Experience the unseen Indian Autumn in Kashmir. #bestof2018

29th Oct 2018

Kashmir ka ek Qash

Photo of Experience the unseen Indian Autumn in Kashmir. #bestof2018 by Siddharth Kejriwal

Autumn was one season we have all read about in our Textbooks but never got to witness it in real life since we are a tropical country. On 27th October we stumbled upon a video of J&K Tourism showcasing the beauty of the valley coloured in the shades of Yellow and Orange in the season of Autumn. The next day, we decided to drive up to Kashmir and capture the various shades of the Indian Autumn. Now this decision was particularly challenging due to the prevalence of negative Media Coverage of the state that generated a negative sentiment of the state being unsafe. Almost everyone we asked recommended us not to go for the road-trip. However, as adamant as we were, we actually left for the valley to witness what I'd call the scenes of a lifetime.

Day 1

We drove all the way from Jaipur to Jammu via Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Pathankot. We stayed overnight in Jammu at a friend's place. An all plain pristine road till Jammu.

We drove from Jammu to Srinagar on one of the most tiring drives of my life. We took a total of 13 hours to reach Srinagar due to the One-Way traffic of trucks imposed to make sure the highway functions smoothly. Do not count on Google Maps for the ETA since the traffic on the highway is very precarious and is intermittently riddled by traffic jams. After spending 13 hours in the car we finally reached Srinagar at 10:30 pm which was probably the eeriest part of the trip. The roads were completely empty with army check posts everywhere. We quickly checked in an OYO which we booked while we were on our way and called it a day. I would recommend you to use OYO for your hotel bookings if you're travelling on a budget and the purpose of your stay is just shelter. You can go for other experience valued hotels if you're looking for a comfortable leisure oriented stay.

Photo of Jammu by Siddharth Kejriwal
Day 3

We got up early in the day and embarked for the beautiful Shalimar Bagh. This was our first tryst with the Indian Autumn. Bleeding red leaves on the tall Chinar trees greeted us with an energetic wave. We walked around the garden throwing our camera shutter in a frenzy, reliving the Mughal memories of resplendent natural beauty. This was followed by a visit to Nishat Bagh. While on our way to Nishat, the trees on the roads caught our eye and we jumped out of the car to capture the beautiful yellow leaves gracing the tall trees. I would advice you to not spend too much time at a single garden rather focus on covering Shalimar, Nishat, Naseem Bagh and Kashmir University Campus in a single day. This is specially for those of you visiting the city primarily for photography. These are the best places to witness the fall foliage and you would find something different at every place.

The majestic Shalimar Bagh : A jewel of the Mughal Empire

Photo of Srinagar by Siddharth Kejriwal
Photo of Srinagar by Siddharth Kejriwal

We ended the day by getting into a Shikara around the time of the sunset and gliding through the calm waters of the surreal Dal Lake. I can safely say that it would be an experience of a lifetime. The only audible sound was that of the turbulence of the water created by the rowing. We calmly floated through the Mughal Darwaza built in the centre of the lake and took a U-Turn back. The boat ride lasted for over an hour as we watched the sky change its colour from Golden to Black.

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Siddharth Kejriwal

The Shikara rides are regulated by the government and capped at Rs.500 for an hour. Do not give more than that to the boatmen as they might demand more money from you initially. Dal Lake is humongous and it is impossible to cover the entire lake in a day. Hence, I would advice you to sail at dusk and dawn to witness the lake in all its beauty. We took the Shikara from in front of Nishat Bagh from where the boatman took us through the Mughal Darwaza (as seen in the picture) and brought us back. You can also visit the Char Chinar Bagh located in the middle of the lake on a subsequent boat ride later the next day.

Photo of Experience the unseen Indian Autumn in Kashmir. #bestof2018 by Siddharth Kejriwal

We then booked a Houseboat (which incidentally is available on OYO as well at a good price) for a unique housing experience. I would not recommend a houseboat experience to budget travellers as it might turn out to be a waste of money as there's nothing special with regard to the stay. For those of you looking for a holistic Kashmiri experience, go for it. But rein your hopes as it might turn out to be a not-so-awesome experience.

Mughal Darwaza gracing the Dal Lake.
Day 4

We took a Shikara ride to see the floating market located in the Dal Lake. There were shops located inside the lake with only water as a means to reach. Exactly similar to the Venice experience. These shops were however permanent in nature. What we missed was the actual floating market where hawkers sell fruits, vegetables and other such stuff in Shikaras in the middle of the lake. A nowhere else to be seen sight in the country. Make sure you get up early in the morning and head to the floating market in a Shikara.

The Venice of India - Kashmir

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Siddharth Kejriwal

We embarked towards the great Shanakaracharya Temple located atop a hill. The road to the temple was coloured in kaleidoscope of Yellow and Orange so much so that we skipped the visit to the temple and rather stayed on the road for over 3 hours capturing the phenomenal autumn colours. The Shankaracharya Hill is just perfect for those bokeh filled portraits. This is the place to be if you are looking for those perfect autumn colours in your pictures. There's a check post at the beginning of the route uphill, where they check your license and IDs before allowing you to proceed. Keep them handy, it's just for security purposes.

We left the beautiful capital to experience the tale of Pahalgam. The journey from Srinagar via Avantipur, Brijbehara to Pahalgam. Upon reaching Pahalgam, we left directly for Aru Valley which is 12.5 km from there. The drive to Aru is quite beautiful as you cross the Liddar River twice before you reach there. We made frequent stops on the way to capture the flowing water in the frame of the beautiful landscape. The final point of the valley where the road ends hosts a beautiful villa located in the lap of the spacious valley. That Villa is now a JKTDC Hotel which can be booked through their website. However, due to the non-availability of heating equipment, they denied us shelter.Therefore, after spending an hour shooting the beautiful flowers against the backdrop of the snow capped mountains in the valley, we headed back to Pahalgam where we had already booked a hotel. If you end up landing here in summers, make sure you book your stay here, as this might be a dream of an experience.

Day 5
Your dream house?
The various elements of the landscape

The sublime Aru Valley

Photo of Aru Valley, Pahalgam by Siddharth Kejriwal
Day 6

We were greeted by the snow in the morning. The locals called us the luckiest visitors of the season, since it was the 1st snowfall and there was barely any tourists in Pahalgam. We took a horse ride to Baisaran Valley which is called Mini Switzerland by the locals. They took Rs.2000 for 2 horses and snow boots. However, I'm not sure what a reasonable rate is, but I can safely say that the experience was worth the money as the guide was extremely friendly and patient. It took us an hour and a half on the horse back to reach the snow filled valley. Fresh Snow had coloured the valley white. This was the first time we saw snow and were ecstatic at the sight of it. We played in the virgin snow for a while, made a snowman, took a myriad of pictures and then descended back to Pahalgam. There we spent a while near the Liddar River capturing landscape shots and ended the day with a sumptuous meal at Punjabi Rasoi located in the market. (Best place in Pahalgam for North Indian food).

Long Exposure shot of the beautiful river cascading down the valley in the background of beautiful fall colours.

Them GOT feels.

Photo of Pahalgam by Siddharth Kejriwal

The way up to the Baisaran Valley.

Photo of Pahalgam by Siddharth Kejriwal
Day 7

We ended our dream on Day 7 and left for Delhi from Pahalgam via Anantnag, Verinag and Jammu.

Photo of Delhi, India by Siddharth Kejriwal
Photo of Delhi, India by Siddharth Kejriwal

There are a few things one must keep in mind before heading to the surreal yet troubled valley. The valley is definitely undergoing tumultuous political situation, however, it is completely safe for tourists to travel. The local people for all their practical reasons would not harm the tourists as tourism accounts for their livelihood. Do not let the news scare you from tripping to this amazing state. However, always trust your intuition. If you think something is just not right, do trust your instinct and act prudently. Do not stray away from the main places to visit, do not misbehave with the locals, be friendly and jovial. This was a budget trip taken purely for photography purpose. We ate at Dhabas, stayed at cheap hotels, skipped the famous tourist stops, did not shop, and saved as much money as possible. We drove all the way from Jaipur to Srinagar and back in our personal car. I would definitely recommend a road trip to the mountains only if you've adequate experience of driving on difficult mountain roads. If not, take a flight to Srinagar and rent a cab from there because the roads at times can be really challenging and dangerous.

To whoever planning to visit the valley, visit it in the months of October-November, trust my word, you'll be witnessing a whole new world out there.

Drop a comment for any queries on the trip or simply DM me on my Instagram for personal assistance.