Travel Tips for J&K Tour

The following travel tips are based on the mistakes that we committed during our trip.
Vaishno Devi :
On the Day 1, we took an overnight SPECIAL train from Delhi to go to Jammu. It was special in many ways:The train started from a remote terminal point of Delhi. The old and dirty compartment was specially picked for special travelers like us. And it reached Jammu only 6 hours late! we could see all sorts of passenger trains overtake us on the way. So instead of reacing early morning, we reached by 1pm, almost derailing our Day 1 programme. What is the lesson? DO NOT EVER MAKE YOUR RESERVATION BY A SPECIAL TRAIN.
On the Day 2,we left Katra around 3pm to go uphills to Vaishnav Devi shrine. I was planning to take the helicopter. But to my surprise, we learnt that it had to be booked through internet one month in advance. So, folks do plan in advance if you want to take the helicopter. What are the other alternatives,if you can’t book helicopter? Either walkt it out, if you have the energy and will power like my wife did or take a pony ride like me. One can opt to go half the way by pony and cover the rest by a ‘Battery Car’. Battery car option is available only from half way mark. A pony ride all the way up is literally a pain in the a…(you know where!), unless you have learnt the art of landing smoothly every time the pony gives a JHATKA(Jolt). A pony ride up to the top costs anywhere between 900 to 1200 rupees, depending upon your negotiating power (there are no fixed rates, so tourists are purely at the mercy of the ponies or rather their owners!). One can take a palanquin ride which can cost upwards of 3 to 4 thousand bucks.
At the shrine, two factors delayed us indefinitely – one is the ARATI, which lasts for more than 2 hrs and the queue doesn’t move an inch during those 2 hours. The second unexpected thing was a long line for lockers to keep our belongings(this queue was as long as the queue for Darshan!). The lessons are simple and straightforward. Do book a place for stay at the shrine to keep your personal belongings. Rooms are available from 80 rupees onwards. Also avoid reaching the shrine by ARATI time, which is done twice in a day- 6am to 8am & 6pm to 8pm.
After Darshan by midnight, we started to climb down the shrine by walk. The path is well illuminated and safe as there are a number of fellow pilgrims.
Day 3 onwards, we really wanted to relax, having gone through a strenuous day at Vaishnav Devi. We engaged a taxi for the rest of the 5 days of travel and sightseeing. This will work out cheaper than making day to day arrangements for transport or sightseeing. This is also better than packaged tours. I do not like packaged tours since one cannot enjoy the freedom of making minor or major changes in the programme. In fact we did a couple of interesting detours on the way.

SRINAGAR/ GULMARG/ PAHELGAM:
Don’t make the mistake of booking hotels on phone or internet unless the hotel management is well known to you. Either book through J&K tourism office which is available in major metros or go through a well known travel agency. The hotel descriptions regarding location and facilities could be completely misleading! This happened at two places for us – PAHELGAM & SRINAGAR. Srinagar Hotel booking turned out to be the worst of the lot. It was booked in a busy locality full of traffic all around with no place to park anywhere. Luckily for us we didn’t pay the full money and managed to wriggle out of the deal. And we were equally lucky to find an alternative decent place to stay! Later we came to know that the hotel booked for us is close to a notorios place in Srinagar called LAL CHOWK. In case you do not know, Lal Chowk in Srinagar is like Charminar area of Old Hyderabad where all communal riots start! So, it pays to know in advance that you are booked in a reasonably safe place. Mind you, wriggling out of such deals is not easy at all considering that you are in a completely strange place surrounded by complete strangers. It’s a security risk!
In Pahelgam there is a strong union of local taxis and they don’t allow outside taxis to be used for local sightseeing. Only personal cars are allowed to go around Pahalgam.
Now let me turn to Gulmarg, which is a great tourist attraction. On the day we planned our trip to Gulmatg,there was unprecedented rush for buying tickets. And the queue for boarding GANDOLA or the Cable car was also quite long. One is better off buying a ticket on internet which can be validated in a special counter where the queue is limited. Do not make the mistake of approaching touts(masquerading as guides) for tickets; they could charge you a high premium and you should consider yourself lucky if the guy doesn’t disappear with your money(in fact I found one couple desperately searching for the guy who took money for buying tickets). The queue for boarding Gandola was deliberately mismanaged as people managed to break queue through the so called Guides. The guards overseeing the queue turned a blind eye to tourists breaking the queue. It appeared that the guadrs were bribed by the guides.
Go well prepared with warm clothings, windsheeter and good shoes to walk on icy tops of Gulmarg. Other wise you will be forced to rent them at an exhorbitent cost.
It’s unfortunate that such a popular tourist spot is completely mismanaged.

Finally about food. In Kashmir(Srinagar/pahelgam or Gulmarg) be prepared to fool around a bit for choosing a right place to eat. Kashmiris are basically non-vegetarians and therefore finding a good vegetarian place is difficult and needs patience. For breakfast be prepared to eat nothing other than Parotas. Kashmiri Hotels make a variety of very tasty Parotas stuffed with potatos, cauliflower, radish and so on.

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Published in: on May 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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