“There are two things in this world that can never be predicted; one is the Himalayan weather and the other, Bombay’s fashion” joked my taxi driver, Mohammed Rafiq, as the dark clouds suddenly gave way to let the warmth of the sun reach me yet again, only to last for a short spell of time. The journey from Srinagar to Pahalgam had consisted of unstoppable rains, a cattle-caused traffic jam and warm, saffron-rich Kashmiri-tea. The road that leads to Pahalgam is dotted with apple orchards, and after a while, it runs along with the local Lidder River. The scenery of the valley is impeccable with its dark pine trees and the snow-fed river.
Pahalgam is made up of two words, ‘pahal’, meaning shepherd and ‘gam’, translating into village. And it so certainly is. Over the last few years, this quiet shepherd’s valley has turned into a bustling spot for tourists and hikers alike. Its lively market and trout-filled river are quite a popular attraction among the travellers; moreover, the valley offers some of the best trekking routes in India.
One such trekking/pony-riding route leads to Mini Switzerland. Yes, a stunning meadow, with tall mysterious pines surrounding it, on the backdrop of the majestic Himalayas. This gem, locally known as Baisaran, is the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Though most people tend to use ponies to reach here, I chose to trek, along with my family. And the one thing that I can guarantee you is it was the best part of the whole trip.
I started at six I the morning, as the ponies start crowding the place ten onwards. I didn’t have any guide with me, when I started, so all I did was follow the footsteps of the ponies, literally. But after a while, nine year olds, Ali and Imtiaz, became the self-appointed guides of my group. Those cherry-cheeked kids most skillfully leaded the group to its destination, through the very dark and lovely path, guiding us through the short-cuts, rabbits and dogs disguised as bears. Even though Baisaran may have been the destination for us, the most gorgeous part was the journey. Oh those dark pines, and deep forests; those ever-joyous kids, and massively black horses; and certainly that pittery-patter of rain drops on my wind-cheater as I walked into that beautiful mass of green as it gave out some of the best breeze I’ve ever felt… just divine.
A few kilometers from Pahalgam, lays the Aru Valley, a summer home for the nomadic shepherds who are the heart of this valley. One can either hike or hire a taxi to Aru, but the hike is no less than a few hours. Prepaid taxis from the Taxi Union in the city, covers Aru along with Betaab Valley and Chandanwari in their package. We opted for that particular one, as mostly everyone was tired from the four hour hike from the morning. The ride to Aru is so scenic that I almost never got my hands off the camera. The Lidder River runs almost throughout the journey, as it cuts between two snow-tipped mountains. Aru itself is equally beautiful with the cold breeze and a perfect view of the Himalayas. A good book and Kashmiri-tea, is all you need if you’re travelling to Aru!
The Betaab Valley is basically named after a Bollywood movie shot there but that doesn’t take away the beauty of that place (though it adds to the overflow of tourists there). Chandanwari, on the other hand, is a glacier and is packed with humans and mountain goats alike. If you’ve already had your fill with snow, then you can easily skip this point. (Although the Maggi there is to die for!)
Basically Pahalgam is the height of natural beauty in Kashmir, and an absolute feast for your eyes. It’s that cute kid who never lost his innocence and is still a star amongst his relatives. I felt the most relaxed, and rejuvenated here in Pahalgam. The slow churning of the trout filled Lidder, the zephyr caressing your face, and a nice little spot under a pine tree, over the soft cushion of dried pine leaves…oh tell me how can life get any better here?! 😀