A picturesque hill town, with a breezy, frothy river flowing steadfast beside it, large patches of lush green meadows peeping through a thick cover of towering pine trees, a pleasant nip in the weather, and air so fresh you can feel it cleanse your city-riddled insides – a trip to Pahalgam Kashmir offers the perfect antidote to the stuffy, sweaty days of summer. So, after spending two atrocious weeks moving houses, we jet-setted straight to this haven of all things charming and beautiful. Here’s a glimpse into our two-day trip to Pahalgam Kashmir:
Srinagar to Pahalgam
After landing in Srinagar and spending the night there, we started off for Pahalgam in the morning. There are two approaches to get from Srinagar to Pahalgam – via Awantipora and via Anantnag. We settled for the latter since it runs mainly through national highways and Google Maps recommended it as the shorter route. That, however, turned out to be a mistake. The frequent traffic halts to make way for convoy movements added to our travel time substantially.
Then, Google Maps played its most oft-repeated cruel joke on us. Turns out, its calculation of this being the shorter route involved traversing through an array of villages. Given the narrow pot-holed, sometimes non-existent, roads on this stretch, we decided to abandon Google’s navigation suggestions in favour of returning to the highway, which added another painful 25 minutes of our journey.
Besides, the journey does not have a picturesque sight to keep you hooked. You pass through a string of small townships, with dusty roads and people going about their lives – such mundane realities don’t go well with the holiday mood. On the flip side, we got to catch a glimpse of the dargah in Aishmuqam of Bajrangi Bhaijaan fame. Sitting right in the middle of a hill, this green-white structure is truly a sight to behold. Here on, the journey gets a tad interesting, as the enchanting Lidder River makes an appearance shortly after and keeps you company all the way to Pahalgam.
Arriving in Pahalgam Kashmir
Rain greeted us long before we drove into this bustling hill town. Exhausted and hungry, we were focused on getting to our hotel, the Walison Peace Resort Pahalgam, which was about 8 km short of the main town. The hotel is a small five-room property set inside what looked like it was meant to be a home or once was. The highlight of the property is its location – it’s situated bang on the bank of the Lidder River, at a point where this otherwise fluvial water body slows down and becomes accessible. There is a generous lawn where you can enjoy a hot cuppa while marvelling at the bounties of nature. The rooms, though small and way too close together for privacy, are immaculately clean and well-maintained.
We were extremely pleased with our choice of accommodation until the manager came and rained on our parade. Apparently, MakeMyTrip, through which we booked the property, conveniently forgot to intimate the hotel about our stay. It being peak tourist season, the place was sold out.
So now, we were exhausted, ravenous and stranded in a place where we did not know another soul without a place to stay. Given the journey earlier in the day and then this fiasco, combined with pouring rain, this was starting to look like a disaster.
We had booked our stay at Walison because we wanted to do this trip to Pahalgam Kashmir on a budget. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen anymore. So, we did a complete 180-degree turn and ended up staying at one of the most premium properties on the town’s map – the Pahalgam Hotel. It turned out to be the best decision for this trip.
A sprawling property right in the middle of the main market, its expansive lawns and luxuriously appointed rooms overlooking the gorgeous Lidder, the Pahalgam Hotel – the oldest in the town – is a destination unto itself. If you are taking a trip to Pahalgam Kashmir just to soak up the tranquillity and nature’s unadulterated beauty, you never have to leave here.
Roaming the Roads
As the rain let up toward the evening, we headed out to explore Pahalgam on foot. The focus was on finding access to the riverside, for I’m besotted by these clear, bubbling bodies of water. Our exploration led us to two adjoining parks – lush green spaces with well-maintained flower beds and a generous cover of fragrant wildflowers freshly bathed in the rain – that were abuzz with activity, thanks to the post-Eid festive mood. Natives had ventured out in groups of varying sizes for a picnic by the riverbanks.
In the bigger of the two parks, I spotted a few early blooming lavenders. Their soft purple hues a perfect contrast to the vibrant green grass all around, their blubs fluttering in the wind. Upon exiting, I noticed that we were, in fact, walking through the Lavender Park. The beauty of this green space dotted with bunches and arrays of lavender blossoms must surely be transcendent.
Right outside the Lavender Park is the perfect access point to the river, and the area was teeming with people. We walked far ahead of the crowds and after a rather precarious descend on a muddy slope rendered extremely slippery by the rain, I finally had my moment with the waters of Lidder River. The water, however, was so numbingly cold that I could barely manage to dip my feet in for less than 30 seconds, and spent the rest of plunked on a giant rock, just watching the water flow by. Oh, what bliss!
Walking the roads of Pahalgam is just as much drudgery as exploring its raw side a delight. The roads are swarmed with people, and then some, reckless, rash driving is the norm, and you are interrupted by salesmen, taxi drivers and pony handlers every other minute. As if that’s not enough, the leering glances from the numerous groups of young men leave you unsettled and enraged.
Baisaran – Mini Switzerland in Pahalgam Kashmir
Our first real sight-seeing outing during this trip to Pahalgam Kashmir was to Baisaran, popularly known as ‘mini Switzerland’. The original idea was to embark on an early morning trek to this place. However, previous day’s rain had turned the track into a long stretch of sludge, and so, we had to resort to pony rides – the preferred mode of transport for tourists here.
After a nearly 45-min long ride through such dangerous terrain that you marvel at how you and the pony carrying you survived the experience, we arrived at Baisaran. Having grown up in the hills, with green meadows and pine trees as the constant backdrop, Baisaran left me a little underwhelmed. However, I could see why so many people fall in love with this place, making ‘mini Switzerland’ the most sought-after attraction on a trip to Pahalgam Kashmir.
My own travel partner couldn’t get enough of the sight. Our four-year-old gaped wide-eyed too. For me, the highlight was gorging on steaming hot Maggi and some Slice after an exhausting ride uphill. Also, escaping into the woods in the distance, and discovering pine cones still in their infancy – now that was a first.
I wanted to check out this destination on this trip to Pahalgam Kashmir mainly because I share my name with it. Aru in Aru Valley has a nice ring to it. So, after a short lunch break upon our descent from Baisaran, we headed for Aru Valley. And oh boy, was it absolutely breathtakingly beautiful or what.
Even my saturated-with-hill-views eyes couldn’t get enough of the sights. As a destination, Aru Valley or the Overa Aru Wildlife Sanctuary does not have anything in particular to offer. It is the journey that’s worth undertaking. Majestic mountains, green meadows, plains fields by the river banks with a lone tin-roofed house standing out, streams and waterfalls gushing down the hills on the opposite side of the road, the river flowing so far below that even catching a glimpse of it leaves you with a heady rush – two hours of pure bliss.
By the end of it, we were too exhausted to do anything else. Even though Betaab Valley and Chandanwari are two other popular destinations that are considered a must-visit on a trip to Pahalgam Kashmir, we decided to give them a miss. After all, a getaway should be about experiences and not checking boxes on a to-do list.
The rest of the evening was spent lounging and running about carefree in the hotel lawns, sipping on some decadent hazelnut coffee, soaking up a hot bath, and a hearty dinner of Rista and naan.
With that, it was a wrap on this short but rejuvenating trip to Pahalgam Kashmir. The next morning, we headed back for Srinagar, this time taking the alternative route instead, and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful drive with river sights, quaint villages, herds of sheep, apple orchards and fields along the way, all the way up to Awantipora, where the road merges with the national highway.