Who does not know the impressive beauty of Kashmir? The people who come to Kashmir once boast of its beauty all their lives. Some people admire the rugged beauty of Kashmir so much that they want to visit Kashmir at least once before they die.
The elegant valley of Kashmir is rich in natural resources. The pure air, clean water, pretty forests, enticing green pastures and valleys, and beautiful snow-capped plains attract tourists all year round. The scorching heat of the plains as well as the pleasant climate of the valley draw people here in lakhs.
No matter where you live in the world, you must have heard of two beautiful places in Kashmir – Gulmarg & Pahalgam. When I talk about India, these places often stay in the news. While Gulmarg is famous for winter sports, Pahalgam is known as the gateway to Amarnath Cave. Let me tell you about the stunning Kashmir side valley of which Pahalgam is the heart.
I just want to say one thing, but please don’t take my words for granted. Which one of you has not yet visited Pahalgam? And anyone who has seen this place must see it again. Most likely you haven’t seen all the places I’m going to mention here.
The world only knows that Kashmir is a beautiful valley where there are so many popular tourist spots, but they don’t know that there are so many hidden enchanting side valleys in this valley. Most Kashmiris know little about what the Kashmiri Himalayas hide within. I live in the foothills of the Kashmir Mountains and show you the picture of real Kashmir.
Located in Anantnag, the Lidder Valley covers an area of approximately 100 kilometers. The famous valleys of Aru and Betab are among them. Not only that, the areas where the river Lidder rises and flows through are part of the Liddertal. A branch of the River Lidder originates from Sheshnag and its foothills. And the same river flows through Betab valley and meets at Pahalgam the other branch of Lidder river coming from Kolhai glacier. The Kolhai branch runs through beautiful valleys such as Lidderwat and Aru Valley. The waters of Lakes Marsar and Katarnag flow into the same river.
Mostly people drive to the extreme points of Pahalgam like Chandanwari and the Aru valley and then claim to have seen the entire Lidder valley. But still I can say that they only got a glimpse of 50% of this Untertal. Where the road ends, the actual journey into the Liddertal begins. If you are driving the famous KP road it will take you deep into this valley but you will not be able to see the entire Lidder valley. For this you have to get out of the vehicles and cover a fairly long distance for days to see the entire Liddertal.
Let’s revisit the Lidder Valley from the beginning. If you set out from Anantnag for a trip to Lidder Valley, you will find two such places on the way where you can get delicious food, one is Mattan and the other is Akad. There is a popular garden in Akad which is known as Akad Park is. Since this garden is on the way to Pahalgam, every tourist wants to stop here when going to Pahalgam or coming back from Pahalgam. It is visited by a large number of people every day during the high season.
The Liddertal is of great importance in religious tourism. There are some places that 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 lie on both sides of the road on the way to Pahalgam. During the fall season, when the apples are getting ripe, you can pay, pick, and eat fresh juicy apples.
The idyllic Pahalgam
Pahalgam is the main tourist attraction of the Lidder Valley. This place is on the banks of the river Lidder. Pahalgam means “the village of shepherds”. It is true that nomads once came here to graze sheep and goats. But today it is not like that. It has developed into a tourist center.
Today it can be called “the valley of flowers” or “the valley of horses”. I say that because there are either gardens or you see a long line of horses everywhere. Here is Poshwan Park, Club Park, Abshar Park, Lidder View Park, Lavender Park, Deer Park, etc. where many species of flowers can be found. Apart from that, many flowers bloom around these gardens along the river as well as on sloppy mountains.
Aside from gardens, there is a small zoo with few game species and a golf course reserved for the elite of society. The well-known Overa-Aru Wild Life Sanctuary is home to many rear bird species. About 1.5km from Pahalgam is the historic Mamaleshwar Temple which is believed to have been built in the 12th Century AD during the reign of King Jayasimha. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
There are many living facilities and amenities for nature lovers, honeymooners and adventure seekers to have a good time in Pahalgam. People book hotel rooms based on income and status. Here you will find everything from lodges to luxurious hotels. Some of the big and famous hotels are Pine & Peak, Heevan, Radisson Golf Resort, Grand Mumtaz, Royal Hillton etc.
There are a variety of shops selling local handicrafts such as many kinds of cloths, textile products with beautiful embroidery, etc. in the market square. You can often see tourists wearing Kashmiri Tilla Pheran to click some memorable snaps. The souvenir shops are full of wooden products, papier-mâché and metallic and non-metallic things. There are many food courts serving many variants of popular Kashmiri cuisine – wazwan (a unique dish consisting of many recipes).
Pahalgam is famous for its riverside camping. Camping in the wild on the banks of the river has its fun. Campers can also rent a tent for an overnight stay. If you prefer a more comfortable tented stay, Aru Eco Resort in Aru Valley offers the best camping facilities. These tents are nothing less than a luxury hotel. The tent rooms have attached washrooms.
There are three valuable places in Pahalgam that need to be mentioned. These include Aru Valley, Betab Valley and Baisaran.
Aru Valley is a premier tourist destination with mystical surroundings and stunning landscapes. It is located at a distance of about 13 km from Pahalgam. Aru is surrounded by green mountains with white peaks and filled with grassy meadows, making its surroundings peaceful. The Aru Valley lies on the banks of a mountain stream that flows down from Lake Katarnag.
The Aru Valley opens the door for avid hikers and mountaineers to go beyond the limits and meet the mountains. The Lidder Valley is lined by the legendary Himalayan peaks. One of these peaks is the pyramid-shaped Kolhai Peak (5425 m). Mount Kolhai is known locally as Ghash Aangan/ Ghash Brair, meaning Goddess of Light. The permanent snow of the Nival Belt took the form of a glacier. The Kolhai Glacier is the most famous alpine glacier in Kashmir.
Many treks start from the foot of this valley such as the world famous Tarsar-Marsar trek which allows tourists to visit three pristine lakes – Tarsar, Marsar and Sundarsar Lake. Hikes to Kolhai Glacier, Nafran Valley, Dodhsar Lake and Katarnag Lake also start from here.
About ten lakes can be visited on the treks mentioned above, including the lesser-known Lakes Harnag and Harbaghwan. If you walk these paths you will see a new world. The quiet meadows in Aru Valley that can be reached on foot are Kootpather, Lidderwat, Nafran Valley, Aram Pather, Baji Pather, Danawath, Gagdi Pather, Domail etc.
Formerly known as Hagan/Hajan Valley, it became known as Betab Valley after the release of the film Betaab in 1983. Some fabulous shots were taken and then incorporated into this film of this Kashmir scenic delight. This famous valley is located about 7 km from Pahalgam.
A picturesque little valley surrounded by wild trees has numerous pastures in the middle that offer amazing views. The river flowing by its side enlivens this picturesque place. The water flows smoothly here, which is why tourists bathe in the river. The bridge over the river at the entrance to this park is a scenic spot to take stunning photos.
A little further from this place, on the same route, is Chandanwari, which is 16 km from Pahalgam. The place serves as a base camp for the Sheshnag Lake Trek and Panchtarni on the way to Amaranth Cave at a distance of 12 km and 23 km respectively. The Amaranth Cave is about 32 km from Chandanwari.
There are two other lakes near Sheshnag Lake which is in front of it. These lakes are Sonasar Lake and Koon Nag Lake. In a misty setting within walking distance of Chandanwari is a squeaky clean Dodal Glacier. Anyone who likes to see a huge mass of snow must visit this place.
Located 5 km from Pahalgam, this fairyland is known as Mini Switzerland. Baisaran is a quiet meadow surrounded by tall green trees. Beneath is a soft carpet of green and in the background are stunning white peaks offering magnificent views. A relaxed walk across the meadow is great fun. In addition to pony or horse riding, you can practice many recreational sports such as zorbing and ziplining.
If you come here, don’t forget to do some sightseeing. There are many places worth exploring such as Kanimarg, Kashmir Valley Point, Dabyan Valley and Deon Valley Point. The path to the scenic Tulain Lake and Valley passes through this beautiful meadow. There are other lakes near Lake Tulain that fall on the same route, such as Lake Sorasar (2), Lake Charinag (4), Dodh Chiran (2), etc. These lakes can also be visited by other routes will.
If one can trek from the Ashmuqam side, one can visit more than five lakes. Among them, Lungnai Nag, Kralsar, Zoonie Sar, etc. are popular. These lakes are located around Gunas top. In addition, following the Chatpal trek, one can visit another group of lakes including Nagputan Lake, Khellan Nag etc.
The scope for adventure sports
The Liddertal offers plenty of scope for adventurous sports. Currently, it offers healthy opportunities for tourism activities such as white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, trekking, mountain biking, fishing, paragliding, golfing, zorbing and ziplining. But in the near future it will be opened for all exciting adventure sports. Attempts are being made to introduce some snow sports such as skiing, snow sledding, etc. The slopes of Mammothvalley in Aru Valley attract skiers in winter.
The club is active on all social media platforms to highlight the trekking experience with nature lovers. So far the club has discovered many alpine lakes and meadows in South Kashmir. Within five years, the association has visited more than fifty lakes and almost 200 meadows. The club took part in several expeditions to conquer the prominent peaks of Pir Panjal Mountains such as Sondir Top, Huen Heng, Bramsakli etc.
Members actively participated in highlighting the beauty of nature by sharing pictures and videos. Many members keep records of these migrations through detailed journals and travelogues. The club believes in preserving green trails and therefore adheres to the words “Visit nature without disturbing its ecosystem”.
(The author is a freelance writer)