Sitting at the porch of our houseboat, I slowly sipped my Kahwa after breakfast wondering about what lay ahead of me. The silence in the morning is powerful. The silence throws a lot of questions at you and also answers many questions for you. I could sit there the whole morning sipping my Kahwa, but, our driver was waiting right outside to pick us up for Yusmarg. Yusmarg is a small meadow set at the heart of mountains to the south west of Srinagar. After a quick shower and some more Kahwa we set out for Yusmarg only to get stuck in a traffic jam.

Yusmarg and Charar-i-sharief

It was just half-an-hour since we began our journey and we found ourselves on the dusty roads of Srinagar amidst vehicles and trucks. Our driver told us the traffic jam was because of a strike between the local groups and that it was a very common sight in Srinagar. Probably, this was the first time I did not find a traffic jam annoying. I do not know what made a difference – May be the mood?

The three of us – our Driver, Shyam and myself spoke a lot on varied subjects. We spoke about Kashmir and life of Kashmiri’s – the challenges they face in the region, the recent floods in Kashmir, how the weather changes there, and also how it is like living in a region that has a strong presence of the Indian Army. Our Driver told us about the livelihood of the locals and how life in big cities compares to theirs. We also spoke about Kashmiri food, music and a lot more. You get the picture right? 🙂

After about 1 hour we lost our hopes on the traffic jam to be cleared and somehow made our way outside to take a different route only to get stuck again. We changed our route again, passed through few broken bridges and left the crowd behind. Finally, there was freshness in the air. We took a different road to Yusmarg and there was absolutely no one on the road except us till we reached Charar-i-sharief. Charar-i-sharief is a shrine on the way to Yusmarg. Though we had planned to visit Charar-i-sharief Shrine, we had to skip owing to the time lost due to the traffic jam. But, we did stop for a cup of tea. We stopped at a road-side stall which was selling tea and namkeen.

In Kashmir, when you go to a shop it is very  likely that you will strike a conversation with people in and around the shop. After some general chit-chat with the owner, he asked us if we got a chance to taste Nun Chai [Kashmiri Butter Tea]. Now, I was super excited to try it because I had never heard about it before, and second, it is a salty tea. Yes, Nun Chai is salty and not sweet. Mr.Bilal (the shop owner) very sweetly arranged Nun Chai for us from a near by shop and sent snacks from his own shop as accompaniment. And, he did not charge us a penny. Can you imagine? I felt a bit bad initially, but our driver assured us that this is how Kashmiri’s treat their guests. And  that’s true. Kashmiri’s are very sweet people. Literally. They welcome their guests with so much warmth that you just cannot stop yourselves from loving them. We still tried to pay Mr.Bilal but he was firm. His only request was that we visit him one more time on our journey back from Yusmarg. Isn’t that sweet? This is what I love about traveling. It enriches you with experience which is irreplaceable.

Completely touched by his warmth, we hopped into our car and passed through lush green countryside, occasionally stopping by to watch the grazing sheep. The roads and the scenery on way to Yusmarg is mesmerizing. Rolling down the window panes, I looked at the clouds, loved the fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through my hair. Making our way through the herds of sheep and goats, we reached Yusmarg. By the time we reached Yusmarg the weather had changed drastically, temperature dropped down and it began to pour heavily. We went into the KTDC Cottages to grab some lunch and tea. We did not expect the weather change and we did not have sufficient woolen clothes. Sipping my tea, I was hoping for the rain to stop because I was waiting to begin my Trek.

Luckily the rain stopped in a while and we started for Dhoodh Ganga. Dhoodh Ganga is a 45 minutes trek from the Yusmarg Taxi Parking Stand. The initial track is laid down well, surrounded by lush green meadows with horses and pony’s grazing. After which you need to walk through the muddy trails amidst the dense pine and cedar forests. It is all beautiful until the pony walas become a menace. We were followed by at least 6 pony walas till we completed the trek.  They called us names in Kashmiri, they mocked at us, but we were resolved not to take the pony’s. The only reason being, we wanted to reach Dhoodh Ganga by foot. Despite their constant intrusion and trouble we enjoyed our trek. We walked, slipped down, got dirty and had a lot of fun. And, not to forget we had some body guards [pony walas] coming along with us all the time.

After about 45 minutes, we reached Dhoodh Ganga. ‘Dhoodh’ means milk in Hindi. The place is untouched and pure. The nip in the air, sound of water and the entire surrounding makes it bewitching. The water from Dhoodh Ganga is cold and spotless. We sat there sipping the water from Dhoodh Ganga and having some quality time. Enjoying the water flow amidst huge rocks in between the dense forests, we walked around the place to soak in as much of it’s beauty possible. Though we did not want to go back, we did, after exploring few places around. To our surprise the pony walas came behind us again. By this time, Shyam was frustrated enough so he gave them some money to get rid of them. Finally some peace, and we happily walked back, getting dirty again as we passed the muddy trails to reach the meadows. After a cup of hot tea, we left Yusmarg. We met Mr.Bilal on our way back to Srinagar. He insisted that we stay over for the night at his place for dinner. But, since that was not possible, we thanked him for his kindness and drove away too Srinagar. It was a very long, tiring day but we enjoyed every bit of it.

How to reach Yusmarg?

Yusmarg is an offbeat location 47 Km’s south of Srinagar which is slowly gaining popularity. Save a day in your travel itinerary for Yusmarg. In fact, I would recommend visiting Yusmarg for at least 2 days to cherish all the beauty that is around. If possible, do not do it as a day trip.

You can get a taxi (to and fro) for Rs. 2050 from the Srinagar Taxi Stand. Please note the taxi fare may vary with the change in season or revision of the fare. Apart from Dhoodh Ganga, Yusmarg has a lot of other scenic spots like Nilnag Lake, Lidder Mad etc. You can see the list of places at the pony stand where the places and rates for pony’s are listed down. You can also plan for a night halt if you get your bookings confirmed with KTDC Cottages. A good trekking shoes, some warm clothes and a rain coat is a must while you go to Yusmarg. The climate is unpredictable and it is better to be safe than sorry.

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