A 2 Months Long Road Trip to Kashmir

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
This was not really my first road trip to Kashmir. I had been there before and had already seen most of the places. Sometimes, it was either while going to or coming back from Ladakh and sometimes it was a trip to Kashmir only. This trip however was still a lot different and one that I was really very excited about.

What was initially a plan of 2 weeks turned out to be much longer. We spent quite some time in Kashmir, exploring its beautiful valleys, enjoying its good food, and meeting its warm people. What we thought would be a good trip turned out to be an amazing one, probably the best of our lives so far.

In this article and the ones that will follow in this series, I will talk in detail about our road trip to Kashmir. I will cover places that we visited, routes we followed, hotels we stayed at, foods we enjoyed, the restaurant we ate at, and several other details that can be of help for anyone planning to visit Kashmir.

The plan to visit Kashmir started to take shape sometime in June 2021, when the COVID cases were starting to slow down a little. I had been working from home since March 2020 since the outbreak and had not been anywhere during this entire time.

The idea of going out somewhere did pop up in my head several times in between but never materialized, primarily because I did not want to take the risk of COVID.

Then in the summer of 2021, I seriously started to consider going somewhere and working from there for a while, rather than just sitting at home. The idea was to bring my office laptop along and explore the place whenever I get time while continuing to work as well.

This was not really anything original and I knew that a lot of people were already doing this. Even a lot of hotels in Manali and a few other places were offering this kind of package.

So after a lot of thinking and discussion, I and my friends decided to do this while we still could. Where to go was the next question. To be honest, Kashmir was not really the first place that came to mind but after some serious consideration, it was the one that we narrowed down to.

There were however still several things that needed to be taken care of before we could actually finalize the plan.

The most important aspect of this trip was to first ensure that we were going to have a stable internet connection. I called my friend Faisal in Srinagar and he confirmed that we could get Airtel or Jio fiber in the city and their services were pretty good and stable.

This kind of confirmed our plans and I requested him to get a Fiber wifi connection installed in the hotel we were planning to stay at.

During my previous trips to Srinagar, it was Hotel Grand Valley Inn that I stayed at. It is a great hotel with comfortable and spacious rooms but the best part about it is its location.

It is located 2 mins from Shalimar Bagh and merely 5 mins away from both Nishat Bagh and Dal Lake. The place is surrounded by greenery all around with an amazing view in its backdrop. See the picture below.

I confirmed my stay in Grand Valley again and Faisal confirmed that they will get Airtel Fiber installed with 100 Mbps data speed. This was more than sufficient for me. This way, I could comfortably explore Kashmir without any disruptions in my work.

Now came the planning part. How long was the trip going to last and what were the places on the itinerary? This was really what excited me the most about the trip.

Since we were not going to be on leaves and could continue working from Srinagar, there was really no set timeline for the trip. All that we had on our minds was to first go there and then see how long we could stay.

Every time I visited the valley before this by my own vehicle, it was either while going to or coming from Ladakh when we just traveled through Srinagar. During those trips, the focus was on Ladakh and Kashmir was just the region we passed through while riding on the Srinagar Leh highway.

A few times when I did visit Kashmir only, we caught a flight to Srinagar and rented bikes there to explore other places.

But this time was different. The plan for this trip was to drive all the way from Delhi to Srinagar in my Mahindra Thar and cover as many places as possible.

A total of 5 people, including me, were in for the trip. As per the original plan, Shoaib, Lavish, Maddy, and I were going to reach Srinagar, and Gunjit was to join us by flight later for a few days.

But as it always happens, after several last-minute changes, Lavish dropped out completely and Shoaib had to delay his arrival. So in the end, Maddy and I were going to be driving to Srinagar, and Shoaib and Gunjit were to catch a flight later.

This I think worked for the best for two reasons. The first is that we all work in the same organization. Now the two of us could first go and confirm our ability to work before the other two join.

The second reason was that Mahinda Thar is not really the best vehicle for 2 days of continuous driving if you are going to load it with 4 people and all their luggage. It can really get uncomfortable for the 2 people sitting in the back on top of all that luggage.

This plan was originally planned for the month of July. But then due to the monsoon and news of landslides from all over the Himalayas in June and July, we pushed it to early August. This then got changed to the latter part of August and the 20th was the date finalized for departure.

COVID was still not gone completely and restrictions were still in place at several places. You were required to produce a negative COVID test report while before entering Jammu, near Lakhanpur. This report could not be any older than the last 96 hours.

So, on the 18th of the August, Maddy and I both visited a lab near my place and got our tests done so we could have our report by the 19th. Surprisingly, we got the results back the same evening and to our relief, it was negative indeed.

I got my Thar serviced and readied a couple of weeks before the trip. So there we were, about to embark on a trip of a lifetime. This kind of a journey where we were carrying our office laptops and were going to be working as well was new to all of us.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
None of us had any timelines in our minds and all we focused on the places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to do. The first place that was on my mind was the famous Mughal Road. I really hate traveling on the Jammu Srinagar highway and wanted to take the Mughal road for the journey from Jammu to Srinagar.

A couple of calls and I got the word that the road was indeed open and there were no COVID-related restrictions anywhere on the route.

The last remaining but was our stay in Jammu and like always, I left it to be decided on the spot. A friend of mine, Jitender Pathania who is a local from the area, suggested booking Hotel One Earth Trinetar but I left this part open.

Finally, the D-Day arrived and Maddy and I were all set to leave for Srinagar.

Did we face any problems and was it safe? Except for 2 days in between, our road trip to Kashmir remained completely hassle-free. We enjoyed our time to the fullest. A couple of places that were originally on our minds got left out but we more or less covered all major tourist spots.
 
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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
Day 1: Delhi to Jammu

The clock showed 2.45 am. It was time to be on our way from Delhi to Jammu by road. It was time to finally start our trip to Kashmir that we had been planning for so long. All my bags were packed and loaded already in my Mahindra Thar. Maddy called me to inform me that he was already on his way to my place.

I gave my room a final look to ensure that I did not miss anything. I had already done this at least 10 times before but doubt in my head still persisted. I still kept thinking that I missed something but didn't know what. Finally, I gave up and stepped out of my house. A few minutes later, Maddy arrived and we loaded his bags in Thar. By 3.00 am, we were on our way towards Jammu.

Maddy was surprised by the number of bags I had packed. He kept his packing brief to avoid a scolding from me for bringing too many things along. But one look at all the items that loaded in the car and he immediately started regretting leaving a few things behind.

The luggage of just the two of us took most of the room in the car and I was thankful that it was only two people traveling by road. Had Shoaib and Lavish agreed to tag along, it would have been impossible to fit 4 people and so much luggage in, especially when the journey was going to be so long.

We were standing on the main road outside my house and fitting in the bags properly. Just as we were about to step in the car and start, a guy approached us on a bike and asked for some money. Apparently, his bike had run out of fuel and he was out of money. Not knowing how to say no, I took out a Rs. 200 note and handed it over to him. He took my number and promised that he will pay it back as soon as he reaches home. That has not happened to date, of course.

A click of my odometer. By the time we returned home, another 6000 kilometers were added to this total.


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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
It was early in the morning and the traffic was almost next to none. Soon we had crossed Delhi and were on GT Karnal Road. But then came something that neither of us thought about or were prepared for.

Famer's protest was in full swing at this time and the highway near Sonipat was blocked. There was a huge traffic jam and the vehicles were being diverted through the narrow streets of Sonipat and surrounding villages. I totally forgot about this or else would have taken either the Eastern or Western Peripheral roads to avoid the traffic here. Nonetheless, it was too late to do anything but to crawl through a long line of cars and trucks.

At one point, while going through a narrow street, I got stuck at one place with a truck on my right and an electric pole to my left. There was just not enough space for us to pass through. With bumper-to-bumper traffic, backtracking was not an option either. Slowly and carefully, we managed to squeeze through but not without my dearest Thar getting rubbed by the steps in front of a house that I got too close to in order to make space for the truck.

It took us over an hour to finally cross Sonipat. Then came a break at one of the Dhabas to get some tea and stretch our legs.


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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
The journey after this was mostly smooth until Ludhiana with not much to write about. We maintained a decent enough speed with some good music and amazing weather. Somewhere in between, it also rained for a while. In short, we were enjoying the drive.


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Neither of us had slept the night before since we work in night shift and started soon after our office hours. For a while we were Ok but then the long hours started to take their toll. I was gulping down a Red Bull almost at every break we took. Maddy on the other hand decided to catch some sleep and crawled in between all the luggage on the back seat.

Just before Ludhiana, we were stopped by a bunch of cops at a checkpoint. One of them wanted to check our luggage and he literally checked all of it. I think he was expecting to find some booze hidden somewhere which of course he couldn't because we didn't have any. The only thing that came out of it was a delay of 15-20 mins and Maddy being forced to come out of his slumber.

Things went smooth for a while again until Phagwara. There again, a section of the highway was blocked due to farmers' protests, and the traffic was diverted through the city. It took us again almost an hour to cross Phagwara after being stuck in traffic and at a railway crossing.

We came back on the highway after Phagwara but couldn't stay on it for long. The road was blocked at several places and the traffic was slow. I asked a cop and he advised us to go via Hoshiarpur as there were more blockades ahead on the highway. This would mean adding another 30-40 kilometers to the journey but there was not much that we could do.

We took the road towards Hoshiarpur, reached there, and then circled back to the highway near Dasuya. The good part was that the road was smooth and there wasn't a lot of traffic. So the drive was not as long as I expected it to be.

After that, thankfully we did not encounter any more blockades and had soon crossed Pathankot. I wanted to meet a friend of mine, Jitender Pathania, on the way. Near Pathankot, I called him to ask where he wanted to meet up and we agreed on Lakhanpur.


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The drive remained smooth. We were stopped near Lakhanpur to check our RTPCR reports and were let go. Jitender was waiting for us near a Dhaba in Lakhanpur and there we took a much-needed break.

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It was around 2.45 pm when we started from Lakhanpur and reached Jammu by 4 pm. I wanted to stay somewhere close to the highway as we were going to be on our way to Srinagar the next morning. Just before Jammu, I stopped and Googled for One Earth Trinetar that Jitender had suggested. It was showing nearby, just on the other side of the road. We took a U-turn and reached the hotel.

The first question that we asked was if they had Wi-Fi available and checked its speed which was good enough. The next question was about their rates. They quoted Rs. 2000 but agreed on Rs. 1800. Looking at the hotel, 1800 sounded like a good deal and we took it.

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It was a Friday, so a working day for us. By 5.30 pm, both of us were logged in and working from our room.


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I however could not keep up for long. I was now up for almost 29 hours and 12 hours from that were spent driving. I decided to lie down for a while but was soon snoring away.

Maddy woke me up at around 8.30 pm asking about dinner. I was in no mood to leave the bed and wanted to go back to sleep but he was persistent. First, we thought to order something from the hotel but looking at their rates, decided otherwise.


We stepped out hoping to find a dhaba nearby but to our surprise, everything was shut down and closed by 9 pm. Not even a single shop was open.

Luckily, I had already inquired about the eating options in the area from a nearby shop in the evening when we were checking in. Going by the directions that the shopkeeper had given me, we reached Pahalwan's Food Mall on the other side of the road. It was just 5 mins of a walk from the hotel.

I ordered an Indian Thali and Maddy ordered a Chinese platter, a bowl of soup, and Samosas. Their food was good and reasonably priced. The seating arrangement, hygiene, and overall ambiance of the place were decent enough. If you are staying in One Earth Trinetar or somewhere near, I will definitely recommend eating at Pahalwan's restaurant.


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Maddy of course could not finish anything that he ordered. We ended up sharing the Indian Thali that I ordered because it came first. By the time the Chinese platter arrived, Maddy was done. So most of the platter was left uneaten, the bowl of the soup remained untouched and the Samosas were packed to be eaten at the hotel later.

I crawled under the blankets the moment we reached our room. Maddy continued working for a while after that. The plan for the next day was to start early by 6 am and take the Mughal Road to reach Srinagar.
 
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