In summer, it is the perfect retreat from the sweltering heat. In winter, it is a snowy wonderland. There’s no wrong season to explore the breathtaking landscape of the many beautiful places in Kashmir. Time is the only thing you need on your side. Ironically, time is a luxury many of us do not have. But that shouldn’t hold you back from planning a trip. If you’ve got just a handful of days to spare, this Srinagar to Pahalgam itinerary will set you up for a memorable trip:
Day 1: Srinagar to Pahalgam
Arrive in Srinagar on an early morning flight, hire a taxi for your Srinagar to Pahalgam journey at the airport itself and head off straight to the Valley of Shepherd. It’s a two-hour journey from Srinagar to Pahalgam, so you should be at your destination by lunch.
Treat yourself to a hearty meal, get some rest.
Head out to Aru Valley at around 4 in the evening. The distance is just about 16 km but it takes nearly 40 minutes to get there, given the hilly terrain and narrow roads. Taxis are available at the town’s main market and many hotels in Pahalgam even arrange these for you on request. There isn’t much to do at Aru Valley, except marvel at the beautiful bounties of nature.
You’ll find many pony handlers at the entry point, coaxing you to hire a ride. I recommend you give it a miss and just walk around for as far and long as you like. We had the most fun on the short pit stops we made along the way, stopping by an open field or a gushing stream. Although, getting the taxi drivers to agree to stop time and again can be a bit of a struggle.
Return to Pahalgam by about 6.30, spend some time strolling about, visiting the town’s many parks, especially the Lavender Park, and wrap up your day by spending some time on the banks of Lidder River.
Day 2: Baisaran-Betaab Valley-Chandanwari or Baisaran-Tulian Lake
Start your day early, and head out to Baisaran. You have to have a local guide with you, but if your health permits, I recommend ditching the pony ride and trekking your way up.
Once again, there isn’t a lot to do at Baisaran but the meadow surrounded by snow-capped mountains and thick pine cover deserves a visit for its sheer beauty. An hour is a generous amount of time to explore the place.
If you are taking the more mainstream Betaab Valley-Chandanwari route, take a short break upon your return to Pahalgam with coffee and snacks at the Cafe Log Inn, if it’s still early in the day, or lunch at Trout beat, and head out to your next destination.
Chandanwari is just about as far as Aru Valley and Betaab Valley falls en route. It makes sense to travel to Chandanwari first, so you have ample time to explore the different attractions and activities such as snow sledging. If you are travelling with family or a large group, you can even have a fun picnic here.
Make a quick stop at Betaab Valley on your way back. It’s not very different from Aru Valley and the general landscape of this area. Spend a relaxing evening in your hotel room and wind up the day with a sumptuous Kashmiri meal at Pahalgam Hotel or Food Point Restaurant.
If you are going the Baisaran-Tulian Lake way for your Pahalgam sightseeing itinerary, be prepared for an early rise, for you have to start your trek at 6 in the morning. Take a short, much-needed break at Baisaran, explore the place and have breakfast (the stalls at the meadow may not be open early in the morning, so it’s advisable to carry your own) and march on to Tulian Lake.
It’s quite an arduous journey, especially if you don’t have much experience in trekking, but the view at the top is worth every aching muscle in your body – a freshwater lake with dense green waters, partially frozen, at the foothills of towering mountains, and untouched by influx of tourists. It is almost other-worldly.
You’ll touch down at Pahalgam around 6 pm, and in all likelihood, won’t have the energy for much else, except for a good dinner. If you’d still like to check out Chandanwari and Betaab Valley, slot it for early next morning, provided you are up starting another outing at daybreak.
Day 3: Pahalgam to Srinagar
If weather permits, two days are more than generous to wrap up your Pahalgam exploration. Start for Srinagar after an early breakfast, so that you have time to explore the city.
All the major attractions are located around the Boulevard road, so that’s where you should be headed. A shikara ride at Dal Lake, a trip to Mughal Gardens and Pari Mahal are some of the top things to do here and you can slot them as per your preference. A visit to the Tulip Garden is highly recommended if your visit coincides with the blooming season.
Unless you are deeply religious, I’d suggest giving the Shankaracharya temple a miss.
Do make time for a meal at Ahdoos Restaurant.
If you are up for splurging on an overnight stay, head out to Vivanta by Taj Srinagar without a moment’s hesitation. Alternatively, you can also turn your stay experiential by choosing a houseboat. However, check out these boats before finalising your booking because far too many of these docked way too close together and do not offer the kind of splendid view you expect from a houseboat stay. There are few that are spread out at a generous distance and these are the ones you should be aiming for.
Day 4: Head Back Home
Prepare to head back home, nursing a holiday hangover that will linger on for quite a while.