Trip Through Jammu and Kashmir

“A trip to Kashmir” always had a dangerous ring to it. We were always told to stay away from this heavenly place and only got glimpses of it in some Bollywood movies. Previously Indian government even banned most tourists to visit the area but things are changing now. Bangladeshi nationals are now allowed to visit the Jammu and Kashmir state and enjoy the surreal sights and sound of this amazing place. So, after a few months of planning few of my friends did manage to pull off a 10-day trip in the region and the entire experience was somewhat mind-blowing. I do plan to share a day by day itinerary soon but here I will try to share some basic information that I believe somebody interested to visit the area will find useful.

 

Major Areas to Visit:

The popular tourist areas in Kashmir can be divided in 3 zones:

  1. Srinagar
  2. Kargil
  3. Ladakh

Srinagar is Muslim majority area and the capital of the state. Here you will find many beautiful gardens dating back to the Mughal era and the enormous Dal Lake. Gulmurg and Sonmurg are some of the nearby attractions in Srinagar.

Ladakh is the biggest district and covers the never-ending mountain range. There are also a few Lakes at the foothills of the frozen peaks created by water melted from ice-glaciers. It’s a Buddhist populated area and most of the Ladakh region shares border with China Tibet. Popular tourist places here are Pangong Tso (Lake), Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar etc. Leh city is the main hub in this region.

Kargil sits between Srinagar and Ladakh. Although Kargil was the scene of bloody wars between India & Pakistan, this territory is controlled by the Indians now. Kargil War Memorial, Dras Valley, Zanskar Valley are some the places to visit here.

 

How to Reach?

From my research, there are 3 viable options to visit Kashmir:

Option A:

  • Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi Flight (Air India Flight, with night halt at Kolkata)
  • Delhi – Srinagar (Indigo)
  • Srinagar – Leh (Local Taxi- 2 Day trip, night halt at Kargil)
  • Leh – Delhi (Indigo or Go Air)
  • Delhi – Kolkata – Dhaka (Airfare)

Here the Airfare cost will be around 35,000 taka if booked 30 days in advance, and Local Taxi will be around 15,000 rupees for a 7-seater taxi. Hotel can be found near Kolkata airport for as low as 800-1000 rupees per person per night

Note that it possible to take direct flight to Delhi and avoid stayover at Kolkata, but that will increase the flight cost by minimum 20,000 taka.

Option B:

  • Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi Flight (Air India Flight, with night halt at Kolkata)
  • Delhi – Leh (Indigo)
  • Leh – Srinagar (Local Taxi- 2 Day trip, night halt at Kargil)
  • Srinagar – Delhi (Indigo or Go Air)
  • Delhi – Kolkata – Dhaka (Airfare)

The cost will be pretty much same as Option B, but I would suggest taking Option A, because Leh is at an altitude of 3,500 meters above sea level whereas Srinagar is at 1,600 meters. So, if you go to Srinagar first, you will give your body more chance to acclimatize with the extreme altitude and reduce the risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS).

Option C:

  • Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi Flight (Air India Flight, with night halt at Kolkata)
  • Delhi to Manalo by Bus
  • Manali to Leh by Local Taxi
  • Leh to Srinagar by Local Taxi
  • Srinagar – Delhi (Indigo or Go Air)
  • Delhi – Kolkata – Dhaka (Airfare)

I have not taken this route and also not studied it that much, but this is also a scenic route will take around 12-13 days to complete properly.

 

Where to Stay?

Accommodation greatly differs from one place to another. But all of them are very reasonable. You can either find a hotel or a guest house at a cost of 800-1000 taka per night in Kashmir and Ladakh region. Some notable pointers regarding accommodation is given below:

 

  • Srinagar: Book a boat-house in Dal Lake for night stay. It’s a beautiful experience. The boat houses are all well decorated. It is better to find a boat house with a good rating in online booking sites like Booking.com.
  • Kargil: There are a few hotels or guest houses in Kargil, good enough for a one night halt.
IMG_5529
Rangyul Guest House, Kargil
  • Leh: There are hundreds of hotels and guest houses to choose from in Leh. You are better off to find a place on your own and bargain a good deal. Booking online would be a bit more expensive.
IMG_5591
Glayson Guest House, Leh
  • Hunder: This is the place to stay in Nubra Valley. Again, you are better off to find a guest house rather than book online.
IMG_5651
Dreamland Guest House, Hunder
  • Pangong Lake: Best deal would be to find a tent by the lake. Maybe a little more expensive than other places but definitely worth it.
IMG_5756
Tent in Pangong Lake
  • Tso Moriri: Limited options, don’t expect a lot. Cost is similar to Pangong Lake.

 

 

Local Transport and Permits

Best way to roam around Jammu and Kashmir is definitely by renting bikes, the legendary Royal Enfield. It’s very easy to rent one in Leh and take it across the rugged terrain of Ladakh. If you are not into bikes then your best bet is hiring a local Taxi. Taxis are mostly 7 seaters and very comfortable if you are travelling in groups. Taxi drivers can also help out with sight-seeing and accommodations. One big negative is that self-driving rental cars are not allowed in Jammu and Kashmir because of a court order obtained by local taxi union, so it’s either the bikes or the taxi.

IMG_5893
Our Taxi, 2016 Toyota Innova

I found the roads in Ladakh very safe and nothing like what its described in many blogs. Yes, the roads are twisty and some places are rugged, but that is common for most mountain regions. In order to visit places like Nubra, Pangong or Moriri you will need a permit which can easily be obtained in Leh through a Travel Agent. You should also ask the travel agent to arrange the taxi. The rates are fixed by Local Taxi Union but after bargaining, we were able to get 10% discount on the fixed rate. The Taxi Fare from Srinagar to Leh is around 14,000-15,000 Indian Rupees.

 

What to Eat?

 Srinagar is a Muslim populated area so you will find plenty of non-veg options. The area is renowned for its amazing kebabs and barbeques. Ladakh is more Buddhist area and people there prefer vegetarian meals. Most of the guest houses offer breakfast and dinner as a package deal and the owners take a lot of care to provide you the best possible meal. Expect to find, aloo parathas, omelets for breakfast and rice, dal, vegetables, paneer butter etc. for dinner.  On the road, most famous meal is Maggi noodles. Having a hot bowl of magi noodles while sitting on a road side terrace overlooking the mountain is some experience!

 

Some Other Pointers:

 

  • Be very wary of AMS, do not take it lightly. Drink lots of fluid especially on days when going through mountain passes like Khardung La.

 

  • Most accommodations come with decent toilet facilities, but the same cannot be said when on the road. So be mentally prepared to face some of the worst toilets in your life. Wet tissues and hand sanitizers might well end up being life savers.

 

  • It’s quite impossible to buy a SIM in Jammu and Kashmir region, and your regular SIM will not work if they are bought from another state. Also, don’t expect High Speed internet in this region. You will get Wi-Fi in Lehi, but not good enough to upload photos.

 

  • When renting taxis, push travel agent to book latest model cars. Normally Toyota Innova or Mahindra Xylo is available.

 

  • When booking hotels or renting cars, always bargain!

 

  • ALWAYS carry extra camera batteries and power banks.

 

 

 

 

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