Is Kashmir safe to travel for tourists?
Kashmir is often referred as Jannat, Paradise, Heaven etc. and that’s indeed a true or I would say an understatement for what it is and what your experience when you are actually in Kashmir. I’m not sure what the heaven really looks like but if it is what we have always heard of, I’m sure Kashmir will certainly qualify to be one such place in heaven for sure.
In this travelogue, I will be narrating our experience in this paradise called Kashmir and share our trip details for anyone who would want to go on this absolutely stunning road less travelled..hopefully this will make the readers get a true picture of Kashmir valley, get an understanding of how to plan a trip to Kashmir valley offbeat places, what to do, what not to do etc. and most importantly answer the most frequently asked question "Is Kashmir Safe for travel?"
Before I go into details here are some highlights of the trip and why you should read this long blog
Experience of a lifetime at one of the top mountain passes of the Kashmir valley
Driving through the snow capped mountains on back-breaking slushy Icy muddy roads
Savouring the best of Kashmiri Wazwan food
Meet some of the heroes of the trip and their godly hospitality
See some of the Wonderful valleys and vistas of India’s unexplored regions
How Indian Army works relentlessly to keep us safe
Get a close up view of some of the Pakistani mountains we saw from close distance
Some pictures of the trip
So we wanted to go for a long drive from sometime and couldn’t plan for it as were caught up with household chores and daily mundane activities but after a long wait we somehow made this happen this time. The big question was where to go? Given the number of days we had in hand we knew that we cannot do more than 20-25days trip, so we started planning accordingly. The planning as usual started with the place to go and the big contenders were Sikkim in North east, Bhutan, Nepal, or Kashmir valley. After doing some research, Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal were looking difficult as it was going to be rainy season there and it wouldn’t have made sense to drive all the way and then get caught up in the rains. So the only choice was Kashmir valley as most of the other places anywhere in India would have been very hot or we would have done them already. So it was Kashmir!
Now when we travel, we travel with complete preparations and to help us with a successful trip, we only and only trust one person who’s known as the king of roads, human gps and is popularly known as “HVK” or “HivayKing”. So after several discussions with HVK, the places to visit along with itinerary was finalised as below..
D1: Bangalore - Bombay
D2: Bombay - Chittorgarh
D3: Chittorgarh - Karnal
D4: Karnal - Jammu
D5: Jammu - Rajouri - Mughal Road - Aharbal Falls (Must do) - Dudhpathri - Srinagar
D6: Srinagar - Gulmarg - Baramulla -
D7: Gulmarg - Uri - Baramulla - Handwara - Bungus - Handwara - Kupwara - Lolab Valley/ Chandigam
D8: Chandigam - Kupwara - Tangdhar
D9: Tangdhar - Titwal - Tangdhar - Kupwara
D10: Kupwara - Bandipora - GUrez Valley
D11: Gurez Valley - Bandipora - Sonamarg - Manasbal lake - Srinagar
D12: Srinagar - Pahalgam
D13: Pahalgam - Dakshum - Sinthan Top - Kishtawar
D14: Kishtawar - Cliff Hanger Route - Khilar - Kishtawar - Batote - Jammu
If Manali route is open:
D14: Kishtawar - Cliff Hanger Route - Khilar - Udeypur - Keylong
D15: Jammu/ Manali - Delhi
D16: Delhi - Jhansi - Narasingpur
D17: Narasingpur - Nagpur - Hyderabad
D18: Hyderabad - Bangalore
Once the itinerary was finalised, we were all set for the trip. We spoke to few of our friends and relatives about the plans, and were hugely discouraged to go to Kashmir for a holiday. Well, this was something we were expecting but now were very disappointed as none of the places we thought of were really looking doable either because of weather or the dates were just not matching with the plans. So we continued our thought process and finally decided to go to Kashmir in spite of many concerns raised by our beloved friends and parents. Kashmir is often considered very unsafe by many of us and the media often highlights the disturbances in the valley making it sound like a very unsafe place for tourists... whether it is safe or not.. we will share our views in this blog.
Anyway so we decided to take the road less traveled as we knew somewhere within our hearts that we will be safe and it will all be OK and even if something happens, it’s fine as you gotta take some risk in life to do what usual people won’t do! This paid off well and we are still alive 😜
Now the date was fixed and the itinerary was ready. I got our beast a.k.a., Raakshas (our Ford Endeavour) serviced two days before the trip start date so that we don’t get any surprises on the road and have a worry free trip. So the Raakshas was ready to roll and all the packing was done one day before the trip start date. We loaded up all the luggage in the huge Belly of our Raakshas on the eve of the trip start date to save time the next day. Now the wait for the morning and to start the trip finally began... so we had a good nights sleep that night.
The D-day: Bangalore Pune: 890kms: 12hrs drive time
So after a good nights sleep we woke up, got ready and started rolling around 6am for our next pit stop, Pune. The drive to Pune is very good and the roads are simply awesome.
Fully loaded Raakshas all set and ready for the long long trip to the crown of India, Kashmir
Route taken : Bangalore - Tumkur - Chitradurga - Hubli - Kolhapur - Satara - Pune
One can easily drive on an average 120-140kmph speeds till Hubli and then after around 90-100 for the rest of the distance. We’ve done done this circuit a lot of times now and it’s very convenient and safe. The only issue sometimes is the lack of good eateries but you can manage with eating at Kamat’s till Hubli or then some local dhabas on the way to Pune. So we stopped here at one of the joints for breakfast
We generally stop at “Kamat’s” for a coffee and breakfast break and then at “Goa-ves” for lunch. If you’re a non-vegetarian, then we would strongly recommend to try this restaurant and have Chicken Kolhapuri and Chicken dum Biryani which is simply yumm..
On the way to Pune
Lunch @ Goa Ves restaurant, on the way to Pune via Bangalore, our usual stop!
We reached Pune around 7:30pm and stayed at one of my best friends house which is right on the highway so that we don’t have to spend too much time next morning getting out of the city. The road to Pune was in excellent condition barring the numerous diversions because of the road widening going on (during April 2019).
Day 2 : Pune Dhule : 340kms : 7hrs drive
Next day we got up a bit late than planned and that delayed us for the early start. But anyway we packed our bags, dumped it in the car and got going. Today we knew that it will be a long drive and through the mad traffic of Mumbai/Nashik so we zoomed through the early morning traffic towards the Mumbai expressway. There’s no fun of driving holiday is you don’t try the local food so on the expressway we had to stop for breakfast at the most famous food joint, the great grand “Sree-Dutt” 😀.
So we enjoyed some local savouries like Vada-pao, Kothimbir-wadi, Sabudana-vada here and then continued our journey.
After a long drive and driving around 4-5 hours, we we feeling a bit tired and hungry again so we kept looking for a good place to eat. On the highway, we found one place that was looking decent and most importantly looked like had a Air-conditioner as we badly needed to have a good meal without suffering in the heat. So we stopped here and had our much needed lunch break. After the meal we started again towards next destination and we didn’t knew where we can reach today ..maybe Indore or Ratlam!
FastTag experience throughout the trip was a mixed bag. Some places it worked beautifully but some places the attendant needed to come and physically scan the tag
So we drove for another couple of hours before we were feeling too tired to continue further and decided to stay anywhere we can get a good and safe hotel on the way. So we connected with the CHD (central hotel desk) folks who helped us with the hotel booking at Dhule. This is one of the best part of traveling on road that you don’t have to be worried about reaching at a pre-decided and Pre-booked place and you can stay wherever you feel like.. and all this is a blessing with the CHD services provided by HVK group. See below for what CHD is and how they operate if you want to have a hassle free Road trip!
So CHD is basically a group of Volunteers within HVK group who help the fellow roadies book and stay in the hotels where they're traveling. This saves a lot of money and as well as the effort and uncertainty of booking the hotels beforehand. Through CHD, they help you book the hotels on the go and also takes care of your preferences and facilities if possible.
Hotel for today: Hotel Jhankar Palace, Mumbai Agra road
Hotel review: The hotel itself was good enough for a night and had a huge place for parking. It was on the highway and looked decent enough for a family stay. We checked-in after the formalities and straight away went to our room to relax. The climate there was too hot and the bathrooms had only the hot or boiling water coming... we wanted to take a shower but couldn’t as the boiling water from overhead tanks was too hot for a bath. We waited for a while but the water didn’t cool off even till next morning. Anyway, I somehow took the plunge in the water to have a relaxing sleep.
After a hot bath, we decided to go to a nearby Gurudwara (Sikh temple) and paid the visit. It was a small but good temple. After the visit to gurudwara, we returned to the hotel for the dinner at their in house restaurant, which was a pure-veg restaurant :(
The food at the restaurant was good but it took real long for the food to get ready. So after a good dinner, we slept like babies... zzzzzz...zzzzzz...zzzzzzzz
Next morning we woke up early to continue our drive towards Jaipur, our next planned stop.
Day 3 : Dhule - Ratlam - Jaipur : 820kms : 14hrs drive
This morning was a good, bright and sunny morning. We woke up around 6am and continued our journey towards Jaipur. We couldn’t get the breakfast at the hotel as it was too early for them and didn’t had anything ready. We decided to leave without the breakfast and have it on the way.
Route : Dhule - Ratlam - Chittorgarh - Bhilwara - Kishangarh - Jaipur (Bhagru)
The roads on this route were very very good and the entire stretch was almost empty. The only traffic was of the commercial vehicles (trucks) and that too mostly were well behaved and were driving in their lanes mostly. This helped us zoom through and maintain a good speed for the entire stretch.
On the way, we stopped for a breakfast break at around 9am at a local dhaba where we got the local savouries like samosa, poha(rice flakes), kachori, jalebi etc.. yumm..
Farsaan/ Phafda :)
Kachouri, Samosas's etc
Garam garam Chai
The beautiful and yummy snacks
After a delicious local breakfast, we continued our drive towards Jaipur and hope to reach Jaipur by evening (as per google maps). The rest of the drive was uneventful and was too plain. The traffic wasn’t much, the roads were good, so we managed to speed up but this is where I think over sped a bit and got caught for it as well 😂😂 yes there were interceptors on the way and we were caught doing over 140kmph 😂 so had to shell out 400 bucks for it. The roads were too good to slow down and then we continued for sometime within the speed limit range but then again we couldn’t slow down and continued with a speed of around 120kmph.. until we reached our hotel. In between we had lunch ata local dhaba that served some very nice food before vied our hotel at Hotel Hiwayking on the Jaipur-Agra highway.
A local vendor selling Kakdi
The barren land
Lovely colors of India and the vehicles
Save water guys, its going to be a luxury very soon..
Jai Shani Dev ...
Gas top-up at Reliance Petrol bunk. This guy tried cheating us or maybe looked like cloning the Credit Crd but I noticed it and stopped him and questioned him on what he was upto. Then he immediately went to the office an