Pahalgam | Photo: Madhusoodanan P/ Mathrubhumi
Srinagar: Birthing from the glaciers of Kolahoi and Shri Amarnath Ji and culminating at the fertile plains of Ashmuqam, the 100 km long Lidder Valley is the fondest subject of admiration in Kashmir. It's the gateway to the holy Amarnath Cave and the favourite trekking adventure of the tourists. Lidder Valley's meadows, glaciers, lush greenery, mountains, and dense forests are sure to make one feel like Alice in Wonderland.
The Lidder River (Yellow River) passes through the Lidder Valley with enthusiasm. It comes down from the glaciers of the Pahalgam mountains. Aru and Chandanwari are its tributaries that source the drinking water for Anantnag and the nearby villages. The river joins Jhelum from the north of the Anantnag town. Through a canal constructed back in the day by the great King Zain-ul-Abedin, Lidder water flows through the Martand plateau and lakes including the Shesh Nag.
Branches of the Lidder River pass through the Betab Valley, Lidderwat, and Aru Valley. The lakes of Marsar and Katarnag flow into the same river. To truly enjoy the entire valley in its raw state, one needs to dedicate five days to immerse oneself in the adventure that awaits them.
Starting at Anantnag for the Valley, besides nature's benevolence one finds scrumptious food at Mattan and Akad. Since Akad Park falls on the way to Pahalgam, it's constantly flooded with tourists trying to capture seasonal blooms. The Valley also witnesses religious tourism to three important sites situated here - Ashmuqam, Amarnath Cave, and Mattan (Martand). In 2022 the Amarnath Yatra took place after three years and lakhs of pilgrims across the country participated in this Himalayan event.
Paddy fields and apple orchards fill the view along the motorable road to Pahalgam. In the fall season, the scenery changes to hues of orange and red, and the trees bow down with the weight of apples. One can get out of the car, pay the orchardist, and enjoy the fresh fruit off the tree.
Pahalgam, located along the Lidder River is the show-stopper of the Lidder Valley. Horses are lined up outside resorts to take one to gardens such as Poshwan Park, Club Park, Abshar Park, Lidder View Park, Lavender Park, and Deer Park, or to take one up and down the creases of Pahalgam. A special initiative to plant and propagate exotic varieties of flowers along the river and the gardens have been taken by the Department of Agriculture. Under the banner of 'Azadi the Amrit Mahaotsav' new gardens were inaugurated by the J&K administration in 2022.
A small zoo having a few wild Himalayan animals also has a place in Pahalgam. The famous Overa-Aru Wildlife Sanctuary has some rare bird species, including migratory birds from Central Asia and North Europe.
Pahalgam Golf Course of the Lidder has some of the most spectacular views and world-class facilities to offer. The UT government is popularising golf among youth to bring J&K on the international golfing map.
Thrill-seeking individuals are seen excitedly pitching and renting tents alongside the Lidder River. In the Aru Valley, Betab Valley, and Baisaran, lies the essence of Pahalgam.
The Aru Valley has the most stunning landscapes and mystery woodlands which add to its appeal. It is 13 km from Pahalgam and on the bank of a mountain stream originating from Katarnag Lake. It is surrounded entirely by meadows and green mountains where brambles and wildflowers grow everywhere. The mighty Himalayas stand on one side of it. One important peak is the mountain Kolahoi locally known as Ghash Brair, meaning the Goddess of Light. The glacier of Kolahoi is the most famous alpine glacier in Kashmir.
The Aru Valley is the base for the Tarsar-Marsar trek that leads to the immaculate lakes of Tarsar, Marsar, and Sundarsar Lake. It also paves the way to Kolahoi Glacier, Nafran Valley, Dodhsar Lake, and Katarnag Lake. If one chooses to trek to these places, one will have access to about ten untouched lakes. Two of them, Lake Harnag and Harbhagwan are a sight for sore eyes. Within the Aru Valley are some secret meadows such as - Kootpather, Lidderwat, Nafran Valley, Aram Pather, Baji Pather, Danawath, Gagdi Pather, and Domail - that can be discovered on foot.
The second destination in the Lidder Valley is the Hagan Valley or Betab Valley. It got its name after the movie Betaab (1983) which was shot there. Just 7 km from Pahalgam this Valley has some great views through its tall willow trees. A quiet river flows to the side of it and adds calm to the scenery. The bridges over the river are architected with delicacy and finesse, complementing the surrounding.
On the same route and 16 km from Pahalgam lies Chandwari, the base camp for Shri Amarnath Ji, Sheesh Nag Lake trek, and Panchtarni trek. Amarnath Ji Cave is 32 km from the base camp. The Sheesh Nag lake trek first welcomes Sonasar Lake and Koon Nag Lake before arriving at Sheesh Nag. The misty cover over the river and forest adds an eerie effect to the environment. At a hikeable distance is a white mass of snow - the Dodal glacier.
No less than a fairyland and the final destination in Pahalgam is Baisaran. Just 5 km away from Pahalgam this Mini Switzerland is a placid meadow surrounded by tall green trees. The earth here feels like a soft carpet of velvet, and the majestic white peaks present a splendid view. The feeling is something out of a magical tale. Baisaran also offers the experience of leisure and adventure sports like zorbing, zipline, and pony rides. Though the entire Kashmir Valley is picture-perfect, Baisaran especially has some of the best postcard-worthy scenery. Kanimarg, Kashmir Valley Point, Dabyan Valley, and Deon Valley Point are the nearby places worth exploring. To reach Tulain Lake and this Valley, one has to pass through Baisaran.
Lidder Valley has huge adventure sports potential. White water rafting, horse riding, hiking, trekking, mountain biking, fishing, paragliding, golfing, zorbing, and ziplining, are offered here. Since last year the Department of Tourism and the Center have been working towards making Lidder the adventure sports capital of the country. The Valley has the best topography for snow sports such as skiing, snow-sledding, ice-climbing, snowmobiling, etc.
A visit to Kashmir is incomplete without experiencing the spell of the Lidder. Once one starts on an expedition to discover the depth of this paradise, it's hard to disagree that Kashmir indeed is a heaven on earth.