When most of us plan a tour we either go for a package to a destination or book the flight tickets and hotels in advance and then hire taxi or cab services at the destination.
Most of the packages to Kashmir also have similar inclusions i.e. Accommodation inclusive of breakfast and dinner, sight-seeing and airport transfers in a comfortable vehicle based on your requirement and most even have an overnight stay in a houseboat on the Dal Lake. As a traveler, one can easily assume that covers almost everything apart from Airfares, Lunch and some entry/toll fees at the locations.
Such a package can cost you minimum 15000 per head exclusive of the airfares for a 5 days trip covering Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam.
Below are some expenses you need to plan in advance so you are not taken by surprise on your trip–
• Entry to each garden in Srinagar is around Rs. 24 per adult. There might be around 5-6 gardens you visit but this amount will still be manageable.
• Everyone dreams of the Shikara (boat) rides on the Dal lake. Minimum Rs. 500/hour is the charges for a shikara ride. Around 4 adults can sit in a single shikara. For 2 hours it may cost around Rs. 800. Many even crave again for a shikara ride before their return journey, so plan for it as well.
• You may feel the necessity to have a guide in Gulmarg mainly for bargaining at most places. Mind you this is the costliest location in Kashmir owing to the number of activities available here and one would not want to miss them. A guide in Gulmarg can be available at as less as Rs. 600 and will be with you for the whole day.
• Gulmarg is famous for its highest Gondola rides (cable car rides) in the world. There are 2 phases to this ride and the ticket counters are only at the starting point, so one must decide in advance whether they want to cover both the phases and its worth going to Phase 2.
Phase 1 rate – 750 per adult
Phase 2 rate (it also includes phase1) – Rs. 1750 per adult
Each Gondola can accommodate upto 6 adults and they try to fill all the Gondolas with maximum capacity due to the rush. There is a queue for getting these tickets but it’s easier if you have an accompanying guide who can get it faster for you. The ticket counters are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Note – We travelled in end of April, when there was hardly any snow in Phase 1, so going to Phase 2 was worth it.
• One will definitely need the following accessories to go to phase 2 i.e. Snow boots, jackets and goggles (the snow reflects a lot making it difficult to see around). Boots and Jackets can be rented at Rs.250 per head and goggles (Rs.100 per head) you need to buy if you have forgotten yours like I had. Else please remember to carry your own and the ones bought here look funny and they are too colorful to even use later.
You will also need these if you go only to phase 1 when its covered in snow based on the season you choose to travel.
• At Gulmarg, Phase 2 there are vendors who will frequently pursue you to take the sledge rides (note- sledges are pulled by humans only) which cost around 400 per head and the skiing expedition will take you at the highest point and show you the LOC very close. This adventure to the top may cost you upto Rs.3000 per head (owing to your bargaining skills).
Personal experience is Sledge ride is fun, Skiing can be skipped because you do not get to ski alone. You stand behind a skiing expert just holding him while he takes you around. Also the younger tourists can still do it for adventure as its scary at times since you are at a steep height and they ski you through the edges of the mountain where it is very difficult to even fix your foot to stand. It is not advisable for the old and kids even though the vendors may persuade you for their business.
• One expense that can be totally avoided is taking the pony ride in Gulmarg. Its walkable up to the Gondola Ticket counter and it’s not a good idea to go on a pony until phase 1 through the uneven mountain routes. Also one cannot go to phase 2 on a pony as it is very steep and snowy. It is definitely time consuming as well. Do not go for the ATV mountain bikes either, as it’s a walkable route unless you are going in winters when the snow starts from the foot of the mountain and you want a to experience these. ATV bikes cost around Rs.400 per hour.
• In Sonmarg, one has to choose out of two options. Either you take a jeep ride to ‘Zero point’ as they will not allow your vehicle beyond a certain point. But they can ask for a whooping Rs.9000 for each jeep. It’s a good deal only if you are in a large group. Another option is that of a pony ride to the glacier. The pony tour will take you through lovely meadows crossing a river bridge. At the glacier, there are sledges for having fun, but can be very well avoided if already done in Gulmarg which stands out to be a better experience. Here you can bargain for the pony ride upto Rs. 800 per head.
• In Pahalgam as well, once your vehicle drops you at the parking, to see anything beyond that point i.e. to go up to the mountain, one needs to take the pony rides. Based on the places you select; the rates may differ. But here the rates are fixed. There are options to visit Baisaran, kashmir valley, Dabian valley and Kanimarg. The pony rides to these locations may range from somewhere between Rs. 600 to 1200 per head. The best location in Pahalgam is the Tulian Lake which is at a height of 12000 ft. and is visible only in the period of July-September i.e. in summers, other times its frozen. Tulian lake pony ride will cost around 3000 per head.
• Apart from all these sightseeing and activities, one will definitely want to indulge is the awesome local cuisines and restaurants here may cost you similar to any metros. Do keep some budget aside for shopping shawls, clothes, artifacts unique to Kashmir but be aware of fake products. Anything told as Pashmina is not one, they try to fool people. Listen to guides if they have accompanied you. Do not miss taking home lots of dry fruits, saffron products, Himalayan garlic and rock salt which are very cheap and tastier here.
One common observation is, in most locations there are unions of Pony owners who do not allow vehicles after a certain point and force you to take a pony even though some part of the route may be motor able or even walkable. Older tourists must definitely think twice before these pony rides based on your fitness level as most routes are uneven although they try to convince they are smooth rides. It would be much better if people could walk their ways to the destination.
A good tip is to visit Kashmir in a group which will help you save a lot. Also keep bargaining where ever possible although its annoying at times when they keep coming behind you creating a chaos.
You can tour Kashmir on a budget as well as have a luxurious experience, so only you decide how much to spend.
Nonetheless, enjoy to the fullest and make the best of your holidays. Happy touring!
**Note: All rates mentioned are as per our tour in April,2018.
If you want to know more about my Kashmir travel experience, check below link -
Kashmir - You will never miss an experience until you have experienced it
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