My bags were packed and I was ready to explore yet another hill station of Kashmir, Pahalgam. When ‘Pahalgam’ translated in English means the ‘valley of shepherds’, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The ratio of the vast meadows is proportionally equal to that of the pine forest surrounding it. The Lidder River with all its tenacity and gusto, makes a perfect background sound. Pahalgam can make you romanticise for hours, and can even make you a poet.
It takes around 4 to 5 hours to reach Pahalgam from Srinagar city. You will pass many military schools and training grounds initially, but once you take a turn and see the Lidder river the scenery just gets mesmerising with each passing frame.
On your way, located 64 km from Srinagar and just 7 km from Anantnag is the Sun Temple; that belongs to the era of Pandavas.
Ruins of Sun Temple
These are the most impressive ancient ruins of Sun temple built by King Lalitaditya Mukhtapida 699-739 AD situated atop a plateau. According to a legend, Surya, the sun god was the l3th child born from a life less egg called Martand to wife of saint Kashyap. The foundation of the temple is said to have been between 370-500AD.
SightSeeing in Pahalgam
You can take a one-day trip to Pahalgam or stay overnight. I would really advise you to spend three days there to explore and breathe the place in. Sadly, I did not have the liberty of time, so I could not explore the place on foot but on a mid-size pony. Just like in Gulmarg, the vehicle has to be left in the parking area, and the hill station can be explored on foot or on a pony.
The river is entrancing like I mentioned before, the snow white river rapidly flowing, the horses (without saddles) grazing, the off-and-on site of an unknown colourful bird taking dips in the river and a few people sitting on the rocks with a fishing rod.
Lidder is considered to be one of the most famous places for angling and trout fishing. The department of fisheries supervises the angling to maintain the ecological balance of the species through scientific measures. Anglers can buy or hire the fishing equipment like a rod, reel, flies, net basket or long boots from the shops at Polo view lane, near the Bund Srinagar. The Ghilees can also be arranged from fisheries department or the angler shops.
In order to indulge in fishing in Pahalgam, tourists have to obtain a fishing license from the Department of fisheries in Srinagar. If you have hired a car, you can ask the driver to help you obtain the license. The months of April to September are the best season for fishing.
Important Tip: There are different rates mentioned on blackboard for the pony rides. You need to choose the one that says Gibran Valley; and tell the pony man that you want to see Baisaran, Betaab Valley, Debbian and Gibran Valley. I recommend this route if you are doing a day trip. The horsemen will mention several other points (to charge more money), but be firm.
If you are staying over then I would also recommend trekking Aru Valley and visiting one of the grandiose waterfall (check with the horsemen). If you wish to visit it on foot, which is best recommended, take a guide along from the bazaar so that you do not get lost.
Baisaran is 3 kms from Pahalgam, and marks the beginning of a beautiful journey forward.
For all the Bollywood buffs, Betaab Valley needs no introduction; it is where Sunny Deol and Amrita Rao danced in the meadows and rode horses.
The top view of Betaab Valley looks like a painting in motion. The tall pine trees, the curving river cutting through the mountains and large patches of meadows, makes your whole existence, in that very moment, surreal.
In about 10 minutes, you will see a rectangular cement-like structure, with railings around it. My horsemen very excitedly said, “This is Debbian”. I inquired further in Hindi, “Okay, so what’s the story?”
Debbian - Spot where Hari Singh fought with the Lion
With a lot of excitement he said, “Sardar Hari Singh was a great commander-in-chief of the Sikh army. His name spelt terror into the hearts of the Afghans and the Afghan mothers used to silence their crying children saying, “Khamosh bash- Haria raghle (Quiet child, Haria has come!”. He continued adding more drama, “One day the Maharaja asked him to accompany him to a hunt. As they entered the forest, suddenly a lion jumped on him and threw him on the ground. Hari Singh was completely caught unaware and did not even have the opportunity to draw his sword. But he got hold of the jaw of the lion and with great force flung the lion away, and withdrawing his sword, with one blow severed the lion's head.”
With an expression of all-praise for the Hari Singh, he continued, “The Maharaja and the other courtiers were extraordinarily amazed at this feat. From that day onwards Hari Singh was given the appellation of ‘Nalwa’ by the Maharaja, who acknowledged that Hari Singh had killed the lion similar to the way, King Nall used to hunt.”
After the much inspired story, I was on my way to Gibran Valley. I expected it to be a replica of the Betaab Valley.
The path was magically transforming itself into a hi-fantasy movie like Narnia; the sun was shining bright, peeping through the pine trees. The narrow brown path had different shades of green grass covered with white, yellow and light purple flowers.
The perfect climax to this ecstasy is the Gibran Valley.
The vastness of the meadow surrounded with thick pine trees at one end, and the deep Himalayan valley on the other. I stood at one point, I don’t know north, south, east or west, but from that point I felt like I was seated on a throne and the world was mine.
I could sit there till dusk, but it was time to return.
On your way back to the car parking area, you can visit the Mamaleshwar Temple.
Mamaleshwar Temple is one of the most ancient temples in Pahalgam, with its history dating back to the 12th century. Built by King Jayasimha on the right bank of River Lidder, this temple is devoted to Lord Shiva. The temple encompasses a pedestal and a Shiva Lingam, with a pure water spring covered by a basin.
Pahalgam is also associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra Chandanwari (2,895 m), 16 km from Pahalgam, is the starting point of the yatra that takes place every year in the month of Sawan (July to August). I would earnestly request you not to visit at that time of the year unless you plan shell out ridiculous amount of money and deal with loud noise. During that time of the year, the beauty of Pahalgam is desiccated to the commercial tourist world.
Almost 80% of Pahalgam earn through tourism. The Amarnath Yatra is the peak season, where they try to fill their kitty for the entire year. The other 20% are involved in farming and animal husbandry.
Places to Stay
There are quite a few cottages and hotels available to stay; choose a hotel/cottage that fits your budget. An on the spot booking allows you to bargain and get a good deal.
Approximate Price: Rs. 1200 to Rs. 4000 per person (depending on the choice of stay), for one night.
Day Trip Pricing
Big Car: Rs. 3200/-
Small Car: Rs. 2800/-
Pony Ride to Gibran Valley and Back: Rs. 1200-1800 (depending on the time you reach and season)
Tip: You do not need a guide if you are on the pony. Make sure you choose a horsemen who likes talking.
Food to Eat
I would recommend vegetarian food. There are many good restaurants in the bazaar, but Daana Paani is one of the best. The ambience and the food is fantastic.
This trip was first published on Trace my Wandering Footsteps.