If you have ever been to Pahalgam, the vivid imagery of driving the winding roads along the Lidder river with towering peaks in the background will always stay with you. And when these are accentuated with a light drizzle, dusky skies and misty columns on mountain tops, happiness is the only sentiment you will feel.
God made Pahalgam for only one reason: as a place to stand and stare. At the snow peaks (I was lucky to witness fresh snowfall), the meadows, the well manicured gardens, trees and the Lidder river gurgling amidst all this beauty. You could (I didn’t) take a pony ride to the “Dear” Park, Tulian Lake or the meadows of Baisaran if you so desired.
I chose to put my feet up and warm myself to multiple rounds of espressos and muffins at the Log Inn Café (a part of the heritage Hotel Pahalgam where I stayed). My snug room did not help the cause of the outdoors – the staff kept the traditional wood fired stove, the Bukhari, going for as long as I wanted. Ok, I did walk around too – all the time warding off guides and pony owners who wanted to show me around.
Guides hankering me to engage their services had a typical statement to make: “Come on, we have only you Hindustanis to earn from.” I was later told that Kashmiris have always referred to the ‘rest of Indians’ as Hindustanis (derived from Hindustan, the land of Hindus, and another name for India). They cannot be faulted though. Kashmir was a kingdom in its own right before India gained independence and, even after the rulers agreed to annex it to India, it has been a disputed territory. Kashmiris have never had a chance to fully be a part of India yet.
But there is one time of the year when Pahalgam must be a virtual hell: during the annual Amarnath Yatra. Thousands of pilgrims camp in Pahalgam on the way to Chandanwari, 10 miles away where the arduous trek starts. The Amarnath Cave (altitude: 3952 m / 12,966 feet) houses an ice stalagmite in the shape of a Shivaling (the symbol of Hindu God Shiva) and is like a Mecca for Hindus. Wonder if the pretty little town can take the burden? I wanted to drive up to Chandanwari but guess what? The local taxi unions had ensured only their vehicles can go there. Or one goes by pony. No thanks to both options.
But go any other time and Pahalgam will leave you breathless.
* When to go: Being a small town, it is not equipped to handle tourist crowds. Best to avoid the Amarnath Yatra period and the holiday months of May and June. It can be freezing cold with snow from November to February. All other times it can be mesmerizing, even if chilly during spring and autumn.
* Where to stay: Accommodation is available for all budgets, but the heritage Pahalgam Hotel (+91.9419045056 / +91.9419045057) is your best bet.
* How to reach: By road. Take a flight to Srinagar or drive all the way up. For driving directions and distances, refer to Kunzum Route K11.