Suddenly in February we decided we should try travelling to Kashmir. We had no idea the movie Kashmir Files will be released soon thereafter. Primary question is whether the destination is safe? It is relatively safe but very different from many other cities you would have visited across the country.
It wasn’t my first time to Kashmir but it had indeed been a long time to the tune of almost three decades had passed and I had a few cherished memories.
We decided not to go with any travel agency or tour operator as we found the schedule hectic and were skeptical too. So we landed at Srinagar and the child travelling with us was really excited seeing the snowcapped mountains as we approached the city from the window seat of the flight.
We straight headed to the famed Tulip festival as soon as we landed in Srinagar and the sky showed its mercy on us by bringing out its best colours to match the flowers. The land looked like it was a city of paradise. When we visited in April 2022, covid testing was skipped in case the passengers were fully vaccinated.
We had fortunately selected hotels that gave us both breakfast and dinner and we hoped that would largely solve our quest for looking for places that served food to match our tastes. Srinagar is a city that strikes out quite drastically different from regular cities you would have visited anywhere in India. One you need to be prepared to see the military strength at every street, at every tourist location and this itself looks so different from other cities.
The only other place I was stunned looking at a military presence was the Golden temple in Amirtsar where you do become conscious. However Srinagar is much more tight –gripped and heavy security checks are present. In one way it makes you feel safe, and on the other hand you do become conscious if the city is under pertinent threat.
Dal Lake looks beautiful especially around sunset time and you can visit the floating markets or spend time in the quieter areas too. It is one of the prominent lakes in India within the city boundaries. However it was the more peaceful Nigeen lake where we liked spending more time as it was less crowded. We also managed to visit the Shankaracharya temple too with a short climb of stairs and see the scenic Srinagar from an aerial point of view.
The bane of recent times along with Covid restrictions is that people are flocking to different cities and towns and we had to find spots and spaces where we could be spending time without listening to voices, seeing crowds etc. It is in this trip I realized I was looking for peaceful time than ticking the tourist points on my list. Needless to mention, I felt I was contributing to this crowd being another tourist myself.
Yet, Kashmir is a destination that indeed mesmerizes tourists with its natural beauty. The people too are very warm and trying their best to get back to normalcy.
Continuing with our trip, we also visited Gulmarg and Sonmarg and let me assure you Sonmarg is more beautiful and again less crowded. Kashmiris are hospitable and just in case you are a vegetarian you will not face any problem in finding food as they are easily available.
Gulmarg runs primarily on going through Gondola or the cable car and you need to be prepared to wait in long queues even if you have booked your tickets online and in advance. For an hour of spending time with freezing snow at Phase 2, you will be required to wait for 4 hours in queue. The cable car ride goes through the deep valleys and it is snow packed in Phase II which is at a greater height.
Again, Gulmarg is highly over hyped and comparatively Sonmarg is indeed a piece of heaven on Earth. Do go in for the horse riding trek/ride to see the snow capped mountains in close parameters. A recommended horse ride would be to visit Thajiwas Glacier. Also be ready to bargain really well with the horse guides who will be taking you to the destination. It can cost up to Rs, 5k for a family of three.
For our schedule of about a week in Kashmir, we had hired a cab with a driver and that did help us in moving to destinations at our schedule. Also many prefer to stay in Srinagar and visit Gulmarg, Sonmarg and return back. We stayed in each of these destinations but thankfully we weren’t too tired.
You need to keep in mind that Kashmir is highly dependent on tourism and therefore you will constantly coaxed into seeing more spots, covering treks. Research and choose wisely depending on you are healthy and can trek or go in for a horse ride up the bumpy mountains for 3 hours or more. A few were opting to go by walk and climb on their own and a few would skip these tourist spots as they were not accessible by car or vehicle.
We also managed to spend one day at Pahalgam which is beautiful and has the richness of vast landscapes, breathtaking valley views to name a few. Our best pictures and time spent has been at spots where we just stopped the car and spent time across river banks, mustard fields, valley views, streams, unknown roads and countless other scenic spots that were not on tourist radar.
Srinagar and even other nearby destinations like Gulmarg, Sonmarg are all getting warmer, crowded and having the effects of climate changes. If you want a snow peaked scenario then choose to go to one destination like Gulmarg or Sonmarg. In summers, these destinations have sporadic snow-covered patches and yet they do look picture-perfect.
We did stay in a houseboat too but among all the destinations, it was Sonmarg with its amazing hotel view that actually made us feel we are in ‘Jannat’. Houseboat experience is good for a stay if you get it at reasonable price. Unlike Alleppy, the houseboats here are stationed and it would be advisable to choose a houseboat that is in a quieter place like on Nigeen lake.
The trip based on your schedule requires you to be flexible and it is better if kids are prepared or can adjust to travel, trek, go on for pony rides to name a few.
Do try the ‘Kashmiri Kahwa’ which is a specialized hot drink and in case you are open to a few food options, even the local breads are a must-try.
There are additional security checks at airports when travelling to Kashmir and even at Srinagar. But it is a destination that needs to be visited once at least in a life-time.