A 2 Months Long Road Trip to Kashmir

Vargis Khan

Staff member
There is an entrance fee of Rs. 100 for Betaab Valley. This amount is different than what you will pay for the parking, which I think was Rs. 50 for a car and Rs. 30 for two-wheelers.

Betaab valley tickets price baffled me a bit. I mean, you do not expect to buy a ticket to see a mountain, a river or a valley. But that is what exactly happened and by now, I was quite sure that the place was over-rated and just hyped because of the movie. Much like the rest of Pahalgam, I knew it was not going to be anything spectacular.

Nonetheless, we bought the ticket and started walking on the path into the valley. Contrary to our hopes, what we reached and entered was actually a park. It must have been a meadow or a valley once upon a time but after the place started to attract tourists, authorities fenced it and developed it into a park.

There were families picnicking, kids playing around, stalls selling tea and coffee. Do not get me wrong. It was still all beautiful, not just what I was expecting.

The place still had a charm of its own. It was surrounded by mountains, a dense forest, and the curves of the beautiful Lidder River were adding to the overall beauty and the charm.

It was mid-day and the sun was painfully harsh. Even the photos I clicked at that time did not turn out to be that great because of the sun. The pictures that I am sharing here actually do not do justice to the place.

More people followed us, trying to sell items like shawls, saffron, and whatnot. There were two things I noticed at that time.

The first was that about 90% of the tourists in Betaab Valley at that time were the local Kashmiris. Only a handful of people were non-Kashmiris. The second thing was that the sellers were specifically targeting the non-Kashmiri people.











Vargis Khan

Staff member
There is not really much to do in Betaab Valley. It is in itself a tourist attraction of Pahalgam and a fenced park. The only thing to do is just to sit down, relax, click a few pictures and spend some time in peace. It is a perfect place to visit with your family and kids.

It kind of reminded me of places like India Gate in Delhi where you visit in the evening to have a good time with your family, have some ice cream, sit down on the grass, talk and have a few laughs.

The pony owners and the guides will approach and offer to show you some other spots. If you were up for walking and or a pony ride, you can try that. I already knew that most of what pony owners offer is just a scam.

They just take you through the forest, give you a view of the valley from certain spots and then bring you back. I think there is a waterfall nearby in the forest but I cannot confirm it. A couple of guides mentioned it but I never took them up on their offer.

The best time to visit Betaab Valley is the months of April and September. This is when the valley is lush green. But irrespective of the month of travel, you should try and be there either in the morning or a little late in the day.

Why am I saying that? It is because of the harsh sun. The place is at an altitude and it gets surprisingly hot. If you were staying in Pahalgam for a day, plan your trip in a way that you are there in the evening. I think you will like it better then.

Betaab valley remains open in the winter season as well. The road from Pahalgam to Betaab Valley is steep and also narrow. If there was heavy snow, it may even get closed completely.

Authorities try to keep it open and clear the snow but during the peak winter, it does get closed for a while in January and February. In March, it remains open and you will definitely find snow there.

In the months of November and December as well, the valley remains open. But it may get closed towards the end of December if it was snowing heavily. In April, the valley definitely remains open but there may not be any snow left.

Betaab Valley is open from 8 am to sunset. You will find posts reading that it remains open till 8 pm but I do not think you should do that. You anyway have to drive through the forest on a narrow road to get there from Pahalgam. So it is better to be on your way back and reach Pahalgam before it got dark.

There are no hotels near or in Betaab Valley. The nearest hotel is in Pahalgam only.

So, coming back to the story, we walked around a bit, clicked a few photos, and we were done in about an hour. There was really nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.

We were all hungry by now. There was a tea and coffee stall that we noticed and Maddy suggested that we should go and get something to eat there.

I on the other hand noticed that the place was surrounded by people trying to sell tourists several items. I knew that it will be tough to sit there and eat in peace. So I suggested that we step out and eat at another tea stall near the parking area.

But Maddy liked that place better and wanted to sit there only. So I agreed. We ordered some tea, coffee, a cup of Kahwa and Maggie. Just as I anticipated, within minutes, we were surrounded by 3 or 4 people, either trying to sell us stuff or asking for money.

The next 15 minutes were spent in us trying to ignore them and eat in peace and the sellers continuously nagging us to buy something from them. As soon as Maggie was done, we picked up our tea and coffee cups and walked away from that place as fast as we can.

Vargis Khan

Staff member
We came to the parking area and got inside our car, which was hot as an oven by now. The next destination was Chandanwari. I turned the key in the ignition. The car sputtered and coughed but refused to come to life. I tried again, and again but nothing happened.

I had no idea of what suddenly happened. She was fine so far and gave us no trouble anywhere. There was no help nearby and the nearest mechanic was 15 kilometers away in Pahalgam.

I said a prayer in my heart and turned the key again. This time, the engine roared back to life and I sighed a breath of relief. I really had no idea what happened? Was it because of the sun and the fact that the car was too hot? Was it the AC because it was turned on ever since we entered Pahalgam? Or was it something else?

Nonetheless, hoping that we will not face the problem again, we exited the parking area, came back to the main road, and started driving towards Chandanwari.

Vargis Khan

Staff member
The total distance from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is about 15 kilometers in total. The road passes through a dense forest, beautiful valleys, and continues to climb steeply throughout its entire distance. From Pahalgam, you will first arrive at Betaab Valley, after about 7 kilometers, and then continue driving up another 8 kilometers to arrive at Chandanwadi, where the road ends.

So what exactly is there in Chandanwari? A simple and honest answer to this question is nothing. There is actually nothing there except for a few tea stalls and dhabas. Chandanwadi is the starting point of the Amarnath trek and that is all it really is. The 15 kilometers journey, on the other hand, is really an experience in itself.

So why is it so famous then? That is because of the natural beauty around. The place sits in the middle of a forest, right next to the Lidder River. The road from Pahalgam ends here and the trek starts. So a journey to Chandanwari is really just going as far as the road goes and enjoying the views on the way.

We roamed around in Betaab Valley for about an hour. The sun was shining bright and it was surprisingly hot for Kashmir in September.

The moment we exited Betaab Valley and started on our way to Chandanwari, the AC in the car was switched on again. Yes, you read it right. We were traveling to Pahalgam in September and the AC in our car was turned on the whole time.

The road between Srinagar and Pahalgam is an excellent one. It is well-tarred, broad, and really a pleasure to drive on, except for the part in and around Anantnag.

On the other hand, the road between Pahalgam and Chandanwari is a narrow one and also very steep. It is tarred and good in condition but the narrow turns and twists can make the drive tricky at a few spots.


Vargis Khan

Staff member
Chandanwari, as I mentioned, is the starting point of the Amarnath trek and different signs of it can be seen throughout the journey. The Yatra takes place in the months of July and that is when this place really comes alive with devotees and other visitors.

In September, it all seemed deserted. There was hardly anyone around except for a handful of tourists. Even the majority of the tourists return to Pahalgam from Betaab Valley and only a few go all the way to Chandanwari.

We did not take any breaks on the way and after a non-stop drive of about 20 minutes, we reached Chandanwari. The series of disappointments in Pahalgam continued here as well.

So let’s first talk a little about Chandanwari and let me elaborate on why I said there is nothing here. When you read anywhere on the web or if you search places to visit in Pahalgam, the name Chandanwari will always come on the top.

It is one of the two starting points of the Amarnath Trek, the other being Baltal near Sonamarg. If you want to start the trek from the Pahalgam side, you will drive up to Chandanwari, start trekking, visit Amarnath Cave, and end the trek at Baltal. Or you can do it the other way around, start from Baltal and end at Chandanwari.

So the point where the road ends is marked by a few tea stalls and dhabas. I am sure that this area must be very crowded in the months of June and July but after the Yatra gets over, it all just looks very deserted.

Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that the place is not scenic because it actually is. It is just that after reading all the other articles on the web, my expectation I think was incorrect.

I was expecting it to be a valley or a meadow, like Gulmarg, Yusmarg, or Doodhpathri. But when the road abruptly ended at a few dhabas in the middle of nowhere, the only question I had in my mind was, “Is that it?”


Vargis Khan

Staff member
The distane between Betaab Valley and Chandanwari is 8 kilometers. This journey, in my opinion, is an even better experience than Chandanwari itself.

There are a few spots on the way that give an amazing view of the entire valley, thick forests, snow-capped mountains in the backdrop with Lidder River flowing down through the middle of it all.

Nonetheless, coming back to the story, we parked our car and stepped out. As expected, we were immediately surrounded by pony owners and the so-called guides. For the next 10 minutes, we were continuously followed and repeatedly asked for hiring a pony and go for a sightseeing tour.

Some offered us a 6-point tour, others a 10-point tour, and a few of them wanted to take us to a waterfall. I already knew that all this sightseeing will be nothing but a pony ride through the jungle and that will pretty much be it.

So they kept asking and we humbly kept refusing. After 10 minutes, they left us alone and we found shelter in a tea shop. The disappointment was visible on all four of our faces, even though I was the only one who was vocal about it.

I think other than the place itself, it was the extreme heat and the harsh sun that was not letting us enjoy the journey properly. I ordered a cup of tea while the other three immediately asked for cold drinks.

Pony riding and photography are possibly the only two activities that you can do at Chandanwari. There is a small waterfall in the jungle somewhere nearby that the pony owners can take you to. I have never been there so I cannot comment on how big or small that waterfall is.

The road ends near the Dhabas but you can actually walk a little further to the river. Then along the river, you will see a set of steps going up which is where the trek starts.

If you were feeling adventurous and wanted to explore a bit more, you can trek a little further up. We were in no mood of walking up the hill in such heat. So we just clicked a few pictures and returned from that point.


Vargis Khan

Staff member
We spent about 45 minutes in Chandanwari and not much happened. Shoaib, for most of the time, was just sitting in the tea shop, refusing to come out. Maddy and I explored a bit more and clicked some pictures. Gunjit was more interested in what all the Dhabas were offering to eat.

The only incident worth mentioning was when Gunjit ordered a cup of tea. The stall owner asked him if he wanted a regular tea or a Kashmiri tea. Gunjit did not know what Kashmiri tea was and he inquired about it.

The Tea-stall guy just replied saying that he will know only after he has had a cup of it. So Gunjit, excited to find out more, ordered a cup of Kashmiri tea.

I knew what was going to happen because the same thing happened to me in Doodhpathri during my first trip to Kashmir. I was asked to try Kashmiri tea and it just turned out to be a salty one. Yes, the Kashmiri version of tea has no sugar in it but salt instead. I really have no idea how they manage to push it down their throats.

Anyway, I kept quiet and said nothing. I just wanted to see Gunjit’s reaction which really was an amazing one. The poor guy said nothing but the very expression on his face was enough to make it clear that he hated it.

On the other hand, the tea-stall owner kept looking in his direction asking how it was. So he really had no choice but to actually drink it all and show his fake appreciation of it smiling, no matter how much he hated it.

After spending some time at Chandanwadi, we started our journey back. I was praying for the car to not give any starting trouble as it did in Betaab Valley and thankfully, it did not.

We took a couple of breaks in between but could not really enjoy the views properly because of the heat and the sun. After a slow drive of about an hour, we reached back at our hotel in Pahalgam.






Vargis Khan

Staff member
Not much really happened after that. The hotel we were staying at was right next to River Lidder. We found a spot from where we could reach a large rock right in the river.

We all climbed up the rock one by one and that is where we stayed until the sun went down, eating and chit-chatting.


Vargis Khan

Staff member
Now, this is when the plan started to change. We were scheduled to stay in Pahalgam for the next two days, Sunday and Monday, and go back to Srinagar on Tuesday. But there was nothing to do. None of us liked Pahalgam that much and even if we stayed there, we would just be sitting inside the hotel.

The only two places left to see were Aru Valley and Baisaran Valley, both of which could be covered in a matter of few hours from Pahalgam. The golf course was within a walking distance from our hotel. Another place to visit in Pahalgam is the amusement park but neither of us was interested in visiting that.

We all talked about what to do while sitting on the rock in the river. The unanimous decision was to go back to Srinagar the next day and then go to Gulmarg on Monday. Shoaib suggested it and the rest immediately agreed.

After it got a bit dark, I picked up my camera and tripod and went looking for a spot to get some long exposure shots of the river. I walked through a patch of grass that was bit wet and slippery. I could see the water flowing down through that area and walked through it very carefully.

Finally, I found a spot to get some pictures and clicked a few of them, like the ones below.



Vargis Khan

Staff member
Now while going back, it was completely dark and I forgot about the slippery area in the grass. What happened next I guess was inevitable. A few steps later, I slipped found myself flat on my back, in the mud and the grass.

The staff from the hotel and my friends rushed to my aid. It was not a terrible fall, just a slip so I was not hurt at all. My camera however went down with me in the mud and got covered in it entirely. The lens, viewfinder, screen, buttons, nothing was spared. There was mud in everything.

So the next hour or so was spent cleaning the camera. No matter how hard I tried, I could not really get rid of the mud entirely. It was only after I came back to Delhi and got it serviced is when it was completely clean.

We were up till late that evening. We were the only guests in the hotel so the hotel staff also joined us at the dinner table for food and gossip. Talks were made, and stories were told almost midnight. It was only after 11 pm that we all finally decided to retire and called it a day.

The plan for the next day was to visit Aru Valley and Baisaran Valley.