Situated at the confluence of the streams flowing from Sheshnag Lake and the Lidder river, Pahalgam (2,130 m) was once a humble shepherd's village with breathtaking views. Now it is Kashmir's premier resort, cool even during the height of summer when the maximum temperature does not exceed 250C. A number of hotels and lodges cater to all preferences and budgets, from luxurious hotels to unpretentious trekkers' lodges, including J&K TDC's huts.
Around Pahalgam are many places of interest, and because the resort is set between fairly steep hills, it is worth hiring a pony rather than walking. Pony fares are posted at prominent locations.
The most beautiful of these is the huge, undulating meadow of Baisaran, surrounded by thickly wooded forests of pine. Hajan, on the way to Chandanwari, is an idyllic spot for a picnic. Filmgoers will recognize it instantly as it has been the location of several movie scenes.
Pahalgam is also associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra. Chandanwari (2,895 m), 16 kms from Pahalgam, is the starting point of the yatra that takes place every year in the month of Sawan (July to August). The road from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is on fairly flat terrain and can be undertaken by car. From Chandanwari onwards the track becomes much steeper, and is accessible on foot or by pony. About 11 kms from Chandanwari is the mountain lake of Sheshnag (3,574 m), after which, 13 kms away is the last stop, Panchtarni. The Amarnath cave is 6 kms away from there. During the month of Sawan, an ice stalagmite forms a natural shivling in the Amarnath cave, which waxes and wanes with the moon.
For detailed information on the Amaranath Yatra, refer to the Amarnathji Yatra Link, which contains detailed information on the background of the yatra, the facilities provided and arrangements made, the routes of yatra, registration requirements, "do's and don’ts", etc.
Ponies can be hired directly or through the Tourist Office. Tariff boards are displayed at all important locations.
Pahalgam Club has a 9-hole golf course, which can be used by tourists. Golf sets can be hired from the Tourist Office.
The Lidder River has excellent fishing beats for brown trout. The fishing season stretches from April to September. Permits are issued, for a maximum of three days at a time, on a first-come - first-served basis and are charged on a per day per rod basis. Fishing equipment can be hired in Srinagar. Live baits and spinning are not allowed. For permits contact the Directorate of Fisheries, Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar.
The environs of Pahalgam offer exciting trekking opportunities, the best known being: Pahalgam - Chandanwari- Sheshnag- Panchtarni- Amarnath Cave Temple- Sonamarg.
Pahalgam Club, managed by J&K TDC has a restaurant, conference room, billiards and library. Temporary membership is available with the management.
Pahalgam, originally a shepherds' village, is naturally known for products made of wool. Gabbas and Namdas can be purchased from local shops.
J&K TDC offers accommodation in its 26 three/two-bed room Huts, 19 one -bed room huts , one clubhouse (3 suites) and a 7-roomed Tourist Bungalow at Pahalgam. The tariff is as under:
Reservation & Enquiries: Sr. Manager (Tours & Travel Division), J&K TDC, Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar. Tel. 457927, 472644, Fax: 0194- 457927, 476107
The J&K Govt. Tourist Office is located at the head of the main bazaar, where the tourist coaches stop. Tourists are urged to visit the office for all kinds of information and assistance, and for the latest information on trekking, hiking and other recreational activities in Pahalgam. They should make it a point to enquire from the Tourist Office whether one should proceed on a particular trek or not.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Shiva, in the form of a
lingam, is formed naturally
of an ice - stalagmite
One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time.
Shiva is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for "he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud."
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
The trek to Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July - August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice - stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice - lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.
According to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust which manages the shrine.
Yet another legend has it that when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnathji for them became Shiva's abode and a centre of pilgrimage.
Whatever the legends and the history of Amarnathji's discovery, it is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and though the route is as difficult to negotiate as it is exciting, every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in four or five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.
Since the base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam, a large tented township springs up to accommodate the pilgrims. The conduct of the yatra is a gigantic task in which the State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam, and a Yatra Officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.
Hazratbal Mosque is located in a village of the same name on the banks of the Dal. Its pristine white marble elegance is reflected in the waters of the lake.
Hazratbal's special significance is derived from the fact that it houses a hair of the prophet Muhammad. This is displayed to the public on religious occasions, usually accompanied by fairs. Apart from these occasions, Friday prayers are offered at Hazratbal and attended by throngs of people. Hazratbal is remarkable for being the only domed mosque in Srinagar; the others having distinct pagoda like roofs. The shrine – mosque complex is situated on the western shore of the Dal Lake opposite Nishat Bagh and commands a grand view of the lake and the mountain beyond.
The interior courtyard of Jama Masjid
The Jama Masjid at Nowhatta, in the heart of the old city, is the other important mosque in Srinagar at which thousands of people congregate for the Friday prayers. Of imposing proportions, the mosque is built around a courtyard and is supported by 370 wooden pillars.
The hushed quiet of the mosque counterpoints the bustle of the old bazaars surrounding it. Originally built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, and enlarged by his son, Zain-ul- Abidin, it is a typical example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Destroyed thrice by fire and rebuilt each time, the mosque, as it now stands, was repaired during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh.
The sacred temple of Shankaracharya occupies the top of the hills known as Takht-I-Sulaiman in the south-east of Srinagar. The site dates back to 250BC. The philosopher Shankaracharya stayed at this place when he visited Kashmir ten centuries ago to revive Sanatan Dharma.
Before this date, the temple was known as Gopadri, as an earlier edifice on the same site was built by king Lalitaditya in the 6th century AD. In fact, the road below the hill, with residences of high- ranking State Government officials, is still known as Gupkar road. Built on a high octagonal plinth and approached by a flight of steps with side walls that once bore inscriptions, the main surviving shrine consists of a circular cell. It overlooks the Valley and can be approached by a motorable road. A modern ceiling covers the inner sanctum and an inscription in Persian traces its origin to the reign of Emperor Shah Jehan. The original ceiling was dome- shaped and the brick roof, it appears, is not more than a century old.
|Khanqah Shah Hamadan, Srinagar|
Situated on the banks of the river Jhelum, between the third and fourth bridge, it is the first mosque ever built in Srinagar. The original one was built in 1395.
Shah Hamadan's full name was Mir Sayed Ali Hamadni, the surname being derived from the city of Hamadan in Persia. Shah-i-Hamdan, who came from Persia in the 13th century, was responsible for the spread of Islam in Kashmir. Khanqah-i-Mualla, on the banks of the Jhelum, was the very spot where Shah-i-Hamdan used to offer prayers.
After staying in Kashmir for many years, he left for Central Asia via Ladakh.A mosque established by him at Shey (near Leh) attracts devotees from far and wide.
The Khanqah is a wooden structure whose chief aesthetic feature is its beautifully carved eaves and hanging bells. The interiors are richly carved and painted, and the antique chandeliers give it an air of opulence.
|Hari Parbat Fort, Srinagar|
The Mughal emperor's fort crowns the top of Hari Parbat hill. There is little left of its former glory, but the ramparts are still impressive and the old apartments within the fort, even though in a state of ruin, still convey at least a little of the grandeur of the Mughals’ summer retreat in ‘paradise’. The fort was later developed in 18th century by an Afghan governor, Ata Mohammad Khan. The hill is considered sacred to the Hindus due to the presence of temple of Sharika, which is believed to be a form of goddess Durga or Shakti. The wall around the hill was built by Akbar in 1592-98 AD. The hill is surrounded by almond orchards, which make a lovely sight during April when the trees blossom, heralding the advent of spring in Kashmir.
The sixth Sikh guru travelled through Kashmir, stopping to preach occasionally. A gurudwara has been built at the exact site of each of these halts. The most important one among these is Chhatti Padshahi gurudwara, situated near the Kathi Darwaza, in Rainawari, Srinagar, which is held in great reverence by devotees of all faiths.
|Gurudwara Chatti Padshahi|
Martand, located atop a plateau, close to the township of Anantnag, has a temple dedicated to Surya, the "Sun God". Built by king Laitaditya Muktapida (7th to 8th century AD), it is a medieval temple with a colonnaded courtyard and the shrine in its centre. The temple complex has 84 columns and offers a commanding view of the valley of Kashmir.
|Kheer Bhawani Temple|
The Goddess Ragnya Devi is symbolised as a sacred spring at Tula Mula village, 27 kms from Srinagar. Within the spring is a small marble temple. The devotees of the goddess fast and gather here on the eighth day of the full moon in the month of May when, according to belief, the goddess changes the colour of the spring's waters. The temple-spring complex is affectionately known as Kheer Bhawani because of the thousands of devotees who offer milk and 'kheer' to the sacred spring, which magically turns black to warn of disaster.
The Awantipur ruins
Founded by Avantivarman who reigned Kashmir in the 9th century, this ancient township is 29 kms from Srinagar.
The site has two imposing temples, the larger one of Siva - Avantisvara is marked by huge walls, some half a mile beneath the town on the outskirts of village Jaubror. The subsidiary shrines are to the rear corner of the courtyard. The complex has, over the years, lost its grandeur and been reduced to ruins, though it is still visited by the devout. Half a mile up is Avantisvami - Vishnu, a better preserved, though smaller temple.
Sightseeing in Srinagar is commonly done by bus or taxi. Another way of seeing the city, especially the lake area, is by shikara. It is particularly pleasant to row over the waters of the Dal Lake to visit the Mughal Gardens and other lakeside sites, including the famous Hazratbal mosque.
The well-known sights in the city are Shankaracharya Temple atop the hill called Takht-e-Suleiman, a 5 km climb from Nehru Park on a metalled road. Across the city is another, much lower hill crowned by the Hari Parbat Fort, built by an Afghan governor of Kashmir in the 18th century. The low wall enclosing the upper part of the hill was constructed by Emperor Akbar. On the hill are several famous places of worship: the temple of goddess Sharika, the shrine of Muslim saint Makhdoorn Sahib, and the historic Sikh Gurudwara Chatti Padshahi.
The people of Ladakh, by and large, exhibit a natural joie-de-vivre, which is given free rein by the region’s ancient traditions. Socio-religious festivals, including the annual festivals held in the monasteries, provide the excuse for convivial gatherings. Archery is a pastime for all in summer. Among the Buddhists this sport often takes the form of open-air parties accompanied by dance and song. The game of polo is yet nother proud element of the popular culture.
Archery is an ancestral sport of Ladakh, which is part of the culture. In Leh and its surrounding villages, archery festivals are held during the summer months, with a lot of fun and fanfare. They are competitive events, to which all the surrounding villages send their teams. The sport itself is conducted with strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of surna and daman (oboe and drum). As important as the sport itself are the interludes of dancing and other entertainment. Chang, the local barley beer, flows freely, but there is rarely any rowdiness. The crowds attend in their Sunday best, the men invariably in traditional dress and the women wearing their brightest brocade mantles and their heaviest jewellery. Archery may be the pretext for the gathering, but partying is the thing. In Kargil area, on the other hand, the archery competitions are more serious and bereft of the dancing and music, and these are held in early spring, at the time of the thawing of the winter snow and frost.
A Polo match at Leh
Polo, the other traditional sport of Ladakh is indigenous to the western Himalayas, especially to Baltistan and Gilgit. It was probably introduced into Ladakh in the mid-17th century by King Singge Namgyal, whose mother was a Balti princess. The game played here differs in many respects from the international game, which is adapted from what British travellers saw in the western Himalayas and Manipur in the 19th century. Each team consists of six players, and the game lasts for an hour with a ten-minute break. Altitude notwithstanding, the hardy local ponies - the best of which come from Zanskar – scarcely seem to suffer, though play can be fast and furious. Each goal is greeted by a burst of music from surna and daman, and the players often show extraordinary skill. Unlike the international game, polo in Ladakh is not exclusively for the rich.
Polo match on the eve of Ladakh festival
Traditionally, almost every major village had its polo-ground, and even today it is played with verve in many places besides Leh, especially in Dras and Chushot near Leh. In Leh town itself, it has been partly institutionalised with regular tournaments and occasional exhibition matches being played on the polo-ground. The local crowd takes a keen interest, especially in those matches in which a civilian team takes on that of the army. Altogether, polo adds a unique kind of colour and excitement to the summer in Leh.
A Brass Kettle from Ladakh
The tradition of artistic craftsmanship in Ladakh is not as well developed as in neighbouring Kashmir, and most of the luxury articles are obtained through imports. The exception is the village of Chiling, about 19 km up the Zanskar River from Nimo, where a community of metal workers carry on their ancestral profession, working with silver, brass and copper. These are said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal during the mid-17th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha - images at Shey. They produce exquisite items for domestic and religious use, such as tea and chang pots, teacup-stands and lids, hookah-bases, ladles, bowls and occasionally, silver chortens for temples and domestic shrines.
Frescoes inside a monastery
Items of everyday use such as cooking pots and bowls, as well as agricultural implements are supplied by local blacksmiths (gara). They also make the large and ornate iron stoves seen in kitchens of the Ladakhi homes. Craftsmanship in general has not developed beyond the production of everyday items for domestic use. Pattu, the rough, warm, woollen material used for clothing is made from locally produced wool, spun by women on drop-spindles, and woven by traditional weavers on portable looms that are set up in the winter sunshine or under the shade of a tree in summer. Baskets, for the transport of any kind of burden, are woven out of willow twigs or a particular variety of grass. Woodwork is confined largely to the production of pillars and carved lintels for the houses and the low carved tables or Chog-tse that are a feature of every Ladakhi living room.
A Carpet weaver in actions
Many such items, including newly introduced varieties, are available in the Government Handicrafts Centre at Leh. There you can find, in addition to traditional objects, a few special items like pure pashmina shawls, rough compared with those produced in Srinagar, and carpets with Tibetan designs. Similar carpets can also be purchased at the Tibetan Refugee Centre, Choglamsar. The Handicrafts Centre also has a department of thangka painting. These icons on cloth are executed in accordance with strict traditional guidelines handed down the generations.
A Thangka painting
In the same tradition are the mural paintings in the monasteries, where semi-professionals, both monks and laymen, toil to keep the walls decorated with images symbolising various aspects of Buddhism. The skill of building religious statues is also not extinct. The gigantic image of Maitreya Buddha was installed in Thiksey Gompa as recently as the early 1980s.
The people of Ladakh, particularly the Buddhists, believe implicitly in the influence of gods and spirits on the material world, and undertake no major activity without taking this influence into consideration. The lamas are the vital intermediaries between the human and the spirit worlds. Not only do they perform the rites necessary to propitiate the gods, but they also take on the role of astrologers and oracles who can predict auspicious time for starting any work, whether ploughing the fields, or taking in the harvest, arranging a marriage or going on a journey.
The Stok Oracle
The most famous monk-oracles are those of Matho Gompa. Chosen every three years by a traditional procedure, two monks spend several months in a rigorous regimen of prayer and fasting to prepare and purify themselves for their difficult role. When the time comes they are possessed by the deity known as Rong-tsan, whose spirit enables them to perform feats that would be impossible to anyone in a normal state such as cutting themselves with knives, or sprinting along the Gompa's topmost parapet. In this condition, they will answer questions concerning individual problems and public welfare. However, the spirit is said to be able to detect questions asked by skeptical observers for testing him, to which they react with frenzied anger.
The Matho Oracle
In some villages there are also lay people who have special powers as oracles and healers. Some of them belong to families in which there have been several such recipients of spirit forces, while others do not have any such hereditary background. The spirits possessing these laypersons are believed to be unpredictable, and not always entirely benevolent, and some people resist being possessed by them. However, once they have accepted, they undergo a process of initiation and training by monks and senior oracles before they are able to start practising.