Summary : Originally a small shepherd's village, it is now a popular Holiday resort, with good facilities for walking, pony-trekking, trout-fishing and trekking.
Pahalgam lies 96 km (60 miles) east of Srinagar at 2130 m, in a pretty valley surrounded by 12 snow-covered peaks and deep pine forests, at the junction of the heshnag and Liddar rivers. Originally a small shepherd’s village, it is now a popular Holiday resort, with good facilities for walking, pony-trekking, trout-fishing and trekking. It makes a fine day-outing, though if you wish to stay longer, there are hotels and lodges available.
The Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar, runs a good day-tour out to Pahalgam. You naly get 3 hours in the village, but it’s enough. And the 4-hour outward bus journey snakes some interesting stops. There is no guide attached to the tour, but the glorious scenery of majestic mountains, green pine forests and meadows of bright yellow saffron, speaks for itself.
The tour first visits Avantipur, the old capital of Kashmir before earthquakes in the 14th century prompted a move to Srinagar. Here is the old ruined Avantisvamim Temple, built by King Avantivarman (AD855-83) and dedicated to Vishnu. Originally a masterpiece of perfectly proportioned architecture and art, graced with exuberant, graceful sculptures and carvings, it is now a heap of old ruins. But the main shrine, in the centre of a spacious oblong courtyard, is worth a look. So are the few fine carvings of Ganesh and Parvati near the entrance. Moving on past Sangram (where many of India’s cricket bats are made), you’ll come to the pilgrim centre of Ramakrishna Mahasannalam Ashram, where the god of rain, Indra, cured himself of some horrid disease by bathing in the holy sulphur springs. Of more interest is the medieval Muslim town of Islamabad (Anantag). During the recent troubles the town has been a centre of disturbances and many buildings have been burnt.
Coming into Pahalgam, lines of bearded, weather-worn, hookah-smoking shepherds appear by the roadside and gangs of local youths leap on to the side of the bus for a free ride into town. Off the bus, you are deluged by friendly, insistent youngsters wanting you to hire guides or ponies, or to buy handicrafts. It’s best to eat first—either at the Pahalgam Hotel (for civilised food) or at the Lhasa or Tabela restaurants (for cheaper civilised food). All three places are close together, 5 minutes’ walk up the hill from the bus-stand.
The thing to do in Pahalgam is pony-trekking. There are over 1500 ponies in the valley, and ponies have been ferrying visitors for the last 100 years. If you can’t find a pony (and this is rare, for they invariably find you) enquire at Pahalgam’s tourist office, by the bus-stand. This office is open 24 hours a day except Sunday during the high season, and posts the correct rates. You can either trot off on your own or take on a pony-trek.
These go on 1- to 3-day jaunts to nice spots like Lidderwat, a beautiful valley of flowers, best around May/June; Aru, a small valley with a charmin meadow, deep forests, good fishing, and a few Dak Bungalows; and Kolahoi Glacier an amazing year-round glacier, most accessible from May to September. If your only here for the day, your best option is the hour-long Four Points pony-trek. Dr takes you out of town via the beautiful Nehru and Shail parks (in May-June, a riot of red, blue and yellow), and up to the four spots of optimum beauty overlooking the valley. Riding along conifer-lined mountain paths and over shallow rushing streams of leaping trout, you’ll come at last to the higher ridges, offering super alpine views. On your return, leave time for a short stop by the river bridge (just before re-entry to the village) to meet the shepherds and their flocks.
Before the troubles, there were two comfortable hotels in town: Pahalgam Hotel (tel 26, 52, tlx 0375-345) with centrally heated rooms, good food, lovely views, dinky pool, and disco; and Woodstock Hotel (tel 27), with the best views, nice gardens, an a good restaurant. The latter used to be a bit run down; both may no longer operating. Rates used to be in the mid-range (about Rs700). The cheaper hotels are on or near the Liddar River, about a half-hour walk from the bus-stand. It’s best hire a pony. Property that opened just before the troubles is the Senator Pine-N-Peak (tel 11, tlx 0375-343).
Things to do in Pahalgam include golf (May-June season) on the lovely 9-hole course overlooking town from a high plateau; apply for temporary membership the Golf Club; 1 km above the bus-stand. There’s fishing from April to September with lots of trout in the Liddar and Sheshnag streams; and even more at Aru village, a one-day 11-km (7-mile) trek away. Permits are issued by the Fisheries Department at the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar, Trekking guides and ponies are for hire anywhere in town. For longer treks to Kolahoi Glacier (4 days), Sonamarg (7 days) ,I nc Ladakh/Zanskar (8 days) it is advisable to book through one of the major trekking agencies in Delhi, such as Mountain Travel, who will make all arangements.
If you’re around in August, try the trek up to the holy cave of Amarnath, located 48 km (30 miles) from Pahalgam at an altitude of 4154 m. Every year, thousands of pilgriBs make the gruelling week-long trek up here to see the famous natural ice linga of Shiva that waxes and wanes with the moon. The July/August full moon is espacially auspicious, and attracts a biblical exodus of devotees.