Thanks to the countless Bollywood song and dance sequences that have been filmed in the area over the years, hundreds of millions of Indians are familiar with the spectacular alpine scenery of Pahalgam, a resort in the Liddar Valley, 54 miles east of Srinagar. Distinguished by its lush green meadows, the village is flanked by dense pine forests and giant, snow-flecked crags. “A mini Switzerland” is how the scene is often described, though in truth, Pahalgam’s environs have a much wilder edge than the Alps. A blanket ban on carrying firearms in the area assures a healthy population of brown bear and musk deer in the surrounding forests, while the mountains beyond road level are wonderfully pristine.
Something of a carnival atmosphere prevails in summer in the meadows around Pahalgam, but the wilderness is never far away. Local guides are on hand for trout fishing trips and treks to a number of hidden glacial lakes. A longer route also leads up the Liddar Valley to Aru, a springboard for walks around the striated, snow-capped summit of Kolahoi (5,425m/17,799), this area’s highest mountain, whose lower flanks are draped with spectacular glaciers.
By far the most popular trekking route starting at Pahalgam, however, is the one that leads to Amanarth Cave in the Sind Valley. Located high in the mountains, at an altitude of 3,888m (12,756ft), the cave enshrines a huge ice lingam regarded by Hindus as one of the most sacred sites in India. Upwards of 600,000 pilgrims walk the four-day path in July and August each year, the majority of them starting at Pahalgam.