This blog post is my attempt to provide a comprehensive guide for planning your Kashmir trip.
For the last few years, Kashmir was on our bucket list of places to go, however, for some reason or the other we never could finalize. This year we finally made up our mind to do this much-awaited trip. We literally planned this last moment. We were wary of traveling during peak season, however, since it coincided with my birthday we decided to take the plunge.
Here are the trip details
- May 2nd week
- Duration 10 days – 9 nights
- 2 adults and 1 kid 5 year old
Like always, I immersed myself to plan for this trip taking the help of all the online resources and reviews by wonderful travelers. I made notes. Also, during my travel, I firsthand experienced a lot of things all of which I have attempted to summarize and share for the benefit of all who are planning to travel to this wonderful place. Kindly note, we do not accept any affiliate commission for recommending any hotel, location, or service. This report and recommendations here are more out of our personal experiences and shared with the objective to make your trip planning easier.
Places to Visit for Kashmir Trip
How we spent it?
We stayed a total of 10 days and 9 nights.
Day 1 – Early Morning Arrival– Transfer to Gulmarg
Day 2 – Gulmarg
Day 3 – Pahalgam
Day 4 – Pahalgam
Day 5 – Srinagar
Day 6- Sonmarg
Day 7- Sonmarg
Day 8- Srinagar
Day 9 – Srinagar
Day 10 – Depart
Since we took an early morning flight and reached Srinagar at 10:30 am and we found it logical to transfer to Gulmarg since hotels do not allow check-in until 2 pm. We could save that time for travel to Gulmarg which was roughly around 3 hours.
However, if you have a flight later in the day, it is better to stay in Srinagar and acclimatize and then proceed to Gulmarg.
Our itinerary was basis the availability of hotels since we traveled at peak times. We had a stopover at Srinagar in the middle of the trip and we then proceeded to Sonmarg to avoid direct travel from Pahalgam to Sonmarg, which would have been tiring.
So for your plan, you can either do
Srinagar – Gulmarg – Pahalgam – Sonmarg – Srinagar
Srinagar – Gulmarg – Pahalgam – Srinagar – Sonmarg – Srinagar
Srinagar – Gulmarg – 2-3 hours
Gulmarg – Pahalgam – 5-6 hours
Pahalgam – Gumlarg – 3-4 hours
Srinagar – Sonmarg – 2-3 hours
Sonmarg to Gulmarg -5-6 hours
How Much Time to spend on a Kashmir Trip
If you are doing your first trip ideally, you should spend time in Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonmarg. We spent 2 nights at each of the locations, one additional at Srinagar.
Here is a brief description of what to expect
Srinagar: This is more commercial – a lot of hotels, sightseeing places, restaurants and of course, the famed Dal Lake – 3 to 4 nights would be good. However, to really enjoy the beauty of Kashmir should ensure more time is spent outside Srinagar. A Good houseboat experience though would be wonderful. More of that later
Gulmarg: Beautiful town, very picturesque. Of course, you have the gondola here in case you would like to see the Snow.
Pahalgam: Again nice little town with super scenic places. Here you can visit Aru Valley and Betaab Valley and has some nice hotels.
Sonmarg: Less crowded and more beautiful. This one is special in more than one way. You can visit Zero Point, and Thajiwas Glaciers from here
Sonmarg or Gulmarg?
- Gulmarg is more commercial and developed; it has more hotels and definitely the gondola, which is why people go there more.
- Sonmarg is untouched beauty, divine, not crowded. Not much to do though just sit and relax.
- Ideally, you should do both, if you prefer to be conventional and safe – do Gulmarg, if you want to experiment try Sonmarg.
Should you book direct or through an Agent?
- Well, we had contacted two agents and they were supportive. We highly recommend Lone Tours and Travels although we did not book through them, they provided all details regarding hotels and rates promptly.
- I found we could get better rates if we book directly however please note you need some effort here.
- I am at ease in coordinating with various hotels, comparing rates online and directly negotiating, etc. It can be a bit overwhelming to some. If this is something you enjoy doing please book direct.
- In addition, if you know where you want to stay, it is better to call hotels directly and book. I have tried to provide you with as much as information here. You can save 10-15% on booking directly. If you have elders, etc. then better to go through a reputed agent.
- For those who want contact for Lone Tours and want me to recommend a good service for you would be happy to put in a word. Do connect with me at Stevan.email@example.com
Car Hire Travel Tips in Kashmir
- It is ideal to book in advance through a reputed travel agent. We booked ours through Lone Tours and Travel
- Rates are anywhere between 2500-3000 per day.
- Kindly note in Gulmarg/Pahalgam/ Sonmarg – Hired Cars are only allowed to drop you at the hotel. Local Sightseeing has to be done by local cabs and not your hired car. Therefore, you need to pay additional. Union rates are fixed at some places but in other locations, you need to negotiate hard.
- This is really a sad part of this trip you need to negotiate everywhere. It’s okay for us who travel frequently but for those who are elders or do not frequently travel, it can be a pain. So be aware.
Why having a Good Driver is Essential
- As I have always mentioned in my previous blogs, the difference between a good trip and a great trip can be the driver and how well you get along with him. He can enhance your overall experience since they usually they know the town inside out. While booking kindly ask for a good driver and treat him well. It is more than money and tips, it is about respect.
- They generally have a tough life so empathy works well.
- However, it is also important to note that drivers do get a commission out of the various services they recommend, so you need to be wary. Even the best drivers will always push for services where they benefit and if you do not acknowledge they might behave strangely. So my suggestion, do not refuse but be aware. Mostly they will stop at some shop and ask you to look around with an intention to purchase. That is okay; you can look and buy if you feel like it. Do not reject outright. Maybe buy once in a while. I believe it’s a two-way street so one needs to manage expectations.
- Always invite your driver for lunch or snacks wherever possible, it goes a long way in building rapport.
- In addition, drivers mostly are not too keen to take you to far-off, difficult locations. They prefer tried and tested. It is best if you inform him of the itinerary in advance or to his boss, mostly they do not change if it is finalized beforehand. Do a little study on places you would like to go.
Booking Hotel Room Tips
- I booked the hotels directly and I noticed if you talk directly to hotels, you get a better idea of availability and rates.
- Most of the time if you talk to hotels they have availability even if it doesn’t show on online booking portals.
- You can even negotiate a bit, like add a dinner complimentary if you can request and convince.
- Among Indian sites, only MakeMyTrip (MMT) showed good inventory, and then Agoda hotels for Srinagar.
- So net-net if you have good cards with cashback options (Diners and Infinia have 10x rewards on MMT so you get 30% effective discounts) book on MMT otherwise go direct with hotels.
Below is our day-wise itinerary
Day 1 and 2 in Gulmarg
Where to Stay
Disclaimer: We were looking for 4-5 star accommodation so our research and recommendation are limited to that.
Ideally, in Gulmarg, it’s recommended that you stay close to Gondola, which is more walking distance, though not next to it since it gets very crowded
The hotel choices are.
- Khyber by Taj
- Vintage Gulmarg
- Shaw Inn
For our travel dates, unfortunately, all the hotel rooms were sold out, and we had just one room at Shaw Inn available, which we booked, but I think we were lucky as we found a gem. It was simply amazing. This is a boutique hotel with 14 rooms, and the views and location are fantastic, just next to the Gondola. The rooms and the property are well maintained. Even the food was very nice.
My first choice though was Vintage and Heevan however now that I have stayed at Shaw Inn I would stick to it because of the service, food and the rooms were really good.
What to Do in Gulmarg
- Basically, you enjoy the beauty of Gulmarg
- You can take nice walks.
- There are pony rides, but we really were not fans of the same, however, we ended up doing it anyway. Shared below are some more details about dealing with pony rides in Kashmir
- There is a nice park next to the gondola, where you can spend an evening. Kindly note reaching this place may require you to hire a pony else you may need to walk 1/2 km either way from the gondola.
- You can also hire a car. Look for some hired cabs nearby and just check with the driver. Kindly negotiate hard.
- Obviously, the biggest thing to do in Gulmarg would be the Gondola Ride, which is Asia’s highest cable car ride.
How to Navigate the Gondola Ride
- Enough is written about this and during peak season, this place gets crazy, most people have had a bad experience due to the mismanagement of the Gondola ride by local authorities. There is absolutely no system in place and during peak times, it is unbearable and chaotic. Kindly do note that we went during the peak season so we would have a different experience than if you had gone during the non-peak season.However better be prepared.
- There are 2 phases to visit. Phase 1 and 2, during summertime Phase 1 has no snow so you directly transfer to Phase 2 – Afarwat peak if you need snow. ( May Month experience)
- For The Gondola, you need to book tickets online. Book at least a week in advance. Log on https://jkcablecar.payu.in for Gondola booking.
- Now the main task is to navigate the queue for the ride. There are about 65 cable cars, which keep moving, and the crowds during peak days would be around 2-3k so there is a huge waiting line. On average people had to wait 2-3 hours when we went.
- The cable car ride starts around 8.30-9 am.
- On the day of your visit, it is best to be early. We had reached at 7 am but got entry around 9:30 am. The crowd starts building up in no time. Those who came at 9 am, got entry at 12 pm.
- The actual ride time is around 10-12 mins, Once you reach Phase 1 you can directly queue for Phase 2. Do not entertain any agents at Phase 1 for pony rides etc.
- What to carry – Winter jackets, Boots can be hired for Rs. 100, you can take some eatables, water, a mat if you want to do a picnic, and charge your batteries.
- There are some eateries at Phase 1 so you can use the same.
- Phase 2 you can do skiing, ATV, Sledge etc., kindly negotiate hard and discount 50% of what they quote.
- Do avail of their services only if you are very inclined else enjoy the scenic beauty and the snow and return.
- You can easily spend 2-3 hours at such places.
About Pony Rides in Kashmir
- In Kashmir, if you want to travel to scenic locations, you may have to take a pony ride.
- I took 3 of them and believe me it was not comfortable esp having my 5-year-old sitting with me. I found it bit risky esp the terrain they walk over to reach the destinations
- So should you go for ponies? Yes if you want to experience but it is avoidable.
- Also pls. negotiate hard, whatever the pony riders quote discount 50% of that, and then see where it goes.
- If you want to tip, never tip the owner you can tip the guy who accompanies you with the ponies as they get fixed salaries.
Day 3 and 4 In Pahalgam
The trip from Gulmarg to Pahalgam is a long one and takes around 5-6 hours. The road closer to Pahalgam is beautiful along the Lidder river and a lot of pics can be taken
The climate in Kashmir changes quickly we had a sunny day during noon and by evening, it started pouring heavily.
Where to Stay in Pahalgam
Pahalgam is known as the valley of shepherds is a nice quiet and beautiful picturesque town and has some nice resorts.
Below are the best hotels in Pahalgam
- Heevans Pahalgam
- Welcome Group – Pine and Peak
- Radisson Pahalgam
- Kohloi Green
We stayed at Radisson, despite being a stunning property we do not recommend the property because of the lack of service. We came to know that this was originally Grand Mumtaz resort and now Radisson has taken over, so the staff and service are essentially not trained.
The reception team was so disinterested that you immediately feel that this is not a great place.
However, the views and the property itself more than made up for the horrible service. It is a delight to take a walk among the sun-kissed mountain views and the golf course.
However, would recommend looking at other options for stay
What to do at Pahalgam
So typically, the union cabs control all the sightseeing in Pahalgham. You have fixed locations and charges (which is a good thing saves you from all the haggling)
Popular trips would be
Aru Valley: It is at a distance of 15 km from the main town, the road is not great but the views are nice. You do not have much to do just enjoy the views.
Betaab Valley: This one is famous for a movie, which was shot there. Again, some nice time can be spent wandering around this place. However, it is a bit commercialized
Chandanwari: Now this location is far off, we did not go here since my daughter was unwell and the roads are not that great. However, it can be tiring to cover all in one day.
If you have an additional day you can go to Verinag, Achhabal, Martand, and Sinthan Pass.
I personally prefer just relaxing in the hotel with great views of the mountain and valleys and sipping kawa here on this trip
Day 5 and 6 In Sonmarg
Many tourists do day trips to Sonmarg, which is referred to as Meadow of Gold, and trekkers’ heaven. However, this does not do justice to the real beauty of this place. I think Sonmarg, which is the gateway to Leh, had the best views for our Kashmir Trip. It easily deserves a night’s stay at least. We stayed 2 nights here and it was sheer brilliance.
You are closest to nature here. There are fewer hotels, and fewer things to do however, you can just admire the beauty for hours sitting on your bed and looking through its window (yes you need to get the right room and I will share details here)
Where to stay
Without a doubt, there is only one nice place to stay in Sonmarg which is Village Walk and that is simply because of the view. The other hotel option is Country Inn.
The rooms are smaller compared to other hotels but the views more than makeup for it. Ask for the rooms facing the front mountain view and you can spend the entire time in the hotel, lazing on the bed and watching the mountains.
This place is also the coldest of all the locations we went so please carry woolen accordingly (kindly note this is for May). The beds have warmers so that was very comforting
The food was strictly okay though.
What to do in Sonmarg
You can take a pony ride to the Thamaj Glacier
It is about 45 mins one-way ride. Mind you, it is not for the faint-hearted, they go through some difficult terrain, and its a bit scary along the way. But when you do reach the destination, you forget about all the efforts you took. Because what you experience cannot be explained in words. Sharing few images.
They will charge anywhere between Rs. 1200-1800 for a ride and back.
You can also visit Zero Point from Sonmarg, which would involve a cab ride approx. 3000 bucks.
Again, I feel you can relax at the hotel and do nothing that would also be a great idea.
Day 6 and 9 In Srinagar
Srinagar of course is the capital and there are many things to do here. Let’s address the stay aspect
Srinagar: Where to Stay
Houseboats in Srinagar.
- If you come to Srinagar, then you must stay in a houseboat. We were skeptical of staying in one since we had heard horror stories about smelly houseboat rooms. However, one of my friends recommended Sukoon a 5-star houseboat at Dal Lake. On researching about this, I was more than convinced about this and we went ahead and blocked it.
- Kindly note there are houseboats at two lakes – Dal Lake which is more popular and nigeen Lake which is the less touristy option. If you are coming for the first time, stay at Dal Lake even though its touristy you will experience the beauty of Dal Lake from a nice houseboat.
- Sukoon has only 4 rooms and 1 suite and is in demand year long, so availability was the issue. However, we were lucky and got 1 night’s of accommodation so we gladly went ahead.
- The experience was amazing. It was right there among the best experiences we have had. The quality of the room, service, the food, and the location were just perfect. The deck of the houseboat was stunning and you could see the entire expanse of Dal lake from there. It was more magical during the late evenings. Hope the images do justice to what I have experienced.
- Tip: Houseboats near Ghat 1-15 don’t offer great views, if your houseboat is closer to Gate 16,17,18 these are further apart from the lake and offer a better view from the houseboat
- Remember on weekends Dal lake is really crowded so plan your visits
- You can do a nice shikara ride; do not buy anything from the floating shops, just smile.
For Hotels, you can stay near Dal Lake however, it can be too crowded. We prefer staying away from the crowd so we stayed in Orchid retreat and Spa it’s on the outskirts of Srinagar around 20 mins however the resort is stunning. It’s has around 15 cottages that are well maintained. It has a lovely garden, swimming pool; children’s play area and absolute calm and serene surroundings to relax.
Here are the Top Hotels you can look at in Srinagar are
- Taj Vivanta Srinagar
- The Kaboo
- Vintage Srinagar
- Radisson Srinagar
- RK Sarovar Portico
You have many food options in Srinagar, here are the top ones which you should try.
Where to Eat
Ahdoos: This is a go-to place for traditional Kashmiri food. The wazwan here is the most famous. The hotel has a strange policy that the wazwan cannot be shared. So for one person, it’s just too much. The ambiance was good, please try and go early, as it gets crowded soon.
Café Liberty: The mall which occupies this café gives a false impression about this café. It’s one of the best café’s in town and the setting is brilliant. There is this retro musical theme decor and it’s just fab. And what’s more the food is top notch. Spend a couple of hours at this place.
Chai Jai : Although we could not go here this is a highly recommended cafe for some amazing pastries and Kahwas.
Some of the other popular joints include
- Mughal Darbar,
- Mrs chef ,
- Delhi rasoi
- Lhasa Restaurant (Chinese/Tibetan),
- Krishna Dhaba (Durganag area) for veg
- Aman/ Pradeep for veg at Lal chowk
Don’t forget to buy the best walnut fudge in the world from Moonlight Bakery near Hazaratbal. It’s brilliant. This is the only thing you need to get from Srinagar apart from shawls and carpets if you prefer.
There are plenty of sightseeing places in Srinagar however we found a lot of them to be average especially once you have experienced the beauty of Sonmarg, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam. Still, since you want them off the checklist here are the best locations
- Parimahal- This old fort at top of one of the peaks gives you the chance to experience the beautiful city and lake from the top along with colorful and beautiful gardens at multi-levels. You can carry your picnic mat and food and spend a good 2-3 hours here even in summers under the shade of trees enjoying the scenic beauty all around.
- Gardens in Srinagar: Srinagar is famous for the beautiful flowers which you can see blooming all together at one location and hence many gardens in the city. We visited three of them each having similar beauty but different experiences.
- Badamwari Garden- As the name suggests it’s a Garden of Almond Trees and of course outlined with the beautiful colorful flowers. This one is less crowded, with a lot of trees and resting places and different views of city we enjoyed our one hour visit to this place.
- Chasmeshahi – More than the Garden this one is famous for the water spring. Here almost every visitor either fills their bottle or tries tasting this water directly. It is supposedly the purest water available directly from the mountains.
- Nishat Baag – Again another big and beautiful Garden but too much crowded.
- Dal Lake – If you stay in a houseboat you can enjoy Dal Lake for a day, take a shikara ride and enjoy the peace and serene atmosphere.
- Shankaracharya temple Walking up 260 steps is not as daunting as it may seem when you read about it however elders may note. Beautiful temple with stunning views of Srinagar. Adi Shankaracharya Ji got enlightenment here on the hill. Budget about an hour.
- Doodthpatri : If you have time take a day trip to Doodthpatri, its again a beautiful place with great views.
Airport Departure Tips
Srinagar Airport has additional security checks than your regular airports. Around a km before the airport, there is a mandatory check where all baggage has to be moved out and checked through a scanner. So please ensure you have enough time accounted for this. Fortunately, we had an early morning flight so we were there at 7 am, there was not much queue, but one can imagine the rush during peak time. So plan well.
Post the check-in there is a lounge near Gate 2, which accepts diners/priority cards so you can sit here and wait till boarding. Please do not expect any fancy food, there were some basic sandwiches and tea, but then we got nice sofa seats so that was enough for us to survive until our flight boarded.
After 10 days of experiencing heavenly Kashmir, we reached home, with a lifetime of memories of this wonderful trip. I am super happy that I could write a detailed trip report for this one since on many previous occasions I could never complete trip reports post visits and hence am unable to share what i learnt. This time was different, fortunately, just like Kashmir, which will always occupy a special place in our hearts.
Until next time.
Have a lovely trip. For any questions please don’t hesitate to email – Stevan.firstname.lastname@example.org, would be glad to be of any help
Thanks to my wife Preety who helped me complete this blog in record time.
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