A 2 Months Long Road Trip to Kashmir

Vargis Khan

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Staff member

Plan Ahead

In the moment of desperation, when we stepped out of the hotel, none of us picked up our masks and had to pay a fine for that while on our way back. This was the second time I was paying a fine for not wearing a mask in the last 2 weeks.

We came back to the hotel and now had no idea about what to do. Phones were out of service, there was no internet, nobody we could call and even the TV was not working.

All the channels were barred from broadcasting. We just sat there in the hotel for the next couple of hours looking at each other's faces with nothing to do at all.

There was really no way of knowing how long this situation will last. Internet and phone could be gone for several days altogether and that was not something we could afford.

After discussion, we decided that we will wait until the next day, Friday. If the situation didn't resolve, we will cut our trip short and drive back to Delhi over the weekend.

The next few hours were spent doing nothing. We just had a lot of cups of tea and wandered in the hotel aimlessly, like a bunch of ghosts in a horror movie.

We were the only guests and had the entire hotel to ourselves. So we just paced around in the corridors, analyzing the situation and speculating our next steps.

Salvaging the Situation

At around 3 pm, we picked up our laptops and decided to go to Asrar's place. I knew he lived somewhere near Dal Gate and had his address on the visiting card he gave me when we met him last week. We drove to Dal Gate and after a bit of looking around, found his place.

He was right. BSNL phones and the internet were both working fine. We connected our phones and laptop to his wifi. Whatsapp calls were made to friends and family letting them know of our wellbeing. Office laptops were switched on and we set out of office messages in Outlook.

Gunjit was supposed to fly to Srinagar the next day and join us on the trip. Looking at the current situation, I was assuming that he will cancel his trip. But to my surprise, when I spoke to him, he was still set on his plan. He still wanted to come even if it meant that we may have to drive back the very next day.

We were to pick him up from the airport but that now was not going to happen. Vehicles were not allowed to go towards the airport for security reasons. So I gave him the address of the hotel we were staying at and told him to catch a cab after his arrival.

Finally, after all was said and done, we finally caught a breath of relief. Asar, if you are reading this, you really were our hero in that moment of despair and I just do not know how to thank you enough.

Bored

We spent a few hours at Asrar's place and drove back to our hotel in the evening. There was still nothing to do and only a few shops were open. Not much happened after that.

Clicked this picture while driving back. Houseboats lined up near Dal Gate.


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We bought a set of cards from a shop and even that turned out to be a bad one. The entire set was messed up with a lot of duplicates and missing cards. The only game we could play was bluff and even that is no fun with only 3 players.

Anyway, the entire evening was spent idling around in the hotel and shuffling through the TV channels, hoping to find one still working. Trust me, we were so bored that we would have watched anything, just about anything. But unfortunately, not even a single channel was broadcasting.

Sometime between 9 and 10 pm, Mubashshir served dinner. After that, we just decided to call it a day and crawled under our blankets.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

Friday

Friday was no different than Thursday. We woke up to find everything still out of order. Phones were not working, the internet was still gone and there was nothing on TV.

The first few hours of the day were spent doing absolutely nothing. There was actually nothing we could have done. We just walked around, had a few cups of tea, and asked a few people how long will the current situation last.

Everyone had a different opinion on the matter. Some said that phone services will be restored by evening, some said a couple of days, and a few quoted a week.

Not much happened in the day. Gunjit arrived by noon. We just sat down talking a bit and went to Asrar's place at 2 pm. Our lunch was hosted by Asrar and by 5 pm, we were back at the hotel.

Astanmarg

Not knowing what to do, we decided to go to Astanmarg. Maddy and I had already gone there when we arrived in Srinagar and we thought to spend the evening there.

It is a viewpoint on the outskirts of Srinagar that offers a great view of the city, surrounding mountains, and Dal Lake. To read more, take a look at Astanmarg - One of the Best Viewpoints in Srinagar.

The problem was that we used Google Maps to navigate the way to Astanmarg through the narrow streets of the villages on the way. Google Maps of course was not working since there was no mobile data so we had to rely on the old way of navigation - stop and ask a passerby.

To make things worse, the road that we last took to go to Astanmarg was closed by the cops. So we had to take an entirely different route, that we had no idea about.

After about 45 minutes of driving around pointlessly and being pointed in different directions by people, we gave up the idea of Astanmarg and returned. Surprisingly, not a lot of people knew where Astanmarg was. Some people had no idea of the place we were asking about.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

Nishat Bagh

We came back to Dal Lake and went to Nishat Bagh. The only good part about the day was the sunset view we got from there that day, it was really stunning.


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Once the sun went down, we came back to the hotel. By now, the entire plan of Pahalgam had changed. I wanted to trek to Sheshnag Lake but could not call anyone in the last couple of days to make arrangements. Thankfully, our stay at a hotel was already booked there so we at least knew where we were going to stay.

At around 10 pm, while we were sitting playing cards, our phones suddenly started to ring. Messages were getting delivered on both phone messaging and Whatsapp. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Phone services were finally restored and so was the internet. Mobile data however was still not working.

This was really something that we welcomed with joy. Otherwise, I was really double-minded about whether to go to Pahalgam tomorrow or start driving back to Delhi. With the phone and net services restored, our trip was back on track and we were all set to go to Pahalgam tomorrow.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

Srinagar to Pahalgam

So enough with that story and sorry if I dragged it a little longer than needed. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and we were all set to start driving to Pahalgam. We wanted to start as early as 6 am from Srinagar to give us enough time for sightseeing in Pahalgam. But we all knew that was not going to happen. Neither of us was going to get up that early.

So by the time we did start our journey to Pahalgam, it was slightly past 7 am. Phone services were restored but mobile data was still not working. We drove to Dal Gate, stopped at a gas station to get Diesel, asked for directions to Pahalgam, and were soon driving out of Srinagar city.

There was a lot of police and military presence around and we were crossing police check posts every few kilometers.

Soon we were on the highway and cruising at a moderate speed. There was hardly any traffic around since it was early in the morning. Not much happened and within a couple of hours, we had crossed Anantnag.

We were stopped at a few check-posts by the cops for regular security questions. Those pretty much were the only times when we actually stopped and drove non-stop for the rest of the time. I wanted to cross the Anantnag market area before the traffic built up and the market opened.

We were successfully able to do so and reached Aishmuqam slightly after 9.
 

Vargis Khan

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Aishmuqam

We actually did not realize that we reached Aishmuqam. It was a tea shop that we noticed. It had just opened and the owner was still setting up the chairs and tables in front of the shop. None of us had tea since morning and it looked like a good spot to get something to eat with the tea shop on one side of the road and Lidder river on the other.


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We asked the shop owner if we could get some tea and he replied positively. We parked the car, got down and that is when I noticed a shrine sitting on top of a small hill.

I asked the tea-shop owner about it and he told us that it was Aishmuqam, the same dargah where Bhar Do Jholi Meri song from Bajrangi Bhaijaan was filmed.

We were told that a road goes all the way to the shrine and if we wanted, we can actually drive up there. For a while, we played with the idea of visiting but then decided to cover it while on our way back.


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We all had a cup of tea and some biscuits with it and continued our journey. After about another 30 minutes of a drive, we had entered Pahalgam.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

Pahalgam

My first impression of Pahalgam was really a disappointing one. There was nothing special about it. We paid the entry fee at a gate, I think it was Rs. 50, and continued to drive.

Every minute, I was expecting to see something spectacular which will justify why Pahalgam was so famous. But there was absolutely nothing. It is not even at a height or on the top of a mountain. The town sits in an almost plains-like area with the Lidder river flowing right through it.

There were ponies all around, of course, those can be found everywhere in Kashmir. More than the cool wind and the gentle breeze of the mountains, it was horse-dung that we were smelling, forcing us to roll up our windows and switch on the AC.

Nevertheless, the disappointment continued. We crossed Pahalgam and nothing seemed too great about it. For a minute, I actually started to wonder if we made a mistake coming here and should have used our days to visit some other places. But what was done was done. We were already in Pahalgam so might as well explore the place.

Our stay was booked at a hotel called Iceland. It was recommended to us by Mohsin, the owner of Barzman Hotel in Sonamarg where we had stayed the last weekend.

We had some difficulty finding the hotel. Thankfully, the phone services were restored and we were able to call the owner of the hotel to help us locate it. After a few wrong turns and asking the locals for directions, we finally arrived at the hotel.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

Hotel Iceland

Then came the next disappointment. It was nothing like what we saw in the pictures. Or maybe it once was when it was new. What now stood was really an old building that was beaten badly by the time.

The only saving grace was the location of the hotel. It was right next to the Lidder River and the view it offered was really awesome. It also looked perfect to me for some late evening long-exposure shots of the river.


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We had to climb down a steep set of steps to get to the hotel from the road. We checked in and then came the third disappointment.

I was told that the hotel had wifi with great speed. But when we asked the caretaker and the boys at the hotel, they told us that the wifi wasn't working. It wasn't so because the internet was not working in Pahalgam but because the owner did not recharge it.

Our initial idea was to spend a few days in Pahalgam and work from there. That is why I inquired about the wifi services and we all brought our office laptops along. But one look at Pahalgam and we knew that it just wasn't worth staying and bothering about getting the internet up and running.

So we did not stress too much about it. The clock showed 11 AM which meant that we had the entire day to ourselves. After talking to the staff at the hotel, we decided to visit Betaab Valley first.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
The distance from Pahalgam to Betaab Valley is merely about 15 kilometers. The journey can easily be completed in about 30 to 45 minutes on a narrow, steep but tarred road. The route passes through a dense jungle and the only people you come across will either be the tourists or the local shepherds.

It was my first time in Betaab Valley and I really had no idea about what to expect. All I knew was that the place was among the top tourist destinations of Pahalgam and almost everyone who comes this way goes to Betaab Valley.

We drove up the winding road and gained height significantly in a short period of time. Lidder river was flowing down the mountains, through the forest, and was a charming sight. The views overall were great.

The only painful thing was the harsh sun. It was the month of September and I couldn’t believe how hot Pahalgam was. We could barely stand in the sun for 5 mins before starting to look for shade.
 

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

About Betaab Valley


I think there are two things that make Betaab Valley famous. The first is its name. It just sounds a little intriguing and exotic. When one starts to search why is it called that, you will find out about the Sunny Deol starrer movie Betaab which was shot here. That will be the second reason.

Betaab Valley Original Name


The real name of Betaab valley was Hagan Valley before it was chosen as the preferred spot for shooting Betaab in 1983. The movie went to be a hit and the song ‘Jab Hum Jawan Honge’ gained even more popularity than the film itself.

In popular culture and I think also to attract tourism, the valley itself got renamed after the film. The name Hagan was almost forgotten and everyone started to call it Betaab Valley.

So what exactly is Betaab Valley then? With no effort to glorify it, like you would find many other internet posts trying to do, it is basically a meadow that has now more or less taken the shape of a large park. The picture below should give you an idea.

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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
After about 45 minutes of driving, with a couple of short photography breaks in between, we arrived at Betaab Valley. At first, I had a little trouble locating it. I was expecting the views to suddenly open and turn from a forest to a vast meadow but that never happened. Instead, what we reached was an entrance gate to a park or zoo-like area.

The narrow path to the gate bifurcates from the main road to the right and is a steep downhill drive. I didn’t realize that it was Betaab Valley and we in fact drove a few meters ahead.

But then we noticed all other tourists driving down that narrow path and a few other cars coming up. That is when we realized that it was in fact the entrance to the valley. We took a U-Turn, drove down the path, and reached the parking area.

Like it happens pretty much everywhere in Kashmir, before we could even step out of the car, we were already surrounded by 3-4 so-called guides. By now, we all knew that the best way to deal with them was to just ignore and that is what we exactly did.

We started walking to the entrance gate. The guides started following. Offers were made to show several viewpoints that no one knew about. We politely refused and started walking.

The guides gave up but soon there were other people following. Some trying to sell, others asking for money, and a few others with animals like rabbits and birds in their hands, offering us to click photos with their pets. The huge DSLR hanging around my neck attracted them even more.


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