: 2360 : September 2, 2022, 2:39 pm : countrysidekashmir
Getting to Kashmir: Alternative to the Jammu-Srinagar highway
Tourists to Kashmir usually just fly into Srinagar. With direct flights from Delhi, Jammu and many North Indian cities like Chandigarh and Amritsar this is the fastest way to get directly into Kashmir.
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The roads are smooth and in good condition â€“ which sometimes leads to rash driving! Twisted winding roads lead all the way from Jammu to the Jawahar tunnel“ pop a pill if you're susceptible to motion sickness.
Itâ€™s the national highway (yes!) NH-1B connecting Kishtwar in the Jammu region to Anantnag on the Kashmir side. This ones open only in the summer months adding to the virginity of the roads.
You reach the top of this highway on Sinthan Pass. The Sinthan Top is your chance to see the snow in Kashmir at“ minus the crowds. Don't be surprised if you find the snow mountains all to yourself. If all the snow play tires you out, take a break here for a bowl of piping hot noodles!
After Sinthan Top the well-maintained roads take you down to the base at Daksum, a village with glacier-fed streams, wildlife sanctuary, endless trails at everything that you need to be lost in nature or within yourself (JKTDC also has stay arrangements). From here, flat roads via Vailoo and Kokernag lead all the way to the city of Anantnag.
While Jammu might be too hot for leisurely strolls in the summer months, there are places on the Jammu side which are cool (literally, too!) to explore. Sanasar is a village atop a hill, 20 km from Patnitop. The Jammu Srinagar highway, NH-1D, earlier (before the Chenani-Nashri tunnel opened) crossed Patnitop. Buses ply twice a day from Patnitop towards Sanasar. They are loaded with the locals, many of them Gujjars, who are returning from the Udhampur market after selling the milk from their flock.
You can stay at one of the cosy wooden cabins run by the local youngsters. If you prefer a bigger setup, JKTDC also has a hotel on the Sanasar meadows.
There's a lot to explore on the Sanasar hill station itself at the meadows are huge spanning an entire mountain top.
There are springs and golf courses.
You can ride a horse. Or just relax on the meadows.
However, if you're looking for a truly offbeat experience in Sanasar, you can do what we did at“ just pick a trail and start following it. The village of Sanasar is nothing like its touristy counterpart. People live in cubicle mud houses all along the mountain slope. This slope is not motorable at which means they have to climb up or climb down several kilometres to reach basic amenities.
You will cross tiny settlements, farms and streams. You can visit the local school at on a mountain slope!
You'll walk with tiny shepherd kids and their huge flocks.
And if you're as lucky as we were at you'll be invited to have tea that turns into lunch at a farmers house because there isn't any place else to eat along the way!
Mud houses in Sanasar, a hill station on the Jammu side
Keep such places in mind when you decide on accommodation during your travel to Kashmir.
Women getting the vegetables from the farm or the firewood from the woods behind, children playing their evening games, men returning home from farm work.
Imagine returning to your room in the evening at“ and seeing all of this. Even better â€“ playing a part in it all! If you show enough interest, trust us when we tell you, you'll be flooded with invites to come have tea to stay over with us, why bother with a hotel? We heard it all the time during our travel to Kashmir.
We have lived right on the meadows at Yusmarg, seeing the morning sun turn the snow peak a golden pink at“ with not a soul around to disturb us. (You can contact the Yusmarg Development Authority to ask about this accommodation at 01951-2442666/9419000272)
In Chatpal, we lived on open lawns with the forest on one side and the stream on the other. (Contact the Kokernag Development Authority at 01932-244155 or 9419015811 to enquire about accommodation in Chatpal, Kokernag or Achabal).
Even in the crowded Pahalgam, we chose a guesthouse in the middle of the forest. We had to walk 45 minutes up a winding road (once in pursuit of a shortcut even getting lost in the forest and inviting the ire of the Indian Army at you don't want to do this!), but being surrounded by the forest which was home to the many shepherds of Pahalgam, it was totally worth the effort.
In Srinagar, we lived in a homestay far far away from the Srinagar everyone sees. In return, we got to come back to a real family in a far-off city of Srinagar.
Every popular tourist destination has a more beautiful less popular (read: cheaper!) counterpart a few minutes away. There is an Aru valley for every Pahalgam, a Tangmarg for every Gulmarg. These slightly-away-from-the-main-town are the places you should choose as a base during your travel to Kashmir.
Travel to Kashmir is your chance to fall in love with the Himalayas, maybe even be in awe of them. The Himalayas are to be felt, breathed in and become one with. The best way to experience the Himalayas (when you cant live there forever) is to walk through them.
After the Amarnath yatra, we spent a day in Sonmarg and decided to walk to the Thajiwas glacier. We didn't manage to get there â€“ because these little guys stalled us â€“ and how! The two hours spent with these kids at laughing, dancing, singing right there on the Thajiwas path “ are priceless memories.
Being offered tea by a nomadic woman even when she had to go see a doctor while trekking in the mountains around Chatpal
Or being told by the bakarwals to not worry about stay arrangements when we went on an impromptu trek near the Aharbal waterfalls at the encounters weve had while trekking around experienced hospitality in Kashmir not possible when you are just â€œdoing the sightseeing pointsâ€ during your travel to Kashmir.
Having tea in a Gujjars hut while trekking in the forest around Chatpal in Kashmir.
Like the Satbern caves at Kalaroos in the Lolab valley. No one knows where they lead to, who made them or why. But a short climb up a hillock, the caves make an exciting adventure. The views of the lush carpets of rice fields from the top aren't too shabby either.
(The Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department has some beautiful tourist bungalows across the Lolab valley. Contact the Lolab Bangus Development Authority at 9419017791 to ask them about the accommodation.).
Martand is where you go to see the least visited sun temple. Most of the structure is dilapidated now, but where else do you get to see a sun temple with the backdrop of snow mountains? The wooden houses in Kashmir are something worth appreciating as well. All wood, heavily decorative structures arenâ€™t made anymore anywhere else.
The embroidery and the woodwork in Kashmir is no doubt special, and an obvious attraction during your travel to Kashmir.
Kashmir is the only place in India where saffron is cultivated. Naturally, saffron shopping is high on the list of most tourists in Kashmir.
While these local specialities must be devoured and even brought back home if you're so inclined, do not give the local markets in Kashmir a miss. Srinagar has all sorts of markets to satiate your urge to splurge.
However, a walk around markets in cities like Anantnag will give you a more local experience. Walking through these markets is like walking through a bygone era.
The bakers, the tailors, shops selling tobacco by the heaps, horse riding equipment, copperware â€“ these local markets are not your regular grocery and vegetable shops you would see in most other cities.
A group of men gathered for the morning hukka in the Verinag market
Strike up a conversation with the shopkeeper if he isn't busy. Ask him about the samovar and enjoy the tales he then narrates about them. Buy a batch of biscuits or bread as it comes out of the oven. Observe how the old men choose the exact tobacco they want for their hukkah. Or what a horseman looks for in a saddle.
Vehicular traffic isn't allowed in Yusmarg. Kids can run amok through the meadows of Yusmarg without the need of too much adult supervision.
Streams, lakes, forest, meadows â€“ Yusmarg has it all. Everything that fits the perfect image of Kashmir is right here in Yusmarg. And to top it all you can actually walk to all these places.
We went on a day trek to the Nilnag lake, through a forest crossing some picturesque villages on our way back. Even halting in a family's home in the afternoon for an afternoon siesta!
We went for a guided trek (the tourism officer insisted on a guide You are our guests. We cant risk you getting lost in the forests here. Please take a guide with you. through the higher meadows of Dragdolan, far away from the villages with only some nomadic settlements here and there.
We lived in a beautiful wooden cottage right on the meadows. At night, we could sprawl on them and observe the dark star-studded sky. Not a sound to disturb our solitude!
The Nilnag lake, reached after a short forest walk from Yusmarg
Mughal gardens are a top attraction during your travel to Kashmir. Srinagar has the most famous Mughal gardens in Kashmir Chashme Shahi, Nishant and Shalimar being the most popular ones. And yet, we do not have a single photo from our visit to all these gardens. They were so crowded when we visited in the summer that all we did was walk in and walk back out.
That“ and we had seen better ones. In Achabal and Verinag in south Kashmir. The same tiered structure, cascading waterfalls, springs, colourful flowers. And it doesn't feel like you're walking in a mob.
Don't see TV, talk to the people: From the Gujjars to the kids to the army jawans
This is a sensitive one, something that crosses everyone's mind when they start planning their travel to Kashmir. Is it safe to travel to Kashmir? How are the people? How will they react to us, tourists?
Staying far away from it all, in our homes we have only the external media to form our opinions. And the world sure looks a scary place through the media lens.