Kashmir by Rail
Kashmir is one of India's most beautiful regions, and arguably a must-visit for any tourist desirous of truly experiencing India. As of 2013, Kashmir recorded around 11,60,000 tourists, and this figure is expected to increase in 2014.
However, unless you can afford to fly directly into Srinagar, heading into the Valley can be rather cumbersome. As of now, you cannot take a train to Srinagar directly from Delhi, Jammu or the hinterland. As such, travellers heading to Srinagar either take a direct bus from Delhi (a 24 hour journey!) or head to Jammu by bus/train and then transit to Srinagar - 280 km (7-9 hours) away - by bus or shared taxi. Both options are less than thrilling - the morning JKSRTC (Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation) bus cannot be reserved online and can be erratic (I speak from personal experience), and share taxis (Rs. 500-600 per passenger) are excruciatingly uncomfortable, with operators cramming as many as eight passengers into an SUV that is ideally designed to carry five. While the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) must be lauded for constructing and maintaining the highway from Jammu to Srinagar in extremely challenging conditions, it must also be said that some sections of the road are extremely narrow and in poor condition - traffic jams are fairly common.
However, there is an option that uses the existing rail network and allows you to significantly reduce the distance you'll need to travel by road between Jammu and Srinagar from 280 km to just 130 km. This article discusses that and provides you with the information you need to plan a hassle-free trip into the Valley.
While direct trains to Srinagar from Jammu aren't expected to ply till 2017 - when the ambitious Kashmir railway project is fully completed - parts of the line are already open, and you can use these sectors to shorten your overall commute time. As of now, trains run upto Udhampur, 55 km northeast from Jammu (and further to Katra, but heading to Katra will not help the Srinagar-bound traveller). Trains also run on a 138 km route in the Valley - from Banihal (130 km north of Udhampur) to Baramulla via Srinagar. Thus, it is possible to head upto Udhampur by train directly from Delhi or other parts of India, take a bus or shared taxi for the 130 km road stretch that still exists, and shift back to the train for the remainder of the journey to Srinagar.
The map below highlights the route that you would take - the green portions include the rail route and the indigo portion the road route:
(Zoom out to see the entire route)
I now answer some frequently-asked questions about this combined rail-road journey:
- Are there bus services connecting Udhampur and Banihal (and vice-versa)? If yes, when do they run and how much does a ticket cost?
- Do shared taxis run between Udhampur and Banihal (and vice-versa)? Is it easy to catch a shared taxi at either station, and when do they run?
- What are the timings of the Banihal - Srinagar and Srinagar - Banihal trains? Are they crowded; what classes of travel exist on them, how much do tickets cost?
I'll start with details of bus services:
Bus services between Udhampur and Banihal
Indian Railways and JKSRTC have started a "road bridging" service and introduced a rail-cum-road ticket for passengers who want to travel up to Srinagar using the combined rail-road route mentioned above. Under this arrangement, passengers taking the Uttar Sampark Kranti (#12445) from New Delhi to Udhampur are met by a JKSRTC bus that transfers them to Banihal station, from where they take an afternoon train to Srinagar. Please note that this ticket cannot be booked online and I have no information about where it can be booked - queries to me regarding the purchase of this road-bridging ticket will remain unanswered. If you have information about the procedure, please do contact me. The exact timings are below (as of 29 August 2014)
- Uttar Sampark Kranti (#12445) departing New Delhi at 20:50, arriving Udhampur at 08:05 the next morning,
- JKSRTC bus departing Udhampur at 08:45, arriving Banihal at 14:00 the same afternoon,
- Banihal - Budgam DMU (#74639) departing Banihal at 14:50, arriving Srinagar at 16:19 the same afternoon.
The combined rail-cum-road ticket will cost INR 260 per passenger (Udhampur - Srinagar) and is separate from the New Delhi - Udhampur reservation.
On the return journey, the following timings apply:
- Budgam - Banihal DMU (#74640) departing Srinagar at 11:20, arriving Banihal at 13:05 the same afternoon,
- JKSRTC bus departing Banihal at 13:45, arriving Udhampur at 19:00 the same evening,
- Uttar Sampark Kranti (#12446) departing Udhampur at 19:50, reaching New Delhi at 06:50 the next morning.
As of now, JKSRTC does not operate buses connecting to any other train. As far as I know, there are no private buses connecting Udhampur and Banihal. If you've travelled the route and have seen private buses operating the Udhampur - Banihal stretch, please do contact me.
Also, it is very difficult to get reservations on the Uttar Sampark Kranti, so if you are planning to use this connection, make sure you reserve your tickets as soon as bookings open, 120 days in advance.
Shared taxi services between Udhampur and Banihal
Several shared taxis operate between Udhampur and Banihal (and vice versa). The average fare is around INR 300-350 per passenger, and while the average journey should take 3.5 - 4 hours for the 130 km journey, traffic jams can cause massive delays, and a 5 hour journey is not unusual, so budget that into your calculations. Most shared taxis connect to the following trains:
The Uttar Sampark Kranti (#12445) departing New Delhi at 20:50, arriving Udhampur at 08:05
The "Jammu" Mail (#14033) departing Old Delhi at 20:10, arriving Udhampur at 11:10
The timings of the trains from Banihal to Srinagar are as follows (as of August 29 2014, click here for the latest timings)
|Train Number||Departs Banihal||Arrives Srinagar||Days of Operation|
|04611||08:10||09:48||Daily except Sunday|
|74631||10:50||12:32||Daily except Thursday|
|04613||15:20||16:53||Daily except Sunday|
*Connects to the JKSRTC bus from Udhampur
It is almost impossible to make the first two trains departing the same morning from Jammu/Udhampur and difficult to make the third train as well. A realistic estimate would be to make one of the last four trains listed above.
With the exception of #74639, none of the trains allow advance reservation, and all trains offer the same non-ac chair car accommodation which is fairly comfortable if you get a seat. A picture of one of the Banihal - Srinagar trains can be seen as the header image of this page. Tickets can be bought at Banihal station just before boarding the train and cost INR 20 per passenger for the journey to Srinagar.
On the return journey, the following timings apply (check here for the latest timings)
|Train Number||Departs Srinagar||Arrives Banihal||Days of Operation|
|04612||06:17||07:55||Daily except Sunday|
|74626||08:46||10:30||Daily except Thursday|
|04614||13:00||15:05||Daily except Sunday|
*Connects to the JKSRTC bus to Udhampur
As these trains do not start from Srinagar, it is possible you might not immediately get a seat. However (personal view) the journey is still better than one in a shared taxi, and is significantly faster.
It is fairly easy to get onward shared taxis if you're travelling by the first four trains. It is possible to catch #04614 and still make the Uttar Sampark Kranti to New Delhi, but this is a risky connection and avoidable. The last two trains are not feasible options for same day connections from Udhampur/Jammu.
On an entirely different note, the train journey takes you through India's longest railway tunnel, the 11.2 km Pir Panjal tunnel (almost immediately after Banihal when heading towards Srinagar)
Hopefully you're now ready to plan a hassle-free journey to Srinagar and onward!
Last updated 29 August 2014.