Tours And Journeys

Top 5 Tourist Attractions in Pahalgam

   Discover stunning Himalayans circuits with our destination expert Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

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We were travelling to Pahalgam, the valley of shepherds, on road from Srinagar. At the outskirts of the hamlet, a big green board welcomed us. ‘Pahalgam’ literally means ‘The First Village’. It was perhaps named, as per a common mythical belief that during Lord Shiva’s way to Amarnath Cave, this small village served as His first resting point. He had performed a rigorous meditation for many days before heading onto His heavenly abode.

History of Pahalgam depicts an interesting trend with the change in kingdoms. Until 1346 AD, Pahalgam used to be a rich Hindu kingdom; later it was captured by the Muslims led by Shams-ud-Din. Centuries later during 1586, when Kashmir was conquered by Akbar, Pahalgam was seized under the Mughal Empire. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, it was further attacked by the Afghans and was temporarily annexed to Afghanistan until Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh captured it from Ahmed Shah Durrani. In 1846, the British took it back from the Sikhs and sold to Jammu’s Hindu Maharaja Gulab Singh against a hefty sum. Since then, Pahalgam has a mixed lineage of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim residents. Presently it falls under the administration of Anantanag District of Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir.

The average elevation of Pahalgam is 9000 feet, located centrally in the Lidder Valley. It marks the confluence of two significant Trans Himalayan rivers – the Seshnag stream and Lidderwat. The hill station is thus quite popular among tourists, adventure seekers as well as pilgrims for its geographical significance, natural splendour and comfy weather. Just at a pebble throwing distance there was a river and if you look up from there were ranges of snow-peaks. You just need to carry a pocket camera to take snaps – wherever you click it’s bound to be the best one ever! However, here are top 5 attractions in and around Pahalgam for tourists.

ARU VALLEY

  1. Aru Valley: Located at a road distance of around 12 kilometers from Pahalgam, Aru is a picturesque valley in the lap of Mt. Kolahoi (the highest peak in this part), with a visibility of more than a kilometer during summer and spring time. The elevation ranges approximately from 8000 to 12,000 feet above sea level and houses innumerable endangered biodiversity, flora and fauna. Though during winter months it remains covered in snow, it is relatively soothing round the year with an average temperature of around 11 to 15 degree Celsius. Surrounded by deodar, birch, pine and other alpines, Aru offers a fantastic green beauty amidst snow. There was a pony stand just behind our hotel from where we had hired our horses for Aru trek. We made our way through a narrow hillside road, closely resembling a green serpent, through the dense conifers, Kashmiri villages, mountain streams and finally a pitch road which ended at the grasslands of Aru – all the way keeping Lidder River on our left. The gurgling sound of the stream, whistling cedars tuned with horse neighs created a mystic charm altogether. Serenity, tranquillity, heavenliness – would sound synonymous to Aru once you land up at this pristine meadow.

BETAAB VALLEY

  1. Betaab Valley: Betaab Valley alias Hagoon alias Hagan Valley is a lush green grassland full of dense vegetation (now fenced like a hill park) at a kissing distance from the gurgling waters of Lidder, around 15 kilometres uphill from Pahalgam towards northeast. It is perched at an altitude of 8000 feet. The road conditions were moderately good, and it took us around an hour by car from Pahalgam market to reach the entrance of Hagoon. The region had been reigned by Turks and Mughals since 15th Century AD. Indo-Turkish Army General Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlat loved the ambiance of these vast meadows and named it Hagoon. Later during British Raj, it was further renamed to Hagan Valley. Of late, the film shoots of Sunny Deol-Amrita Singh starrer 1983 blockbuster ‘Betaab’ was made here and hence the beautiful Hagan transformed to Betaab Valley. The view of snow-capped mountains, Pir Panjal and Zanskar glaciers, colourful birds, vibrant flower beds, superfluous Lidder, ice cold streams bubbling beneath the frozen glaciers, an antique wooden footbridge, old-fashioned Kashmiri wooden benches – such a paradisiacal ambiance in totality. The panoramic vista makes it a must go place in Pahalgam circuit.

CHANDANWARI

  1. Chandanwari: We continued to Chandanwari from Hagoon along the same road. It’s a spectacular high-altitude countryside in Kashmir which serves as the gateway to Greater Himalayan Range. Situated at an altitude of around 10,000 feet above sea level, Chandanwari presents snow laden peaks against a caerulean canvas.This is where we witnessed walls of ice on both sides of the road. Distance would be barely 14 kilometres but since the road comprises of very steep rise and falls, it took us almost three hours with an unprecedented road blockage enroute. It’s the same road that Amarnath Yatra visitors traverse and after a day long trek, they camp overnight at Chandanwadi. According to Hindu mythology also, Chandanwari is a very significant juncture. It is said that before entering naked inside the Amarnath Cave with His consort Parvati, Lord Shiva had shredded all his possessions one by one on his way to the holy cavern. And as the religious beliefs go, Lord Shiva had removed the Moon from His hair bun (Jata) right here. Another school of theologists preach that little higher from Chandanwari, near Pissu Top, a fierce clash had happened between demi gods and ferocious daemons where divinity was falling short to evil. With the help of Lord Shiva’s super power, the demi gods could slaughter the highly outnumbered daemons and the heap of their corpses gave rise to the high mountains of this area which also closely resemble a seven headed mythical snake (often referred as ‘Seshnag’). Even today the standstill snow peaks, pine forests, chilly breezes and the gaudy Lidder waves stand as testimony to these mythological legends of erotic desire and blood battle, making Chandanwari a complete tourist destination.

400 AD MAMALESHWAR TEMPLE

  1. 400 AD Mamaleshwar Temple: We took an afternoon walk to the famous 400 AD Mamaleshwar Temple nestled on top of a small hillock on the banks of Lidder. Arguably, it is perhaps the smallest and oldest temple of Kashmir Valley. Mythological legends say that Ganesha was appointed as the doorkeeper of this ancient temple to prevent admitting anyone inside, so that his father Lord Shiva can perform meditation without any earthly interruptions. Ganesha performed his duty so loyally that he did not even allow his mother Devi Parvati to enter the temple. That is why even today, during prayer time no ladies are allowed to enter the temple beyond a certain limit. Basically, ‘Mamal’ in Kashmiri means ‘do not enter’. As per historical evidences, it was built by a Muslim ruler dating back to 4th century AD who had wreathed the entire temple and shrine with pure gold. However, later rulers invaded the gold and left it at its present state since centuries.

PAHALGAM MARKET

  1. Pahalgam Market: On both sides of the road, one can find a plethora of shops selling almonds, black raisins, apricot, dry dates, kahwa, saffron and other local products like pashmina, silk, blankets, leather items, wooden craftworks etc. A must go place in Pahalgam for sure. While walking back, we stopped at a couple of them and made some purchases, but most of the items were highly overpriced. Funniest thing was, everyone would ask you ‘Khush ho naa?’ (Are you happy) after demanding a hefty bill against petty service or product. Another striking aspect was, it’s very difficult to publicly discuss in Bengali at Pahalgam because every second Kashmiri can speak Bengali and knows Bengal better than a Bengali.

Imminent stormy night tempted us for a deep sleep. We jumped into depths of dream under the furry blanket.

Reetwika’s Travel Tip: For detailed information about the above places, visit the individual articles available in Tours and Journeys under Jammu & Kashmir category.

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