|Apple trees on the way|
|Dargah of Charar-e-sharif|
We drive for another kilometre and come to a pristine lake next to the road. It looks like a lake you will find in Europe. Thankfully, there is no boating and the lake is still unspoilt. Driving on, we reach the tourist information centre of Yusmarg. It is Sunday but there is hardly a crowd. Which is good for us. We find horses and their handlers – Gujjars – around. Gujjars are a nomadic community in the Himalayas who live in mountains and rear sheep. During winter, they migrate to valleys and in summers they go back to mountains. Hardy people for whom moving in the mountains is a cakewalk.
|The lake at the entrance of Yusmarg……You can notice tourist huts by J&K Tourism in the horizon|
We look for any information on the place. Like many places in India, we don’t find any. A small board near the car park area gives details of the places that can be seen along with rates for horse ride. There is absolutely no information how to explore the place if one does not want to go riding. We are the only few visitors in Yusmarg on this day and we get surrounded by Gujjars. These guys are quite amiable unlike the ones we saw in Gulmarg. They plead with us to take a ride. Unsure about the safety, we are reluctant to get on one. Rashid, the guy with a horse, assures us that nothing wrong would happen. He is willing take us to Dargah and then to Doodh Ganga for Rs 350 each.
“Can we go by foot?” Poorna asks Rashid.
“Yes” he says pausing for a moment and then adds, “You can. But the trail is muddy due to overnight rain”.
But we haven’t come prepared and are wearing only walking sandals. There is no chance of trekking here without proper shoes. We were also not sure if there were any guides. Thus, we didn’t have an option but to hop on to the horses. If you don’t do these treks on the horse, there is nothing to do in Yusmarg. We get an additional helper to go along with Brinda apart from the handler.
|The muddy trail though the lovely forests…….Pine and Cedars all around.|
|Brinda on the horse with helper and handler|
The Alpine temperate forests are unlike the tropical ones we have seen in South India. There is not much undergrowth and the trees are either Cedar or Pine. The tree cover is not dense allowing enough sun to lit up the trail. Moti, Poorna’s ride looks younger and spirited. He negotiates the ups and downs of the trail with aplomb. It is mostly down hill. Sometimes he makes his own trail going off the beaten track. Ever alert Imtiaz brings him back.
“Don’t hold the reins tight” says Imtiaz. He teaches me how to use right or left rein to control the horse. We nod and test my understanding. I am sitting on a horse after 30 Years. Last time i sat was during my days in Military Academy in Madras. None of us opted for Equestrian club as Horse riding was considered as buggery. So this was my maiden attempt to ride a horse. Brinda in front was nervous initially but got her confidence after the helper also came along.
|Lovely landscape around Dargah|
|The small dargah of Peer Baba|
|Gujjars crossing the stream|
We get down from our ride. It is refreshing to be in the middle of nowhere, amidst pristine woods with gorgeous panoramic views. The place reminds you of the painting you would have done as a kid in the school. As stream flanked by woods with hills as backdrop, a small hut……..
The ride from now to Doodh Ganga followed the stream. We climb and walk through the woods. Moti balances well on the loose stones and move quickly. Imtiaz is vigilant as ever and make sure that Moti does not go astray. I am also gaining confidence and enjoying it. We now reach a high ground. We see a stream rolling by and a lovely valley in front of us. Climbing down from the mount we walk down to the stream. The stream flowing over the rocks create a small waterfall. This place is known as Doodh Ganga. Doodh in Hindi is Milk and Ganga is a metaphor any river/stream in India.
|Doodh Ganga valley|
We spend few minutes in the place. We now see more visitors coming in. Doodh Ganga is the place which most visita as it is the nearest place from the Tourist Information centre. The cost of horse ride is also cheap. From Doodh Ganga, the return trail is a sheer climb and the horses struggle a bit as the ground is slushy and slippery. But they manage well.
|Isn’t this lovely!|
|A Gujjar with his cattle|
We start our journey back. Few minutes on the road, we are greeted by rain. The sun and the rain play hide and seek as we drive along the valley. I look through the window to see a lovely rainbow above the valley.
Muzaffar show us Almond orchards as we drive along. He stops suddenly when he sees a family plucking the almonds. He gets down and talks to them in Kashmiri. He asks us to get down and shows us how the almonds are harvested. The almonds here are different than the ones with juicy exterior we have seen in South India. There is a small kernel which opens to a soft shell in which will be hidden the almond seed. The family is generous and asks us to take the almonds if we wished. Muzaffar gets a big bag and fills up with raw almonds. we ask him if we have to pay anything. He suggests Rs 100 as a token. The family is not willing to accept saying that we are their “mehman” (guests) and i force them to take it as a token of our appreciations!
|Almond trees and the ones which are plucked (below)|
Yusmarg is a hidden wonder. Unspoilt and pristine. It is also trekkers’ paradise. There are many trails leading to Pir Panjal ranges. Doodh Patri – another hidden gem – can be trekked too. This area is still not exploited by Commercial tourism.
|Following are the Panoramio pictures taken by Khan Gowher from Google Earth. These are the vistas you will see when you trek around Yusmarg|
|Google earth snapshot of Yusmarg. You can see lovely trails to Ayed on the left hand corner – notice Panoramio pictures on the map.|
Go there. There is no crowd. The woods are lovely and meadows are beautiful.
Since Yusmarg is close to Srinagar – 50 KMs – the best option is to hire a taxi. Alternately, there should be buses to this place from Srinagar. Other option is to go to Charar-e-Sharif by bus and take a taxi from there.
We saw few lovely cottages by J&K Tourism. I am not sure whether they are operational. One can check with J&K Tourism office in Srinagar for details.
a) Yusmarg can be done as a day trip comfortably from Srinagar.
b) It is also a nice place to stay and enjoy the nature. Go for long walks, angle in the lake….
c) If you are a trekker, then you can make this place as base to explore around. There are trekking trails to Ayed, Pir Panjal and nearby places which are beautiful. I am also not sure of availability of any guide. It will be good to check with J&K Tourism or local tour operators.
d) Yusmarg will be snowbound during winter which has its own charm.
e) On a clear day, one can see Pir Panjal ranges in the distance. To our bad luck, the sky was overcast and the mist had covered mountains.
f) I happened to see Jammu and Kashmir Tourism development Corporation website which looks nice. You can book accommodation through them. Here is the link.
You may also like to check out the following posts on Kashmir in this blog.
Spectacular Srinagar – Floating market on Dal Lake!
Spectacular Srinagar 2 – Lullaby on Dal lake!
Skywatch Friday – Srinagar from Taj!
Road Trip Vignettes – Cricket bats from Kashmir
Skywatch Friday – Vistas of Kashmir Valley
Skywatch Friday – Road to Gulmarg