We spent almost 6 weeks in the Kashmir valley, traveling in the local Tata Sumo jeeps to places totally-off-the-tourist-trail. Traveling in public transport helped us connect with the locals. They would ask us curiously where we were from, what we did and what were we doing NOT hiring a private taxi!
In return, we got to hear stories from their lives – what they’d felt on their first trip to Mumbai, how much they had loved the sea. They would give us tips for travel to places in Kashmir – hidden places which only they, the people of Kashmir, know. We’ve had the privilege of being literally pulled into a family home and sharing tea with the entire village.
Want to have an offbeat experience of travel to Kashmir and not just “do” Kashmir?
We want to share our tips for travel to Kashmir – to offbeat places. How can you make the most of your travel experience in Kashmir?
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.
Another popular route to get to Srinagar is the highway NH-1 from Jammu. The officials try to keep this highway open for traffic through the year. In the season transition months, traffic jams caused by the migrating sheep are well known along this highway!
Not many know of an alternative highway to travel to Kashmir. This one’s open only in the summer months adding to the virginity of the roads. It’s the national highway (yes!) NH-1B connecting Kishtwar in the Jammu region to Anantnag on the Kashmir side.
Before Kashmir: Sanasar, a “hill station” on the Jammu side
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 cross 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.
Accommodation in Kashmir: Ditch the hotels on the crowded market streets, live on the meadows
It might not have all the tourist luxuries, but this is definitely a more charming place to stay. You’ll see more locals here, not more tourists just like you. This is where you see the people going about their lives, spending time with their families, with their friends and neighbours.
Keep such places in mind when you decide on accommodation during your travel to Kashmir.
We have lived right on the meadows at Yusmarg, seeing the morning sun turn the snow peak a golden pink – with not a soul around to disturb us. (You can contact the Yusmarg Development Authority to ask about this accommodation at 01951-2442666/9419000272)
Trekking in Kashmir: Don’t go everywhere on horseback
Check into a hotel.
Hire a horseman and his horse.
Visit to the “points”.
Is NOT the best way to see 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 can’t live there forever) is to walk through them.
Caves and archaeological ruins in Kashmir
Kashmir isn’t really known for any architectural wonders but it does have its fair bit of ruins. And beautiful, mysterious ones at that!
(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.).
Nothing “touristy” about these markets in Kashmir
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 grown. So saffron shopping is high on the list of most tourists to Kashmir.
While these local specialties 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 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 – these local markets aren’t your regular grocery and vegetable shops you would see in most other cities.
Pashminas and walnut wood objects are fine things to possess, but who knows what memorabilia you’ll find wandering through these local markets during your travel to Kashmir!
Choose the other “marg”: Yusmarg over Gulmarg
The gondola rides in Gulamrg steal the thunder from Yusmarg – at least that’s the impression we got during our travel to Kashmir. We didn’t feel it was justified.
Vehicular traffic isn’t allowed in Yusmarg, making it a perfect destination to travel to Kashmir with kids. They can run amok through the meadows of Yusmarg without the need of too much adult supervision.
We went for a guided trek (the tourism officer insisted on a guide – “You are our guests. We can’t 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!
Glorious gardens, minus the crowds
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.
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.
We have only one recommendation to understand all of this.
Travel to Kashmir.
See for yourself, with your own eyes its pristine beauty.
Talk to the people – everyone.
The vendors, the horsemen. Ask them about their aspirations.
The tourism officers the – ask them about their visions for the development of Kashmir.
The women – ask them of their struggles in running the household. Find out how easy or difficult it is for them to step out of their homes and work.
The kids – play with them. Ask them if they like school, what their favourite subjects are.
The army officers and the jawans – ask them about the courage it takes to stay away from home for so long.
Have conversations. Connect with the people. And then and only then, form your opinions.
These broad tips for travel to Kashmir can in fact be applied to travel everywhere for a genuine feel of the place you’re traveling to. These tips are our go-to travel mantra.
Read these stories as an extension to this guide to alternative travel to Kashmir. These stories from our travel in Kashmir include maps, itineraries and public transport information as well
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