“You are our guest. We can not let you go unguided in the forest”: The tourism officer to us when we said we could manage by ourselves on the forest trek.
“Sir, this is a horse from Yusmarg, not Gulmarg”: A little boy insisting we sit on his horse.
Our visit to Yusmarg was filled with such profound wisdom; we were surrounded by people who cared more about our safety than we did, and the tourism economy of Yusmarg was explained to us in a single line, by a little horseman.
Other than that it was the usual in Kashmir living in a wooden cottage on a flower-filled meadow, waking up to golden sunrises, walking through pine forests, crossing river streams, and being invited by a nomad family to take their family portrait.
Yusmarg to Srinagar is a mere 50 km drive of a couple of hours. Largely, tours to Kashmir allow one day for sightseeing in Yusmarg.
No, Yusmarg should not be “done” as a day trip from Srinagar. May we present the case for a longer stay in Yusmarg?
Compelling reason 1: In Yusmarg, you can stay right on the meadows
Compelling reason 2: In Yusmarg, “green spots” for your morning tea or evening kahwa are aplenty
Compelling reason 3: Yusmarg is the least crowded of “easy to reach” destinations in Kashmir
Unlike the more popular destinations like Gulmarg and Sonmarg, people are conspicuously absent from Yusmarg. There might be a few local or “day” tourists. But other than a few hours in the day, the entire Yusmarg meadows will be all your to explore and enjoy.
Compelling reason 4: Many places to explore around the main Yusmarg meadows
There are many places to explore around the Yusmarg meadows, at a walking distance. Doodhganga is a gushing stream, a few minutes down the Yusmarg meadows.
For a more soaking activity, head to the lake Nilnag. Walk through the village Gojipathri as you walk towards Nilnag. Carry a packed lunch or some filling snacks as you head here. Set up a nice little picnic, and cool yourself around the blue waters of Nilnag.
If you ask the people of Kashmir, they might say it’s just a few hours walk. But bear in mind, “they” are different than us, city folks. Unless you have fitness like this, ask them for an estimated time at your pace!
Compelling reason 5: Forest treks everywhere around Yusmarg
Every direction you go, there is a 1-2 day trekking option around Yusmarg. The tourism officer has complied a rough sketch of these trekking routes and their directions which is put up in his office. When we told him we had come to Yusmarg to prepare for the Amarnath yatra, he discussed the various possibilities with us. And arranged for a guide to take us on a suitable trek.
On our way back, they called out to us again. This time, the entire family was home from the forest, for lunch. They wanted us to take a proper family portrait.
Other than the Gujjars, we met a very few people along the way. There was one guy carrying his sick sheep to a medical camp up in Yusmarg. Lack of local medical facilities meant they had to walk for hours to reach the nearest health care center. For the animals (who are the lifeline for people living up in the Himalayas), they had to wait for the medical camps that would be set up every few weeks in Yusmarg.
This slice of life that we got to experience in Yusmarg, is not possible when you visit a place, see the sights and leave.
Top tips for visiting Yusmarg
- You can reach Yusmarg by public transport (albeit, with efforts) from Srinagar and Pahalgam. From Srinagar, the route is Srinagar–>Chanapora–>Chadora–>Charar-e-Sharif–>(less frequent) Yusmarg. From Pahalgam, the route is Pahalgam–>Anantnag–>Pulwama–>Pehripora–>Yusmarg.
- If you hire a car, then Yusamrg to Srinagar is a drive of a couple of hours. Srinagar to Yusmarg and back to Srinagar is logistically possible in one day. But most of that day will be spent in the car and on a horseback in Yusmarg.
- The only place the horses actually take you to is Doodhganga. Other than that, for places like Nilnag or Dragdolan, they only take you to a vantage point and show you the lake or meadow from there.
- There are other longer treks as well, that can be done from Yusmarg. The trek to Sang-e-Safed is supposed to be through a beautiful virgin trail. Doodhpathri, another bowl-shaped valley of Kashmir is another long trek from Yusmarg. Both will take at least two days to return to Yusmarg, taking a guide is highly recommended. Tosa Maidan is another arduous trek which can now be done from Yusmarg, since the area was recently made accessible public.
- Yusmarg is closed for tourists in the winter. Before making plans to visit Yusmarg, make sure the stay facilities have opened for the summer.