The arab part of India: Kashmir

  Sonia   |     30/07/2018

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After visiting Leh, the Pongsong lake and the Nubra Valley, the Israeli girl, met during the trip (with whom I have been travelling for a few weeks) and I decide to hitchhike. Our goal is to get to Srinagar, in the Kashmir area. We wait a few hours but we manage to get to Kargil (about 200 km - 5 hours) and once we arrive there we discover that there is a night bus that takes us to Srinagar for 250 rupees (about 3 €).

Another option is to take a direct bus from Leh which takes about 16/17 hours and the cost is 1,200,000 rupees - € 15 approximately.

Srinagar is the largest city and the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (bordering Pakistan). It is located in the Kashmir Valley, on the banks of the Jhelum River, a tributary of the Indus and the Dal and Anchar lakes. The city is known for its natural environment, gardens and houseboats. It is also known for traditional Kashmiri crafts and dried fruit. It is the northernmost city in India with over 1 million people.

The bus leaves us 6 km from Dal Lake. We take a "tuk-tuk" which obviously has contacts with local people. We end up staying at the "Peacock Houseboat". We pay 600 rupees (about € 8) for a double room with bathroom in the room, then € 4 each.

Dal is a lake in Srinagar (Dal in Kashmir means lake). The urban lake, which is the second largest in the state, is an integral part of tourism and recreational activities in Kashmir and is called the "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir" or "Jewel of Srinagar". The lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and harvesting of aquatic plants.

The location of our accommodation is really great: we are right on the lake and in the evening there is a relaxing atmosphere. The owners are a bit 'heavy', always try to sell you something. The second day we take a boat ride to the lake for 3 hours and pay 500 rupees per person and on the way back we stop at the "Book Shop", a very nice café. The lake is huge and is full of house-boats with also many restaurants and floating shops.

After 3 days we move to the "John Friends Guest House" accommodation. This accommodation strikes us as we walk through the various streets: it has a very welcoming garden and the owners are very friendly. Here we pay for a double room 500 rupees or 250 per person (3 euros).

Then we take a day trip to Gulmarg. Gulmarg is a town, a hill station, a popular ski destination in the Baramula district of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The city is located in the Pir Panjal chain in the western Himalayas. We go there during early July so we do not find snow but there are still many tourists who run horse races and relax on the grass.

Reaching it, however, was a challenge: we decided to take only public transport and it was really difficult because we did not know where to get the connections and people were not very helpful. So after 3 hours, we arrive at Gulmarg; instead on the return, we decide to take shared taxis. The first taxi we take takes us from Gulmarg to Tangmarg and we pay 60 rupees and then we take another taxi to Srinagar (80 rupees). In the end, it is better to spend one euro more than the local buses: you save time and above all you do not have to try to figure out where to take the next bus.

After spending a few relaxing days in the Kashmir area and having met many locals and many Israelis who apparently love to travel to India, in the morning at 7 am I take a shared taxi to go to Jammu (250km). The road is not always paved so we take 7 hours (price 800 rupees up to the train station). Another option is to take the local bus that leaves every morning at 6.30 and costs 310 rupees, but considering the conditions of the road, I decide to take a taxi. From here I catch then the night train to Delhi.

For anyone who is not sure whether to venture into the remote Kashmir area, I can say that I felt quite safe despite being a woman. As soon as you arrive in Srinagar, in fact, there are many soldiers around with arms paid by the Indian state for the defense of the area. The local people explained to me that there would be no need for so much surveillance as the military often scare tourists. In addition, the inhabitants of the area are predominantly Muslim and therefore tend to observe tourists a lot (especially if they are women) because they are intrigued by our diversity. Therefore it is good to respect local customs and habits, wearing clothes suitable for the environment in which you are located. Finally, despite being a perfect destination for skiing and snow lovers, it also deserves a visit during this time of year which is perfect to relax and enjoy the surrounding landscapes.

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