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Valleys of the Gods:Kashmir, Ladakh and Kulu

Valleys of the Gods:Kashmir, Ladakh and Kulu

Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere?’ suggests the poet. The Mughal emperors certainly had—each one that left this cool valley of mountain charm to go empire-founding forever dreamt of going back. To the far north of India is a land of  sparkling rivers and placid lakes, flowery gardens and saffron meadows, deep …

Review Overview

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Summary : North of India is a land of sparkling rivers and placid lakes, flowery gardens and saffron meadows, deep vaIleys of emerald green and soaring mountains of snow-capped splendour.

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Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere?’ suggests the poet. The Mughal emperors certainly had—each one that left this cool valley of mountain charm to go empire-founding forever dreamt of going back. To the far north of India is a land of  sparkling rivers and placid lakes, flowery gardens and saffron meadows, deep vaIleys of emerald green and soaring mountains of snow-capped splendour. Two autiful states, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, provide a rich selection of sports and activities (hiking, trekking, fishing, boating and skiing) together with the very best climate and natural scenery that India can provide. The people, a colourful friendly mix of hookah-smoking Muslims, Tibetan refugees and festival-loving hill 1k, produce some of the finest handicrafts in India. If you’ve time or money enough r just one shopping spree, look no further.

Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, has mirror-calm Dal Lake, a backdrop of Himalayan peaks, Mughal gardens and mosques—and, of course, carpets. Within easy striking distance is Gulmarg, famous ‘Meadow of Flowers’, summer golfing centre and popular winter sports resort; also Pahalgam, a place of great natural beauty at the head of the Kashmir vale, with pony-trekking, fishing, and many scenic walks. Though the flower season is mid-March, the meadows of Pahalgam and glmarg are at their finest in June. Beyond the Kashmir valley lies Ladakh, a miniature Tibet of insurmountable mountains, rich art treasures, exotic dance festivals, and ancient monasteries carved into the hillsides. Situated at the roof of the World, its flat lunar landscape and wild, unearthly scenery offers spectacular photogaphy.

Down in the cool river valleys of Himachal Pradesh, there is severe )harmsala, present home of the Dalai Lama, with lovely walks, cheap handicrafts, and authentic Tibetan atmosphere. Manali, at the head of the Kulu Valley or Valley off the Gods, is a hill resort of rare charm. It is a popular trekking base with direct access to the snow-clad Rohtang Pass. Nearby Kulu, the quiet hill-town after which he valley is named, is host to Lord Jagannath (honoured by a vivid annual festival), ands produces famous woollen handicrafts. Shimla, by contrast, is a lively, very British hill station resort, a place to enjoy scenic walks and, maybe, to hark back to the Raj. Since late 1989, a popular movement demanding independence from India has grown stronger in the Kashmir Valley. Backed by various militant groups, the movement has disrupted daily life and restricted movement in the valley. Consequently the 70% of the population who were in one way or the other directly related to the tourism and handicraft industries are now experiencing a major slump. The level of tourism in 1991 was almost nil and in 1992 only slightly better. At present travel to Srinagar and into the valley is not recomended but one hopes the situation will improve quickly.

Season: April to October (summer); December to February (winter).
Monsoons: July to September.
Climate: 14° to 33°C (summer); 0° to 15°C (winter).
Route duration: 10-20 days.

TRAVEL ITINERARY
At the time of writing, the political situation in the Kashmir Valley makes travel to Srinagar difficult, if not unwise. However, travel to the areas on the itinerary is no affected.

Delhi to Srinagar 880 km (550 miles)
Air Indian Airlines offers at least one flight daily (Rs1894). Views from the air an spectacular, making this option very attractive. It is essential, however, to book.

Rail/Road There are 3/4 trains daily to Jammu Tawi (the Jammu Mail, 12-13 hours, is bee but be careful of theft at Old Delhi station); then bus up to Srinagar (10/12 hour by luxury/ordinary bus; 8 hours by nippy super-deluxe minibus). Buses shoul be booked immediately on arrival in Jammu from the J K State Transport Officer , behind the Tourist Reception Centre. Jeeps can also be hired in Jammu. At presen” it is unlikely the security forces would allow tourists to travel between Jamie and Srinagar although the road is open to the military and convoys of domestic traffic under escort.

Srinagar to Leh 434 km (271 miles)
Air Indian Airlines have in recent years operated 3 flights a week (Tues, Wed, Fri) on 1C429 (Rs663) but in autumn of 1992 suspended them due to lack of bookings cause by the disturbances in the state. It is possible that one weekly flight mightcontinue to operate. Book well in advance, and be prepared for delays/cancellations-planer can only land in Leh in the morning, and when the weather is fine. From Novembers through to late May, an average of one in every three flights is cancelled. The same S a m goes for flights back to Srinagar—so reconfirm your return leg (at Indian Airline office in Srinagar) before flying out.

The half-hour flight from Srinagar to Leh offers stunning mountain scenery book a seat on the right-hand side of the plane, and look out for the Nun and Kun peaks (K2 is to the left of the plane). At Leh airport, it’s a Rs60 jeep ride into tow 8 km (5 miles) away.

Road The Leh-Srinagar National Highway is officially open from mid-May to la b October—though weather conditions can hasten or delay the opening date. The journey takes two days, and the overnight stop is made at Kargil. Nowadays buses from Srinagar are rarely full but it is advisable to book a few days ahead at the Tourist Reception Centre in town. Jeeps take up to 6 people, and cost around US$250. They are a far more comfortable option. Since the problems in Kashmir began, people wishing to visit Ladakh by road do so along the Manali-Leh road, which is open from late-July to mid-September .

Srinagar to Jammu 290 km (180 miles)
Air At least one flight daily (Rs543), continuing on from Jammu to Chandigarh and Delhi. Again, because of glorious Himalayan views and because of the current security problems , this flight is heavily subscribed.

Road  State buses leave early each morning—ordinary-class and luxury-class (best). One of the great Indian bus journeys: 10-14 hours of stunning scenery, perilous roads, and autonis ing road-signs. It is necessary to book at the Tourist Reception Centre, as noon as you arrive in Srinagar.

jammu to Dharmsala 203 km (127 miles)
Road Two direct buses daily—at 5 am and 6.10 am (5/6 hours). They roar out of Jammu hits-star d like crazed juggernauts, ignoring ‘Dashing means Danger’ road-signs, and upsetting passengers horribly.

jammu also has regular buses to Pathankot (2 hours), from where you can jump off to Dharmsala (half-hourly buses from 4.40 am to 7.30 pm take 3 hours); to pal housie (regular buses throughout the day travel the 80 km (50 miles) or to kulu/Manali (buses at 4.45 am, 7 am, 8 am, 6.30 pm 7.30 pm; take 10-12 hours). If you mis all these buses, and are faced with an overnight stay in Pathankot (an awful prospect ), consider the fast 6.33 pm and 11.25 pm trains back to Delhi. There are regular buses linking Dalhousie with Dharmsala.

Darmsala to Kulu 214 km (132 miles)
Road Two daily—at 5.15 am and 11 am. The earlier bus is a slow ‘local’, taking 10 hours. m bus zips to Kulu in just 7 hours, and continues on to Manali (9 1/2 hours).

Kulu  to Manali 42 km (26 miles)
Road Very regulr buses from 3.30 am to 11 pm take 1-2 hours. The scenery is beautiful, nod road signs fun—’Peep! Peep! Don’t go to Sleep!’. Taxis ferry between Kulu and Manali and are orth considering for a group.

Manali to Shimla 247 km (154 miles)
Road/Air Bus/taxi to airport (50 km), then Vayudoot flight PF148 (Tuesday, Thursday, saturday only (Rs545) to Jubbarhatti airport, 20 km (12 1/2 miles) below Shimla. Jagson Airlines also flights most days of the week between Delhi, Kulu and Shimla. c hoice of airport coach or taxi up to the Tourist Lift on Shimla’s Cart Rd.

Road One express bus daily—at 8 am (9 hours). Buy tickets in advance, from the tourist office.

Shimla to Delhi 354 km (220 miles)
Air  One flight daily—PF144 (Rs1637). Book tickets from Vayudoot desk at Shimla tourist office. Jagson Airlines have flights to Delhi most days.

Rail The charming narrow-gauge toy train leaves Shimla’s station at 5.30 pm daily, hanging on to broad gauge at Kalka at 11.30 pm, arriving Delhi 6 am next morning. r(2tesa4ertv eh yloooeuura crossmtfy 2nd-clasleper berth on this train, aply aIdvance) tno the Northern Railway ofice, below the post ofice on Mal. This is the only rail reservation place in India where I’ve been offered a cup of tea with my ticket.

Road several state and luxury coaches to Delhi daily—bookable from the tourist office or the Hotel Mayur. The best option is the 6.30 pm luxury bus (9 hours from the interstate bus-stand on Cart Rd.) It’s quicker and cheaper than the train, but a much less enjoyable experience.

CONTINUATIONS  Other hill resorts in Himachal include the quiet town of Dalhousie with its tnoewignhsb ofu rKinhgajiar and Chamba. In central Himachal Pradesh there are villages and small towns such as Chail which are worth visiting for greater peace An one can now experience in Shimla. If you want to stay in the cool, clear mountains, continue on from Delhi to Bagdogra (10489 daily, Rs2406) for Darjeeling.

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