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Pahalgam : Kashmir’s picture-perfect paradise town

  • Published at 03:34 pm October 12th, 2018
Pahalgam
Photo: Courtesy

A true paradise for nature-lovers looking for soulful serenity

Commonly referred to as ‘The Valley of the Shepherd’, Pahalgam is truly a paradise for nature-lovers, looking for soulful serenity. The journeys to the different destinations mentioned below will take you through wonderful hilly roads, from where you’ll also be able to witness the cascading beauty of the gorgeously clear Lidder River. Without further ado, let us now check out what beauties Pahalgam has to offer, shall we?

Pahalgam facts

•    Pahalgam is commonly referred to as ‘The Valley of the Shepherd’ because of the many shepherds residing here, owing to the abundance of unspoilt, beautiful greenery.

•    Pahalgam is a hill station and a popular tourist destination in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has an average elevation of over 2700 metres.

•    Due to the constant threat of illegal border crossings, the Indian army regularly patrol the area and are constantly on high alert.

•    The local population is not officially allowed to carry firearms, which has also resulted in an abundance of wildlife in this densely forested area – bears, leopards, Himalayan mouse, hares, langurs, pheasants and other uncommon animals which thrive in this environment.

•    Pahalgam can be quite cold in the evenings, even during spring and fall, so it is wise to pack accordingly. 

Srinagar attractions 

Home to the cascading Lidder river, beautiful metal bridges, ice capped mountains and lush valleys, Pahalgam will take your heart, steal it and keep it. It is a place where you will want to happily return, over and over again to experience and enjoy all of the following:

Revel in the beauty of the Aru village 

The beautiful Aru village is one of the most charming and quaint villages that you will come across. The houses, shops, charming restaurants, tea stalls and sturdy ponies – all of these make a striking sight when viewed against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains. The ponies here are actually quite free and seem much more relaxed and playful. You can choose to ride them for a reasonable fee. The road to Aru valley will actually take your breath away, offering some of the best views of the Lidder river below and the surrounding forest. 

  • Shared taxis are available from Pahalgam centre, but we advise that you hire a private vehicle, so that you have the flexibility of stopping en-route. Start early in the morning to avoid chances of being caught in sudden afternoon rain showers. Trust me, it’s truly beautiful with bright blue skies and sunshine.
  •  Stop at the numerous viewpoints on your way to Aru village, for some heart stopping views and amazing photographs. 
  • If you are approached by peddlers selling their wares when you stop at these viewpoints, DO NOT shoo them away – the loss will be yours! We purchased some of our best Kashmiri shawls (outstanding designs and material) from these peddlers at one-fourth of the prices available in Srinagar and one-tenth of the prices elsewhere in India for Kashmiri shawls.
  • Remember to haggle but also remember to pay a fair price. Remember that these are hardworking locals, not city folk with machines at their disposal. The price for private cars, pony rides, etc are usually pre-fixed by the local unions to ensure uniformity and to avoid manipulative politics between the drivers/rides/guides.

Go rafting on the Lidder river

The good news is that you will find one of the rafting points on your route to Aru village from Pahalgam centre. If you’re determined to try rafting here, I would recommend adding an extra day in Pahalgam – this place really does have a multitude of things to offer! The rafting region comprises of Level II/Level III rapids, and seem to be quite adequate for beginners, though a certain level of physical fitness is needed for sure! Avoid it if you suffer from any conditions, such as breathing difficulties. 

  • Always, always, always wear a life jacket! And trust your guide/ instructor completely – they know more about the bends, pitfalls, dangers and rescue points – they do this for a living! 

Explore the famous ‘Mini Switzerland’

Commonly referred to as ‘Mini Switzerland’, Baisaran valley will make you want to switch off all your electronic devices, plop down on the fresh green grass, take a deep breath - and just stay there! One can happily spend hours and hours just sitting back and admiring the view. There’s also an opportunity to try out Zorbing there too, if you want to. The mountains in the distance, dancing with the clouds, is truly a sight to behold!

  • Pack a light picnic to enjoy once you reach Baisaran. It’s an incredibly beautiful place indeed.
  • Remember to have memorable conversations with your guide(s). My guide actually starred in a Bollywood song (when they were filming in Pahalgam) and I managed to spot him when I returned to Srinagar and checked it out on Youtube. 

Enjoy scintillating pony rides over hilly terrains

Although optional in a lot of places in Pahalgam, the only way to get to Baisaran or Mini Switzerland is through a pony trek through the hilly terrain until you reach the gentle slopes of Baisaran. The ponies are quite healthy and appear to be well looked after (at least, ours did!). They also seem quite comfortable with the chosen path and seem to have the route memorized. Even if you’re a first timer, don’t be scared! Trust me, you’ll also be seeing little children (also tourists) riding the ponies for the first time!

  • Remember to haggle but also remember to pay a fair price for your pony rides. Tip your guides a little extra because they don’t usually have much remaining, after settling the pony owners’ payments.
  • Feed your ponies some molasses or sugar cubes after the trek is over. They will adore you for it.
  • When going uphill, lean forward. When going downhill, lean back on your saddle. It makes it easier on your pony and helps avoid accidents.

Enjoy the spectacular views of purple saffron fields

The sight of bright purple saffron flowers is a rare thing, and not one to which we are usually accustomed to. Kashmir is one of the biggest producers of the exotic and expensive saffron spice and you will have an opportunity to see for yourself how the saffron is grown, collected and cultivated. These legendary saffron fields will be available on your way to Pahalgam from Srinagar, and the experience of witnessing these, up close and personal, is simply unbeatable.

  • Purchase original and fresh saffron from the shops around the fields, because you can be rest assured that they will have the pure, fresh, unadulterated saffron threads at reasonably cheap prices. 
  • The road to Pahalgam from Srinagar also gives you the opportunity to visit the Avantipura Ruins, not too far away from the saffron fields. Though not overly majestic, hardcore archaeology and history buffs will find it fascinating. 

Stay on the banks of the majestic Lidder river with surrounding mountain views

One of the most appealing charms of Pahalgam is the majestic Lidder river and also the opportunity to be able to reside in a hotel right on its banks. Many of the available accommodation options right next to the river have expensive price tags attached but there are a few choice options available with very reasonable prices. Enjoy your stay next to the river, fall asleep to the gentle sounds of the water, enjoy evening barbecues next to the river and wake up in the morning to the glorious views of the surrounding mountains – the possibilities are endless!

  • An amazing option, at a very reasonable price, is the White House, Pahalgam. This gem was discovered by accident during our visit to Pahalgam, but is an exceptional accommodation option!
  • Ask your hotel manager/ staff to help you organize a small barbecue dinner during one of the evenings, right next to the river.

Find yourself becoming ‘betaab’ at Betaab valley!

Situated at a distance of roughly 15 kilometres from Pahalgam, Betaab valley is one of the most popular and well known tourist attractions here. Earlier known as ‘Hagan/Hagoon Valley’, this name was later changed to Betaab valley after the famous Bollywood film Betaab was shot here. The natural beauty of this place is immeasurable – a lush valley set amidst lush, green forestry, crystal clear streams and the soulful singing of numerous birds – all of these will capture your attention and make you miss this place as soon as you leave it!

  • Despite the chance to explore Betaab valley by roaming the grounds, the real beauty of Betaab valley can be viewed in its entirety from the top – this viewpoint will be visible en-route to your next destination: Chandanwari!

Walk on ice at Chandanwari

The biggest highlight of Chandanwari is actually the road to this place. The route goes through hilly roads with amazing views from above, traditional Kashmiri houses, army camps and a heady feeling of completeness. Once you reach Chandanwari, enjoy the views and the experience of walking on ice even in late spring, when it’s not in season. Also you will have the opportunity to relish the traditional Kashmiri Kehwa and freshly fried traditional pakoras (fritters) and purchase some authentic Kashmiri clothes and handicrafts.

  • Enjoy some Kashmiri Kehwa with traditional pakoras after working up an appetite with all the walking and whilst enjoying the view!

Pahalgam was one of our favorite spots in Kashmir. It’s a unique destination and possesses a quaint and picturesque charm. It’s the kind of place where you would want to go back to, over and over again. 

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