Discover stunning Himalayans circuits with our destination expert Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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It was our Sonamarg 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), Sonamarg 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.
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. Sonamarg, as the name suggests, means ‘Valley of Gold’. It got its name not because of any 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 Sonamarg lead to major glaciers like Thajiwas and Kolhoi.
Here are some of the top attractions which you must not miss during your trip to Sonamarg.
- Thajiwas Glacier Trek: We parked the car at the roadside of basecamp area and took the pleasure of walking towards the snow on foot. One striking aspect of Sonamarg ’s mountains was the flat tops with gradual slopes. So high, yet no cliffs! One need to 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 Thajiwas summit by foot or on horseback.
While casually hiking on the glacier, taking photo-breaks in between, we did not realize when we had lost our direction. Unknowingly, we had landed at a solitary corner, without realizing that we had actually reached the Thajiwas Glacier stage 0, aka the summit. Believe me, there were no lives around! Not even the army men.
On the glacial 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!
- Sledge Ride: Staying on the top for around 15 minutes, we decided to descend. Walking down, we passed by the Gaddi huts which I could remember seeing during our uphill trek. Within a few minutes, God knows, suddenly wherefrom 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.
Who knew sledge riding was so difficult! You need so much of 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 top in 60 minutes with muddy dresses and cold toes. Thankfully driver was not around, so I could change my dress inside the car.
- Island Retreat Park: 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 Sonamarg valley. The foaming waters of Sindh Nalla flowing under the bridge offered a tantalizing sight.
- Kheer Bhavan Temple: On our way back to Srinagar, there is a much revered Hindu temple called Kheer Bhavani Mandir. This is the sacred place where Swami Vivekananda could transform his Vedantin convictions into complete surrender to the Divine Mother. The antiquity of this ancient temple offers a very exciting story which connects to Hindu mythology. It is believed that way back during the Ramayana age, Ravana used to worship a rare form of Goddess Shakti named Maha Ragya Bhagwati (another name of Goddess Bhavani) who is considered as the embodiment of cosmic power and active energy. As mentioned in the epic, Ravana had established a small temple of Goddess Ragya at his golden capital in Lanka. Owing to his misbehaviour with Sita (who is also believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Ragya by a school of Kashmiri Pandits), the goddess ordered Rama to shift her from Lanka to this Kashmiri village named Tulmulla where Sita had spent couple of years during exile. Since then, Goddess Shakti is being worshipped at this ancient temple in the titular form of Devi Ragya. At present it is under the management of Dharmarth Trust of J&K.
- Aman-ka-Phool (Flower of Peace): There is a huge Kund (holy pond) beside the temple which is surrounded by lofty Chinars and Mount Harmukh at the milieu – a personification of amity and tranquility. Just as we walked inside, the whole area was shining with white blooms of a very special tree, they say it’s called ‘Aman-ka-Phool’ (flower of peace) as this is the flower which is exchanged every day at the international border while greeting our friends from the neighbouring country.
It was almost five in the evening. After a tiring trip to Sonamarg, it was time for a dreamy escape to the world of snow under bed warmers. We reached our hotel by six and retired for the day.
Reetwika’s Travel Tip: For detailed information about the above places, visit the individual articles available in Tours and Journeys under Jammu & Kashmir category.