With snow-clad peaks on one hand and fluorescent green valleys on the other, with streams flowing on one side and sheep grazing on the other – Kashmir is termed as “heaven on earth” for a reason. To explore this paradisiacal beauty, Ankit Gupta booked a tour package through TravelTriangle with his wife. At a price of Rs. 23,530, his package for two, was inclusive of one side economy class ticket from Jammu to Srinagar, accommodation, sightseeing in private AC heated cab, breakfast and dinner buffet, and Shikara boat ride in Dal Lake.
My wife and I always wanted to witness the romantic beauty of Kashmir, but never got a chance. The perfect opportunity to go on this long-desired trip presented itself when one of our friends was to get married in Jammu. Grabbing the opportunity, we decided to spend a week exploring Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Aru, and Srinagar.
When the thought of visiting Kashmir struck our minds, we had no idea how to go about the plan, that is when TravelTraingle (recommended by a friend) came into the picture and acted as a life-saver. It provided us numerous quotes to choose from and allowed a good bargain.
Day 1: Gulmarg – The Meadow of Flowers clad in snow
Our flight landed in Srinagar from Jammu in the morning, but saving Srinagar for last, we straightaway headed to Gulmarg in our pre-booked cab. We had booked a Sedan, as the clothes from the wedding had added extra weight to our luggage, making it very heavy. On our way, we got to know about the disturbances being caused by some political issues in Srinagar. To tackle the blocked roads, our driver asked for help from his friend, who took us through. He made sure that it was a smooth transfer with extra focus on our security.
Gulmarg turned out to be an absolute beauty with snow-clad mountains soothing the eyes, against the royal blue skies. Although, we had been to Ladakh a couple of times earlier, we had never witnessed snowfall. The trip thoroughly fulfilled this longing. After checking-in at our hotel, we quickly left for the gondola ride (since it is operational only until 4 pm). We were keen on spending as much time on the cable car ride as possible.
We were well informed by our travel agent that our private cab cannot be used in certain areas of Kashmir, (including Gulmarg) as it’s not allowed by the local taxi union. The moment we stepped out from the hotel, we began to get pestered by the touts and guides. This wass one part of the trip that was very annoying. On the persuasion of the guides, we hired two ponies to reach the starting point of the gondola ride. Having paid Rs.700/- per person (to-and-fro), we soon realized that the distance was hardly a kilometer. We felt cheated and decided that we would walk down to the hotel, on our way back.
The world’s second highest operating cable car ride – the Gulmarg gondola took us through panoramic views of the Himalayas and vast snow-slopes. The beauty was soon complemented with thrill, as we donned the skiing gear. At a price of Rs.3000 for two, we were not able to ski beyond an hour, as we were limited by time. But, the two of us enjoyed the experience thoroughly under the supervision of the ski instructors, skidding around and crashing on the fluffy snow.
Suggested Read: Snowboarding And Skiing In India In 2022: Top 14 Destinations
Moving to the top, we spent around half an hour and enjoyed a romantic lunch amid snow-clad mountains. The best part of the visit was, that my wife and I were the only tourists there. As a result, we enjoyed the exemplary beauty in uninterrupted peace. We could see the snow as far as the Line of Control, and the experience was certainly mesmerizing. It was evening by the time we descended, and as decided earlier, we walked down to our hotel.
Our stay at the hotel was amazing — we got the best rooms (directly facing the main area of Gulmarg), electric blankets to shield us from the cold and absolutely delicious food. The hotel had a typical Kashmiri look, with wooden interiors, and Kashmiri tapestries and carpeting.
At dinner, our cook informed us about a brewing turmoil. Another disturbance had occurred in the area, as one student had gotten killed in the army’s tussle with some of the protesters. Due to the possibility of a riot, our cook suggested us to leave at daybreak.
Day 2: From Pahalgam to Aru
We left for Pahalgam at 5 am and passed the sensitive zone. The ride was fluid and we stopped frequently for Kahwah, the Kashmiri green tea (which I liked a lot). We reached the beautifully unsophisticated Pahalgam at 11 am. Here, we had planned a day’s stay at a far-off guesthouse for a rustic experience.
We then embarked on an excursion to Betaab Valley, Chandanwari and Aru Valley on the rented local taxi (since they don’t let your personal taxi drive by). Betaab valley was lush green as opposed to the snow-clad Chandanwari. The beauty of the places made the drive a very captivating experience. Chandanwari added to the magical experience, with its extremely well-maintained landscapes adorned with mountains, streams, bridges, and ranches. No wonder, the sheer magnificence of the valley has attracted numerous filmmakers.
The local taxi dropped us back to Pahalgam, where our private cab was waiting for us. The roads leading to Aru valley were very narrow at some places, which at times, got scary for us. A few miles away from the main town of Aru — the guesthouse was a lone property standing in the middle of secluded beauty, with a stream flowing just 10 feet away. We reached the guesthouse at around 2 pm and enjoyed a homely lunch.
Since our guesthouse was located almost in the middle of nowhere, we took a walk around the simple property and the river flowing 10 feet away from the house. It was a different world altogether.
There wasn’t much to do after dawn. There wasn’t even one bulb visible for miles. In absolute darkness, our little guesthouse itself became our source of entertainment. At dinnertime, everyone sat for dinner together in a common area, shared stories and laughed together. The only thing missing was a bonfire, which couldn’t be lit because of the logs being soggy.
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Day 3: Aru to Srinagar
Our cell phones were not working and we were completely lost in the magnificence of nature. So we used the hotel landline to connect with the driver (who was staying in Pahalgam), to undertake an expedition to the Aru valley. Aru valley offered a magnificent mix of green hills and snow-clad mountains. To climb the hills of Aru, we had taken a pony. It was a 2-hour ride at Rs.600 per person and took us through rough paths of mountains. It turned out to be a much more enjoyable experience than the one we had in Gulmarg, where the overpriced ride took us through well-made roads.
Suggested Read: Roopkund Trek 2022: Unravelling The Skeleton Lake Mysteries
Bidding adieu to the valley, we headed towards Srinagar. On the way, we stopped at some shops in Pampore – the place famous for saffron. Finding the shops reliable and authentic; we bought saffron, dry fruits, and Kahwah.
By the time we reached Srinagar, it was raining heavily. The rainy welcome actually came as a bummer, since we were to visit the Dal lake and indulge in the Shikara ride. But, we had to skip the Shikara ride due to the fog and cold. We proceeded to our guesthouse and soon left for lunch at the Taj. Featuring an enchanting view of the whole city, the hotel definitely has the best location in Srinagar.
Eager to shop from Srinagar, we went to Laal Bazar and spent the evening shopping for Pashmina shawls, woolens, and kurtas with beautiful Kashmiri embroidery. Although it was drizzling, our cab kept us comfortable. At this point, our driver (a local of Srinagar) proved extremely helpful, as he guided us to the right shops. Our shopping-spree in Srinagar was a traditional experience in itself, with each salesperson taking his own good time to acquaint us with their collection (along with telling stories behind each product). We finished shopping by 8 pm and came back to the guesthouse.
Day 4: Flight back home
The next morning, our driver was right on time (as usual) and dropped us to the Srinagar airport for our flight at 9 am.
Our wish to see nature in its raw, untouched form did not go disappointed. And what we were served, was something we had never witnessed earlier. The whole experience disconnected us from everything and allowed us to connect with each other, in the bliss of nature.
A Cherished memory: The mini-trek that we did in Chandanwai was delightful. We trekked for about a kilometer, roamed around the mountains and played with snow.
Low Point: The incessant persuasion by the local guides and touts in Gulmarg was a turn-off.
- Balance your time and the number of places to be visited. Our trip proved to be a little hectic, as we were traveling through most of the days.
- Stay in a remote place. Don’t go for popular hotels. The former will not only provide all facilities, but the hospitality is also unparalleled.
- Keep saying ‘no’ to all touts. You can do pretty much everything on your own.
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