JAMMU AND KASHMIR–By Guest writer, Loony
Ok… some info before we start… Jammu is actually a city not a region, Kashmir is a region. If you are planning to go to Jammu to get away from the heat… don’t!! It’s bloody hot. Jammu is the pit stop for people going up north to Srinagar and Katra (for Vaishno Devi).
J & k is a highly underrated hill station. The only plausible reason seems to be because of the militancy. Let me make something clear “the only stuff that dies in Kashmir are your camera batteries.” The Indian armed forces have the valley under control, they look mean, tough and they patrol the streets like they mean it.
Oh yeah and only post paid connection after chakki bank.
Think of Kashmir as a katori (Bowl)… it has mountains on all sides with only the Jhelum going in and out from the mountains. The valley has plain fields unlike the surrounding parts.
Best time to Visit
Officially it is May, pleasant weather, some snow up north… but it depends on what you want to see. If you want to see snow on rooftops of houseboats as you row past Dal Lake then December, not much greenery though. Everything is cheaper in winters and the houseboats are not fully booked. July is hot and August has mosquitoes if you like those then……
Train: There is no train to Srinagar, it is under construction. You can go to Udhampur by train though.
Road: it’s 297 Km from Jammu to Srinagar!! But it’s a unique drive…. Takes usually 9 to 10 hrs to get there depending upon your driver. Go to BC Road in Jammu for taxis and buses. Drivers from Jammu are generally rash drivers and the trucks on the highway give you some tense moments… they are like bulls on steroids so look out for some colourful vocabulary!!
The whole route gets pretty scenic about 20Kms from Jammu, and it gets colder from Patni Top. You can see the Snow covered Piranjal Range (i think) and Chenab (i think) down below.
Plane: sure, but book early, especially in May.
- Patni Top: scenic, weather is good.
2. Jawahar tunnel: It’s a 2.5 Km long tunnel. On one side you have Jammu and on the other side you have Kashmir. Keep your cameras in your pockets, photography is strictly prohibited, they will take your memory card!!
3. Khajuria Dhaba: this place serves the best rajma chawal around, served with a LOT of desi ghee… mmmmm!!! Don’t look for anything else on the menu though they only have one dish.
It costs Rs 65!! I mean it’s good but not that good.
- Titanic Point: Nice view.. read the history… Major Bhupendra Singh #complete respect.
2. Green Tunnel: it’s near a village called BijBahara. A canopy of chinar trees makes a tunnel, thus the name.
3. Places with Kashmir Willow bats…. many of them.
4. Pampore: it’s a half hour drive from Srinagar. This is the only place on God’s green earth where you can grow kesar. If you want to buy kesar or drink some kehwa this is the place… more on that later.
- Piranjal Range: snow covered peaks keep popping up along the way.
2. Sheep: large herds of sheep block the road and cause traffic jams. Don’t be fooled by the shabby sheep people, they are supposed to be rich and well connected.
3. Truck Drivers: rash drivers… the bad guys in the story.
4. Army trucks: the good guys in the story #respect.
Things you need for the trip
- Money: that goes without saying.
- Good Songs and ear plugs: we listened to “Koyal ne mari ku” and “daku daddy” enough times to contemplate suicide.
- Candies: these will come in handy if you tend to throw up.
- Light woollens: it gets chilly at night.
- If you plan to sleep in the car don’t sit next to the driver…. they do not like it.
They seem nice, but we couldn’t interact with them much. Ladies love Afridi so “Afridi sucks” are them fighting words. The traders and drivers are the best hagglers you have ever seen!!! One guy tried to convince me to miss my train back home just so I could stay at his hotel for a day!! Kids are cute especially the fat ones… you want to put one in your pocket when no one is looking and take ‘em home.
Driver and his Brother:
So we hire this guy to take us to Srinagar. He seemed to be a pretty nice guy, cracking jokes, giving us free mountain dew, giving money to beggars. At around 5 PM, about 100kms from Srinagar he brings his brother and tells us that he will be riding with us and asks us to scoot over.
Before crossing the Jawahar tunnel we stop at a dhaba. We start to talk and he tells us there is snow in Pahalgam which is about 100kms from Srinagar. He then offers us to take all three of us there only for 500 bucks after he drops the rest of the passengers at Srinagar!!! I am like let’s go what can possibly go wrong!! Then my friend points out that we would be ALONE in a car alongside TWO MEN HAVING FULL GROWN BEARDS at 12 in the NIGHT, IN KASHMIR along a LONELY STRETCH of road. We agree to make our decision at Srinagar.
After crossing the Jawahar Tunnel we start talking to one of our co passengers, a young student. He tells us Pahalgam is not that great, only scenic, like any other place in Kashmir. And guess what he is sitting right next to our driver! Naturally he gets pissed and his driving gets rasher and he starts to pick a fight with the student. Eventually we reach Srinagar at 9:30 PM and decide to skip Pahalgam. As our driver is pulling into the tourist Reception centre (TRC) in Srinagar he tells us to go wherever we want to (essentially to fuck off!! ).
As we roam about Srinagar we start talking to a local kashmiri. And guess what there is NO SNOW IN PAHALGAM!!!! Are you F’ing kidding me!!! AAAAAA…. We were about to risk our lives to go to Pahalgam and there would have been no snow!!! AAAA…. ANUJ SMASH!!!
Moral of the story:
- DO NOT trust the taxi drivers. They will lie cheat and steal enough to put Eddie Guerrero to shame.
- DO NOT TRUST THE TAXI DRIVERS … Pay Attention people!!
Where to stay
You have to stay at a house boat no matter how crappy it is!! You can get a normal room for Rs 600 with a TV and everything, but houseboats have their own charm. Typically a Deluxe houseboat costs 3000 bucks and you need advance booking in May. BUT…. you can stay at a cheap houseboat for Rs 500 provided you compromise on a few things!! If you want this cheaper option go to Chinar bund road near chinar bagh right outside the TRC. There are a lot of cheap houseboats but it is one of the dirtiest parts of the dal lake.
- No TV.
- All the charging points are 2 pin, so bring your 2 pin to 3 pin converter.
- Toilets don’t have any plumbing system except for a pipe taking all the shit directly down to the lake. You can see it swirling down if you look out of your window.
- There is a WINDOW not a BALCONY… so when you open the door at night don’t step out thinking there is a balcony you will fall into the lake!! #true story.
- The walls are very thin and the boats are pretty old… so if there is a couple in the other room… well the boat shakes… and you don’t miss the TV too much… #True Story. If you’re a couple… you have been warned!!
- It’s like living in a snuffbox!! All the walls are covered with carpets.
- You get to live with a Kashmiri family, eat with them etc…. you know learn how a kashmiri family lives.
- You want to wake up early for the view!!
What to eat and drink:
- Kehwa: it’s a local drink (like tea not beer) with almonds and kesar. Not every guy selling kehwa has the good stuff they charge you Rs 25 for a cup and the drink makes you go “is that it?” Well no, for the best Kehwa go to Pampore about half an hour from Srinagar, each glass costs about 10 bucks and it is the real thing. This is also the best place to buy Kesar… why? Well because it grows here.
- Wazwaan: many mutton dishes with MEAT chutneys (Methi Maaz) come in this category. It is pretty good and best served with rice. Try the rista.
What and where to buy:
Buy a pashmina shawl or stuff made out of pashmina wool. Don’t buy it from the roadside because they can sell you stuff from Ludhiana!!! Go to Dal Lake, it has many govt. approved shops. They usually give a 20 to 30% discount.
What to see:
- 1. Dal Lake: whats special about a lake you ask? There are floating vegetable gardens, shops on boats selling beer!! Yes beer!! Heaven!! View of snow covered mountains, lotus etc. Take a shikara… its manly ….Hooah!!
- 2. Old Srinagar: nothing special.
- 3. Mughal Gardens: Flowers… if you are that sort of guy… no judging. Gals are welcome to go.
- 4. Shankaracharya mandir: on a hill top. The tower near the temple? Mission Kashmir … ring a bell?
- 5. Hazrat Bal: Mosque.
- 6. Chinar Bagh: small park… best place to sleep under a chinar tree.
NSR (Near Srinagar Regions)… :p
- Gulmarg: Scenic.. Ropeway and stuff.
- Pahalgam: Scenic… rivers and stuff. Some sunny deol movie was shot here…. Hero I think.
YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS PLACE!!! If you have to choose between these three places pick this one. You have the best chance to see snow at Sonamarg.
Go to TRC in Srinagar early in the morning for the 90Km trip. A State transport bus leaves at 08:30 and returns to Srinagar at 7:30, a round trip costs Rs 325. You can also hire a Taxi. It will cost about Rs 3000.
Things you need:
- Good Shoes: I am not talking about Adidas and Nike…. think Woodland.
- A GOOD Camera (not a 12MP Samsung) with lots of batteries.
Well there is a government guest house there, but I don’t know the details… find out on your own!! Many private hotels too.
Where to go:
As soon as you reach Sonamarg you see a lot of locals with ponies asking for Rs800 per person to take you to Thesing Glacier. They offer to give you Jackets and shoes too and tell you the glacier is about 7Kms away. DO NOT TRUST them. The glacier is a 4km trek. You can follow the ponies or ask the army men for directions. You need jackets (in summer) but not their jackets. Besides if your trekking it gets HOT… like half T shirt hot. Bring some water.
Snow near the base of the mountain is dirty. Find a spot without many tourists (there are many spots) for that pristine white snow. Choose to trek (instead of a pony ) if you are up for it… you’ll enjoy the place more.