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Our travel to Kashmir , as it actually happened .

June 3, 2017

Our  travel to Kashmir [ 26 May – 1 June 2017 ]

Our 7-day trip to Kashmir turned out to be the dream trip of our life , although we have  travelled far and wide in last 40 years . It made me recognise  that Kashmir is not just about lakes, gardens , flowers , mountains and………saffron . In fact, it is also about traditional crafts , dry fruits, apples,  spices , honey, cricket bats , exquisite pashmina shawls  and religious places – Vaishno Devi Temple and Hazrat Bal Shrine to name a few – while not forgetting the snowfall in Gulmarg  and elsewhere  …and in recent times opening of internationally styled cafes in Srinagar as well .

But above all , it is about friendliness and hospitality of Kashmiris and their “tehzeeb” which makes you feel so homely and secure .

I may add that it is quite safe to travel and stay in  Kashmir notwithstanding occasional disturbances here and there and adverse reports in the media from time to time .

Read on ..

Day 1 :

Leave home for departure from IGI T1D @ 0925 hrs .

Srinagar :

After arrival at Srinagar Airport, an early  lunch at Smokin’ Joes .  Vegetarian pineapple topped Pizzas with freshly squeezed fruit juice were really delicious . The restaurant is located below Hotel Holiday Inn on main Road Dalgate, Near Petrol Pump/ Jan Bakers.[Phones : 97977 00555]

Proceeded  to Peacock Houseboats, Ghat No.1, Nageen Lake West, Opp: Nageen Club . [  Rahil Ahmad – Phone :  95963 57777 / 99064 78773 ] . Welcomed with floral bouquets by Rahil and his father Bashir Ahmad . The ornate design , construction and furnishing of the houseboats built with great care some 45 years ago takes your breath away . The bed rooms and the drawing/dining room are very well furnished and are a treat for the eyes as well as the soul .

At  2.30 PM: Visited Shalimar Bagh  [ Garden of Love – the biggest out of the 3 Mughal gardens ] , Nishat Bagh [ Garden of Pleasure – the best of the lot ] overlooking the crystal clear emerald green water of Dal Lake on one side and snow capped Zabarwan mountains on the other , and Chashme Shahi [ the royal spring ]  . Ended the trip to Mughal Gardens by spending some time at the Pari Mahal . [ Admission fee : Rs 20 / visitor ].

At the Shalimar Bagh , our first stop on the tour of Mughal Gardens

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Nishat Bagh [ Garden of Pleasure ] overlooking the Dal Lake  was undoubtedly the best of them all .

Chashme Shahi was our next port of  call . This Garden is located in the Zabarwan mountains range  near Raj Bhawan and is known for its natural spring water. .

Our trip of Mughal Gardens ended with a visit to the multi-level Pari Mahal nestling in the hills .

Engaged a Shikara  for a  one-hour duration ride by the  sunset covering “vegetable farms” and lily/lotus ponds [ Rs 1,000  ] . Quite a delightful experience it was .

On return to  the Houseboat , enjoyed Kashmiri Kehwa served with traditional Kashmiri naans mixed with nuts , breads like baqerkhani , chochwor and walnut fudge, sitting on the deck  .

peacock-houseboats

Light meals  at 8 PM at Peacock House boat.

Distances :

Peacock Houseboats – Shalimar  Bagh [ 30 minutes ] , Shalimar Bagh – Nishat Bagh [ 5 minutes ] , Nishat Bagh – Chashma Shahi  [ 15 minutes ]   and Chashma Shahi – Pari Mahal [ 6 minutes  ]

Day 2

Time to explore the floating vegetable markets on Dal Lake. To get the best out of this memorable experience, I left from the Houseboat at 4.30 AM and engaged a shikara @ Rs 1100 . Watched farmers selling their produce to shopkeepers and vendors . Stopped  by at one of the bakeries [ called Kandur ] located on a side , and watched fresh breads being baked right in my presence . If you are lucky, you might even get 2 breads for free [ as I did ] , they are really delicious .

 Sonamarg

10.45 AM: Checked out post breakfast and shopping on the Houseboat . A 2 hrs 15 minutes’ drive covering 85 kms to reach Sonamarg [ Meadow of Gold ] via NH 1 . As we reached Sonamarg, we wandered our way through the breathtaking valleys with beautiful Sindh River gushing along surrounded by pines and firs on the snow clad mountains. Dined at the awesome Green Gamplings Resort , Gagangir , Sonamarg Road  . [ Phones: 8491962370 / 9469049649 ].

Engaged a  XYLO [ Rs 1500 ]  and thereafter a short trek on pony [ Rs 650 ]  to Thajiwas Glacier  [2.5 Kms ]. Depending upon the height/points that you wish to cover, you can go upto the glacier via sledges .

At 4.00 PM , we departed  for Srinagar.  Checked in at the Hotel Royal Batoo  . [ Phones: 0194 2485666/ 9797734433  – Reservation  Associate :  Ms Heemu Punjabi ] . Shopped for embroidered hand bags and  stoles at a nice shop located in the Lobby . Our stay at the Royal Batoo , although rather brief , was quite comfortable .

Day 3

Gulmarg  

Checked out @ 7 AM after an early morning breakfast for the trip to Gulmarg ( Meadow of Flowers) located at a height of 8800 ft above sea level. The drive is approximately 1.45 hours covering a distance of 51 kms from Srinagar via Srinagar-Tangmarg road . We were stopped on the way by young children wearing masks and having stones in their hands,  but after a brief conversation  they let us go .

On the way , stopped by at Tangmarg and admired the scenic views all around  .

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Checked in at The Meadows, close to Gondola [ Ms Aliyaah : 9906624442 ].

10.00 AM: Engaged a guide @  Rs 1000 who got the Gondola boarding tickets for us in exchange for the Gondola ride  tickets already purchased On –line  in advance . Enjoyed the Gondola ride high above the meadow, within walking distance from the Hotel  . We went upto first phase only @ Rs 700/ person upto Kondoori as we were worried about thin air in the second phase when the gondola car moves at 14,000 ft. altitude , the highest in the world !

Covered Gulmarg Golf Course , the scenic Strawberry Valley , Maharaja Palace  and Rani Temple , riding on a single seater ATV @ Rs 1250/ATV. The Rani temple was constructed by the wife of Maharaja Sir Hari Singh of J&K State. Reached after covering 70 steps , the temple provides scenic views of Gulmarg valley . Shiva is the main deity here .

We had our lunch as well as dinner at the Meadow Hotel . However,we  faced several issues at the Hotel that were brought to the notice of the management for corrective action .

Day 4

Pahalgam

Checked out at  4.30 AM  for Pahalgam [ Valley of Shepherds ] :  Distance 145 Kms : 4 hrs via NH 1/ NH 44 .

Stopped by at Tangmarg  [ approx 25 kms from Gulmarg ]  at Royal Dry Fruits selling dry fruits of all kinds of varieties , honey , saffron and blackberries . The owner of the shop, Mr Bilal Ahmed is a very courteous and knowledgeable person . We bought saffron, saffron flavoured honey, Kashmiri almonds [ small size ] , cardamons and raisins of very high quality from him .

We also spent sometime at Crafts India located nearby . This is a Co-operative which makes and supplies handicrafts incl: hand woven carpets, rugs and exquisite pashmina shawls .

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9.30 AM: Checked in at The Vellagio – [ Phones: 9596887571 / 01936 243388 ] . The Hotel is located on the main Chandanwari Road, not far off from the Toll Plaza . On arrival received a warm welcome from the young General Manager , Adil Bashir .

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Some very happy and memorable moments at The Villagio in Pahalgam

2 PM: Hired a local XYLO taxi  [ Rs.1,750  ] for the  trip to Aru Valley, Betaab Valley and Chandanwari (base station for Amarnath) that took us around three hours. Betaab Valley was renamed as such after the Bollywood movie by the same name starring Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh in lead roles  was shot here. Strolled around in the markets looking at shops selling crafts and walnut wood based souvenirs as we approached the Hotel on our return  .

Aru Valley

Aru Valley is located at about 12 kms from the central part of Pahalgam . The scenic beauty of the Valley encouraged producers to shoot  Bollywood movie “Karma” here with the legendary actor Dilip Kumar in lead role. Faced a traffic jam of sorts with herd of sheep and flock of goats often walking on the road  !

Betaab Valley

The picture of us that received maximum Likes and Oo Lala Lalas on the FB . This was taken by our cab driver Shakeel on the main Chandanwari Road which overlooks the Betaab Valley .

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Chandanwari

Stopped for a while at Chandanwari . Due to the approach road being rather narrow, parking is a bit difficult . From the “disorganised”  parking lot, you need to walk about 50-60 metres to get to the snow . I enjoyed munching peanuts fresh out of the “tava” , while walking on the lane .

Dinner  at the Hotel and overnight stay .

Day 5

Took several  pictures of Vellagio hotel premises and surroundings . This one of me relaxing in a Chair outside the Restaurant looking like a Royal was considered the best of the lot . [ Photo courtesy :  Shabir Ahmed ]

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The elegant restaurant which serves delicious meals , incl:  vegetarian  dishes as well .

Above pictures clicked by Hotel GM, Adil Bashir at different locations in the premises .

Engaged a pony [ named ” Tarzan”  ] for going  to the huge undulating meadow of Baisaran,  thick wooded forests of pine and cedars , passing by Dabyan and scenic Kashmir Valley . Admission fee at the Baisaran : Rs 20/adult .  Total visit time – 2.15 hrs .

Distances: Pahalgam – Baisaran :  3 kms , Pahalgam – Betaab Valley :  7 kms

Day 6

Checked out and departed  for Srinagar  @ 11.30 PM Via  NH 501/ NH 44  :  95 Kms . Due to disturbances in the Valley, we were advised to leave past midnight for Srinagar .

1.45 AM: Checked  in at Batra Hotels and Residences, Opp: Durgang Temple, Dalgate.         [ Phone : 0194 2500571/2 . M: 87150 00217-19 . Mr Sohail, Operations Manager / Ms. Humaira Beigh, Guest Relations Manager ] . Very efficient check in despite the very odd time of our arrival . The reception staff Waived the registration formalities temporarily and directed us to our well furnished deluxe room immediately .

 8 AM: Breakfast at Krishna  Dhaba – Close to Durganag Temple, Dalgate  [ Phones:  0194-2454775 M:9419113849,  9419449347 ]  , right opposite the Hotel, as food at the Hotel was frightfully expensive with all dishes priced at Rs 275 and more  . Ordered dosas, idli-vada mix and soft drinks . Reminded me of the comical Bollywood movie “Dulhe Raja ” .

10 AM: Trip review meeting at the Hotel with Mohammed Saqib – Kashmirport .   Discussing what went right , what went wrong and what could have been better .

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12.15 PM : Visited  Hazratbal Shrine on the bank of Dal Lake which turned out to be a great spiritual experience .  The views of the Lake from the Shrine [ including Char Chinar ] and of pigeons feasting on corns and breads were very amazing and interesting. At the Shrine, we were informed that the relics of hair of Prophet Mohammad will be on public display on 21st day of Ramadan .

1.15 PM: Chai Jaai, Mahattas Studio, 1st Floor, Dhanjibuoy Building, The Bund, Residency Road  [ Owner Roohi – 99068 97788  ]  . Located on the rear side , it is a very beautifully designed Tea Room with papier mache artwork where we savoured teas with grilled sandwiches,  lavassa bread and french fries .  There is an art gallery adjoining the Tea Room where we spent 15 minutes . [ For my detailed review see “Chai Jaai” page on the FB or else log on to http://www.tripadvisor.in and search for Chai Jaai in Srinagar Restaurants category  ] .

3.30 PM: Visited  Kashmir Box : Indo-Kashmir Complex, Nawab Bazar in Old Srinagar area passing the iconic Jehangir Hotel  . [  Samiya – Phone: 0194-2503735  ].  Looked up rugs, wall hangings, hand bags and suits . Our visit to Kashmir Box gave us a very good idea of the wide range of exquisite handicrafts and clothes stitched and embroidered with great care and effort  by craftsmen of Kashmir .

Bought  bedsheets and souvenirs at Kashmir Arts Centre on Munnawarbad while proceeding to the Hotel  . Boulevard Road, Polo View Street and Lal Chowk are the places dotted with shops selling papier mache and dry fruits.  Different kinds of walnuts like kagzi walnuts, saffron, shah zira, honey , mixed spices , mountain blackberries , kesar saffron mix  etc .are some of the specialties of Kashmir .

 8.00 PM : Dinner at the Niramish Restaurant located on the lobby of Batra Hotels which turned out to be a great culinary experience – our best meal of the 7 day trip , in fact .

Day 7

Checked out  @ 11.00 AM  for Srinagar International Airport to board our return Spice Jet Flight at 14.40 hrs . It took us about 35-40 minutes to get to the Airport . We went through multiple checks outside the airport as well as inside it in view of security considerations and Srinagar Airport being under the control of Defence.

6.30 PM : Arrived at home carrying very pleasant memories of our visit to Kashmir .

Tour Organiser:  Kashmirport.com : Saqib Gadoo : 9622520206

 

 

 

 

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