Why are we writing about Yusmarg of all the places in Kashmir? It is simple. Though close to Srinagar, it is a hidden wonder. Very few visit Yusmarg. Blame it on Militancy and closeness to Pir Panjal ranges, it was not heard by many. Till now.
Before we share our experiences of Yusmarg and its charms, First things first.
First. We had planned to do the “Great Lakes Trek” which covers five Himalayan lakes over one week of trekking. But we did not do it. Rain in the mountains played spoilsport and we did not want to take the risk. Previous groups had a miserable experience of staying in their bivouac for 48 hours in torrential downpour. Not a good experience of getting stuck like that.
When we reached Srinagar, the weather forecast was not encouraging but we were hoping for the best. Finally, when we made it to Sonamarg, our start point, we heard that rains were certainty. Now we had to take a call. We decided against going though some in the group wanted to go ahead and take a chance.
Second. We never had any plan B. Now we had to make one. With almost eight days at our disposal, we had enough time to explore. The plan was finalised. We decided to make use of the opportunity to explore around Srinagar, visit Mata Vaishno Devi temple near Jammu, drive down from there to Dharamsala, onwards to Amritsar before catching the flight to Bangalore. Again, sincere thanks to HVKumar for helping us in planning.
We did this trip in August 2013.
To say Kashmir is “Jannat” or “Heaven” is an understatement. It is a beautiful beyond words. The place, the people, the cuisine……….. We had a lovely time.
Muzaffar, our cabbie was introduced to us by Yasmin who runs a lovely home stay we stayed in Srinagar. He had come to pick us up at the airport when we arrived and had shown around Srinagar on that afternoon. A tall and lanky man with flowing beard, he looked pious and religious kind of a guy.
Poorna as usual, started the conversation with him asking how the situation in the valley is, the houseboats, shikaras, Dal lake, floating market, Mughal gardens, Hazratbal shrine etc….He seemed knowledgeable and very positive. He was feeling bad that Afzal Guru’s hanging in February and the situation in the valley aftermath of the incident reduced the tourist inflow in peak season of April-May.
“Janab” He said – this is how Kashmiris address – “You see for yourself and judge. Do you feel insecure here?”
“No” we reply.
He is right. The city is normal. This is the same refrain we heard from many Kashmiris we spoke to in the city. “Srinagar is safe and normal”
“Where do you take us tomorrow” Poorna asks Muzaffar, getting down from the car after a quick tour of Srinagar.
“Yusmarg” pat comes his reply. We look at each other in surprise. We had not heard of this place at all. We had heard of Gulmarg but not Yusmarg.
“Jannat hai Janab. Better than Gulmarg”
“Ok, Let us do it then. Let us start after breakfast in the morning”. He leaves and confirm that he will be here next morning.
Sitting next to him the car, Poorna asks him the story behind the name “Yusmarg”. He says that the word “Yus” is a short form of Yusuf which is the Arabic word for Jesus. Marg – means Valley in Kashmiri. The legend is that Jesus came to Kashmir through this valley and hence the name Yusmarg.
We drive through dusty, crowded streets of Srinagar. The town is bustling with energy after previous day’s Hartal. For the next few KMs the drive is inconsequential. Mid way at Nagam, we start climbing and the road becomes curvy as we drive along a large valley.
The landscape is green – brown and the road is flanked by the orchards of Apple, Pear and Almond. It is a bright afternoon and the weather is pleasant. The road is good.
We cross the town of Charar-e-sharif famous for its Dargah of Hazrat Sheikh Noor-u-din Wali, locally known as Alamdar-e-Kashmir. A shrine of importance for all Kashmiris, the town became more famous in nineties when the militants laid siege to it and hid inside. A long drawn gun fight between Indian Army and Militants liberated the shrine.
Apple trees on the way
Dargah of Charar-e-sharif
Leaving Charar-e-sharif behind, we climb gradually. The road opens up and we see pine and cedars appearing on the horizon. There is a nip in the air laced with aroma of pine and cedar as we leave behind the valley.
A large meadow with cedars in the background appear at a distance. Muzaffar assures that this is only the beginning. We just can’t stop from getting down and clicking some pictures. The stream, meadows and the trees make it picture perfect.
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 on 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?” we ask 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. I was 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 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 us how to use right or left rein to control the horse. I nod and test my understanding.
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.
We thank you for stopping by and exploring Yusmarg with us. Hope you liked it. May we request you to share it among your friends by clicking the buttons below?