Places to visit in Sonmarg
I had read a lot about Zoji La Pass and Thajiwas Glacier in my high school geography books, but honestly speaking could never dream to step on the glacial terrain so wackily. I still remember my board exam where I had to write a short note on the highest motorable passes of the world, and now I have my own photos up there. I will document you the best places to visit in Sonmarg.
It was our Sonmarg day, a scintillating valley almost 90 kilometers from Srinagar. Altitude was around 9500 feet only above mean sea level, but due to its topographical proximity to the Three Kashmir Sisters (Mount Harmukh, Amarnath and Kolhoi), Sonmarg remains snow blanketed almost round the year, opened to public only for two months during April and May. Luckily we had been there in mid-May.This blog lets you known about the places to visit in Sonmarg.By road, it takes around 5 hours from state capital Srinagar, via National Highway 1D. Road conditions are pretty good until Gund village, however, it gets abruptly narrow after the last check post. This place can be counted as one of visit in Sonmarg.
Sonmarg, as the name suggests, means ‘Valley of Gold’. It got its name not because of an abundance of the glittering metal ore, but because of the golden gleam on snow by the rising sun. On a clear sunny day, when the rays fall on ice caps, they glitter like gold. Nevertheless, this span of higher Himalayas lacks wildlife, flora, and fauna due to the frequent avalanches and heavy snowfalls. The three sisters of Kashmir seen at Sonmarg lead to major glaciers like Thajiwas and Kolhoi.
We started early morning, right at seven. Thankfully Sonu, our driver, had reached on time. We followed the long boulevard along Dal Lake which set our mood for the snow expedition. Appallingly, it aroused a realistic feel of Road Rash computer game while driving at 100+ miles per hour!
Journey towards places to visit in Sonmarg
After crossing Dal Lake, we entered into a forested zone. I had heard that the Himalayan woods of this area provide shelter to mountain deer, wild bulls and leopards among many others. We also crossed a gurgling river named Sindh, commonly known as Sindh Nalla in Kashmir. But this is not the famous Indus River, but a tributary of Jhelum.
There are many beautiful villages which can be counted as places in Sonmarg. After driving for more than 50 kilometers, we arrived at a small place named Kangan where we had braked for breakfast. It’s again a Punjabi pure veg dhaba.
Let me reveal the secret of our sudden love for Punjabi food – Our dear driver Sonu is one of those dedicated pure veg patriots from Punjab. Even the songs he played while driving, were all Punjabi; at the most Hindi hits with popular Punjabi lyrics.
The beauty of the unknown village pleased our hearts and soul. Snowy peaks were visible vividly at a stone-throwing distance. The shopkeeper pointed at the Thajiwas Glacier, our ultimate destination for the day. Freshly prepared Chole Batura, Alu Paratha and steaming tea subdued our hunger and we started again.
The road we drove along took us through roadside glacial chunks and thick snow carpets. Heard from one of the local guys that it was fully snowing laden even a week back, being recently delved out by the Indian army. While passing one of such ice corners, I started murmuring of my own “Yeh Ishq haye/ baithe bithaye/ Jannat dikhaye haan…” On the contrary, ours being a tourist cab was stopped and thoroughly audited at multiple military checkpoints near Kangan and Gund villages, all being vital entry points to Ladakh.
We finally reached Sonmarg around 12 noon. This is one of the best village among the places in Sonmarg. All around were only snow, snow and snow. The view of monstrous peaks, gigantic glaciers, dark mountains and deep gorges underneath melting ice looked frightening. Even after hitting a century with my shutter, I was scared of missing important shots. Every nook was so photogenic! It was brutally impossible to put a check on clicking photographs when at paradise. Isn’t it?
Hiking and snow all around-finest part of Sonmarg
The Heavenly solitude of the place filled our souls with eternal serenity and tranquility. But the peace got highly interrupted by nagging pony owners, sled riders and their touts. They swarmed our car just as we stopped near the level one base camp area.
Our Gulmarg experience with these middlemen was dreadful, luckily here these guys were not so annoying. Among the places to visit in Sonmarg this place must be kept in the to do list.
Fortunately or unfortunately there were no mobile networks available at Sonmarg except those walkie-talkies of the Indian army. Snow cutting and road clearances were still at work, messing the area with lots of bulldozers. We parked the car at the roadside and took the pleasure of walking towards the snow on foot.
One striking aspect of Sonmarg’s mountains was the flat tops with gradual slopes. So high, yet no cliffs! One might not be an expert to climb up to the summits of Harmukh, Amarnath or Kolhoi, but amateur hikers with strong lungs may dare a trek up to the base camps easier compared to others. Among the places to visit in Sonmarg this place must be kept in the to do list.
The major concerns here are the melting glaciers and hidden crevices. You might see solid ice above, but it may be soft below. Stepping on such glaciers may be fatal. The military was all around who were keenly keeping an eye on the tourists.
While casually hiking on the glaciers, we did not realize when we lost our direction to land up at a solitary corner. We had actually reached Thajiwas Glacier. Believe me, there were no lives around! Not even the army men. On top, we were shocked to discover numerous skeletons here and there, scattered on the ground. The scene was so horrendous.
You could see different skeletal parts of animals (hopefully, though all did not seem to be) – skull, leg bones, ribcages, etc and no human beings around. Sweat droplets filled my forehead at that biting cold. Just imagine our dreadful condition! Among the places to visit in Sonmarg this place must be kept in the to do list.
We tried to quickly make our way out from there. It might be the case that extreme weather conditions had engulfed wildlife during winter; except a thin stretch of grasses were spared. Probably the snow cover melted with the rise in temperature, slowly flowing down the stream. That was our experience with Thajiwas Glacier.
Walking down, we passed by the Gaddi huts which I could remember seeing during our uphill trek. Without wasting much time we fixed the direction and hurried our way back. God knows, suddenly where from three sledgewalas approached us for a snow ride. One of them told, if we agree, it would be their first income of the season. We did not take the risk of confronting them. They charged Rs. 300/- per person for an hour’s ride. Among the places to visit in Sonmarg this place must be kept in the to do list.
Who knew sledge riding was so difficult! You need so much body balance to enjoy a fall-free ride. In fact, one must take a sledge ride to know what happens once you fall down. Finally, we reached the base hill in 30 minutes with muddy dresses and cold toes. Thankfully the driver was not around, so I could change my dress inside the car.
Near stage one of the Thajiwas glacier, there was a small riverside restaurant named Island Retreat Park, claiming to serve hot and fresh foods like Kashmiri Wazwan, Kahwa, Kashmir special Fish fry, Mutton rogan josh, etc. Unfortunately, during our time of visit hardly anything was available except tea, coffee, ice-cream, and instant noodles.
A nice wooden bridge connected the park with the mainland of Sonmarg valley. The foaming waters of Sindh Nalla flowing under the bridge offered a tantalizing sight. Among the places to visit in Sonmarg this place must be kept in the to do list.Utterly exhausted, we did not stop anywhere during our return trip. By 5 pm, we were back at our hotel in Srinagar.