The alpine valley of Sonmarg located in Jammu and Kashmir, is quite a popular destination in Kashmir and yet it has managed to stay attractive and charming. ‘Sonmarg’ loosely translates to ‘meadow of gold’ and it is rightly so given its enchanting beauty with flowery meadows, snow-clad peaks, glaciers and numerous pristine, alpine lakes.
The Sindh or Indus river meanders through the valley nourishing an exotic flora and dense forests of fir, pine and silver birch in its vicinity.
Nestled in the lofty Himalayan mountains at an altitude of 2800 m, this famous tourist destination is at a distance of approximately 90 km from Srinagar. The famous Zoji-la pass, which is one of the highest mountain passes and a gateway to Ladakh, lies 15 km east of Sonmarg.
Apart from experiencing the regional food, chatting with the locals, walking around soaking the pristine beauty of the place, here’s a list of places to visit in and around Sonmarg. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, and in fact, if you are lucky, a local you befriend might tell you of places that not many know or visit.
Dreamy places to visit in and around Sonmarg
Nilagrad, 6 km from Sonmarg, is a picturesque meadow that is a confluence where the mountain river meets the Indus. The Nilagrad river is famous for its reddish colour and curative powers. Believers are often seen taking a dip here. It is also a popular weekend and picnic spot.
Kheer Bhavani Temple
This simple yet beautiful temple, made of grey stone, is dedicated to the goddess Kheer Bhavani. The temple is constructed over a natural spring that is known to change colours. According to the belief, the colour changes to a shade of black to warn against some unforeseen catastrophe.
Situated at the foot of the massive Zoji-la, 15 km from Sonmarg, Baltal is a well-known camping ground for the pilgrims of the famous Amarnath yatra. With its exotic grasslands, panoramic views of distant snowy mountains, Baltal is a paradise for those in search of tranquillity.
Surrounded by beautiful snowy mountains and dense forests, Kishansar Lake, (also Krishnasar Lake) is located around 20 km from Sonmarg. The lake stays frozen during winter. At an elevation of 3800 m, this mesmerizing lake is home to brown trout fish. It is a fishing and angling paradise for the fishing enthusiasts.
Vishansar (also, Vishnusar Lake) is another high-altitude lake that is 18 km away from Sonmarg. The translation of its name means ‘lake of Vishnu’, a Hindu god. At an altitude of 3710 m, the lake stays frozen during winter. Fed by several glaciers, the lake is a stunning beauty surrounded by Sonmarg’s flowery meadows. Kishansar and Vishansar lakes can be seen adjacent to each other while crossing over the Nichnai Pass further into the valley towards more stunning lakes.
Located at the foothills of Harmukh mountain, Gangabal lake has a religious significance among the Kashmiri pandits. At an altitude of 3600 m and against the backdrop of the spectacular Harmukh mountain, this serene lake is a paradise for nature lovers and photographers.
Satsar is actually a group of seven alpine lakes, scattered around between the mountain passes and other bigger lakes (mentioned above).Together, all these lakes are usually covered as a multiday trek popularly known as Kashmir Great Lakes trek.
The stunning Thajiwas Glacier is about 5 km from Sonmarg and is at an altitude of 9100 ft. This silvery spectacle can be reached by either riding on ponies or trekking for less than 30 minutes. A half-day trek can be undertaken to explore the numerous waterfalls, frozen lakes and lush meadows around the glaciers.
Located around 13 km from Sonmarg, this high mountain pass in the Kashmir valley is at an altitude of 4139 m. All the famous lake treks are conducted through the Nichinai pass. Trekking through the arduous terrain comes with perks of witnessing the most stunning views of the lofty mountains, deep gorges and valleys.
Best Time To Visit Sonmarg
Sonmarg receives heavy snowfall during winter months of December through February and hence is inaccessible in peak winters. With spring, the snow starts to thaw and eventually the roads open as summer commences in April. April through October is therefore, an ideal time to visit Sonmarg; the weather is also great for traveling and exploring.
How to Reach Sonmarg
The nearest airport to Sonmarg is at Srinagar and is at a distance of about 100 km. Nearest railway station to Sonmarg is Jammu Tawi (in Jammu). From there to reach Srinagar, one has to travel by road via NH1. It takes approximately 10-12 hours and crossing the famous Jawahar Tunnel, which links Kashmir valley with the rest of the country. On reaching Srinagar, cabs can be hired to reach Sonmarg.
(Originally written for Native Planet)