Web Analytics

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Around Pahalgam (Kashmir)

11th June 2012

We got shifted to a new hotel closer to the main market early in the morning. Soon thereafter there was a call from the reception asking us to proceed to the dining hall for the complimentary breakfast. We had our fill and asked our driver to call for two local taxies to take us around.  Strangely you are not allowed to take the taxies brought from Srinagar. The rates to various packages are predetermined and are prominently displayed at the Taxi Stand. The taxies need to line up at the stand after getting a token/number. Any body desirous of a taxi shall go to the booth for booking. The person manning the booth will in turn summon the waitlisted drivers in order of seniority. The rates prescribed are exorbitant compared to what prevails elsewhere in the Country. The gullible tourists have no other option but to get exploited. The important and most visited places around Pahalgam are Betab Valley, Chandanwari and Aru Valley. All of them fall within a radius of 16 kilometres and get covered in about 4 hours for which the minimum charges are Rs.1,500/-. The taxies arrived in due course of time and we were on the move.

Arrangements for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage, which will commence by 28th June, were in full swing. Pahalgam plays an important role in this pilgrimage (Yatra), it being the base camp. Tents were being erected at numerous locations for the purpose. We were heading to Chandanwari and the road runs parallel to Lidder river (aka Lambodari) for quite some distance. Several families were picnicking on its banks.  Vehicles were either parked on the road side or taken down, may be for reasons of safety. The gushing waters of the river, the meadows, pine/Devdar tree on the mountain slopes and snow covered peaks were lending a heavenly grace to the topography.

The road further ahead was winding through mountain ranges/passes at a higher elevation and by the time we were around 6/7 kilometres from Pahalgam, we came across a very quiet beautiful valley with a river  which had  masonry  embankments. There was a pucca walkway   by its side for a long distance enabling people to stroll along. The area has been developed as a picnic spot by the local authorities with certain basic amenities. A bollywood film was shot here in the 1980’s titled Betab. “Jab ham jawan honge, jaane kahan honge” a song from that film was a hit and is still liked for its lyrics and music.  From that time onwards the valley is being referred to as Betab Valley while its original name was Hajan Ghati (Valley).

Though there was a separate road diversion leading to the valley, our driver seemed to be in no mood to take us there. Instead he started explaining to us that the view from above is quite satisfying and that if we go down we need to pay Rs.150/- per head in addition to parking charges. The later part made some sense and we refrained from climbing down. We clicked our cameras to capture whatever was visible and continued our journey.

Once again we were travelling through lush green hilly terrain with devdar/pine trees lending their own charm. On reaching Chandanwari, the vehicles got parked appropriately and we walked down. Finally when the spot came under view, it appeared more like what we had seen at Sonmarg. However, the glacier was not there instead we see waters flowing from the hill  frozen for a very long stretch.  People enjoy frolicking on its bed. Whenever there a fresh snow fall people get more jubilant for the fun it affords. There was quite a number of families with their kids enjoying at the spot. The snow was a little brownish as there had been no fresh snow fall for a day or two. A pathway exists to the left which goes to Amarnath. The actual trekking for the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine starts from this point i.e. Chandanwari covering a distance of around 30 kilometres.

After having enjoyed Chandanwari for over an hour, we decided to leave and proceed to Aru valley. As usual the road to Aru was also winding through the mountains. By and large the road was OK but it was narrower than what we had experienced so far. It started raining when we reached at the Bus stop. It appeared to be a little town depending on tourists for its survival. We could get into a covered space to shelter ourselves from the rains. Within moments an old man arrived with few umbrellas. He was making a livelihood by renting out his umbrellas when it rained. We perceived this as an innovative service which was not capital intensive. But then the rentals quoted appeared to be more than the cost of an umbrella!. However every day is not a rainy day. He demanded Rs.100 for one which made us to ask him whether he is selling them or lending them. He blushed and came down to Rs.70/-. When he understood that the rains may stop any time, he agreed to take Rs.150/- for all the five he had. This enabled us to come out of the shed and follow others who were going in one direction. The road was lined up with small shops and restaurants. We had a glimpse of the meadows ahead. There were horses/ponies available to take you round but we preferred to walk. Even before coming here we were advised to walk around to enjoy the surrounding beauty. We had a divine experience looking at the meadows, streams, snow capped mountains, devdar trees all in one place. There was a Lavender Farm with a medium sized nursery and a hotel (Alpine hotel) run by the tourism department at a distance.

There was not much to do here unless one chooses to opt far trekking to several points in the vicinity. Kolahoi glacier is one where some people prefer to go. We also came across a hoarding regarding guided tours to various destinations from here. There is also a wild life sanctuary deep inside. These visits need to be pre arranged with advance bookings.

We started feeling hungry and decided to return. The rains had vanished by then. The owner of the umbrellas came to us all the way to collect them back. Finally we landed at a way side hotel and were fortunate to get good food. We were told that the cook was from Gujarat. While coming out of the hotel, we could meet the cook as well and thanked him for the nice preparations.

We were back at Pahalgam by evening and many of us spent time roaming about in the market area.