I had always fancied Kashmir. However, had given up hope of ever visiting it, given the situation there. I am really grateful to the almighty for making this dream a reality.
The trip began on a slightly bumpy track. Our Mumbai Srinagar flight got delayed by 6 hours. Spicejet showed such an unprofessional attitude in dealing with the delay, that passengers of the Srinagar flight literally did a “boarding roko” at Mumbai airport. I have never seen this kind of passenger agitation at an airport before. It is a long story and maybe for some other time.
The view of Srinagar from the flight was something I have never seen in India. For a moment, I felt, I was visiting some foreign country. My suggestion is that you should visit Kashmir once in your lifetime.
This post is more of an informative one. Many of my friends saw my photos and asked many questions. In this post, I am trying to answer those questions. Without wasting time let me delve into the questions. I am trying my best to give you a fair reply.
Is Kashmir Safe to Visit?
Yes, Kashmir is absolutely safe to visit. However, be prepared to see platoons of BSF and CRPF patrolling every nook and corner. Be prepared for lengthy security checks. You will find snipers all over. On our way to Pahalgam, our car was stopped every 10 minutes to allow the army trucks to pass. If you are from other parts of India, you may feel uncomfortable with such a heavy army presence. However, be thankful for their thankless job that we had a safe trip.
What Was Our Kashmir Itinerary?
We spent most of our time in Pahalgam and Srinagar. If you visit Kashmir in summer then these two are the best places to visit. In Autumn and winter, Gulmarg and Sonmarg are the best places as you get to see snow. We did go to Gulmarg but dropped Sonmarg. We went to Sinthan Pass where we found snow.
Is Kashmir Expensive?
Yes, honestly I spent more money in Kashmir than I spent in Hungary. Food, car rentals, auto fare, and hotel tariff are higher than in the rest of India. However, if you visit in the off-season you will get cheaper prices perhaps. You should bargain for everything.
In tourist areas, be careful about scams. They quote you exorbitant rates. In one place, they asked 7500 for a pony ride. We bargained and paid only 700. You really need to have hard bargaining skills.
How Digital Is Kashmir?
Living in Mumbai, we are so used to Ola, Uber, Swiggy, Zomato, and other app-based services that it felt like we have stepped backward in time in Kashmir. None of these work. Most shops do not accept credit/debit cards. Paytm and Google pay is still not popular among small shopkeepers. Therefore, carry hard cash. Kashmir has issues with load-shedding. Thus, ATM machines also stop working. Internet is feeble. Wifi connections are not available everywhere. So be prepared to stay without the internet in many places.
How Are Kashmiri People?
Firstly, they are the prettiest people in India. Every man and woman is prettier than many of our Bollywood stars. I have never met such handsome auto drivers, waiters, and policemen in any other part of the country.
Kashmiri people are friendly and talkative. It is easy to start a conversation with them. They emphasize “mehmaan nawazi“. They treat you like their guests and wherever we went we heard ” aap humhare mehmaan hai, aapko kush karna humhara kaam hai“. You will fall in love with their hospitality.
What to Eat In Kashmir?
Unlike, the rest of India, you will not find the popular food chains in Kashmir. In Srinagar, you may find some. However, do not miss the local cuisine. Kashmiri wazwaan is a mouthwatering spread of dishes. Wazwaan is available for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian people. Kashmiri cuisine is similar to Persian cuisine. Wazwan is their wedding spread that consists of 25 dishes. In Srinagar, Mughal Darbar is the best place for wazwan. If you do not want to try local cuisine then Nathus is a good food chain for vegetarian food.
Apart from wazwaan, do not miss fresh fruits from the local orchards. On your way to Pahalgam, eat apples and drink fresh apple juices. On your way to Gulmarg, pluck cherries and plums from the orchard and eat them fresh. Try eating walnuts and almonds at Badam Vaer in Srinagar.
Shopping in Kashmir?
If you love shopping then Kashmir is heaven. You can literally “shop till you drop”. Things that you should buy in Kashmir are shawls, stoles, wooden items like miniature shikara and houseboats, spatula, tables, jewelry boxes, ornaments, Kashmiri silk sarees, saffron, walnuts, shilajit, dried fruits, apples, cherries, plums from orchards. I have never tasted such divine dried fruits in life. Dried fruits like cranberries, strawberries, cherries, kiwis, mangoes, and blueberries were yummy. You can easily replace them with desserts. On our way to Srinagar from Gulmarg, we bought freshly plucked red cherries from an orchard. The cherry orchard owner even gave us a tour of the orchard.
Word of caution: In Kashmir, numerous hawkers will approach you with various products ranging from shawls to saffron. My advice is that don’t buy from them. They will sell you at cheaper rates but their products are not genuine. Visit a government showroom and buy Kashmiri products. Saffron you can buy from Pampore, a small area between Srinagar and Pahalgam. This area is the saffron farm of India. Buy Apples directly from the orchards on your way to Pahalgam. Shawls and souvenirs can be bought from Lal Chowk Srinagar.
Kashmiri hawkers are nagging, especially the ones in Pahalgam who were following us wherever we went. Pestering to buy their stuff. It takes immense patience and determination to avoid them. Honestly, I was getting irritated by their constant nagging.
Places I Visited and Loved
I visited lots of places. Let me arrange them in descending order from most liked to the least.
Srinagar houseboat and Dal lake were my absolute favorite.
Do not miss the experience of living on a houseboat in Srinagar. A unique experience that you will cherish. However, do research before booking the houseboat. Some houseboats are shabby and anchored at the back of the lake. Those are not recommended. The houseboats parked at ghat number 12 onwards are good. The best and most luxurious ones are parked at Nagin lake.
How Was the Houseboat Experience?
As a child, I loved watching the Doordarshan serial called Gul Gulshan Gulfam. I used to fantasize about living on a houseboat. Finally, the dream came true and I loved every nanosecond of my stay on the houseboat.
Houseboats are costlier than hotels but worth the extra cost. Basic facilities may not be excellent but you will enjoy the view and homely warmth. We spent a lot of our time relaxing on the deck of the houseboat watching shikaras sail. Shopping from the floating shikaras was also a new experience.
The shikara ride is also amazing. There was one full ride and another short ride. We took the short ride and visited only Meena Bazar. On our way to Meena Bazar we saw the houseboat named Gulfam on which the serial gul gulshan gulfam was shot.
Gulmarg is a beautiful meadow. The Gondola ride in Gulmarg was the highlight. As there was no snow, we only took the phase 1 Gondola ride.
This place is known as “Mini Switzerland”. You need to either trek or ride on a pony to reach this place.
Lidder Park, Pahalgam
Baaghs of Srinagar
Pahalgam, the Valley of Sepherds
Last but Not the Least, the Flowers of Kashmir