Kashmir – If there is a heaven on earth, Is it here ??

So last weekend I took a chance and visited the land of stone pelters. Yes you read it correct. I would not want to call Kashmir the heaven on Earth anymore, let it be recognized by the name “Land of Stone Pelters” or “Safe Heaven for Terrorists”. I know it sounds harsh on those peaceful Kashmiris but World does not recognizes those 99.9% peaceful Kashmiris. Kashmir is now recognized for its terrorism, Stone pelters, cross border attacks and many such negative attributes.

A detailed narration of my experience with the radical and surgically brain washed  youth of Kashmir can be read from one of my www.Quora.com  answer. I would keep this post free from the political narrative. But I would definitely want to request all of you to read the link www.Quora.com and here I leave you to decide the answer of the question which I have raised in my post’s heading!

So here it goes – I had a wedding to attend at New Delhi on April 28, 2017 followed by long weekend. So initially I decided to stay at Delhi but since my plans never work out the way I want. Which made me think, what else I can do in those three days.. I was sitting in front of TV watching news about stone pelting in Kashmir. How our soldiers are struggling to catch terrorists while the locals are pelting stone at them. There was another news which said the World famous Tulip Garden at Srinagar is open for public. So I looked the air tickets and hotel rates for Srinagar and all thanks to these stone pelting. The air tickets and accommodation looked affordable. I booked the tickets. This time three more people joined me. Which was a good experience for me. Usually I travel alone, so for a change another three people added fun to the journey (For me)! Off course they had a nightmare travelling with me. 🙂

My friend Shashwat Revoo (Who is a Kashmiri,  post exodus his parents moved to plains ) took keen interest in helping us out. In his own words – “You are going to my town so it is my responsibility to make sure you stay nicely there with least trouble“. He made few calls that led to cheaper cab rides on per day basis. Usually, a daily basis cab service in Srinagar and nearby places would cost you INR 2400 to INR 2600 but thanks to Shashwat, we got it at INR1800/day.  I will explain the catch in it though.

So we took an early morning flight at 5:20 AM from IGI, New Delhi and reached Srinagar at 7 AM. The weather was chilly, it was raining heavily since last two days. So we quickly pulled our jumpers and jackets. I must remind my readers that at Delhi it was 39 degrees Celsius and at Srinagar it was 11 degrees. After a short wait, we met our cab driver who was suppose to be with us for the next three days. His name was Parvez. He was a polite to start with 🙂

Since we had only two and a half days of stay at Srinagar, so we wanted to start our tour from the Airport. We requested Parvez to take us to Gulmarg as it was closer to the Airport. a 65 kms of distance from Srinagar airport was smooth yet cold. While we moved on the highway(NH1),  the signs of disturbances were very much evident. We found Paramilitary force personnel on every 10 meters across the roads. We found mobile bunkers along the highways. Primarily it looked a wrong decision to come to Srinagar but later we realized that it was a regular patrolling activity from the armed forces. This is one of the region which is known for insurgency and terrorist attacks. Our cab drivers assured us that no one will touch tourists, so rest assured 🙂

Vacant roads of Srinagar due to strike called by        Hurriyat @ 7AM Srinagar

We broke our early morning journey at road side Dhabha for some refreshments. Had some Parathas and Kahwah (Kashmir’s famous tea). and then moved on. We realized we were not the only tourists who were on the way to Gulmarg.

Kahwah

Kahwah – Kashmiri tea with Spices and Saffron

Other tourist’s vehicle

By the time we reached Gulmarg town, There was lots of tour guides waiting to hop-on to our cab. They literally charged at our cab to make sure we hire one of them for the tour. While we were not sure, but still we found that one of the guide was specifically waiting for us. Contact from Shashwat has already intimated us intimated us in advance to pay this guide INR500 for the tour.

He arranged rented gum boots and long jackets for us. Because up above the hills it was suppose to be -5 degrees centigrade. From here onward the loot began. The shops who were renting these clothes and boots were charging from 700-1000 INR for these boots and jackets. The old and used jackets along with the gum boots does not even worth 100 INR but since we were unaware how the weather is going to be and guide along with driver were insisting us to rent them, so we took their advise. However, driver of our cab whispered in our ears that do not pay more than 250-300 INR for every pair of jackets and gum boots. We rented at 300/each (total 1200 INR for four pair).

Anyways, we were tourists so had not much option but to listen to their advise. By the time we reached the bus stand Gulmarg. Another herd of guides and mule owners flocked us. our guide (Hilal) advised us not to take the pony and mule for the trecking as it does not go far.. For 1.5kms of trek, we never wanted to hire pony. So we opted to walk to Gondola. While we started walking towards Gondola, we realized that the gum boots which we took on rent were of incorrect size. So I changed my gum boots with my regular trekking shoe. Which eventually came out to be a good decision in the end.

Hilal borrowed my AADHAR card and went on to buy Gondola ride tickets. While most of us went to use the public pay per use toilet which was astoundingly rated at 10/person to pee. Come-on who charges INR10 to pee? Anyways, this was not the only surprise we were about to encounter. When we looked at the Gondola ride tickets. We felt like, it will be like half way journey to Delhi. The ticket was priced at INR 1700/person for two levels of Gulmarg peak. These atrocious pricing made me think, if we are really in India. A common Indian family can not/should not come to Kashmir. Else they will loose all their year’s saving in this trip.

Gondola capsule for Level 2

So we were at 14500 feet above the sea level and the view was awesome. It was snow all over and few people were already there. We stayed there for an hour or so and clicked few pictures. The temperature on the second level of the Gondola was around -5 degrees Celsius. Later during the day we ate at the dhabha situated at the level one of the Gondola which was atrociously over priced. In my 36 years of age I never had a chicken at INR 1000/serving. Definitely the taste was good but still nothing worth paying INR1000/- ( blunder made by us, not looking at the price before ordering ). All the stuff were priced at very high rate. a fist full of mutton kashmiri Pulao costed us INR 250/- and India’s famous INR 10/- Maggie noodle was at INR 200/- per pack.

Most expensive Kashmiri Chicken @ INR1000

Mutton Kashmiri Pulao

While coming back from the Gulmarg, we stopped at one of the shops recommended by the driver, there we bought some Pashmina and other articles. So this was the catch I was talking about. These drivers would initially cook a story that they know people who make these articles in their own factories and they are the genuine producers for Pashmina and other World famous articles. But the real reason why they take you over their is because they get a healthy 20-25% cut from the amount that you buy from their shops.

So my genuine advise, you would not be able to differentiate what is real and what is fake because they would show you all possible tests on their goods. Be it Pashmina shawls, Kahwah tea or for that matter naturally grown Saffron. My recommendation would be directly go to J&K art emporium and buy it from their. It is right opposite of Gate Number#5 of Dal Lake on the first floor of the market. There you may find it 10% costly but since it is a government run shop, the chances of getting fake product is minimal.

The driver took us to one of the bat manufacturer where we saw how the bats are manufactured and we bought one bat ( the famous Kashmir Willow cricket bat )

Kashmir Willow Bats

Later during the day we checked into the Houseboat at Dal Lake. we were very excited to stay at House boat while we were ferried towards the house boat. However, while we entered in one of the rooms which were allotted to us, the entire excitement went for a toss. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures for the interiors of the houseboat room.

The bath rooms of the houseboat were very filthy. Yes staying for a night or two in a house boat is always fun. The rental for the house boat is very cheap at any given day, but do not expect anything great from it. We did backpacking so for us it was fun. In case you are going with family, I would suggest do not even think of staying in a houseboat.

The house boat we selected using www.makemytrip.com has the highest rating all over internet(Trivago, yatra, Bookings.com, hotels.com and tripadvisor.com). The name of the houseboat was House Boat Switzerland located at the gate number 12 of Dal Lake. They claim to give you breakfast but in the name of breakfast they will serve you two slice of bread butter sprinkled on it with a cup of tea. I am sure no one would like just these two things for a breakfast.

I dont want to be too critical of them, but at that price I think it was ok! We paid INR 2300 for two nights for four people. I would recommend that don’t try this if you are going with kids/family.

House boat Switzerland

Next day we started our day at 9 AM, the lazy butts with me never wanted to come out of bed but eventually I had to kick them out and we had our breakfast at 9:30 AM in a near by punjabi dhaba. The Parathas were delicious, and later we moved on in our cab towards Pehalgam which is 80 kms towards south of Kashmir valley, now known for its stone pelting and unrest. Anyways, I dont want to scare you, but yes our driver told us heroism of stone throwers and people who are against the Police and Army etc etc. This is the same route which is used for famous Amarnath Yatra every year. We reached Gulmarg at 12 noon and then started the bargain.

Story goes like this – The moment we reached Pehlagam, mule owners surrounded us and they started showing us the government rate list which was inflated from 1000 to 7000 per ride per person, depending upon the points you want to visit. After huge negotiations and thanks to stone throwers not many tourists were there so the bargain did not take much time. I wanted to cover the trek by walk but the group decided to take pony and I think that was the biggest mistake I made during the trip. While coming down my pony banged my right leg into a tree and I cried in pain. It was already an injured lef due to heavy running and this injury added salt to the wound. I was not able to stand for the time being. The issue is – These pony guys take short and steep rout whle coming back and the pony never thinks about its riders. It assumes that some dead stuff is lying on its back. So it keeps traveling at its own choice and you end up hurt.

Mini Switzerland View Point

Mini Switzerland View Point

The brown pony which virtually broke my knee

View point at Pahalgam Valley, Kashmir

 

I have met few anti-India Campaigners during this trip and I have described in detail in this link for  www.Quora.com question.

While on our way back to Srinagar we stopped by at Avantipora Temple ruins to see the one of the oldest temples Lord Vishnu. More information on the temple can be found on ASI – AvantiPora Temple

we also stopped by to purchase some Kahwah (Kashmiri Tea ) and Saffron. As explained earlier, our driver took us to the shop which was on the highway and we bought some stuff. But sooner we realized that he was taking us to the shops which were giving him more cut. My friend Nishant inquired from his father about the genuine shop for Saffron and other stuff, as he was posted in Srinagar earlier as ATC. So we decided not to buy more stuff these shops. And returned back to houseboat. We were hungry and we wanted to eat authentic Kashmiri cuisine, But since it was too late, so we could not go to the most famous restaurant in Srinagar. So we settled for the second best (As per the driver). The place called Mughal Durbar, The restaurant looked like an old joint which was famous for the genuine Kashmiri Gustava and Roghan Josh. I and my brother Saurabh are big time foodie and so we decided to order few things which we never tasted in our life. Definitely the taste was good and we enjoyed our dinner.

The next morning we managed to check-out our House Boat early as we had a flight to catch later in the evening. So we wanted to cover the local places. We had quick breakfast at the nearby joint and moved towards the World famous Adi Shankaracharya Temple of Srinagar. The temple dates back to 200 BC. Situated at the highest point of Srinagar city on the hill top (Gopadari Hill). The security of the hill was too tight. While we entered the area, our cab was thoroughly checked, Driver was asked to show his papers. We were asked about our whereabouts. More on the mandir can be read form the below link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shankaracharya_Temple

The moment you say “Jai Hind” (Hail India) to any soldier.. their smiles makes your day! This is the best thing which you can say to an Indian soldier. They smile like a child and reply back with “Jai Hind” !!

Photography and leather items are prohibited at the temple. But trust me, it is the best view from the hill(Gopadari Hill) top of Srinagar Valley. While we were coming back, we clicked few pictures, but they are just glimpse of what we witnessed from the top. The temple dates back to

Srinagar Valley from Shankaracharya Mandir hill top

Next destination was my to do list item – Tulip Gargen of Srinagar .. The charged INR 200 rs for four of us and we got into the garden. I would not want to describe it. Because I dont think I am capable of describing a marvel like this. Just have a look at the pictures and decide if you would also want to visit.

Tulip Garden, Srinagar

Tulip Garden, Srinagar

Tulip Garden, Srinagar

Tulip Garden, Srinagar

Tulip Garden, Srinagar

Later we went to Mughal garden (Nishat Bhagh), Just have a glimpse of it and admire the beauty.

Nishat Bagh facing Zabarwan Mountain, Srinagar

Nishat Bagh facing Dal Lake, Srinagar

After visiting the Nishat Garden, we looked the time and felt as if we would be late for rest of the destinations, so we decided to hop in to our cab and requested the driver to take us to the HazratBal Dargah. Which is one more important place to visit. The Dargah looked majestic and stood tall right in front of Dal lake.

While coming back from Hazratbal, we requested our driver to take us to the most famous restaurant of Srinagar. Hadoosh at Central Srinagar market (Lal Chowk). It was a up market restaurant and surprisingly the rates were pretty decent. One of the guest(I have added their conversation in my  www.Quora.com answer, please read) at the nearby table helped us to choose our Kashmiri dishes. We had our last Kashmiri feast in a grand style.

Rohan Josh

Gosht Pasanda

Tabak Maaz

We ordered some great vegetarian dishes as well, but since I was hooked to non-vegetation dishes I think I missed to click their pictures. I shall post them in case I have them in my phone.

Now, the last plan that we had was to buy some gift and saffron from the government shop. So we requested our driver to take us to the Gate number 5 at Dal Lake and the driver panicked. He kept on saying that they dont sell genuine stuff and there is no shop anymore at that place. He was offended with the fact that we did not shop from his recommended shop earlier and now want to shop from the J&K Government Emporium. Anyways, he was left with no other option but to take us there and we shopped little but. Assuming that what ever we have bought is genuine, since it was a government shop. The USP of the shop was the various types of Pashmina. One of the costliest Pashmina we saw worth INR 150,000..

Pashmina Shawl

We reached the Airport on time and after security we figured out that our flight was now 2 hours late 🙁 So we watched IPL over TV at the Airport and spent our time clicking some odd pictures like these.

Srinagar Airport

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  1. atul sahai

    Good description of the entire duration….😃 next plan Leh by road ….or tawang/gangktok….hospitality in NE amazing esp arunachal

  2. Gurpreet

    Sinha, please understand that places like Kashmir have Tourism as their main revenue earning area and it has to be promoted and It has to be supported by indians like us so that more and more people visit and the prices come down eventually.
    We should not crib about being over-charged at our tourist locations which need our attention as we happily happily spend when we visit popular tourist destinations outside India .
    Jai Hind 🙋🏻

Abhishek Sinha

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