Though a lover of the seas personally, I love to travel in whole. A trip to Kashmir has been long due and at last, we finally managed to plan it. Kashmir has always been elevated to a dreamland and heaven on earth status- to me, this was a bit of exaggeration until I actually visited the place. Summing up the entire trip into a single post would be impossible and this has been so far, one of my best trips.
So we started for the trip on 26th of April by Himgiri express and the train was scheduled to start from Howrah station at 12 am sharp. This is the best train that one can avail from the Howrah station to Jammu Tawai. The other train is Jammu Tawai express which takes twice the time to reach the destination. The other option for reaching Jammu and Kashmir is by air from Kolkata. We reached the destination station in 37 hours which is 1 hour more than the scheduled time of arrival.
The tour plan
We had decided to manage our holiday on our own but luckily dad decided against it in the last moment. So we opted for a package tour for 8 days that covered Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Srinagar. The trip started with a sightseeing of Jammu. Though we expected a cooler weather but Jammu in the month of April can compete and exceed Kolkata in terms of the heat. The first-day experience was not really what we were expecting. We met the person who would be taking us around Kashmir for the rest of the days. I would not say we were very optimistic when we met the guy but we were proved quite wrong over the next few days.
There are so many experiences- big and small throughout this trip that it is difficult to compress all of it within a single post. So I would rather concentrate on a few pointers and suggestions that I have learnt from the overall experience of the trip.
The very first is, Kashmir is hot during April and may depending on the places you visit. Every day the road journey from one place to another in the morning almost reminded me of Kolkata. Once we reached the destinations which were above a certain altitude the temperature had decreased, but not on the way. The weather is extremely unpredictable in Kashmir. If it rains, the temperature drops drastically. Luckily we did not get any rain until the very last day of our trip.
If you visit any of the points like ice point in Gulmarg, the zero point from Sonamarg, places like Chandanwari- proper shoes and blazer is mandatory. I guess if we had the jackets suitable for the places, we could have simply rented the shoes alone.
Opt for package trips rather than going on your own. At every point you would have to encounter people with whom you have to bargain about variety of things like rental for horses, for jeeps, for ice sports and the unrealistic amounts they quote cannot be bargained to a sensible price unless you have some local connections.
Roads are unpredictable- there are always high chances that you would be held up by traffic or even by herds of sheep, goats and even horses. We had an idea that Jammu to Srinagar or Jammu to Pahalgam would be 8 hour journey roughly. But in reality, it is a minimum of 11-12 hours and by all means, it can be more but not less unless your driver drives like a madman. This is a really adventurous drive but no doubt, a hectic one. Halfway through the trip, there is a place called Patnitop which has a number of resorts and is perfect for resting in. You can even manage rooms on hour basis for just cleaning up and resting for a while but, I guess, this is a settlement entirely dependent on the understanding between the guide or driver you have and the resort managements.
Heavy tips are charged by everybody wherever you go- whether the staffs in hotel or even the horsemen whom you hire and even the drivers. Do not give away a 1000 or a 500 rupees note and expect the change if you are tipping and wish to tip moderately. The trend to keep the change and refuse to give it under several pretence is quite consistent at every place we went to.
Snow fighting is fun but up to a certain limit- you would definitely not enjoy the blisters you get from excessive clawing in the snow. If you want, get proper snow gloves and do not take inspiration from the local people and start clawing the snow bare handed. This can be tolerable for a few minutes but not for hours if you are planning on spending that long in the snow. My sister got blisters and I ended up with numb and stiff fingers.
If you really want to get the feel of ice sports like skiing, and sledging then Sonamarg is the best place- to be precise the zero point. The prices they quote are reasonable and one does not have to bargain and lot and the experience you have is priceless. One can also come across similar sports in Chandanwari and Gulmarg as well but they are like child’s play compared to the experience one has at zero point and they are by far unrealistically expensive.
In short, these are all I could think of for now. I will go down to detailed descriptions of each day of the trip in mu next post. So stay tuned and keep reading.