7th September 2015 (Monday)….Anantnag-Verinag-Kokernag-Achabal-Martand-Mattan-Pahalgam…120 km
Got up very fresh in the car parked on Railway Road Khanabal. Khanabal is a suburb of Anantnag and site of Anantnag Railway Station. Srinagar bound traffic diverts from here bypassing Anantnag which is just few kilometers from the main square. There are many dhabas (eating joints) in Khanabal and is a popular pit stop for truckers. Anantnag also known as Islamabad locally is a busy business centre and a district headquarter.
There was nothing of interest for me in Anantnag so drove straight to Verinag. The 26 kilometer road to Verinag was narrow and along a beautiful meandering stream. Tall chinar trees were lined up all along the road. Yellow rusty chinar leaves were scattered all along the road signalling onset of autumn. It was a typical Kashmiri countryside which I had seen in many movies. Suddenly a realisation came that I was living a dream. Lalpari was cruising through Kashmiri heart land.
Soon I reached Verinag famous for bluish green octagonal natural spring. I parked the car at a parking place and entered the garden by paying a fee of Rs.30-. The sight of the spring with its crystal clear emerald water was a treat to the eyes. There were large number of fish in the spring. The water seem to be oozing from the centre of the earth. There were two stone slabs and something was inscribed on it in persian language.
The stone basin and an arcade surrounding it was built by Mughal emperor Jahangir in 1620 AD. Later, a beautiful garden next to this spring was laid out by his son Shah Jahan. This spring is known to never dry up or overflow. It is also an ASI protected monument and major source of river Jhelum.
There is a Shiva lingam in one of the arcs and an ancient Shiva temple at the entrance of the garden. The temple has been sacred to both hindus and muslims alike. The design of the garden is similar to most of the gardens found in kashmir with water stream gushing right through it. The garden is well kept and blooming with variety of flowers.
There were a large number of people from nearby areas having nice time with their families. There were many school childern accompanied by their teachers and gardens. Off duty security personnel were seen making merry and clicking pictures in traditional Kashmiri dress. I enjoyed walking in the garden, chatting with local people and clicking pictures.
From Verinag I drove to Kokernag. Instead of main and longer route through Anantnag I drove on a link road going through low lying hills and ripe apple orchards. Although the road quality was not as good but Kashmiri countryside and orchards all along the road amply made up for this. It took me about an hour reaching Kokernag.
The place was quite familiar to me as I had already spent a night at Kokernag few days back but missed visiting the spring and garden. After parking the car in the parking lot and paying entry fee of Rs.30- I entered the garden famous for the largest fresh water spring of Kashmir. Koker means ‘fowl’ and nag means ‘Spring’. The spring gushes out of the base of a thickly wooded hill from where it divides into channels, which resembles the clawfoot of a hen, hence its name.
Kokernag garden looked bigger than Verinag and had larger crowd. Most of the visitors to the garden were from nearby areas. There were large number of families, group of friends and school childern playing, eating and chit chatting. The atmosphere all around was very frolicsome and happy.
The garden was quite big and had different sections crisscrossed by a number of streams. Very attractive wooden bridges connected these sections and small islands with one another. There were large variety of blooming flowers in all of them.
Kokernag is also famous for its largest rainbow trout hatchery of north India. Hatchery was adjoining to the garden but closed for public that day, so could not visit.
After spending about an hour or so walking around in the garden I came out of the garden and saw a large crowd gathered on one side of the road. On little closer look I found that there was a snake in the bushes near the wall and few young boys were trying to catch the creature alive. Surprisingly, a young man, using a stick skillfully got hold of the snake and took it along with him very diligently.
From Kokernag I drove to Achabal situated on NH 1B and on the road to Anantnag. It is famous for ancient spring surrounded by a terrace garden developed by Mughals. The garden is located at the foot of a hill covered with dense forests. A powerful spring enters the garden as a waterfall and the water gushes out of the spasm with great vigor. It is well adorned with sprawling chinar trees, stepped terraces, ornamental shrubs and conventional elegance.
I had nice time walking around the garden under the shade of tall chinar trees, chatting with people and clicking pictures. This was the third garden I was visiting that day. So got little tired, so went to the market nearby and had nice tea with butter and toast.
From Achabal I drove to Martand, the site of Martand Sun Temple built in indigenous aryan style during the 8th century. The temple situated on a high plateau is in ruins. It was completely destroyed by Islamic rulers. It acted as background for the song Bismil, in the popular Bollywood movie Haider. The Archaeological Survey of India has declared the temple as a site of national importance and appears in its list of protected monuments. From the ruins and related archaeological findings, it appears an excellent specimen of Kashmiri architecture.
The site and setting of sprawling temple complex was amazing. The grandeur of the temple complex is visible from the sprawling ruins and various inscriptions and carvings on the walls and stone slabs depicting various gods and goddesses who were worshipped in those times. Neat garden in the foreground, hills in the background and orchards on the sides of the complex gave it a beautiful look. I had nice time walking around the temple, clicking pictures and chatting with people. It was almost evening and time to move on.
From Martand Sun Temple I drove to Mattan a small town very closeby, once a hindu majority town before Kashmiri Pandits were made to flee their homeland. There is still sizeable hindu and sikh community, a temple complex having hindu temples as well as a Sikh Gurudwara. There is a pond full of fish at the entrance of the complex. The complex is heavily guarded by security forces. Langar (free food) and shelter is provided at the temple as the place falls on the route of Amarnath yatra which concluded just few days back. I had good time at the temple chatting with a number of local sikh brothers.
From Mattan I joined Srinagar-Pahalgam main highway. From a single country road now I was driving on double lane highway. The route being very touristy, there was quite a traffic on the highway. Perhaps for the first time since I left Amritsar-Pathankot highway a week ago, I was on a highway. I was enjoy it for a change. It was as if I was back in the civilization. I saw a number of eateries and a complex on the way where number of vehicles were parked and people were enjoying fast food. I came to know the place Akad, a popular pit stop. I too stopped for a while, enjoyed few snacks and then continued towards Pahalgam.
Reached Pahalgam at around 8pm. Drove through the entire length of the Pahalgam main bazaar. It was a kind of surprise to me. The main bazaar was about 2-3 kilometers long and had all kind of eating joints, hotels, restaurants, guest houses and big shops. It was not the kind of place I had imagined. I was here long ago in 1985 or 86 I think when I walked all the way 47 kilometer or so to Amarnath cave from this very place. It used to be a very pretty village situated on the banks of meandering stream.
It was quite cold in Pahalgam that evening. Although markets and bazaar was all lit up there weren’t many tourists around. I did see few couples walking merrily in the market, at restaurants and few shops though. The atmosphere at Pahalgam was peaceful and conducive for staying inside the car. I found a suitable place in the parking area for parking the car and sleep inside. Had nice time that evening walking leisurely in brightly lit Pahalgam bazaar and enjoyed watching newly wedded couples having nice time with each other.