A 2 Months Long Road Trip to Kashmir

Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member

Pahalgam to Aru Valley to Srinagar​


The plan for the day was to first drive from Pahalgam to Aru Valley, then to Baisaran hills, and then go back to Srinagar. In short, it was a leisurely day with neither a lot of driving involved nor the need to rush through it. So far, the trip to Pahalgam was nothing like what we expected it to be and I was really hoping that at least Aru Valley will live up to the hype.

I was the last one to get up that morning. I think it was at around 8 am that I finally got out of bed and joined my friends on the hotel lawn for a cup of tea.

Our travel plans were discussed again and Shoyab suggested heading straight to Gulmarg from Pahalgam rather than going back to Srinagar. But then after a bit of further discussion, we decided to stick to the original plan only.

The next hour or so was spent packing and getting some breakfast. By 9 am, we were all ready to check out of the hotel and move on. The first destination of the day was the famous Aru Valley.

So let me first talk about what Aru Valley actually is without trying to glorify the place unnecessarily. Aru is basically a small village. The local pronunciation of the place can be both Aru and Adu. It is located at a distance of about 12 kilometers from Pahalgam.

This village is the starting point of several treks that lead out of Pahalgam, most of them lasting a few days. The trek to Tarsar – Marsar lakes also starts from here. When you are in the village, more than the regular tourists, you will actually find trekkers either ready to start or returning from their trek.

All the places that you see in the pictures below are in the forest around the Aru Village. You will have to trek to all these places and Depending on which part you want to cover, the trek can last from 1 day to several.

The village consists of a few shops, some houses, dhabas, and a few decent enough hotels. On one end of the village is a large meadow-type area, a ground that also serves as a picnic spot for a lot of locals.

That is all Aru Valley or village really is. In all honesty, it is probably the best place to visit in and around Pahalgam. The drive from Pahalgam to Aru is on a narrow and very steep road but is also very scenic.

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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
So, coming back to the story, we checked out of our hotel in Pahalgam and a shock awaited us when I was paying the final bill. We stayed there for just a night. I was recommended the hotel by a friend and he was able to get us a good deal in terms of the tariff.

But what they discounted us in tariff was charged back with dinner. We ended up paying twice the amount of the tariff for just the dinner, light breakfast, and a few cups of tea.

To be honest, I was shocked not because of the bill amount but because the hotel was suggested to me by a friend, who knew of the owner of the hotel. So, I was not really expecting them to charge me so much. The hotel, as well as the food, were not really that good and that is why it pinched me to pay so much.

But on the other hand, Kashmir actually is an expensive place, irrespective of where you go. The prices of pretty much everything here will surprise the hell out of you.

Anyway, we paid the bill, no matter how much I did not want to pay all that money and checked out of the hotel. We asked a few locals, drove back a few kilometers, and took the turn towards Aru Valley.

I am not really sure of the altitude of Aru Village. I looked up the web and the answer I got doesn’t really sound right. If you search Google, it will tell you that Pahalgam is at an elevation of 2730 meters and Aru is at 2414 meters. But when you travel from Pahalgam to Aru Valley, you will realize that these numbers cannot be right.

The incline in the road was really significant and it remains that way for its entire length. So, it is not really possible that Pahalgam is at a higher altitude than Aru. I am not really sure of the exact height of the place but I can definitely tell you that it is higher than Pahalgam.

We drove up and at a few spots, I actually had to stop at a wide enough area because there was a car coming from the other direction. At some stretches, it is just not possible for two vehicles to cross each other because the road isn’t wide enough.

We took a couple of breaks in-between and finally reached Aru Village.


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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
So far, nothing in Pahalgam was how I imagined it. The trend continued in Aru Village as well. The road ended at the village and we parked our car in front of a few shops and got down.

The question that came to mind then was what now? We were there in Aru Valley but where from here? Not knowing which way go to, we stepped into a nearby tea shop and ordered tea. Standing there, I started talking to a few locals and contemplating our options.

Aru village serves as a base camp for trekkers to the Kolahoi Glacier, the largest glacier in the Kashmir Valley. The treks to Lidderwat, the Vishansar-Kishansar lakes, Tarsar-Marsar lakes, and the Katrinag valley also start from here.

As a result, the majority of the people we saw there were trekkers. Some were getting ready to start their treks and others were returning. The entire village was bustling with pony owners and guides along with the trekkers.

We had our tea and started to walk in the village. The sun has come up by now and like the previous days, it was starting to get really hot. The entire village is barely a kilometer in length and within a few minutes, we were at the other end of it.

It is not really large enough to be called a meadow but there is a ground-like area on the other end of the village. I am sure it must be a very pleasant sight in the morning and evening but while we were there, the harsh sun was really making it difficult to walk around.

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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
One thing that I noticed was the hotels in Aru Valley. I asked around and rooms were available for as low as Rs. 600 to Rs. 800 per day. This was really a pleasant surprise because the hotels in Pahalgam were really on the expensive side. It will be hard to find a hotel in Pahalgam for under Rs. 2000. Even if you negotiated, they won’t budge a Rupee less than Rs. 1500.

On the other hand, Aru Valley is much cheaper and, in my opinion, a much better place to stay. While we were strolling around, I knew in my heart that the next time I am in Pahalgam, Aru Valley is where I will be staying. It is without a doubt a much prettier location than the main Pahalgam town.

There are no homestay options in Aru Valley or at least none that I know of. I asked around about it when I was there but no one confirmed a homestay. But the difference between a hotel and a homestay here is minimal. It is the villagers only that are running these small hotels and are more or less the same deal as a homestay.

There are no campsites in Aru Valley but camping can be arranged by the locals or travel agencies if you notified them in advance.


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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
The peaceful environment and scenic beauty of Aru Valley are what you should come here for. It is a haven for trekkers but even for regular tourists, it is a great spot to spend a couple of days in peace, away from the crowd. There is a meadow in the village and a few others around the village. On the way, you also cross a couple of waterfalls and water streams.

In short, if you are not a trekker, there is not much to see or do in Aru Village itself but the location of the place is perfect. Rather than staying in Pahalgam, I will strongly recommend that Aru is where you should stay. You will pay much less for accommodation and will like find it better than Pahalgam itself.

I was told that Paragliding takes place in Aru Valley but I did not see any options for that. There were no agencies offering paragliding and I did not see anyone doing that either. It could be an option but I think you will have to book this in advance in either Srinagar or Pahalgam. There is no option readily available.

Skiing is one of the winter activities that happen here during the winter season. But the majority of skiing enthusiasts prefer to go to Gulmarg for that. The meadow in Gulmarg offers much better slopes for skiing than Aru Valley or Pahalgam.


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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
We spent about an hour in Aru Village and then started driving down to Pahalgam. There were a couple of beautiful spots on the way, perfect for photography, where we took short breaks.


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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
Let me briefly mention why we canceled the plan for Baisaran Valley. I was under the impression that Baisaran is more or less the same deal as Thajiwas Glacier in Sonamarg. I thought of it as a 2-3 kilometers walk but as it turned out, it was a 6 kilometers long trek.

So this is where the confusion happened. I know Baisaran was 6 kilometers from Pahalgam but I thought most of that distance can be covered by road. You drive as far as you can and then walk the last couple of kilometers to explore the area.

As I found out in Aru Village and verified later, the entire distance of 6-7 kilometers to Baisaran Village is actually a trek. So if we were to go that way, we will trek about 12-13 kilometers in total. This further meant that we will have to stay another day in Pahalgam.

So in the end, we decided to give up the idea of Baisaran Valley. Now the plan was to reach Srinagar, stay there for the night and then go to Gulmarg the next day.
 
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Vargis Khan

Administrator
Staff member
While going to Pahalgam, we started early at 7 am. The entire 100 kilometers long journey to Pahalgam took just about 2.5 hours. On return though, we started from Pahalgam at around 11 am. As a result, there was already a lot of traffic near Anantnag which increased the travel time.

We took our first break at a tea shop near Aishmuqam, the same place we stopped at the day before. After that, the journey was non-stop and we reached our hotel near Dal Lake by 3 pm. That is when we realized that mobile data service in Kashmir was also back on, after being shut down for 4 days, since Thursday.

We reached our hotel at around 3 pm and stayed there for the next 2 hours. The sun was very harsh and the weather hot. So going anywhere for sightseeing was not really an option until evening.

At around 5 pm, we decided to go to Astanmarg. It is a viewpoint about 11 kilometers from Dal Lake and offers an amazing view of the entire Srinagar City, its surrounding hills, and Dal Lake.

Maddy and I had already been to Astanmarg once after we arrived in Srinagar. We then tried going there again last Friday after Shoaib and Gunjit arrived.

But at that time, internet services in Kashmir were not working, including the mobile data. Since there was no Google Maps to follow, we could not find the way to Astanmarg. We asked a few people but got confusing answers.

So after driving around for about 30 minutes, we gave up and returned. But today, mobile data was working and we were easily able to find our way to the Astanmarg viewpoint.


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We spent about an hour up there, sitting around, talking, clicking pictures, and returned only after sunset. Not much happened after that. We had dinner at the hotel only and called it a day at around 10 pm. The plan for tomorrow was to drive to Gulmarg.
 
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