Mark my words, any destination in Kashmir is appropriate for spending few days of an extended weekend in summers but my family and close friends do not think so. With limited sources of information their perception has overridden their logical analysis and mere mention of Kashmir gives them jitters.
Don’t get intimated by the news and beliefs, my personal experience has been that in worst scenario you may get stuck for few days but you will not be harmed. Forget the polity, the peoples of the state are most humble and take good care of tourists.
To avoid any trouble [though there won’t be any] do ensure that you book your stays including that in houseboats, online and that too from trusted sites like makemytrip, yatra or cleartrip. Always listen to guides, hotel personals, drivers etc and do seek there advise. Avoid short clothing and venturing out late or to solitary areas. Never indulge in political talks and show respect to the locals.
This was my second trip to the state and I assure you that natural views of Kashmir are still a treat to the bland eyes go sore with the usual sights of concrete structures of the city. After some random planning we set off from Delhi for Jammu by train and by noon we were there the next day. Although only 75 Kms away and a four lane highway [most part of it] it took us nearly 3 hours to reach Udhampur. Reason, heavy but constantly moving traffic all the way.
Udhampur is a large town established by Raja Udham Singh and is now the headquarters of Northern Command of the Indian Army. It is basically used as a transit point between Jammu & Srinagar. It is hardly 30 Kms away from Katra. It was hot when we reached but the weather turned pleasant as evening set in. Visit to the Gole market especially for relatively cheaper dry fruits and kesar was refreshing.
Next day, we started off for Srinagar via NH1 . To our surprise the entire road was a beautiful four lane highway and the rains added to the beauty of the trip. In some parts construction was in full swing and it does hamper your pace. It took full ten hours to reach Srinagar including brief halts at Banihal & Anantnag. Throughout, the two things that you can’t fail to notice is the scenic beauty and the presence of army personals.
The highway is dotted with small roadside food joints which serve fresh vegetable pakodas [an Indian snack]. On the way one can admire the beauty of mountains, small rivers and streams and modern day construction marvels especially Chenani Nashri tunnel. Just as we crossed the 3 kms long Jawahar tunnel we reached Srinagar.
At Srinagar, we stayed and enjoyed the hospitalities of the historical hotel Lalit. This 100 years old hotel was built by Raja Pratap Singh. The Chinar tree in the compound is said to be the meeting point of Mahatma Gandhi and Raja Hari Singh.
The following day was spent exploring the dimensions of Dal lake. We took a shikara [a small wooden boat which is a cultural symbol of Kashmir that can accommodate 6 persons]. Although the boatmen charge around Rs. 500 per person for one and a half hour ride but we had our rates settled for Rs. 2500 for the whole boat.
Shikara ride was an experience of a kind. Our boatman, Shabbir was an enthusiastic person and much like a true escort he showed us the families living on the houseboats, small commercial boats that sell artifacts, daily use items, kahwah [a traditional green tea used in Afghanistan & Kashmir], ice creams and desserts. He also took us to the backwaters of the Lake too. The lake though seemed to be gasping for some freshness as the chemicals and other pollutants have surely effected its limpidness.
The evening was spent doing some real and some virtual shopping at Lal Chowk. Dinner [wazwan or multi course kashmiri meal] was an exquisite Kashmiri delight of Gushtaba [traditional kashmiri dish of minced meat balls of mutton prepared in curd], rista [meat balls again but lot softer] and rice.
Next morning we had a small excursion to Sonemarg [literal meaning: meadows of gold]. About 90 Kms from Srinagar on Kargil – Leh highway it took us about 3 hours to reach there. The road is 2 lane and with some rough patches but the sight alongside is heavenly. Snow capped mountains, river Nallah Sindh and the chinar trees add up to serenity of the route all along.
The weather was cold in the alpine valleys of Sonemarg. One can have beautiful views of Himalayan glaciers flowing into the valley and the mesmerizing and mighty peaks of Sirbal, Machoi and Kalhoi peaks. We had dinner at Sindh view restaurant and in the breakfast we enjoyed the stuff at local bakeries that included nan khatai too.
After spending two days in Kashmir we headed back to Delhi.