8th September 2015 (Tuesday)….Pahalgam-Aru-Chandanwari-Pahalgam…75 km
Had nice sleep that night inside the car parked at Pahalgam market area. There were public utilities nearby so got fresh and ready for the day very quickly. An 80 year old sardar ji advised me to try aloo paratha from his dhaba which really tasted good. But more than the pratha I was happy to see an eighty year old man marketing, cooking and serving all by himself.
Before leaving for Aru I wanted to visit J&K Tourism office for maps and brochures. The office opens at 9am and I still had some time. I went down to the river bed and had nice time sitting still and clicking few pictures. The visit to tourism office was a disappointment as the official at the office was very disinterested and advised me to visit Srinagar office for maps and brochures.
Pahalgam, situated at an altitude of 7200 above sea level, is a popular tourist destination located on the banks of River Lidder. It is a tehsil town and a notified area in Anantnag district. Besides tourist huts, several hotels in private sector provide modern facilities to their guests. A number of treks in this region also begin from Pahalgam. One of the most popular one is a 35 km trail traverses through alpine meadows of Aru and Lidderwat and leads to the spectacular Kolahoi glacier.
Pahalgam is also associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra. Chandanwari (9500 ft) 16 km from Pahalgam, is the starting point of the yatra that takes place every year in the month of Sawan (July to August). The road from Pahalgam to Chandanwari can be undertaken by car. From Chandanwari onwards the track becomes much steeper and is accessible on foot or by pony. About 11 km from Chandanwari is the mountain lake of Sheshnag (11700 ft) after which 13 km away is Panchtarni. The Amarnath cave is 6 km from there.
The 12 kilometer or so drive to Aru was amazing. It is along beautiful Lidder river on the left side and beautiful hillside covered with fir and deodar trees on the right. It is a single but metalled road. I was stopped few kilometers before Aru and advised to return back as the road was under repairs. I pleaded that I was traveling through entire Kashmir solo and would be writing about it. Finding my plea genuine I was allowed to go after paying an entry fee of Rs.20-.
Aru village is situated on the route to Kolahoi Glacier and lidderwat alpine meadows. The road ends here and the rest of route can be covered on foot or on ponies. Aru valley is noted for its scenic meadows and popular among the tourists for its peaceful environment. There are many alpine lakes, peaks and meadows around the valley. In winters Aru receives heavy snowfall and becomes suitable for skiing. River Lidder is also popular among anglers for trout fishing. A number of hotels, restaurants and huts are available for boarding and lodging.
I parked the car in the parking area and walked through the small market area on the path leading to Aru meadows and Lidderwat. I saw quite a number of tourists, school children playing and having nice time in the meadow. The meadow was indeed very serene and scenic. The views of brown mountains behind the grasslands looked fabulous.
For a moment I thought about walking all the way around 11 kilometers to lidderwat but the path became quite lonely after few kilometers and I was also reminded of the threat of mountain dogs which I encountered on my solo trek to Chandratal last year. So any such adventurous thought soon got buried under the awesome weight of conjectured fear.
Instead decided to sit quietly in the meadows and spend time with my inner soul. There was no one around. So I lay there quietly, closed my eyes and stopped the inner chatter. Soon the inner noise calmed down and I felt myself floating in inner peace. I lay there in that state for about 15 minutes and when I opened the eyes and gazed at the blue sky, it looked so beautiful and refreshing.
I thought everything around me, blue sky, brown mountains, green meadows and the nomads coming down from high mountains, were all enacted for me. I could not thank mother Nature enough for being so kind to me.
For me that was the moment of the trip. I felt so much at peace with myself. It was kind of enlightening experience and a thought came to my mind why not compile my thoughts, experiences and travels in the shape of a book. First time after leaving the bank I felt like doing something of substance.
After having amazing time at Aru meadows I drove back to Pahalgam. Took lunch and decided to drive to Chandanwari. It was year 1985 or 86 I don’t remember exactly when I, a 22 year old young, first time came here with a desi rucksack and walked all of 47 kilometers to Amarnath cave and then further 13 kilometers to Baltal SOLO including amazing experience of walking through full moon night from Sheshnag to Panchtarni crossing Mahagunas top all by myself. That was around 30 years ago. So here I was driving solo on my Lalpari to chandanwari, another dream come true.
Chandanwari is about 16 kilometers from Pahalgam and the base for trek to Amarnath yatra. The road ends here. It is situated on the banks of East Lidder River also called Sheshnag River. Betaab Valley is situated just before Chandanwari and is surrounded by lush green meadows, snow clad mountains and covered with dense vegetation. It is made famous by Sunny Deol-Amrita Singh starrer Bollywood movie ‘Betaab’.
I thought it would be better if I visit Betaab valley on my way back and should go to chandanwari first. But the sight of the valley was so beautiful I could not resist clicking few pictures.
This is the point where road ends. I stopped here for tea and walk. It felt good walking through Chandanwari market after 30 years. It gave a very deserted look though as Amarnath yatra had just concluded.
From Chandanwari I drove back to Betaab valley, the road to which is just few meters down to the entry gate on left of the road. It was almost evening and time for closure of the gate to the valley. There was a sign mentioning entry fee of Rs.100- per person enough for me to head back to Pahalgam.
I spent that evening in Pahalgam walking through the market and pondering over my life and the trip. After dinner parked the car at the same place in the market area and slipped into the car for sleeping inside the car, 2nd night at Pahalgam during this trip.