Exploring the Paradise - Kashmir Valley

Kashmir is recognized as the Paradise from long time. Even though it is the hotbed of major conflicts between India and Pakistan, including armed conflicts, it was never disregarded as dangerous to travel in Kashmir, at least in tourist circuits. The mesmerizing valleys, the rivers originating from glaciers, the natural skyscrapers "the Himalayas", the snowcapped peaks, the ever welcoming people of Kashmir, the unique cuisine, have always welcomed travelers from all corners of the world.

How Did we plan:

As a youngster growing up, I always wanted to visit the "Paradise Kashmir" and travel across the valley to experience the true beauty with my own eyes. As, I became increasingly aware about traveling and found an interest in identifying places to visit and come up with itinerary which covers good number of places to visit, in a limited time, I had already come up with a tentative itinerary for Kashmir.

The various blogs on Kashmir Travel, helped us a lot in coming up with our own custom itinerary.

Specially, the blogs from Vargis Khan, were useful in identifying the right time and route to be taken to explore some of the less explored regions of the Paradise such as Gurez Valley, Aru Valley, Lidderwat etc. And finally in 2018, after a much wait, finally the time came for the itinerary to be put to use, and no time is the perfect time, as my honeymoon tour to Kashmir "the paradise on earth". So, right after our marriage, we planned the Kashmir Tour which we called it "Kashmir Dreams", in End of April (April 27th) which will continue till 10th of May.

Kashmir Tour date : (April 27,2018 - May 10,2018)

Short Itinerary:

Day-1: Flight from BLR -> Srinagar (Via New Delhi) & Explore places in Srinagar, J&K.

Day-2: Srinagar -> Gulmarg (65kms - 2hours Ride) & Explore places in Gulmarg

Day-3: Gulmarg -> Pahalgam (South Kashmir) & Explore places in Pahalgam

Day-4: Pahalgam -> Aru Valley

Day-5 & 6: Exploring Aru Valley

Day-7: Aru Valley -> Gurez Valley (Bandipora Sector)

Day-8: Exploring Gurez Valley - Ride to Tulail, Gujran Sector

Day-9: Gurez Valley -> Srinagar

Day-10: Srinagar -> Kargil (via Sonmarg JKSRTC Bus Service)

Day-11: Kargil -> Leh, Ladakh Region (via JKSRTC Bus Service)

Day-12: Exploring Leh

Day-13: Leh -> Srinagar (via JKSRTC Bus Service)

Day-14: Explore Dal Lake & Return flight from Srinagar to Bengaluru (via New Delhi)

Day Wise Plan:

Day-1: Bengaluru -> Srinagar & Exploring Srinagar, J&K.

We had a early morning flight @4 am from BLR to New Delhi and then New Delhi to Srinagar flight @10:10 am.

We were finally in Srinagar, Kashmir @11:30am and took a taxi from Airport to our hotel stay in Srinagar which was booked at Walisons Resorts.

We started our sight seeing in Srinagar post our yummy and great lunch @Walisons with Kashmiri Pulao and Dal Makhni and Special Yakhni of Kashmir.

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit (All were short visits due to time constraint)

  • Tulip Garden

  • Pari Mahal

  • Chashma Shahi Garden

  • Shankaracharya Temple

  • Nishat Garden

  • Shikara Ride @Dal Lake

Stay At:

  • Walisons Resorts, Nishat, Srinagar, J&K.

Day-2: Srinagar to Gulmarg (65kms - 2hours Ride) & Exploring Gulmarg

On this day, we started early morning from Srinagar to Gulmarg by Taxicab (Zahoor Bhai of Srinagar, who helped with Airport Pickup and as well Srinagar Sight Seeing the previous day - we had known him only after reaching Srinagar Airport on Day-1 and he agreed to be our Tour Guide cum Chauffeur for next 2 days till Pahalgam). We reached Gulmarg within 2 hours (just 65kms ride) and checked into our hotel room which we booked previous day.

And after freshening up, we headed straight to the Gondola Ride and went till Apharwat Peak (Phase 2 Gondola). Then we spent, the rest of the evening at Khilanmarg, by doing leisure walk by ourselves.

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit:

  • Gulmarg Gondola - Phase 1 - Kongdoori Station

  • Gulmarg Gondola - Phase 2 - Apharwat Station

  • Apharwat Peak - Climbing and Sledge ride and Skiing while coming back (Altitude: 4390 mtrs)

  • Maharani Temple, Khilanmarg

Stay at:

  • Fluorescence Hotel, Gulmarg, J&K

Contact for Booking & Guide for @Gondola Rides:

  • Ishfaq Ahmad Dar – (Mob: +91-84939 11477)

Day-3: Gulmarg to Pahalgam (South Kashmir)

Next morning, we strolled around Khilanmarg for a chilling morning walk and then we started our journey towards Pahalgam (South Kashmir). As soon as we crossed Srinagar, we could see Armed Forces Pickets every 1km on the South Kashmir road toward Anantnag (the hotbed of conflict zone between Indian Army and Local Anti-India Terror Forces).

Once we reach Pahalgam, we checked into our hotel room and after freshen-up, we head for visiting Baisaran (Mini Switzerland as the locals call it). It was uphill trek of about 3kms (one-way). We opted for trekking rather than sitting on a pony ride (locals will be behind you requesting to take pony ride and advise against trekking, but trek is quite easy). The place was really good at the foothills of mountain range and long lush green meadow like garden, which is really nice to spend an hour or two in the evening.

Later we visited the Lidder River – There are a few wooden bridges all along the riverbanks for great view of the small river stream which comes straight from the Kolahoi Glacier.

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit:

  • Baisaran (Mini Switzerland), lush green meadow in Pahalgam

  • Lidder River, Pahalgam

Stay at:

  • Volga Hotel & Restaurant, Main market, Pahalgam

Day-4: Pahalgam to Aru Valley

Our Day-4 was packed with short rides and visits to many places around Pahalgam.

We took the CAB from Pahalgam Taxi Stand and covered these places one after the other and finally heading to our next long destination “Aru Valley”, which is further upwards to Pahalgam. The short ride to Aru Valley so much packed with Scenic beauty that, you will feel that you have seen it all, just on the way to Aru Valley.

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit:

  • Chandanwari: This is one of the starting places for Amarnath Yatra (the other starting place is Batal, which is after Sonmarg). Also starting point for Shesh Nag & Nilnag treks.

  • Betaab Valley: A green meadow with the Lidder river stream flowing in the middle, famous for Bollywood Movie shot here “Betaab”.

  • Lidder Rafting: Rafting in the Lidder River is lifetime experience. The bone-freezing cold water directly coming from Mt. Kolahoi glacier.

Stay at:

  • Rohella Guest House, Aru Valley, Pahalgam.

Day-5 & 6: Exploring Aru Valley

Our highlight of the entire Kashmir Tour was our 3-night's stay at Rohella Guest House in Aru Valley, Pahalgam. Our hosts at Rohella, made sure that we feel absolutely at home. The small village of Aru is spectacularly beautiful, villagers engaging in all sorts of small activities like farming, herding their sheep’s and horses, people engaging in small shops and some being travel guides for tourists showing them around Aru Valley and managing home stays or guest houses.

We were strolling around Aru Valley without any certain plans and just enjoying our leisure moments and playing a game of cricket with Local youngsters. The food at Rohella was amazing home food and the host Abdulla made everything possible to make our 3-Nights stay worth it.

He came down with us to Pahalgam for some work and took us to Rafting at Lidder River Stream which was a lifetime experience.

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit:

  • Aru Top

  • Brarien

  • Lidderwat

  • Aru Viewpoint (Mt. Kolahoi viewpoint)

  • Lidder River Rafting.

Stay at:

  • Rohella Guest House, Aru Valley, Pahalgam.

Day-7: Aru (Pahalgam) to Gurez Valley (Bandipora Sector)

After our 3-night stay at Aru Valley, we started our journey towards yet another less explored gem of a Valley in Kashmir, called “Gurez Valley”. Gurez valley located at the extreme north of Indian Administered Kashmir region, bordering the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) region.

We took a taxi from Pahalgam to Srinagar and met our Taxi Driver who is going to take us to Gurez Valley (a 6-hours arduous journey via Bandipora and then cross over Rajdhan Pass into Gurez Valley).

The Rajdhan Pass (Altitude: 3557mtrs) was fully covered in snow and it took further 2 hours to reach Gurez Valley.

As soon as we reached Gurez Valley, we were greeted with the Rajma Chawal for our Late Lunch and spent our evening Exploring the Gurez Valley market area of Dawar (Administrative Town of Gurez Valley). The people of Gurez are of Dard Tribe and a lead a very hardy life (an ancient tribe of hilly people spread all over from Afghanistan till the Kashmir Region). From our stay, we had a direct view of famous Habba Khatoon Peak (a peak named after famous Kashmiri Poet).

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit:

  • Aru Top

  • Brarien

  • Lidderwat

  • Aru Viewpoint (Mt. Kolahoi viewpoint)

  • Lidder River Rafting.

Stay at:

  • Dawar Guest House (JKTDC Tourism Dept. operated), Dawar, Gurez Valley, J&K.

Day-8: Exploring Gurez Valley - Ride to Tulail, Gujran Sector

The next day, we had plans to visit the remote regions of Gurez Valley where the road runs in parallel to the border of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Our Taxi was ready, we crossed village after village and Army Check post after check posts and witnessed the beauty of remote regions of Kashmir. We could see from our own eyes, how life is so hard in these remote villages of Kashmir, where there is no paved road, no hospitals or schools (except few Army Medical camps), no luxuries of modern-day life, yet people are so happy and content at what they have.

We had few crochet toys (which were homemade woolen toys), which we donated to the small kids at the last village which we could get to (Gujran Village). The mud road still goes ahead and reaches Dras (a strategic military road) but this road is only open for Army Vehicles after the Gujran Village check post.

In the evening we had one shorter visit and this time we were lucky enough to reach the last village before the India – Pakistan Border check post at Chakwali (Chakan da Bagh Border post).

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our 2-night stay at Gurez Valley which is truly an unexplored region of Kashmir Valley.

Below are key places and food Joints we were able to pay a visit:

  • Dawar

  • Tulail Valley

  • Chakwali Border Post

Stay at:

  • Dawar Guest House (JKTDC Tourism Dept. operated), Dawar, Gurez Valley, J&K.

Day-9: Gurez Valley to Srinagar

Next Day, we had 5hours of arduous journey from Gurez Valley to Srinagar. By the time, we reach Srinagar, there was a Shootout between Few Terrorists and Security forces on-going close to Central Srinagar. So, somehow, we dodged the blockade of Security Forces and were able to reach our Hotel in Srinagar. Next day, we had plans of Visiting South Kashmir (Shopian & Yusmarg), but due to many un-fortunate incidents in the valley, we decided to skip it and instead visit Kargil & Leh. And I head out to book the next day bus tickets to Leh @JKSRTC Reception nearby, when I went out, I could see, how stone pelting was going on between locals and Security forces (J&K Police) after the encounter. This is the reality which all needs to accept about the Kashmir valley. The struggle of locals & the difficulties faced by the Armed forces who are tasked to stop militancy in the valley.

So, once I got the bus tickets booked for next morning, we spent the rest of the evening just walking on the Dal Lake boulevard where we felt safe close to our Hotel Room.