The crowded Mughal gardens of Srinagar – Chashmeshahi, Shalimar and Nishat, left us wanting for more. We decided to explore the lesser known parts of Kashmir. We headed south and started our exploration with Kokernag.
We recommend this Kashmir travel itinerary based on our travels in Kashmir. It’s offbeat and away from the maddening tourist crowd, yet it’s suitable for all kinds of travellers.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 1: Lesser known Mughal gardens of Kashmir
Achabal, Kokernag and Verinag.
Kokernag is the biggest botanical garden in Kashmir.
Tip: For its central location and proximity to Anantnag, we chose to stay in Achabal.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 2: Experience a “real” city in Kashmir
Think of a big city near where you live. Now think of a smaller city close to it, almost like a suburb. Now think of peak hours, traffic and people leaving for work.
We usually associate Kashmir only with a beautiful holiday. Almost forgetting that the people of Kashmir lead normal lives in Kashmir, just like we do back home. They all head to central Srinagar (big city) for work in the morning. Head back to their homes (in smaller cities like Anantnag) in the evening. This makes the road connecting Srinagar to Anantnag susceptible to “peak traffic hours”.
People are busy discussing copper prices to decide which boiler to invest in for this winter.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 3: Aharbal waterfalls
The Aharbal waterfalls are a day trip from Achabal.
Our visit to the Aharbal waterfalls gave us a first-hand experience of the fickle weather of the Himalayan mountains. It had been dark and gloomy when we reached the meadows around the Aharbal waterfalls. By the time we were on the walkway to the waterfalls, it had become bright and sunny!
By then, we had spent a few days in the tourist bungalow at Achabal. The caretaker and the staff treated us like their personal guests. Our sudden decision to not turn up for the night would have got them worried sick. We decided to be good responsible guests and “reach home on time”. We walked up to the Sangam point, said our goodbyes to the nomads and headed back.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 4: Sulphur springs at Kolam Chinar
On our way to the Mughal garden of Verinag, we saw a board saying these were medicinal sulphur springs. We decided to give these a look. We got off the Tata Sumo taxi at this board and went looking for these springs. Without realising it, we had walked past the sulphur springs. Clearly, they were nothing great to look at.
They let us leave only after assurances that we would return to stay with them for longer.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 5: Temples and ruins
Another route from Achabal goes to the Mattan Temple and the sun temple ruins at Martand. The temple at Mattan has formidable security all around it.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 6: Forest walking at Daksum
Ahead of Kokernag, at the base of the Sinthan Pass is the village of Daksum. Just before the village is the Rajpari Wildlife Sanctuary. It is surrounded by a dense coniferous forest. The melting glacial waters flow as a stream through it.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 7: Sinthan top for snow
Sinthan Top is the one place in Kashmir that has snow all year round. Even when the meadows of Gulmarg turn green, Sinthan Top is still covered in snow.
Offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary 8: If you want to go really offbeat in Kashmir then head to Chatpal
Chatpal, for us, tops the list of offbeat places in Kashmir.
We began our stay in South Kashmir with Kokernag. We made Achabal our “headquarters” and traveled to all the places we have mentioned above by local, shared Tata Sumo taxis. For most places, we would first go to Anantnag. The different taxi stands in Anantnag have regular connections to all other places.
This part of Kashmir was a perfect way for us to explore the real beauty of Kashmir, together with the local people of Kashmir. Offbeat enough to stay away from the crowds, this part of Kashmir helped us ease into our travels. We felt more confident while exploring the remote valleys in Northern Kashmir or venturing out for the Amaranth yatra.
Top tips for this offbeat Kashmir travel itinerary
- People in the smaller villages of Kashmir are not used to seeing many tourists. They are as curious about you as you are about them. Do not consider the questions offensive. Be friendly with the locals.
- Resorts and ponies will not be found in these parts of Kashmir. This is the real Kashmir, not the “showcase for tourists” Kashmir!
- The front seat of the Tata Sumo taxis, next to the driver was our favourite seat. It doesn’t get cramped if the driver takes in more passengers and is perfect for “photography on-the-go”!
- We traveled everywhere by a shared Tata Sumo taxi. The routes below will help you plan an itinerary. Italics indicate no changeover.
- Route 1: Achabal-Anantnag-Kokernag-Vailoo. Change over into the Tata Sumos that go to Kishtwar. Vailoo-Daksum-Sinthan Top.
- Route 2: Achabal-Anantnag-Kolam Chinar-Verinag. There is also a direct road connecting Achabal and Verinag. Regular shared taxi service, however, might not be available on this direct route.
- Route 3: Achabal-Anantnag-Kulgam-Aharbal.
- Achabal-Ranipora-Martand-Mattan. OR Achabal-Anantnag-Mattan-Martand.