Friday, 3 August 2012

Sonamarg – Nature’s Bounty Unlimited

On 30th May 2012, at around 10.15 am, we left behind Pahalgam for our 140 km journey to Sonamarg. A few km of drive brought us to a place which is the starting point for rafting on the river Lidder. The river being very close to roadside and flowing parallel to it, gave me opportunity to capture some rafting action in my Handycam. The rafting companies generally pick up the rafters from their hotels, in their jeep and station the inflated raft on the car roof and arrive at the boarding point. As I settled down on roadside grass land sloping towards the river, on opposite bank six rafters wearing life jackets, boarded the raft along with two instructors cum paddlers from rafting company. The starting stretch on river Lidder with flowing water creating waves and some easy rapids looked ideal for beginners. Some footages later we resumed our car journey. 
Rafting On River Lidder, Pahalgam
At 12.40 pm we reached Pampore, famous for Saffron fields. We once again visited the same shop which we had visited earlier during our onward journey to Sonamarg, to do some more buying. The shop sold, apart from Saffron, dry-fruits, shilajeet, honey and Kashmiri Masala. Drivers of the hired cars have their own favorite shops to take the tourists. Our car driver, munching some dry fruits picked up from shop, the liberty readily granted by shop keeper for the customers he generated, watched us do the shopping.
Shop At Pampore
Our journey was once again retreating towards Srinagar and then taking off towards Sonamarg. We did not have much to do except relax on our journey. Nearing Sonamarg around 4.45 pm, we found some glaciers on the roadside and molten snow in the bright summer sun, forming rivulets and joining the main stream of Sind river. Entering fringes of Sonamarg was eye soothing experience. No haphazardly located cluster of houses or dirty roadsides of a typical hill town. The green meadows on both sides of the roads with large flock of sheep grazing, with back drop of towering hills, the green environment, will be any tourists delight. As we passed the jeep stands a few hotels were seen but we had in our mind of trying our accommodation at Tourist Reception Centre managed by J. K. Tourism. We passed the army camp located on sloping meadows and came to a habitat containing hotels, restaurants and shops. We found our way to Tourist Reception Centre, which was housed in a huge plot of land. I entered the office building and made inquiries for dormitory room beds for three persons. The person at the desk offered us three beds in a 20 bed dormitory, which did not have a single occupant, at a price of Rs. 500/- each. So we had a huge room at our disposal and occupied the bed of our choice. Each bed unit had a lower tier and an upper tier. There were two toilets, one had some broken fittings and the other was usable. There was piped water supply for hot water through electric geyser. What more could we ask for? 

Sonamarg incidentally is second starting point for Amarnath Yatra. The devotees reach the holy cave via Baltal which is much shorter route compared to Pahalgam route. The enhanced room capacity here which tourist will notice, is to cater to the deluge of yatris expected during late June to end August during Amarnath Yatra season.

TRC, Sonamarg
At 5.30 pm, after a cup of tea, we thought of exploring the town and came to the main street. The adjoining plot to Tourist Reception centre was J K Tourism plot containing a few buildings and one under construction. I realized we have made a mistake of landing on TRC managed by Sonamarg Development Authority and not J K Tourism. That did not really bother us. Walking away from the dwelling, we came near a bridge over river Sind, with blocks of crystallized snow stationed in the river on upstream side. The top of snow block was covered with dust and dead grass.  From shape of snow blocks, one could make out, they were periodically disintegrating and the melt adding to the water content of the river. Some villagers were walking over a glacier possibly to reach for their home on the adjoining hill through a shorter route. 
Glacier At Sonamarg
As luck would have it, I was shooting the river and had my handycam pointed towards a huge snow-pile, suddenly, a big chunk of it cracked and separated from mother snow-pile and fell with a loud bang on the river. It further broke into smaller pieces and lighter ones floated along with the current of river stream. The video clip looked really interesting in LED screen of my Handycam. 
Broken Snow-pile
Some moments later a rafting company came with jeep carrying rafters and one inflated raft. Thus it was worthwhile waiting near the bridge observing four guys carrying raft on their shoulders and take it to the Sind river making it ready to float. The rafters came one by one with each one carrying paddle and looked like they had some experience in this water sport. They sat on the raft and photo session continued for some time followed by guidance from the instructors.  The group with the raft took off and went bobbing up and down along with the waves and river current carrying the raft below the bridge in aquatic turbulence. Emerging from below the bridge on downstream side, it took a bend and traveled rapidly further and we watched and shot some clips and frames till it disappeared from our vision. We were pleased to have a second experience of watching rafting action in a single day.
Rafting At Sonamarg
Returning to our dorm, I was ruminating, “Tomorrow we would be visiting Thajiwas glacier which is about 5 km trek from this place. The Sonamarg township is divided into two segments. The entry to township portion of the segment has a signboard indicating the direction to the Thajiwas glacier. As we were at the farthest segment of town, we have to do an additional walk of 1 km. We have to decide whether the walk could be over the Bugyal (green meadows) by-passing the army camp or over the asphalt road – a slightly longer route.” With some deliberation with fellow trekkers Sachin and Raj, we decided to go through the road without taking any risk of wasting our time in case we got to a wrong track over the meadows.

Next day, we got up early as has been the practice in all our trips to Himalayas and around 6 am hit the trail. Early morning did not see any living soul on road. We just went towards the other segment of town by the asphalt road to locate the signboard indicating direction to Thajiwas. We found the board and an asphalt road going up the hill, which was surprising. This indicated presence of hotels and retreats on upper reaches of Bugyal.
Signboard At Sonamarg
At 6.45 am walking for 15 minutes, we got the first glance of huge looming snow splattered hill. Walking on a road free of vehicular traffic and early morning nip in the air was an ideal way to begin the trek. We generally undertake treks in Himalayas early in the morning in case we are likely to encounter glaciers. The foothold on snow in early morning is much secure till the solar heat melts the top layer and it becomes slippery with chance of falling.
Road Going Up Towards Thajiwas
Deviating from asphalt road and walking towards the direction of snowy mountain along a mud trail through meadows, we sighted some elegant looking dwellings at a distance. The pine trees and snowy hills in back drop - the scene was a picture postcard of a beauty.
Landscape On Way To Thajiwas
At around 7 am we were near a plush looking Sonamarg Club – the tourists staying over there must be enjoying  some of the best landscape they will ever see anywhere in Kashmir. 
On Way To Thajiwas
We took to the left hand side of the club fencing, through a narrow stretch of mud track towards the general direction of the Thajiwas. JK Tourism dormitory structure located in a large compound came to our vision. This place surrounded by meadows and overlooking snow clad mountains is definitely an additional classic retreat for discerning tourists.
J K Tourism Dormitory
We forged ahead along asphalt road constantly following the snow splattered hill which was looming closer and came near a signboard indicating a camping site - there was fencing all around but no tents were in existence. Behind the camping site a few village shacks were visible. Some more walk and the road came to an end. We found a tempo standing over there near a tent where villagers were in process of cooking their meals. We enquired the trail to Thajiwas and one guy showed us a trail running on hill side. We went between the boulders on a mud-stone terrain and after crossing a narrow stream by stepping over stones, we were finally on a broad mud track which would take us to the glacier. It was nearly 7.40 am. We must have walked for 4 km on almost level ground. This could perhaps rank as simplest of all my treks with maximum rewards. The ice cool stream running parallel to the track was snow melt from Thajiwas glacier. At a distance the snow could be seen at the ground level going up to the peak. We encountered the first wooden bridge over the flowing stream. Sachin and Raj had a photo session there with the back drop of the glacier. 
First Wooden Bridge On Way To Thajiwas
The second wooden bridge was more of a thick wooden plank supported on wooden props on a small flowing stream. Some leafless tall trees with branches and twigs looked stark having recovered from the latest winter onslaught. A dozen of colorful tents were on right hand side. Around 8 am the sun had risen on top of the hill beating down harsh. With chilly winds blowing across, we were not distressed. 
Third Wooden Bridge On Way To Thajiwas
The third wooden bridge we came across a broad stream was bent like a bow on one side. One could not hazard a guess when it will give away. The load of snow-pile on the bridge in the winter must have taken its toll. We carefully walked on right edge of the bridge not to load it unduly on left hand bend portion and came near another set of tents serving as eateries and selling mineral water, soft drinks and snacks. Coffee mug in  hand, we watched, on left side, on a patch of green, flock of sheep with the back drop of glacier. 
Sheep Flock And Glacier
We crossed one more wooden bridge and a small stream by stepping over stones strategically placed and stepped on snow. The snow was crystallized and on harder side. So, our feet did not dig in at all and being on plane it was not slippery. We forged to about 50 metres observing the wooden battens dug in at various locations. Some tourists who preceded us along with sledge operators went up the slope, after spending some time haggling for prices. We were content of watching and capturing the action in lens. One of the sledges slid down the slope and came to rest. Sledge is basically a wooden device with flat bottom and space enough for two persons to seat. The sledge mover seats in the front and pushes the snow beneath with his feet and then allows it to slide down the slope. 
On Way Up The Glacier For Sledging
Around 9 am we retreated and commenced our return journey, immensely satisfied with our small and easy trek. By now inflow of tourists started. It was easier for us to travel along a trail taken by horsemen carrying tourists along a shorter route and walking on green meadows and we approached Sonamarg. Around 9.45 am, standing amidst a lot of goats grazing around us in green meadows, we got a top view of Sonamarg town.
Upper Bugyal At Sonamarg
Instead of climbing down the meadows towards the town, we continued along the upper Bhugyal in general direction of our TRC. We saw one horse was being tamed by a group of villagers, for carrying out fixing of horseshoes. Thereafter it was crossing a small stream of molten ice from hills by hopping on the rock placed over it and passed by the side of upper fencing of army camp. We descended the slope towards the TRC landing very close to it. Time was around 10.30 am by now. We hurriedly entered our dorm to get ready after a hot water bath and a quick breakfast for our journey to Kargil nearly 120 km away. The next blog will be on Kargil.

* Author recommends the readers to view the following Sonamarg videos captured by himself.
1. Sonamarg At A Glance 2. Thajiwas Glacier Trek  
3. Sind River & Crashing Snow-pile
4. White Water Rafting Over River Sind  

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for the exact documentation of our trek and journey. The only thing I want to add is that Thajiwas Glacier and surroundings are part of Thajiwas Wildlife Sanctuary.

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  2. Hello , thanks for sharing about your Sonamarg experience. Srinagar is a must visit place, if you're going to J&K In true sense, the town's beauty and lush greenery with leave you absolutely enchanted. Get to know about various hotels in Srinagar and enjoy a memorable stay.

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