By Syed Aamir Sharief Qadri
Who is not familiar with the striking beauty of Kashmir? The people who come to Kashmir once praise its beauty all their life. Some people admire the raw beauty of Kashmir in such a way that they want to visit Kashmir at least once before they die.
The elegant valley of Kashmir is abundant in natural resources. The pure air, clean water, pretty woodland, enticing green pastures and valleys, and beauteous snow-filled plains attract tourists throughout the year. The scorching heat of the plains, as well as the pleasant climate of the valley, draws people here in lakhs.
No matter where you live in the world, you must have heard of two beautiful places in Kashmir- Gulmarg & Pahalgam. If I talk about India, these places often remain in the news. While Gulmarg is famous for winter sports, Pahalgam is known as the gateway of Amarnath Cave. Let me tell you about the stunning side valley of Kashmir, whose heart is Pahalgam.
I want to say one thing, but please don’t take my words for granted. Who among you hasn’t visited Pahalgam yet did well? And those who have seen this place need to see it again. Most likely, they may not have seen all such sites, which I will mention here.
The world only knows that Kashmir is a beautiful valley with so many popular tourist spots, but it doesn’t know that there are so many hidden enchanting side valleys inside this valley. Most people in Kashmir know little about what the Kashmir Himalayas have hidden within themselves. Living in the foothills of the Kashmiri mountains, I will show you a picture of true Kashmir.
Located in Anantnag, the Lidder Valley is spread over about 100 kilometres. The famous Aru and Betab valleys are part of it. Not only this, the areas where the Lidder river originates and passes through are part of the Lidder Valley. A branch of river Lidder originates from Sheshnag and its spurs. And the same river passes through Betab Valley and meets the other branch of the Lidder river at Pahalgam, which comes from Kolhai Glacier. The Kolhai branch passes through beautiful valleys like Lidderwat and Aru Valley. The water of Marsar and Katarnag lakes flows in the same river.
People often drive towards the extreme points of Pahalgam, such as Chandanwari and Aru valley, and then claim to have seen the whole Lidder valley. But still, I can say they have only caught a glimpse of 50% of this sub-valley. Where the road ends, the real journey to the Lidder valley begins. Traveling on the famous KP road will take you deep into this valley, but you can’t see the whole Lidder valley. For this, you must get down from the vehicles and travel a long way for days to see the entire Lidder Valley.
Let us visit Lidder Valley once again from the beginning. When you depart from Anantnag on a trip to the Lidder valley, you will find two places where you can get delicious food to eat, one is Mattan, and the other is Akad. There is a famous garden in Akad known as Akad Park. Since this garden falls on the way to Pahalgam, every tourist wishes to stop here while going to or coming back from Pahalgam. It is always visited by many people every day during peak tourist season.
Lidder valley is of great importance in terms of religious tourism. Some places are sacred to people of three religions. Ashmuqam, Amarnath cave, and Mattan are three important places for Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Lakhs of devotees visit these places every year.
Numerous paddy fields and apple orchards are lying on either side of the road on way to Pahalgam. During the autumn season, when apples get ripe, you can pay, pluck and eat fresh juicy apples.
The Idyllic Pahalgam
Pahalgam is the main tourist attraction of Lidder valley. This place is located on the banks of river Lidder. Pahalgam means ‘the village of shepherds.’ It is true that once upon a time, nomads came here to graze sheep and goats. But today, it is not like that. It has become a tourism hub.
Today, you can call this ‘the valley of flowers‘ or ‘the valley of horses. I say this because there are gardens or you can see a long queue of horses everywhere. Here is Poshwan Park, Club Park, Abshar Park, Lidder View Park, Lavender Park, Deer Park, etc., in which wide varieties of flowers are found. Apart from this, many flowers bloom in the surroundings of these gardens along the river and on sloppy mountains.
Apart from gardens, there is a small zoo with few wild species and a golf course restricted to the elite section of society. The well-known Overa- Aru Wild Life Sanctuary is home to many rear bird species. At a distance of about 1.5 km from Pahalgam is the historic Mamaleshwar Temple which is believed to have been built in the 12th century during the reign of King Jayasimha. This temple is dedicated to lord Shiva.
Many living facilities and amenities are available for nature lovers, honeymooners, and adventure seekers to have a good time in Pahalgam. People book hotel rooms according to their income and status, and you can find everything here, from lodges to luxurious hotels. Some big and famous hotels include Pine & Peak, Heevan, Radisson Golf Resort, Grand Mumtaz, Royal Hillton, etc.
The marketplace has a variety of shops selling indigenous handmade products such as many types of shawls, textile products designed with beautiful embroidery works, etc. You can often see tourists wearing Kashmiri Tilla Pheran to click some memorable snaps. The souvenir shops are full of wooden products, papier mache, and metallic and non-metallic things. There are many food courts in which wide varieties of the famous cuisine of Kashmir are served- The Wazwan (A unique dish consisting of many recipes).
Pahalgam is famous for its riverside camping. Pitching a tent in the wild, on the river banks, has fun. Campers can rent a tent for a night’s stay also. If you prefer a more comfortable tent stay, Aru Eco Resort in Aru valley provides the best-camping facilities. These tents are no less than a luxury hotel, and the tent rooms have attached washrooms.
There are three prized spots in Pahalgam which need to be mentioned. These include Aru valley, Betab valley, and Baisaran.
Aru valley is a premiere tourist destination with mystical environs and stunning landscapes. It is located at a distance of about 13 km from Pahalgam. Aru is surrounded by green mountains with white tops and filled by grassy meadows, thus making its environment peaceful. Aru valley is situated on the bank of a mountain stream coming down from Katarnag Lake.
Aru valley opens the door to avid trekkers and mountaineers to go beyond and meet the mountains. The legendary Himalayan peaks line the Lidder valley. One such peak is the pyramid-shaped Kolhai peak (5425 m). Locally Mount Kolhai is known as Ghash Aangan/ Ghash Brair, which means Goddess of Light. The permanent snow of the nival belt took the shape of a glacier, and Kolhai glacier is the most famous alpine glacier in Kashmir.
Many treks start at the base of this valley, like the world-famous Tarsar- Marsar trek, which allows tourists to visit three pristine lakes- Tarsar, Marsar, and Sundarsar Lake. Also, Kolhai Glacier, Nafran Valley, Dodhsar Lake, and Katarnag Lake treks start here.
On the treks mentioned above, one can visit about ten lakes, including the lesser-known Harnag and Harbaghwan lakes. By walking on these paths, you will see a new world. The tranquil meadows to visit in Aru Valley that can be reached by foot are Kootpather, Lidderwat, Nafran valley, Aram Pather, Baji Pather, Danawath, Gagdi Pather, Domail, etc.
Earlier known as Hagan/ Hajan valley, it became famous as Betab valley after the release of the movie Betaab in 1983. Some fabulous shots were captured and then included in this movie from this scenic delight of Kashmir. This famed valley is situated about 7 km from Pahalgam.
A picturesque small valley surrounded by wild trees has numerous willow trees in the centre that presents a fantastic view. The river that flows to its side adds life to this scenic spot. The water here runs smoothly, so the tourists bathe in the river. The bridge over the river at the entrance of this park is a scenic location to click impressive photos.
A little away from this place, on the same route, is Chandanwari which is 16 km away from Pahalgam. The place serves base camp for the Sheshnag lake trek and Panchtarni en route to Amaranth cave at a distance of 12 km and 23 km, respectively. Amaranth cave is approx 32 km from Chandanwari.
Two more lakes in the vicinity of Sheshnag lake come before it. These lakes are Sonasar Lake and Koon Nag lake. Placed in misty surroundings at a hiking distance from Chandanwari, there is a squeaky-clean Dodal glacier. Those who like seeing a huge snow mass must visit this place.
Located at a distance of 5 km from Pahalgam, this fairyland is known as Mini Switzerland. Baisaran is a placid meadow surrounded by tall green trees. Below is a soft green carpet, and on its backdrop are stunning white peaks, due to which it presents a splendid view. A relaxing stroll across the meadow gives immense pleasure. One can enjoy recreational sports like zorbing and ziplining here, besides taking a pony or horse ride.
If you visit here, don’t forget to go sightseeing. Many places are worth exploring, like Kanimarg, Kashmir Valley Point, Dabyan Valley, and Deon Valley Point. The way to the scenic Tulain lake and valley passes through this gorgeous meadow. There are other lakes near Tulain lake which fall on the same trail, like- Sorasar Lake (2), Charinag Lake (4), Dodh Chiran (2), etc. These lakes can be visited by following other routes too.
If one can go trekking from the Ashmuqam side, he can visit more than five lakes. Among them popular are Lungnai Nag, Kralsar, Zoonie Sar, etc. These lakes are situated in the surroundings of Gunas top. Furthermore, by following the Chatpal trek, one can visit another group of lakes, among them prominent being Nagputan lake, Khellan Nag, etc.
The Scope for Adventure sports
Lidder valley has a great scope for adventurous sports. Presently it offers wholesome opportunities for tourist activities like white water rafting, horse riding, hiking, trekking, mountain biking, fishing, paragliding, golfing, zorbing and ziplining. But in the near future, it will be thrown open for all thrilling adventurous sports. Attempts are being made to introduce some snow sports like skiing, snow sledging, etc. The slopes of Mammoth valley in Aru valley attract skiers in winter.