With the mercury rising up, people must have started planning for a quick escape to some hill station to beat the heat. With several destination in list, it is often confusing to choose. Visit to the Heaven on Earth was my call last year. I was enthralled while planning the trip. Searching for good time to visit the valley, I found that anytime is a good time to visit, as the nature has to offer plenty of breath-taking sceneries varying with the season. Amusement knew no boundaries when I started exploring more about the places to visit. With the stunning photographs I could find on internet, the photographer in me was overjoyed with the thought of capturing the beauty in my lens. So I quickly planned the much awaited escape in the lap of nature.

The beauty of Kashmir had been praised ever since Mughal period. Its mesmerizing beauty is beyond what words can express and intellectuals can write. It is not quantifiable and needs to be experienced firsthand. I have read a lot about its beauty from different sources, but believe me, I found it even prettier than what I had read.

Visiting Kashmir had been on my travel list for long, but it got postponed every time due to the unpleasant situations popping every now and then. Someone suggested us to visit the place during holy month of Ramzan, as there is peace and fraternity in the area with minimal disturbances. Contrary to what was known to me about the condition prevailing in Kashmir, I was touched by the simplicity, love and affection of the people of Kashmir. Their always ready to help attitude makes one feel comfortable. Be it the receptionist, hotel attendants, or the shikara rider, everyone cares for tourist ensuring a pleasant and enjoyable stay. They always serve with a smile on their face which manifolds the beauty of the place and gives a lot of good memories to cherish way back home.

For those planning a quick escape may get some idea from the itinerary I followed:

Day 1- Delhi to Katra

We started our most awaited and long due road trip to Kashmir from New Delhi Railway Station. The roads are in excellent condition almost throughout with small patches where flyovers are being constructed to offer better experience in future. We took first stop at Haveli Restaurant at Muruthal. The Haveli hotel chain is a great place for vegetarian with superb ambience and good food. Achari aloo is a must try here. After lunch, we stead fasted to reach Katra with a stopover at Sanjha Chulha, after crossing Pathankot. The food offered here is not so good and one can only opt for refreshments here. I was amazed to see the numerous flyover and roadway constructions which have reduced the travel time taken to reach Katra from Jammu. Night stay at Katra.

Tips: As soon as you cross Punjab and enter Jammu and Kashmir only postpaid phones will work.

Pic: Haveli Restaurant, Muruthal
Day 2- Visit to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine

There are various options available to reach Bhawan including pony/horses, pitthus, palanquin and helicopter rides. One can chose from these options depending on the time availability as well as physical fitness of individuals, as it is a 13 km long trek. From Ardhkumari (Halfway to bhawan), passenger transport vehicles (type of auto/matadors) are also available. Roads are being constructed to enable cars to reach Bhawan from Katra. The time to complete Darshan may vary depending on the rush. So keep some extra time in hand. Good food is a scarcity along the way although CCD has opened some branches. While you can get snacks all along. After reaching bhawan, proper food can be taken.

Tips: Book you Yatra parchi and accommodation at Bhawan from Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine board early as there are very limited beds available which get filled very quickly. You can check various facilities offered by shrine board on their website. Click here.

Pic: Night view of Katra town from hills
Day 3- Take rest

Depending on the Darshan time and whether or not you plan to visit Bhairaonath temple. You can descend back the hill and take proper rest. There are numerous people who can offer good foot massage to relax.

Day 4: Katra to Pahalgam

Leave for Pahalgam, early next morning. The roads are generally good but due to hilly terrain there can be landslides which could lead to road jam hence, it is advised to leave early. We were stuck in a jam due to mishap in road accident for 4 hours. On way to Pahalgam, stop at Kud for Patisa, in Peerah for freshly cooked rajma chawal, achar and chutni. Believe me it’s the best I have ever had. Reach Pahalgam late in the evening. There are numerous vegetarian food joints in Pahalgam like Dana Pani, with awesome food and good service certified by Tripadvisor among others.

Tips: Often people make itinerary with Srinagar as base, doing so would increase unnecessary travel time (traveling same area to and fro) and reduce time to explore the place.

Pic: Snap of a valley enroute
Day 5: Pahalgam

Local site seeing in Pahalgam includes Chandanwadi (the place wherefrom Amarnath yatra starts), Betaab valley (a serene valley where movie Betaab was shot), Baisaran or Mini Switzerland (as the place is called during winter), visit to Aru valley (Lavender is cultivated in this valley). Travelling to Gulmarg from Pahalgam. Night stay at Gulmarg.

Pic: View of Kashmir valley in Pahalgam (enroute to Baisaran)
Pic: Betaab Valley Panorama
Day 6: Gulmarg

Start your day with Gulmarg Gondola, as the queue is often long and it takes time to get into Gondola. Moreover, there is enough things to see at both Level I & II, so having ample time is good. At Level I, look for seven spring. Do make a visit to Khalinmarg. I preferred trekking, while mules are also available. Ice sports like sledging, waterfall, a unique view of valley, etc. can be seen/done at Khalinmarg. There is little to see in Gulmarg except Shiv Mandir, where Satyam Shivam Sundaram was shot. Although if you go with mules/horses they will take you through Golf ground among other locally famous spots. Leave for Srinagar. Night stay and local shopping at Srinagar alongside the Dal Lake.

Tips: Level II is at higher altitude with less oxygen content hence, old people or those with breathing problems should avoid.

Pic: Gulmarg Gondola
Pic: Scenic view of hills from Level I
Day 7: Srinagar

There are numerous hotel along the Boulevard road (Opposite Dal lake). One can also opt for House boat. Take an early Shikara ride to visit the vegetable market which is open only upto 5 am/6 am (depending on weather). Shikara ride in Dal lake is an heavenly experience. There are numerous local spots including Sankracharya temple, Pari mahal, Nishat bagh, Shalimar bagh, Tulip garden, City botanical garden. Kheer Bhawani temple, among others which can be covered in a day’s time. There are other places like Wullar lake, Jyateshwara temple, Rainwari Gurudwara, Burzahom, Harwan garden, etc. which can also be seen depending on time availability. Numerous food joints are also available but finding a pure vegetarian restaurant is tough, though we tried Delhi da Dhabad and its food was quite good.

Tips: House boat are parked for long at the same place so have stagnant and smelly water (not recommended)

Pic: An evening snap of Dal lake, you can observe the sun rays down pouring amidst the clouds
Day 8: Srinagar- Jammu

Leave early from Srinagar as there are some spots enroute. One can stop at Patni-top for lunch. Take a detour from Uddhampur to visit Sudh Mahadev temple, Gouri Kund and Mantalai. Sudh Mahadev is a shiv temple, where it is said that Goddess Parvati use to worship Shivlingam. One can find a 3 piece broken Trishul of Lord Shiva with his fist impression on it. Take dinner at Haveli (near katra diversion). Night halt at Jammu.

Pic: Snap of valley amidst clouds at Peerah
Day 9: Jammu- Delhi

Early morning visit Raghunath temple. One of the Jyotirlingam of Lord Shiva. After having breakfast leave for Delhi.

I am sure one cannot resist the temptation to visit the place for a memorable trip. Well, believe me, if you have not visited the place, you are missing the natures beauty at display and meeting some wonderful countrymen who are always ready to make your visit memorable. The valley is truly blessed with natural beauty. The landscapes it offers is unparallel.