KASHMIR was on my mind for quite some time. Finally, I traveled to Kashmir in July end. I have read/heard many times how Kashmir is a heaven on earth. I always thought it as a tourism gimmick but after my visit, I couldn’t agree more and I have been to just 3 places in Kashmir. All the pictures you have seen online that includes the following pictures, all the movies you have seen that is set in Kashmir and all the things you have listened/read about Kashmir cannot justify its real beauty. One needs to visit the place by themselves to understand what I meant.
I catch a train (Swaraj Express- 12471) from Mumbai. It is the fastest train to reach Jammu from Mumbai. After traveling for 30 hrs via Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, I finally reached Jammu (the winter capital of Jammu & Kashmir). I booked a night sleeper bus to Srinagar which departed at 11 pm from Jammu. It was supposed to reach around 6 am but we finally reached at 11 am. The Journey was long but highly compensated by the beautiful views. I would recommend you to take a shared/private taxi from Jammu to reach Srinagar but If I have to do it again I will take a bus again but this time a day bus! Jammu to Srinagar road was highly militarised but the presence of military reduced relatively when I reached Srinagar. A local guy on the bus told me jokingly “Don’t tell the Army that you are a tourist, they will treat you like a Son-in-Law”. When I asked, “How did they treat you”? His expressions changed and he replied, “Yes, they help us”. Most people prefer flying directly to Srinagar Airport from their respective nearest airports. I would highly recommend you to reach out to the Tourist Reception Centre(J&K Tourism Department) near Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium to plan your Kashmir Itinerary. I spend a night in Srinagar before heading to my next destination.
I catch a shared taxi (Tata Sumo) from Iqbal Park to reach Charar-i-Sharief and then again a shared taxi (Tata Sumo) from Charar-i-Sharief to reach Yousmarg. It was approx. 2 hrs long ride overall. When I reached Yousmarg, it felt like a majestic place. I stayed at J&K Tourist department lodge. I spend two nights in Yousmarg.
YOUSMARG: THE TALE OF TWO TREKS
NILNAG LAKE: I have never done a trek/trail like this one before. It was literally like taking a walk into a Jungle with no animals around hopefully(Locals say bears can be seen during a night). It rained last night and the path was muddy, to say the least. The wooden stick I grabbed on the way truly helped. The goal of the trek/trail is to reach Nilnag Lake. It was the most beautiful trek/trail I have done until I have done the next one and then the next one. By asking numerous people I encountered on the way I finally reached the Nilnag Lake. The lake reminds me of my trip to Burabay in Kazakhstan. There were hardly any tourists, mostly local people were enjoying the day. I relaxed there for a while before heading back. While returning I took a wrong path but fortunately encountered a shepherd who showed me the right one. It was about to get dark. He was surprised by the fact that I was not accompanied by a guide. I won’t recommend you to do this trek on your own. Like the Shepherd said there’s no right or left turn in a jungle. Hire a guide at least if you are not interested to hire a guide with a horse. Trek was not hilly as much but figuring out where to go is the challenge. It took me approx. 5 hrs for the whole trek including pit stops.
BURGA TREK: White Mountain! The goal of this trek was to reach the white mountain or a mountain with white rocks. After gaining much confidence from my last trek, I decided to do this one too on my own. The thing is there are many shortcuts in a jungle which only a local knows and there is a straight path which anyone can figure out. So, I chose the latter and the longer path. After walking for more than 3 hours, I reached a river but nowhere near my destination. Like someone said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. After walking for some more time, I saw beautiful huts with one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I took a nap on the grass for a while. Best feeling ever! I was invited by an old man to his hut for a cup of tea. Upon enquiring, he told my destination is one more hour away. Firstly, if a local tells you it takes certain amount of time to reach certain place by walk. Just double the time, to say the least as we city folks cannot match up to their speed. Secondly, I was in no mood to leave this beautiful place and the view anytime soon. So, for me, that was my destination. While returning back, I met a guide with a horse whom I hired. He showed me the shortcut and then I realised I took a much longer path. Again, I strongly recommend hiring a guide at least while doing his trek!
Approx. 30 Kms from Yousmarg lies Doodhpathri. One can reach doodhpathri via Shared taxi from Yousmarg but I again chose to trek all the way to Doodhpathri from Yousmarg via Jungles. It was one of the most adventurous/crazy stories of my life. Hence, deserves a separate post! Doodhpathri was developed in recent years to attract tourists. Therefore, electricity is not yet reached here. Some places have generators. By 8 pm it gets pitch black dark. You will find more tourists (mostly, locals) here than Yousmarg. I stayed at J&K Tourist department cottage. One can also find a place to camp in Yousmarg.
TREK TO DISKHAL MEADOW
I spend two nights in Doodhpathri. I rested for a day and soak into the beauty of the place. Next day, I did the trek to Diskhal Meadow. Some trekkers even trek till Tratkoti Glacier via Ashtar which requires a night camping on the way. It is the hardest trek of my trip (somewhat reminds me of Kalsubai trek but much greener) as one needs to literally climb mountains to reach Diskhal Meadow but this time I hired a guide to accompany me! I was exhausted after reaching our destination but as anticipated I was enthralled by the majestic view. All the treks I have done were unique and different from each other.
To be honest, I was wary of them in the beginning but as I get to know them, I realised how we all live in a bubble and know so little of the outside world. They are one of the most warmest people I have met. Their hospitality reminds me of the warm hospitality I received in Uzbekistan.