Best Time to Visit is March to July & October to November
Exceptionally Beautiful is the other word of Kashmir. Land of beautiful natural gardens, mountains covered with pine trees & tallest chinar trees add to the beauty of Kashmir. Major portions of the area are untouched or unexplored by tourists due to insurgency going in Kashmir since several decades. Now it looks like normalcy is returning to the valley though it would take time to get completely normal. Long standing army at several locations around the valley have made situation favourable to tourists, though a feeling of unsecurity cann't be ruled out. Rivers of Kashmir add to the beauty of the Valley. Several activities like Sking, Paragliding, River Rafting etc are carried out in the valley. Srinagar & Pahalgam are considered normally for staying destinations in all itinerary. Srinagar is the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir and has direct connectivity to several parts of the country by air. Security at Srinagar airport is of top level. There are several security points before the airport premises & in the airport. All the baggages are considered to be check-in Baggage & not allowed to be carried in flight, though under exceptional conditions are allowed. Kashmir is famous for Apple & Saffron. Several orchads of apple are found near srinagar & several fields of saffron cultivation are found near Pahalgam. You would found top quality apples which generally are only for exports in the orchads and generally not found in our markets.Almost all saffron shops sell Kahwah which is green tea of kashmir, it is a blend mixture of green tea, saffron, cinnamon, cardamon, honey, almonds & walnut. Hot kahwah makes us refreshing. One thing also is found on the way to Pahalgam is Cricket Bats. Shops of Cricket bats are found on the way to Pahalgam from Srinagar. Anantnag & Budgam are also some major cities of Kashmir which we found enroute. Major Attractions in Kashmir are Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Doodhpathri, Kokernag, Pahalgam, Betab Valley, Aru Valley, Chandanwari, Awantipora etc. which we covered.
About the Journey :
It was a family trip, we were almost 4 Couples & 1 Elder with 2 Children moving together for this trip. We planned our hotel & tempo traveller, way before moving to kashmir. We even bargained for hotel rooms & tempo traveller with the owner of the hotel from Ahmedabad itself. We worked on common itenerary for kashmir of several tour operators, though the tour was only for major attractions. We made our tour in last week of August 2014. Though it was begining of Rainy Season but we were lucky to escape rain. As we landed to Srinagar at afternoon, we first went to our hotel & relaxed & moved to Dal Lake for boating. It was a wonderful view & fantastic atmosphere. Dal Lake is surrounded by mountains all over & is one of the biggest lakes of Kashmir. Srinagar gets both Dal Lake & Jhelum river for it's water sources. There were lot of Houseboats which were standstill & Shikara's moving in the Dal Lake. Firstly we hired Shikara with some bargaining & were taken into lake. Though we didn't stay in Houseboat but did get glimpse of many luxury houseboats all over Dal Lake. Shikara took us near Chinar Trees in the middle of the lake which were too tall & were more than 400 Years Old.
Our Shikara moved to Shops in Houseboats selling shawls & dresses of Kashmir. Even we found some traders of stone made jewellers & selling several items on the shikara. They adjoin there shikara's to our shikara & sell there products. As the first day of our tour was funfilled, we were looking forward for our second exciting day trip to Gulmarg next day.
Early in the morning we travelled to Gulmarg. Gulmarg is actually a ski resort also. There are two levels of Gandola Ride which is one of the highest Gandola Ride of World. First Level of Gandola Ride takes us to magnificient view of Kashmir Valley & Second Level takes us above clouds & near snow. It is also regarded that a point over second level is near Line of Control between India occupied Kashmir & POK. There could be breath related problems over second level. All the Gandola Rides are chargeable. After reaching to second level of Gandola, we climbed some 100 meters & found plenty of snow. There were local people providing hand driven sledge facilities on the snow. They charge exorbitant. Moreover if you doesn't make clear the charges, then you might end up in arguments which is not advisable at the place. Make sure that the charges are made clear to all the sledge operators before riding as they have different opinions & rates which could take you in problem. Note : Make sure to clear sledge rates with those carrying you, not with other persons. Also make sure to return by time to Gandola closing time because you might end up hanging on the top. Start early to get down because it also takes time to reach upto gandola if you have climbed up. We enclose the same problem, but some members with us which didn't climbed up, didn't allow the gandola service to be stopped. Also we had arguments with the sledge operators. It was our mistake. Though it was funfilled place at the top in the snow but ended up with noise.
Too tired for our next day trip to Sonmarg instead we opted for Doodhpathri. The words cannot explain this place. It is a place for Kashmiris to enjoy their vacation. The view of mountains covered with pine trees resembles Switzerland as described by the public, who went there. It was a wise decision for opting Doodhpathri in our itenerary. This place was suggested by our tempo traveller driver, though looking to the conditions prevailing in kashmir some years before, we were somewhat scared to move to any place which is other than tourist destination as the driver was taking us from narrow streets escaping major highways to get short-cut. We liked the place so much. It was much of enjoying beauty of nature & plain surface with mild grass surrounding mountains with long pine trees. There were local people coming in herds to enjoy with their families. Now it was time to return back to Srinagar.
Next day we visited Chashme Shahi Garden, one of the beautiful gardens of Srinagar. Garden has a water source coming from unknown place and it is believed that the water if consumed is good for digestive system. Adjoining to it, there was Botanical Garden where in winter tulip flowers blossom. We visited the garden but didn't have chance to see Tulip Flowers. We visited another garden Shalimar Garden, it is avoided by tour operators as it is far from other gardens but it is a must visit garden. There are Chinar Trees all over above 400 years old and tall enough to cover 10 floors of the building. Another Garden we visited is Nishat Garden also called as Mughal Garden which is right on the front of Dal Lake, it is also most visited gardens of Srinagar. All the gardens were excellent and should be must on your itinerary.
Finally we visited Shankaracharya Temple, a temple on Shankaracharya Hill. Our Tempo Traveller went too far up above the hill and then there are stairs to climb to reach the temple. Stairs are uncomfortable for senior citizens and the one who have problem climbing. There are about 300 Stairs to Climb. It is also a high security area. View of Srinagar & Dal Lake with full of houseboats is magnificient from above. Our day ends with full of enjoyment.
Next Day early in the morning, we started our journey to Pahalgam. Enroute to Pahalgam we visited a shop of Kesar (Saffron). We purchased Walnuts, Almond, mixture of Kahwah etc from the shop. The price here was comparitively low. They also offered Kahwah drink as their welcome drink. We liked it so much.
Another enroute destination was Awantipora (also known as Avantiswamin Temple) near Anantnag. Awantipora Temple is a heritage property excavated from the place. There was town named Anantnag on the route, which was considered to be major commercial hub for the area. Everything is available in this town, therefore it is suggested to purchase from here like medicines or anything which would not be available in remote towns. Route to Pahalgam is very very beautiful & this pictureque route is most enchanting. There were spots on the route for doing River Rafting and Paragliding. Finally reached to Pahalgam and took rest at the hotel. Pahalgam is most beautiful place on our itinerary and a must visit place. Surrounded with beautiful mountains covered with pine trees & flowers all over. River flowing all along the route. Next day our sightseeing tour to Pahalgam and nearby places started. Foremost, we visited Betab Valley. Betab Valley name is derived from bollywood film Betab, which was shot over this location. It has been developed as a tourist place and is beautiful to be visited. It is a place where you could relax on the river bank and even bath in the river. Be prepare to take extra cloths over there. Though there is no change room. Location in the midst of the valley makes this place good for enjoyment & photogenic. Though our next location which is Chandanwadi is most photogenic place of the tour. It is entry point (base location) to Amarnath Yatra. Moreover clicks on the bank of the river are unbelievable & memorable. We also found some snow over this place. Stalls of Tea, Coffee & Breakfast are available at this place. Route to this places were not good.
Another place to be visited was Aru Valley. It is also place for wonderful clicks.This day was full of enjoyment & locations were extremely beautiful. Finally went to hotel, roamed out in the evening & finally took rest. Our driver suggested to take us on next day to Kokernag and then to Srinagar. Kokernag is beautiful place, where water is coming from beneath mountain. It is exceptionally nice place to be visited. It is also place, generally visited by the locals. Water coming from beneath mountain creates river. It is also a garden. It is developed as a tourist spot. Our tour finally gets over to Srinagar for the next day flight to Delhi. In the evening we visited spots of Srinagar where shopping could be done. Finally the tour concluded.