Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sonamarg: Galloping up the glacier

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-By Swetha Amit




We left Srinagar for a three-hour drive to Sonamarg, which in Hindi means the 'meadow of gold'. A trip to Kashmir is incomplete without a visit to Sonamarg and the Thajiwas Glacier, where it snows year-round. A trekker's paradise, this place is just 84km from the city and a memorable journey as the landscape abounds with gurgling streams.

Going with the flow: Situated at an altitude of 3,000km above sea level, the drive to Sonamarg is spectacular. We drive alongside the Sindh river. Streams adorned with pebbles, the little tea shop in the vicinity and segments of the glacier on the sides of the road only added to the beauty as we drove to our accommodation.

Dressing up like Eskimos: The road afforded breathtaking views of the snow-capped Himalayas. As we started to explore, horsemen offered to take us to the Thajiwas Glacier. Equipped with coats and boots designed for a walk in the snow, available on rent in local stores, we felt like Eskimos.

Greener pastures: The pine and fir trees made a pretty contrast to the snow and listening to local folklore made the ride to the glacier interesting. The guide was only too happy to count the names of the movies shot in the serene beauty of Sonamarg. For people like us, habituated to traffic and a breathless pace, the slow life in this part of the country was something new and our entourage stopped to see a flock of sheep grazing amidst green pastures. We fell in love with the soft wooly creatures instantly.


Dashing through the snow: We reached the glacier and inspite of the coats were chilled to the bone, but that didn't dampen our spirits. We opted for a sledge ride right up to the topmost point of the glacier. As we went higher up the glacier, we were at a loss for words to describe its beauty. The glacier brought out the child in us and we hurled snowballs at each other. The journey down was fast and fun as well. The hot tea besides a stream warmed our chilled bodies. After the trip, we couldn't help thinking that Kashmir would indeed make many European countries such as Switzerland eat humble pie.

The last village: We then decided to drive up to see the border beyond which the gateway to Ladakh opened. Our first stop was the fish point, a fishing and angling destination. The stream frothed with tiny fish. There were tents for visitors who liked to camp there. We soon reached a point where the green of Kashmir gave way to the dry, barren landscape of Ladakh. As evening set in, the sunset amid the snow-capped beauty of Sonmarg amazed us. It felt like looking into a picture-perfect postcard. We couldn't help but agree with Emperor Jehangir when he said ''If there was heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.''

How to get there: Sonmarg is accessible by road from Srinagar and situated about 84km from the city.

Best time to visit: The best time to visit Sonmarg would be between the months of May-September.

Things to do: Sonmarg happens to be the base camp for the Amarnath Yatra. The yatra is organised during the months of July and August every year. Popular trekking routes are from Sonamarg-Vishansar-Kishansar-Gadsar-Satsar-Gangabal.

Cost
One night in Sonamarg would cost around Rs3,000 per person.
The horse ride up to Thajiwas Glacier would amount to Rs1,000 per horse for about half a day.
A sledge ride can vary anywhere between Rs600-Rs1,000 depending on how high one would like to venture up the glacier.
The hiring of a Sumo to the last village would come to around Rs700 per vehicle.

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