Because of the long and dangerous land journey into Kashmir (including Srinagar), the safest and easiest way to reach Srinagar is by plane. There are many flights from Delhi to Srinagar (about 2 hours one way) with airlines such as Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Indian Airlines and Sahara Airlines.
Because of the situation in Kashmir, security is extremely tight when you fly from Delhi to Kashmir. When you are at the Delhi airport, do take note of the followings:
- No cameras, batteries etc are allowed on hand-carried luggages (which has to be as little as possible). These have to be in the check-in luggages. Obviously, dangerous objects are not allowed too.
- Before loading the check-in luggages onto the plane, the airline will lay them all out in a designated area and you are supposed to identify which ones are your luggages (there will be an annoucement at the airport for you to do so). If you do not identify your luggages, they will not be loaded onto the plane (so this is very important).
Please go to part 2 of this tip for more information.
During the flight from Delhi to Srinagar, try to get seats on the right hand side of the plane. This is because the plane will fly over the Himalayan Mountains on the ride side, and on a clear day you will see the beautiful snow-capped mountains all the way to the horizon. If you are sharp enough, you will notice that there are two high peaks at a distance among smaller peaks. They are the peaks of Nun-kun (more than 7000 metres), which is the highest mountain in Kashmir.
However because no cameras and batteries are allowed on hand-carry, I was unable to take any photographs but I can tell you the views are spectacular.
When you are about to land in Srinagar airport, you will notice that it is actually a huge military base with an airport. There are soldiers with guns patrolling the ground and they will give you the direction to enter the airport. Once inside, you need to fill up an entry form (including personal information, your accomodation, tour company in Srinagar etc). The staff and soldiers at the airport are friendly and you can ask them for information if not sure).
When departing from Srinagar back to Delhi by air, there are several security checks before you reach the plane. About 1km from the airport, there is a road-block and station where you need to unload your luggages and go through the security scan. Once you reach the airport, only passengers are allowed to enter followed by 2-3 security scans before you reach the waiting area. Before you board the plane, there is one last security scan at a building near to where the planes are parked.
Just like before, no cameras, batteries etc are allowed to be hand-carried (they must be in the check-in luggages, hand-carried items must be kept to a minimum). Also, you are not allowed to take photographs of the airport and surrounding military installations. Before loading the check-in luggages onto the plane, the airline will lay them all out in a designated area and you are supposed to identify which ones are your luggages (there will be an annoucement at the airport for you to do so). If you do not identify your luggages, they will not be loaded onto the plane (so this is very important).
Overall, the security is very tight which is not surprising. This may be troublesome, but it ensures your safety and security. Also, the soldiers and staff are very friendly even though they are doing their jobs.
One of the highlights of a trip to Srinagar must surely be taking a leisurely ride on a Shikara (traditional boat) on Dal Lake to admire the scenery of the lake, mountains, houseboats and surrounding areas. These Shikaras are hand-made, colourful and have very comfotable seats (in fact you can even sleep on it).
In a way, the Shikaras are like to gondolas of Venice (each has its own charms) and a visit to Srinagar will not be complete without riding on one). More photographs of the Shikaras are at the travelogue section of this VT page.
One of the activities you must really do in Srinagar is take a leisurely boat cruise on-board a Shikara (traditional boat) along Dal Lake. The entire cruise will take several hours, and you will pass by many traditional houseboats with great views of the mountains. You will also see other wooden boats on the lake with people going on with their daily life, traditional houses by the lake, floating farms, gardens etc etc.
This cruise is extremely relaxing, and my wife and I enjoyed it very much (even though I was having a gastric flu during that time). It is also very romantic (similar to a gondola ride in Venice).
There are only two ways now that takes you to Srinagar the first and the choice of the affording class is by air and the other is by road. The flight from New Delhi takes about 1.45 hrs to Srinagar. It offers breathtaking views from air. You can see The Greater Himalayas or The Pir Panjal range for nearly an hour or so. Try to take the window seat in case you are interested to take pictures.
The fare to Srinagar depends on when you buy the tickets ranging from Rs.6000/- ( US$120) to Rs.10000/- US$200 depending on day of purchase one way! Now there are almost 8-10 flights a day operated by various Indian airlines, like Air India, Indian, Spicejet, Goair, Kingfisher, Indigo.
It takes about 10 hrs to reach Srinagar from Jammu. The road is beautiful , smooth and hassle free as it's being maintained by BRO ( Border Road Organisation) the road wing of Indian army. Now there are several bus options available for travel to Srinagar. Right from Air conditioned Volvo buses to taxis that go to Srinagar and back. You also get non air conditioned ordinary buses at cheap fare.
The fare ranges from Rs.300/- to Rs.1000/-( For Volvo buses) per person in a bus. You can also hire a taxi from Jammu to Srinagar.
Kashmir is now a safe tourist destination and is likely to see more visits from independent travelers. So here are some notes on transportation, particularly on public transportation in Kashmir and Srinagar.
1) The options are - full hire taxis, shared taxis, buses, mini-buses, auto-rickshaws
2) Avoid full hire taxis - they are very expensive and the guy will most lkely attempt to rip you off. If you must, make sure you firmly fix the fare and clarify if it includes any toll taxes or other extra charges.
3) Shared taxis run for important cities such as Anantnag and Gulmarg from Batamaloo stand and from the taxi stand near the Tourist Reception Centre. They have a fixed price and you feel safe having people for company. 8-10 persons typically occupy one taxi (which is generally of the make Tata Sumo.....pronounce Somu by the locals for some reason). The driver may often wait for 15-30 mins till the taxi fills up.
4) Buses - these are govt run buses for within the city and outside of the city to other major cities. For out of city travel the schedules are erratic and infrequent.
5) Mini-buses - run by private operators - best for travel within the city. Also a good bet if you are unable to find a shared taxi. In the interiors of kashmir this is the best mode of transport.
6) Auto-ricks - suitable for short quick reasonably cost-effective travel within the city.
Whether it's a bus or car everyone seems to be on a mad dash on the national highways. People are overtaking one another on turns... on a one lane two-way highway... next to cliff sides. This unsurprisingly causes traffic jams which causes the army to rush in and clear. And somehow the hour long jams are often in avalanche marked zones.
So if you rent your own car tell the driver to go slow, of course, but just ask around to know when the current rush hour is (it changes with the months) and change your plans. Cut a trip short if you have to, like I did :(
You will most likely have to go through the Jawahar tunnel (or Banihal Pass) a few hours before you exit or enter Srinagar. Enjoy it. This could be a welcome distraction on the long 13.5 hour road trip if you're coming from Jammu Tawi.
Built in 1956 it is 2.2km above sea level and 2.8km long. Well, there are two of them, one for each way. It goes through the Pir Panjal mountain range and is the main way to enter Kashmir by road today, until they build the rail line in a few years... or so they say. The funniest thing is how all your noisiest of co-passengers suddenly fall silent all through the 2+ minutes your bus is driving inside! Maybe because you cannot see anyone's face since the sporadic arc lamps inside are not enough.
It might sound weird but even the local buses are quite nice here. Nice in the sense that there is no shoving, men let women take their seats, nobody stares at women and gives them plenty of room, and the best -- nobody smells! Really. I know it sounds daft to mention but you're not forced to stick your head out the window, even in kind of tight situations the local passengers don't smell. So in this way these buses are better than the MUNI buses in San Francisco!! That is a huge plus for me and permitted me to use them to get around sometimes, like esp. from Boulevard to the Mughal Gardens or at night when it might be harder to find a taxi. Also, you often get to meet interesting friendly locals that way and share a chat; or get invited to their home for dinner :p (no really, ask my mom).
If you get bored witless on your 13+ hour trip to Srinagar from Jammu Tawi, why not read some of the signs along the road admonishing reckless drivers. Like these real signs:
Life is a journey. Complete it.
Life is short, don't make it shorter.
This is a highway, not runway.
If married, divorce speed.
Heed heed, don't go to sleep.
The main local transportation comes in the form of motorised three-wheeled "taxis" (see photograph) but we did not try them because we had our own four-wheel drive and driver.