Sonamarg, which means ‘meadow of gold’ has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. The Sindh meanders along here and abounds with trout and mahseer, snow trout can be caught in the main river. In late April when Sonamarg is open for road transport, the visitors can have access to snow which is furnished all over like a white carpet. Private vehicles are not allowed. Visitors have to hire taxi and it is controlled by taxi mafia. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier a major attraction during the summer months.
The climate of Sonamarg is very bracing; but the rainfall is frequent though not heavy, except for two or three days at a time in July and August with fine spell in between. From Sonamarg, trekking routes lead to the Himalayan lakes of Vishansar Lake, Krishansar Lake, Gangabal Lake and Gadsar Lake, stocked with Snowtrout and Brown trout and Satsar, glacier-fed and surrounded by banks of alpine flowers.
A close by excursion is to Baltal, 15 km east of Sonamarg. This little valley lies at the foot of the Zojila, only a day’s journey away from the sacred cave of Amarnath is a base camp for Amarnath yatra. Trekkers can also reach the starkly splendid roof-top of the world Leh, by crossing over the Zoji La pass.
At Sonamarg the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department organizes river rafting tournaments yearly, which has recently seen the participation of teams abroad.
Manasbal Lake is located in Ganderbal District in the State of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The name Manasbal is said to be a derivative of the Lake Manasarovar. Lake is encircled by three villages viz., Jarokbal, Kondabal (also called Kiln place, is situated on the north-eastern side of the lake) and Ganderbal and is stated to be the deepest lake (at 13 m or 43 ft depth) in India.] The large growth of lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) at the periphery of the lake (blooms during July and August) adds to the beauty of the clear waters of the lake. The Mughal garden, called the Jaroka, (meaning bay window) built by Nur Jahan overlooks the lake.
The lake is a good place for bird watching as it is one of the largest natural stamping grounds of Aquatic birds in Kashmir and has the sobriquet of “supreme gem of all Kashmir Lakes”. The rootstocks of lotus plant which grows extensively in the lake are harvested and marketed, and also eaten by the local people.
Thajiwas glacier at an altitude of 9,186 feet is a striking silvery scene set against emerald meadows and a clear blue sky. In summers, you can take a half-day hike to numerous waterfalls around this glacier. The road will be long and the journey hard but the captivating views make it worthwhile. On the way, have a friendly match with the local Gujjar kids who are almost always ready for a friendly snowball fight!
Sonmarg with its primitive and idyllic feel offers respite from city life. You can go soul searching to Gadsar Lake, which at 16,400 feet lies frozen throughout the year. Surrounded by snow covered mountains and shrouded in alpine flowers, from Gadsar Lake you can enjoy panoramic views of the frozen Satsar and Baltan Lakes.
The Kheer Bhawani Temple, situated in the middle of a natural spring, is often visited by tourists out of curiosity. Devotees offer milk and kheer to the resident deity. Popular with all tourists, it is especially revered by the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley. The architecture of the temple is simple yet beautifully created using smooth grey stones. Rumour has it that the waters turn black as a warning for any looming calamity.
Nilagrad near Sonmarg is where a mountain river, red in colour, meets the mighty Indus River. The Baltic community that stays here believes that the waters have curative powers. Over the weekend, people swarm the banks of the river for a dip in the healing waters. With picturesque meadows around, it’s also an ideal picnic spot.