Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Kashmir Trip Travelogue of October 2012

Tips of Kashmir travel
10 days Itinerary of Kashmir travel
Kashmir travel in October

Sunset at the lake

This Puja October 2012 we, two families, went for a short trip to Kashmir valley. This was our first visit  to the valley. Time was very short for us, so we made a plan for ourselves and tried to cover as many places without tiring. This article will help those, who want to  visit the Kashmir valley for planning, cost estimation and of course the practical tips for the Kashmir trip.

Saffron flower

Firstly, I want to emphasize, the Kashmir valley is now absolutely peaceful now and no one should miss the beauty of the valley. I can assure you this will be your life time experience and you will want to visit again and again. This is necessary too. We visited Kashmir in Autumn. They say this is red Kashmir. Chinar trees and many other trees were looking awesome with different shades of colour. 

Two other seasons are Green and White. January to March  is white and April to August is green.

We planned our travel by train, being a employee in the Indian Railways, we travel free in train in India, so it was the obvious choice. If this is not being the case, for the return journey  air is preferable. If you travel both way by air, you will miss the charm of the valley, while going from Jammu to Srinagar.

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Return by air is better for several reasons:

1.  You will be tired after the trip and will try to reach home fast, while going , this will not be the case.
2. From Srinagar to Jammu, the traffic is unpredictable,(normal time required by car is about 8 hours for approx 300 Km)  you have to start very early in the morning, even though, you have reservation in night train.  This tension can be minimized if you add Vaishnodevi trip on the return, which we did not.
3. You will face horrible experience at Jammu station. Infrastructure is extremely poor. people are rowdy. Being a high official in Railways, it was the worst possible experience even for me!  The station remain extremely crowded, and you will get no place to stand, leave aside sitting somewhere. Please note no porter of Jammu station works after 9 pm. Our train was at 9:45 pm and, we suffered a lot.  

Let us move to our itinerary .....  

Day one: Maha Sashthi 20th October 2012-   We boarded Rajdhani Express from Sealdah at 16: 20 Hrs

At a pandal of Delhi CR Park

Day two: Maha Saptami 21st October 2012- Reached Delhi  at  10: 20 Hrs. We had our rest house booked at Connaught Place. At about 14: 00 hrs, we went to CR park, by Metro and auto rickshaw. Saw the Durga Puja of Kali bari. Had excellent Khichuri Prasad at one of the pandals. Honestly, enjoyed  much more than so called, theme pandals in Kolkata. Puja was like this in Kolkata too, several years ago.  Our train to Udhampur was Sampark Kranti Express at 20:45 pm. 

CR Park Delhi - Coperative Durga Puja

Regarding Udhampur here are some practical points. This is about 50 Kms ahead of Jammu, towards Srinagar. You save time and energy. If you contact your car before hand, this is a nice small station to start your trip. The driver will pick you up from there.   The train also reaches at a very comfortable time between 8:00 to 8:30 Hrs. Cars are available, though in lesser number. Porters are less in number. Always be ready to carry your own luggage. Ramp was there, so no problem if you are having luggage with wheels.

Indian Railway's Officer's Rest House at Patni Top

 Day two: Maha Saptami 21st October 2012- Reached Delhi  at  10: 20 Hrs. We had our rest house booked at Connaught Place. At about 14: 00 hrs, we went to CR park, by Metro and auto rickshaw. Saw the Durga Puja of Kali bari. Had excellent Khichuri Prasad at one of the pandals. Honestly, enjoyed  much more than so called, theme pandals in Kolkata. Puja was like this in Kolkata too, several years ago.  Our train to Udhampur was Sampark Kranti Express at 20:45 pm. 

Patnitop is a nice hill station, close to Jammu. Spending some time there will be pleasure. You may skip Patnitop, if you have time scarcity. We stayed there for a night because, Railways has an excellent Rest House there. There are many hotels  of different categories, you may choose there on the spot, if you wish to stay. Otherwise, give Rs. 50 toll tax and have a round trip of the place in 30 mins , and head towards your next destination, in our case it was Pahalgam.

Pahelgam - By the side of Lidder River

Day three Maha Nabami  23rd October 2012. Our next destination was Pahalgam. As I mentioned earlier, the traffic is unpredictable at Jammu - Srinagar highway, our driver cum owner Zahoor, very nice person,  (Mob: +91 9419729634) urged to start early at 7 am.   Had breakfast on our way to Pahalgam, we reached Pahalgam leisurely at about  3 pm. We had lunch in a restaurant there. Vegeterian  restaurants are common in all these places. We chose a non veg restaurant. The food was good. Oh! yes before I forget, if you are fond of alcohol, collect it on the way to Pahalgam. Strangely enough, no wine shop is there in Pahalgam, possibly because, from here Amarnath Yatra starts. In Srinagar also, though available, it is costlier!  We checked in  an average hotel, as we had to stay there for the night only. What we required was clean beds and hot water in the bathroom and room heaters. The place was really cold, may be 3 - 4 degree Celsius!  In the afternoon in our own hired car we went to the Leeder river bank, deer park and one mandir there. Nature's beauty of Pahalgam is unparallel!  You will always feel no place can be more beautiful than this. God has really created a heaven here.

Chandanwari after a fresh Ice fall

From Pahalgam  you should see few points. 

1. Chandanwari, from where Amarnath Yatra starts, Betab valley ( name from the film Betab), Aru valley. 

The first circuit can be done by car and will take about 3 hours and second one is Baisharan is by Ponny, another 3 hours. One should stay at Pahalgam for 2 nights to enjoy fully. We didn't have time, so we skipped the Vaisharan for the next time and went for the 1st trip by car on next day morning. You have to hire car separately for that trip. They will not allow your or, outside Pahalgam car for this trip. The rates are fixed. For a Tata sumo for 3 hours  we paid Rs. 1600 for the no 1. trip. Hotel will call the car for you, when you require.

Chandanwari after a fresh Ice fall

Day 4, Vijaya Dashami, 24th October 2012. Though provided with room heater, and there was provision of hot water from a central geyser to the bathroom, we suffered because of power failure throughout the night. I am not sure, whether it is a regular feature, or our bad luck for that day. However, they supplied hot water  in the  bucket in the morning. The morning was so cold, it was impossible to  touch the water. We saw thin layers of ice on the cars standing outside of hotel. Our locally hired car came at 8 am and we saw the points. You can see from the photos to some extent, how good it was after a fresh ice fall though out the night. It worth all the time, money, energy we spent. Everyone forgot instantaneously, the power cut and hardship of last night.  At 12 we checked out from the hotel and headed towards Srinagar.

We had our lunch on the way, near to Pahalgam, in a roadside Dhaba. From there we collected  Dry fruits, Kesar (saffron). On the way we saw the area where cricket bats, made from Kashmir willow, are being manufactured. Purchased one bat for my son. The rate start from Rs. 250 to about Rs. 2500.  According to my son the bat he got is good and same bat will cost much higher in Kolkata. Honestly, for me all looked same.....:)

Drawing room of a Super Deluxe Houseboat at Dal Lake

Reached  Srinagar  at about 4 pm. This is about 80 Km from Pahalgam and took us 3 to 4 hours to reach. We had a Super Deluxe Houseboat booked beforehand. There was three kind of house boats according to decor, position and service. Super deluxe, deluxe and normal. The rates vary accordingly. There are plenty of houseboats. You can always bargain. It depends on which time of the year, you are travelling. One should stay in the houseboat for a night in their trip.  It is really a good experience to stand in the early morning on the balcony and see the shikaras selling  flowers, vegetables to the houseboats. Dal lake is clean, opposed to what I expected. The drainage and sewerage of the boat was very good. It was very clean and was having nice staffs.

Floating snacks bar at Dal Lake

Day 5, 25th October 2012.  Half hour Shikara   ride is Rs 200 and one hour is Rs 300. We had our breakfast at the houseboat itself and went out for a Shikara ride. This is an integral part of your Kashmir travel. Without the ride of shikara, your travel will be incomplete. It is a different experience altogether. So many shops float to you and you float to different shops. Tasted Kawa, the Kashmiri tea from such a floating shop.
Floating Vegetable shop at Dal lake

We had lunch with one  Kashmiri family, local acquaintance,  and at about 4 pm visited the gardens of Srinagar. This is Autumn. Gardens were not very attractive. So we  headed towards the Budgam, where again Railways has beautiful rest house. This is about 20 kms from Srinagar. Since we had the car always at our disposal we had no problem. There are several other points at Srinagar to see. Sankaracharya mandir at the hill top, from where whole Srinagar is visible, and some other places, you can see in J&K web site. We didn't have time so skipped them for the next time. In and around Srinagar, there are plenty of hotels to stay at different price levels. You need not to worry at all unless you are going at terrible peak season (late May and early June). Hotels of all kind of budget are always available.

Indian Railway's Officer's rest House at Budgam

Day 6, 26th October 2012.  Stayed at the beautiful comfortable Budgam Rest house for the night and early in the morning at 8 am, today we left for the Sonmarg Glacier. The road condition of the whole Kashmir  is excellent. It took nearly 3 hours leisurely to reach Sonmarg, though we were about 20 km away from the Srinagar. In Sonmarg  also, for the local sight seeing they will not allow your car. You have to hire the car from there. Here you have to bargain. They asked Rs. 4500 for some five point tour. Our driver bargained down to Rs.1800. It took us about 2 hours.  From same point, if you want to go to glacier you can walk or have pony. Walk is very comfortable unless you want to climb at the last part, to the strip of glacier, very unimpressive during this time. 

Walking to Sonmarg Glacier

The pony will take you near (not up to) that strip, rest you have to climb and funniest of all the pony will not bring you down from there, which you have to walk yourself! It is really steep about 50 degrees or, more of about 500 meters stretch, and not worth! Most of us walked comfortably up to the steep part and three of us took pony up to that strip of glacier. Each pony charged Rs. 400 after huge bargaining.  It was about 3 pm then. There was only one restaurant at Sonmarg and they were charging Rs 350 for vegetarian buffet! None of us agreed so we left and had Alu parahtha for lunch that day, again in a roadside dhaba. Returned to the rest house in the evening, boooze.....and had a good sleep at night.

Strip of Glacier at Sonmarg

Day 7, 27th October 2012 Eid - Today our destination was Gulmarg and gandola ride. Today was Eid and our driver said the distance is less and they had prayer time in the morning so will start late. We agreed and had our breakfast at rest house. The car came after 10 am. The road to Gulmarg  was unusually empty. All shops were closed. It was so due to Eid. We reached in about two hours. On the way learned gandola is not running due to Eid. Felt really depressed. Anyway Gandola is only 25% of Gulmarg, rest 75% was there for us. Later I learnt, gandola itself is a fishy affair. Government has no control over its running. Local people's influence matters. All pony walas were very active there. It was there day! Our driver was a nice fellow. He felt for us and managed some how to enter the Gulmarg area. Like the other places, this was not allowed here  for outside vehicle. You have to travel in the gulmarg area by foot or pony. This being a plain piece of land , walking will be a pleasure. However, our driver was smart, and only  wewere the tourusts, travelled inside the gulmarg area by car. Others were on pony or foot. Local cars might be too costly, I didn't see anyone other than us in car! 

Golf club at Gulmarg

It is another lovely place made by god. There are several points in the Gumarg to see. The Golf course, Club, the Shiv mandir, where the famous song “Jai Jai Shiva Shankar” was shot with Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz. One can stay here in hotel. 

A view from Gulmarg

Quickly tour to Gulmarg finished and we tried biryani in a restaurant there! It was a big mistake. The worst food we tasted in our whole trip was that.  

We returned from Gulmarg, little disappointed due to the gondola problem and thought, will do some last minute marketing , as it was the last day of our trip. By 3 pm we were in Srinagar and believe it or not, it was a complete “bandh” like state! Everything was closed! Actually we lost the whole afternoon and went back to our rest house. So, please check for any Muslim festival date, particularly Eid, while you make your tour plan.

Day 8, 28th October – Day of return from heaven. Driver again urged to start early. We started at 7 am from Budgam. Srinagar is 300 Km from here. If you, hire car from Jammu to Jammu the fare will be same That is Rs. 2500 per day. But if you calculate on daily basis Km wise the fare for today’s travel will be Rs.4500. So, if you plan to come by flight bargain with the car properly. By nature Kashmiris are very nice. They will not loot you in general, though exceptions are there. You need to be careful.

Road was empty due to continuation of Eid festival. We reached Jammu at 4 pm. Taken breakfast in the car with cakes we bought previous day. We had lunch at Udhampur. I will advice to take train from Udhampur to avoid the horrible experience of Jammu Railway station, as I mentioned earlier. You will reach at least one hour early too. At present only Sampark Kranti Express runs from Udhampur to New delhi. For direct train of course, you need to come to Jammu. 

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Rishikesh: An Adventurous-Spiritual Destination

Rishikesh is a small scenic town located in the state of Uttarakhand. Located in the foothills of Himalayas along the banks of River Ganges, this spiritual town is gateway to the Himalayas. Rishikesh means Lord of the senses and is very near to the state capital Dehradun. Being a pilgrimage centre Rishikesh has plenty of temples and places of religious importance and is most crowded for most parts of the year.

Rishikesh is also an adventurous capital of the country. The place invites a number of adventure hungry people with activities like River rafting, Bungee jumping, Rock climbing, Cliff Jumping. Also there are places for camping, artificial beaches, Spas, surfing, bonfire and many more things to do.

Things to do in Rishikesh:

River Rafting: River Rafting is a adrenalin pumping recreational activity using a raft and navigating through the madly flowing river. Rishikesh offers rafting with a level 4. River rafting in India started with Rishikesh only.

Bungee Jumping: It is the most popular adventurous activity. Rishikesh offers bungee jumping from a height of whooping 83 metres, highest in India.

Rock Climbing: Rishikesh offers challenging mountain terrains, hence is a hotspot of climbers and trekkers.

Lakshman Jhula: Lakshman Jhula is a bridge over the Ganga river. It is believed that Lakshman crossed the river Ganges with a jute rope at the same place. The bridge was built in 1939. Adjacent to the bridge is Ram Jhoola.

Triveni Ghat: It’s a bathing ghat along the river Ganga and many people can be seen taking a holy dip in the river here.

There are numerous other activities to be indulged in. Rishikesh attracts a number of foreigners attaining spirituality. The place became famous after Beatles came here in maharishi Mahesh yogi Ashram in 1962. Rishikesh is the Yoga centre of the country. 

Reaching Rishikesh:

By Road: Rishikesh can be easily reached by road by road. It is a 6 - 7 hours drive by Delhi.

By Train: There are trains to reach Rishikesh from haridwar but they a few in number.

By Air: The nearest airport is in dehradun which is 30 kms from Rishikesh. There are a number of flights between Delhi and Dehradun which can be booked at - Low cost flights to India.

Rishikesh is an amazing combination of a spiritual place as well a adventurous capital. Located in a serene valley, it’s a perfect weekend getaway. So, come visit this small town to seek solace and to discover your limits.

Author Bio: Ashwin Sharma is an avid traveller and a foodie. He is currently working with