price of it this morning. If it wasn’t for Lavish, I am sure both Shoaib and I would have continued to sleep late and miss our morning Eid prayers. Fortunately, Lavish woke up just in time to get us all up and ready.
Not much happened after that. We got ready and visited a mosque nearby for Eid prayers. After that, we visited the house of the owner of the hotel we were staying at. We had some snacks there and returned back to the hotel at around 8.30 AM. Now it was time to go to our next destination for the trip; Yusmarg.
For a brief introduction, Yusmarg or Yousmarg is a hill station in the western part of Kashmir Valley in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is situated 47 km south of Srinagar the capital of the state. Yusmarg in Kashmiri means ”The Meadow of Jesus’. It is believed by the locals that Jesus came to Kashmir and stayed at Yusmarg for some time. Some even say that Jesus was actually buried in Yusmarg itself. It is an alpine valley covered with snow clad mountains and the meadows of Pine and Fir and lies 13 km south of Charar-e-Shariff. It is situated at the bank of Doodhganga River at an altitude of 2,396 meters above sea level. (Source – Wiki)
Yusmarg was actually a last minute addition to our plan because it just made more sense. Earlier we were planning to visit Pahalgam but that just meant touching Pahalgam and coming back with very less time to spend there. It also meant a long journey on the day of Eid with confusion about where would be offering our Eid prayers. Last but not the least, it was the time of Amarnath Yatra and Pahalgam was going to be crowded which all of us really wanted to avoid. So at the last minute, we decided to add Yusmarg to the itinerary and drop Pahalgam.
Accommodation at Yusmarg
The decision, as we were to realize later today, indeed provide to be a good one because we totally loved Yusmarg. You will think that it is a hill station; but Yusmarg actually is nothing except for a handful of villagers in their huts on a vast green ground. That is all that it is; that’s Yusmarg for you. A tiny beautiful village sitting next to a river with lush green all around. You can either make it a day trip to Yusmarg like we did; or if you had more time in hand, can even stay here for a day. There are JKTDC tourism bungalows here that you can spend a night at. An even better choice however would be to bring you own camping gear and pitch your tent. There are numerous camping spots in Yusmarg and you can pick either one.
If you were into trekking then there are several trails leading from here but it does need that you stay in Yusmarg for at least 3 days. For more details, please read How to Plan a Trip to Yusmarg.
Srinagar to Yusmarg
It was already almost 9.30 AM by the time we started from our hotel. Fortunately though, because it was Eid today; and all the markets in Srinagar were closed. There was hardly any traffic on the road.
Noticed these beautiful Lotus flowers on Dal.
We were soon out of Srinagar and on our way to Yusmarg. Road conditions were good and the journey was smooth. The journey till Charar-e-shariff was mostly straight. As a matter of fact, it is only about last 15 kilometers to Yusmarg when you climb rapidly and gain height. Rest of the road is just a flat straight road. We finally arrived at Yusmarg at almost noon time.
Yusmarg as I mentioned above is known for its natural beauty, camping and trekking opportunities. A trip here can be done in two ways. You either arrive at Yusmarg, stay for a few days and trek to nearby areas. Or you arrive here, take a walk till Doodhganga river and go back. The latter was our plan but before that, the first thing to do was to get something down our bellies as all three of us were quite hungry. There was a small restaurant / tea tall at Yusmarg where we ordered some tea and bread omelet.
I really don’t want to sound rude or anything because the biggest problem or nuisance for tourists in Kashmir are the guides and pony owners. I understand that everyone has to make a living and they are poor people with limited choices but there has to be a limit to everything. These guys will attach themselves to you and just won’t let go, no matter how many times you turn them down. It’s fine to ask, I agree, but then it don’t mean that you will start harassing the tourist; and then make faces when someone still says no.
A Nuisance Called Guides & Pony Owners
These guys lie between their teeth and will leave no stone unturned to fool you and extract money from you. No matter where you go in Kashmir, the moment you arrive at your destination, you will be encircled by 3-4 pony owners or guides; trying to either sell you their pony rides or offering to show you around. They will make it sound like you are standing on a path of burning coals; and won’t be able to take even a single step ahead unless you sat on their ponies or pay them to show you the way. They will lie to you, misguide you and will literally become a “Kheer mein makkhi”. So much they harass tourists here that there was even a police complaint about them in Gulmarg.
Same thing happened with us. We were the only tourists in Yusmarg at that time and while we were standing there eating, a couple of pony owners / guides approached us offering to give us a pony ride to Doodhganga river. We kept saying no over and over again but they just stood there with us, refusing to take no for an answer. In the end, when nothing worked, they started saying that “Aaj bada din hai, kuchh bhala kar do gareeb ka”.
They were referring to it being Eid today; and then finally we too gave in, allowing one of them to show us the way. We did not agree on the pony rides because neither of us was in mood for that; but we did allow him to show us the way to the river. We didn’t really need him because there is a well laid out path all the way to Doodhganga river; but we hired him nonetheless; more like a charity on the day of Eid.
Trekking in Yusmarg
Our guide, “the old man” as I will refer him as, started to take us through the jungle rather than the regular path. To be honest, I got to give it to him. He did manage to show us some great vistas before we finally arrived at Doodhganga.
The only tourists here from out of Kashmir were us. Rest were all the local boys taking a dip in the river. We wondered and pondered over the idea for a bit and then decided to jump in ourselves. While we were sitting in the river, it started to rain as well. My DSLR and all our other belongings were immediately tucked under the shade of a huge rock to avoid getting wet. After enjoying the river for almost an hour, we finally stepped out of the water, got dressed and headed back on our way to the parking spot.
By now, all of us were quite hungry again and decided to have a late lunch at the small restaurant. Finally, slightly before 3, we started on our way back and a small confusion happened just as we started. Lavish and I were riding ahead and Shoaib was following after us. Now this beautiful lake is located right next to the road in Yusmarg and I wanted to get a few pictures of it. So we took a small detour, got off the road and stopped by the lake; thinking that Shoaib will notice and will stop too. He however did not and continued to ride on.
Yusmarg to Charar-e-Shariff
We clicked a few pictures and started on our way again. We were thinking that Shoaib will stop after a while when he won’t notice us riding ahead. He however did the exact opposite. He thought that we were riding at a great speed and rode even harder in order to catch up with us. So for the first almost 15 kilometers, we were all riding apart trying to catch up with each other. Since there is no phone network at Yusmarg, we could not even call Shoaib asking him to stop.
Finally we got the network back in our cellphone at Charar-e-Shariff. We finally called Shoaib, asked him to stop where he was and finally found him waiting for us a few kilometers after Charar-e-Shariff.
Charar-e-Shariff to Srinagar
Rest of the journey was smooth again and we continued riding back to Srinagar. At around 5 PM, Faisal called asking about where we were and asked us to come to his house straight. It was Eid today and were planning to visit him anyways but not in the condition that we were currently in. After a day long of riding and trekking, I did not feel like being in someone’s house all dirty like that. So we told him that we will come by after a little while and continued to ride back to the hotel.The idea was to reach hotel, freshen up, change and then go for dinner.
We reached back at the hotel, took a shower and got ready to visit Faisal’s house. The problem however was that we took a little longer than planned and dark came sooner than expected. On top of it, Faisal’s house was on the other corner of Srinagar, about 30 kilometers away from where we were. By the time we finally started from our hotel, it was already 8 PM. We rode through the entire Srinagar and arrived at Faisal’s at around 9 PM.
This was making me a bit nervous. No matter how much we rushed, there was no way that we could have had dinner and be on our way back before 10 at least. Somehow I was not really very comfortable with the idea of riding through Srinagar in the night with all the security and Army around.
A Delicious Kashmiri Dinner
That day, while eating at Faisal’s place, I got a firsthand experience of “Kashmiri mehmaan-nawazi” and totally loved it. I love non-vegetarian food and the dishes we were served were mind blowing, so delicious. We ate till we could really eat no more. The way we were treated at his place really swept us off our feet; so humble, so courteous. It was really an amazing experience; one of a kind.
With all the sitting and chatting followed by a delicious dinner, we could not leave from Faisal’s place well until 11 PM and being very honest, I was so nervous about it at that time. That night actually was when I for the first time learnt how listening about something regularly can have an effect on your mind. It was not my first time driving through a city in dead of the night. I do it every day because I anyways work in night shifts. But you hear so much negative about Kashmir in media that the very thought of being out in Srinagar in city was kind of scaring me a bit.
All my fears however proved to be for nothing. We rode through Srinagar and arrived at our hotel safe and sound. No one stopped us, no one bothered us. We traveled like we do in any other city at night. It just felt so normal and so regular with absolutely nothing sinister about it.
Journey Ahead: Sightseeing in Srinagar and Drive to Gurez Valley
End of Day 5
Like last night, yet again we watched some south Indian movies dubbed in Hindi and had a hearty laugh. They just sound so weird and funny and I really hope they would do a better job at dubbing these. We all slept after a little while; prepared to go to our next destination for the journey, the Gurez valley. We had heard so much about Gurez both before and during the trip that we were all so very excited to go there. Please read Gurez Valley – The Unexplored Kashmir to continue reading the next part of this travelogue. If you have any questions; or need any further details; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.