Yousmarg – The Meadow of Jesus in Kashmir tour
This kashmir travelogue is about offbeat places for kashmir tour.The phrase ‘Meadow of Jesus’ so rightly conveys the divinity of this virgin hill station – Yousmarg. Rested at an altitude of 7900 feet above sea level, Yousmarg bears the true spirit of tranquility in its every drop. It falls under the jurisdiction of Badgaum district of the newly formed Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Around 50 kilometers west of Srinagar, Yousmarg offers scintillating views of the snowcaps, alpine meadows, untainted grasslands, sparkling waters of Doodh Ganga tributary and herding cattle, all under a vast blue canvas.
Yousmarg – The meadow of Jesus
It was my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary – so I had to gift them a pleasant day out, far from the littering tourist crowd. Yousmarg fits the need so perfectly! I planned the breakfast little differently. Though there was no concept of home delivery in Kashmir that time, I secretly managed to arrange a dry fruit cake from the local bakery with the help of a hotel boy named Aslam. All thanks to him, it was such a lovely morning surprise for the elderly couple.
Road trip to Yousmarg from Srinagar
Our new driver Sonu, a Hindu guy hailing from Jammu, was waiting outside the hotel with his Ford Ikon. Sharp 10am, we embarked upon our day trip to Yousmarg. The road we were about to traverse would take us through the holy soil of Charar-e-Sharief, the land of Nund Rishi alias Sheikh Noor-ud-din-Wali.
Crowded road near Lal Chowk
It was Monday morning and eventually the journey began with a jamming drive which continued till we crossed Lal Chowk. School buses one after the other, mobile municipal composters, chockfull office goers, public buses, tempos, goods vehicles, private cars – all honking on the road aloud. Furthermore, bustling corners of the marketplace and causeway hawkers added to the cacophony. First time I could realize the non-tourist daily life of Srinagar natives – so similar to metro dwellers like us!
Way to Yousmarg
Yousmarg was one of those offbeat tourist destinations of Kashmir which has a bad approach road but assures a breathtaking view of nature to all its visitors. Then again only if you can hold your patience till the end. It is an old belief that during Jesus Christ’s visit to Kashmir, He had chosen Yousmarg as His holy abode.
Approaching Chadura village
Soon after overpassing the urban areas of Srinagar, the landscape changed in a jiffy. Just before the uphill drive, we crossed a small village named Chadura. Though small in geographical span, but it seemed to be one of the busiest rural auction centers of Badgaum district. A narrow motor road was the lone thoroughfare with only a handful of state buses running to and fro. The density of bikes in this route was strikingly less than other regions visited so far. People here hardly have any hurry to reach their destinations, except at Lal Chowk. That perhaps also indicates the peaceful pace of life of the inhabitants.
Badgaum district surroundings
Another striking factor of Badgaum traffic was – none would allow you to overtake irrespective of their speed. You have to wait until you make your own way out. For example, the main road near Chadura was too narrow to even let two vehicles move simultaneously, unless one allows a side pass. A hand pulled waste-van kept moving ahead of our car for more than a kilometer at his own sweet pace until he took a left turn to let us go. You can well imagine the volume of traffic behind our car!
Due to reason obvious, Sonu was highly reluctant to drive us to Yousmarg. It is good to tell here that he was quite a cribbing fellow, crying at every extra effort required to take in creating tourist delight. The unruly traffic on road added to his grunts. But we were in a mood to encourage him; so, kept silent.
Way to Charar-e-Sharief
The highway connecting Srinagar and Yousmarg cuts across Charar-e-Sharief, one of the most revered Islamic shrines of Kashmir valley. The wooden Ziarat is said to be constructed 600 years ago in memory of Sheikh Noor-ud-din-Wali. He was a great saint and poet from the 13th century AD with equal acceptance among the Hindus. The Kashmiri pundits often refer him as Nund Rishi or Sahajanand. Unfortunately, even such a sacred place too did not get spared from terror attacks. As a result, today there are multilevel military check posts who allow only restricted entry to outsiders like us.
Altitude of the village would be around 6500 feet above sea level, but it was quite an eventful bazaar area with innumerable shops, vendors and local folks busy in negotiations. Parking our car near one of the shops, we visited the famous Ziarat of Alamdar-e-Kashmir. It is said that inside there is a rock named ‘Shah Kean’ (in Kashmiri language it means the King’s Stone) which bears the footprints of the great Sufi saint Sheikh Noor-ud-din-Wali. Mythology says, it is due to his footfall, the place became sacred and devotees started flocking the village. Over the years, it attained the status of a Ziarat.
As I was about to enter the innermost hall of the shrine, an old lady requested me to fully cover my head with dupatta before walking in further. It is a common gesture of homage paid to the saint by his disciples. We were also offered a piece of round shaped edible substance (like prasad distributed at Hindu temples) as a token of blessing from the prodigious saint. Although I could not express my gratitude for such a secular gesture, certainly it was an unforgettable moment of my life.
View of Pir Panjal range from Ziyarat
We did not have much time in hand, else would have surely spent an hour at the Ziarat. The view of Pir Panjal range from the top was mesmerizing. However, photography inside the memorial was strictly prohibited. I could hardly spot any vacationers other than us in the surrounding area including the rustic marketplace. Refreshing ourselves with a glass of badam milk, we headed to the remaining stretch. There was a small local confectionary from where we purchased some munchies as an on-road time pass.
Muddy ride through broken roads
Yousmarg was still 18 kilometers from here, perhaps the toughest drive was awaiting. The road beyond Charar-e-Sharief deteriorated even further, full of patches and deep potholes. Not to our surprise it was literally broken at many places. Honestly speaking, Sonu’s increasingly tougher looks reflecting on the rear-view mirror was frightening me.
Chunks of grasses uprooted after rains
One peculiar characteristic of Yousmarg was that it was made of muddy laterite soil, seemingly which may easily get washed off after heavy downpours. In fact, some hilltops looked recently impacted as we passed by acres of swamped grasslands, uprooted full-grown cedars and algal waterlogs alongside the road. It was so slippery and broken at some corners that it felt audacious to drive our car over it. A slight skid could have sunken us straight down the cliffs. Thankfully nothing ominous happened like that, and I am still alive to share our remaining travel tale with you.
First glance of Yousmarg
Among many others, Pine, Fir, Chinar, Birch and Poplar were the most common trees dotted enroute. Finally, we reached Yousmarg at around 1pm after a strenuous four-hour drive including a short break at Charar-e-Sharief. One thing I really did not understand was for what purpose were those hefty toll taxes and entry fees (authorized or otherwise) charged!
Amidst all this, the green opus of mountain valleys, grazing horses, an ethnic view point, orchards, foaming river streams down the hills and mighty Himalayas in the background soothed our weariness in a whisker. Perhaps this is why Kashmir is compared with paradise. However, it is advisable to wear robust shoes as the soil texture is very muddy here and it turns too slimy after slightest of rain. The absolute natural splendour would make anyone fall in love with this piece of unexplored dreamland.
Ethnic view point
School Picnic at Yousmarg
We first visited a huge lake walled by barbed fences and then reached the Yousmarg valley. The serene fields offer a scenic picnic spot and many schools and community centers come for picnic during springtime. We also met a few students enjoying excursion in the valley.
Scenic surroundings of Yousmarg
We roamed around the place for hours, capturing spectacular glimpses of Sunset Peak and Tattakutti Peak of the Trans Himalayas, distant groves, top view of the Doodh Ganga River, private residences of Gaddi tribe along the green slope and what not! (Gaddis are casteless nomadic shepherds of Rajasthan’s Barmer origin who settled in the higher Himalayan belts eras ago.)
Tribal inhabitation of the Gaddis
Moment after alighting from the car, we were approached by a horde of ponywalas (horsemen) for a horse ride; but I preferred to take a stroll on foot this time. Else, it would have become a replication of our Aru excursion. A jungle hike can also lead you to the riverside, but we restricted to keep our trail near the core region only.
In and around Yousmarg
Couple of downstream treks also originate from Yousmarg, especially to Nilnag Lake, Doodh Ganga and Sang-e-Safed. While running down the hills through big rocks and boulders, this Jhelum tributary creates milky white foam, which originated its name Doodh Ganga while the reflection of blue sky on the waters of the lake dots back to the etymological origin of Nilnag Lake.
Doodh Ganga river
There were only JKTDC tourist huts available for accommodation in Yousmarg. During our time of visit, all tents were occupied by trekkers. As mentioned by the duty manager, the reservation generally gets full months in advance. Though we did not have any plan to spend nights there, still the absolute serenity of the place forced us to ponder for sure. The gentleman insisted us to take a tour of Doodh Pathri on our way back which is also a scenic valley in vicinity. But, in interest of time, we decided to spend another relaxing hour at Yousmarg.
JKTDC tourist huts
JKTDC restaurant at Yousmarg
Due to lack of footfalls round the year, there were not many food joints in Yousmarg. Only one restaurant operated by JKTDC was spotted. Surprisingly it offered Hindu non-vegetarian food. We happily ordered a plate of chicken biriyani, chicken curry, seasonal mixed vegetables and jeera rice for three of us. Well, I can bet, even after trying thousand times, nobody can beat the taste of chicken biriyani served to us! Just to add, saying ‘horrendous’ would not suffice my frustration!
Evening view of Dal Lake – back to Srinagar
Locking memorable moments of our family togetherness in the camera, we started back our journey by 3.30pm, expecting to reach Srinagar in three hours downhill drive. I have no shame to admit, after relishing such a lovely day trip, I snored a sound sleep until disturbed by the hooting Srinagar traffic. Even around close to six in the evening, dusk was yet to flush off Dal’s waterbed.
Nun Kun Entrance
We were about to reach our hotel in some time when my father proposed an anniversary special treat at my favourite Chinese bistro – Nun Kun. Though booked for disposal duty, as usual Sonu was not happy to stretch his duty hours further. However, the enthralling ambiance of the red restaurant touched him too when my parents offered a complementary feast.
Nun Kun’s red dominance
Hoopoe bird in the garden
Needless to say, the wide-angle view of Dal Lake, colourful shikaras and the Boulevard Road was its special attraction. A hoopoe bird playing at the restaurant lawn tapped our attention for long till when a bowl of Lung Fung soup was served hot on our table. Delicacies following it were perhaps yummier than the steaming broth, each having exclusivity of its own.
View of Dal Lake from Nun Kun balcony
The clear evening sky was an indicator of cloudless morning after two days of incessant rains. Hopefully, we would be heading on to the best part of our Kashmir trip tomorrow – that’s Gulmarg.