A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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Have you heard of reclining horse? Well, Aru can bet a challenge to the age-old notion that a horse never sits until its last breath. We even met a sleeping horse!! Sounds unbelievable? Well, that’s the divinity of this splash of paradise on earth.
Sleeping horses of Aru
Many of us have been to Kashmir for tourism, nature photography, film shoots, pilgrimage, romantic getaways, mountaineering, bio tours, adventure sports and river rafting. But definitely Aru Valley does not fall in the most commonly visited hotspot list. Some important treks do originate from here, but believe me, it is much more than that. Serenity, tranquility, heavenliness – would sound synonymous to Aru once you land up at this pristine meadow.
Glimpses of Aru Valley
This May to beat the summer heats, we had planned an offbeat Kashmir tour, visiting some of the off-the-wall tourist destinations in the Trans Himalayan circuit. Aru was our first stopover. Located at a road distance of around 12 kilometers from Pahalgam, Aru is a picturesque valley in the lap of Mt. Kolahoi (the highest peak in this part), with a visibility of more than a kilometer during summer and spring time. The elevation ranges approximately from 8000 to 12,000 feet above sea level and houses innumerable endangered biodiversity, flora and fauna. Though during winter months it remains covered in snow, it is relatively soothing round the year with an average temperature of around 11 to 15 degree Celsius. Surrounded by deodar, birch, pine and other alpines, Aru offers a mystic green beauty amidst snow.
Pahalgam t o Aru
Hiring horses from Pahalgam taxi stand
Reaching Pahalgam was not very difficult by road. After checking in at one of the mall road hotels, we marched for the mesmerizing horse ride of 12 kilometers. Private taxis were available from the Pahalgam taxi stand, but we were in a mood of expedition. We hired two strong ponies accompanied by three young men (supposedly our guides) for the hike.
Aru Trek on Horse Back
They took us through a forested shortcut, passing by a broken footbridge over the foaming Lidder. We took a fifteen minutes break beside the river, opened our thermos flask and relished the moments with a cup of coffee. Ever since we halted, the snow melted stream was beckoning me for a chill. Its cold splashes soothed my tired feet like natural healer.
Fallen footbridge on way
Break beside Lidder River
After roughly a 5 kilometer ride through the woods, we arrived at the motor road and followed it until Aru. On way, we came across a flock of sheep with the Gaddis herding them from behind. The view of snow caps in front and riding slowly with the cattle flock was such a fascinating experience!
Following flock of sheep with Gaddis
Hitting main road after a forested short cut
It took us almost half a day to reach Aru valley, taking intermediate breaks on way. We made our way through a narrow hillside road, closely resembling a green serpent, through the dense conifers, Kashmiri villages, mountain streams and finally a pitch road which ended at the grasslands of Aru – all the way keeping Lidder River on our left. The gurgling sound of the stream, whistling cedars tuned with horse neighs created a mystic charm altogether.
Melting glaciers on way
Reaching Aru Valley
Aru is one of the smallest hamlets in the Kashmir valley located in Anantnag District of Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Circumscribed by appealing snow peaks and lakes, its scenic grasslands offer a splendid view of the Himalayas. Mt. Kolahoi can be clearly seen on a cloudless morning. The trek of Kolahoi Glacier (the largest glacier in Kashmir Valley) starts right from here. Aru’s Lidderwat also serves as the base camp of Tarsar-Marsar hike and Vishansar-Kishansar trek, twin lakes at an altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level.
Landscape of the grasslands of Aru
We reached there by 12 noon. The village lies on the left bank of Aru River, a tributary of Lidder. Lush green meadows surrounded by glittering snow covered mountains on all sides, sparsely located thatched roof huts with horses grazing on the natural carpet – that’s what describes Aru in one sentence. Luckily it was a bright sunny morning, temperature somewhere around 12 degrees. Humidity was relatively low as per our horse guide which brightened the nature further. While taking random snaps, noticed a huge talking crowd in front of Fimi Hotel. We assumed, the mob must be circling some celebrity, but did not comprehend the exact topic of discussion though.
Mysterious Mas Mobbing in Aru
Quite tired after a long horse trek, we thought of taking a lunch break at one of those aboriginal shacks. Nowadays, a handful of high-altitude cottages have also come up to offer guests a pleasant stay. However, keeping in mind the geographical gorgeousness of the place, any artificial luxury will fall short.
Lunch break at Aru’s roadside shack
While we were waiting for our food to get served, a strange thing happened with us. The person whom we assumed to be a celeb, was passing by the shack. As he noticed us taking his snaps, he entered the shop and approached us with a smile. Though we could not recognize him by face, but from the excited crowd trailing him it was not difficult to gauge his honcho status in Aru.
Mass mobbing following us
A ponywala introduced him as one of the local millionaires who recently joined politics. But appearance wise, he can any day throw a strong competition to our super-hot Bollywood stars. For the next fifteen minutes, we had a cordial conversation with him regarding the kind of hospitality, natural beauty and ambiance of Aru. While leaving, he warmly requested us to encourage our statesmen to pay more visits to this green valley which will help creating better employment for the locales.
Walk around the valley
After a decent meal, we took a walk around the valley, clicked handful of lifetime photographs and enjoyed selfies with the sleeping horses before riding back.
Mt. Kolahoi peak as seen from Aru
Having narrated the spectacular diorama of Aru, only aspect which seemed somewhat unmatching at the backdrop of nature’s bounty was the forceful attitude of local horsemen who, to certain extent, force tourists to take their horse rides from the designated Aru tourist spot to different nearby trekking routes. The Government approved rate chart, though defined and clearly displayed on board, are hardly followed on folly grounds like low visitor footfalls, old rate chart not updated, heavy weight of travelers, recent inflation, poor horse owner, unfed horses etc.
To be brutally honest, the horse ride from Pahalgam to Aru, 12 kilometres upstream along Lidder through the Overa Biosphere Reserve was more alluring than the destination itself. The name of our horse was Tumba, not sure what it means in Kashmiri language, but it was a sweet company beyond doubt. Her gentle tail scrubs, wild body odour and love kicks added an adventurous touch to our Aru expedition. Though we are not adventure sports buff, but Aru can be a wonderful host for skiing, heliskiing, paragliding and river rafting buffs. For leisure travelers, it can contest for one of the best nature camp, trout fishing and valley trotting centres.
Back to our hotel in Pahalgam
By evening, we were back to our hotel in Pahalgam. Having light dinner with Tandoori Roti and Mixed Veg, I jumped into the depth of my dreams under a cozy woolen blanket – getting ready to proceed to our next destination Hagoon in the morning.