SONAMARG, THE GOLDEN MEADOW, HAS A TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL FOR HOSTING MANY ADVENTURE TOURISM EVENTS. ARE WE PREPARED TO TAP IT, ASKS MUHAMMAD YUSUF
Sonamarg is set high in the Sindh valley before the Westward flow of the river Sindh is turned south to the vale of Kashmir. At this point it cuts through a line of igneous rock running North-West to South-East, weathered and firm. Nichnai and Thajewas Valleys form North and South run alongside these harder strata to join the Sindh just below Sonamarg near shitkari village. Sonamarg is not simply a picnic spot and a base for Shri Amarnathji yatra but is a wonderful destination for adventure tourism. It has tremendous potential for outdoor pursuits which need be exploited by the tourism players. It is also one of the best places to study flora and fauna of the state but unfortunately it has always remained out of focus of the Government.
This tourist destination stands second to none all over the world. There is no other place in India where all types of snow, water and mountain based adventure activities could be conducted simultaneously. God has gifted it with all those ingredients which are required for seeking high adventures. Sonamarg could offer a host of many adventure sporting activities round the year. It has a wild mountain beauty that always greets the explorers.
The gushing River Sindh is ideal for wild water sports, such as rafting, kayaking and hydraulic Zorbing. The river, from Baltal to Shitkari, has grade 1 to 4 rapids, making it ideal for novices as well as for extreme rafters. One can further extend his rafting trip up to Ganderbal if he does portage at Hung/Shitkari for about a kilometer because huge rocks and other hurdles are lying in the middle of the river here, making this stretch a hazardous one. Should someone arrange clearing these hurdles the river Sindh could offer enchanting long commercial rafting/Kayaking run straight from Baltal to Ganderbal passing through picturesque countryside of north Kashmir? The Tourism Department has conducted two International Rafting Championships here and the third is being held soon. The thrust for going through with such major events should have been to generate employment in rafting sector. The Tourism Ministry has never come up with a policy to develop this sector of tourism in Kashmir while as rafting trade is flourishing in Ladakh region. On the one hand Tourism Department is spending millions of rupees for organizing the Championship and on the other hand Sonamarg Development Authority is charging Rs.5.5 lacs to an unemployed youth to run commercial rafting at Sonamarg, Surprisingly, the other rafting companies at Pahalgam, Mammar and Wusan are charged a meager amount of Rs.2,000.00 per boat per month. This is purely anti youth and anti tourism policy of the concerned ministry in Kashmir.
For general public Rafting is run by a rafting company “Mountain Magic” at Sonamarg. Sonamarg Rafting has no parallel at any other place in the valley. It is because of these factors that our dynamic Chief Minister Jenab Umar Abdullah ran down a very high graded river stretch at Sonamarg last year. To make rafting a safe and secure affair the Mountain Magic has employed foreign River Guides. It has three sections of 3, 8 and 20 nautical miles run. Rafting is best way to experience fun, thrill, challenge and excitement with families at Sonamarg. Every School and College must allow their students to undertake a pleasure rafting trip at Sonamarg whenever they happen to go Sonamarg for excursion or trekking.
Sonamarg is considered a mountaineering paradise. Some of the best mountaineering and rock-climbing is in Thajiwas or in the Sogput Dhar. There are some long and more technical rock faces at Shitkari as well. The mighty peaks such as Vishensar, Umbrella, Cefn Carnedo, Innominate, Mosquito, Valehead, Crystal and Blade/Arrow, etc. offer great challenge to intended climbers.
Sonamarg offers wide variety of high altitude trekking. It is a base for many magnificent treks. One can undertake circular treks to Amarnathji Cave; Bandipora; Gurez; Drass; and Pahalgam etc. A trek to Krishensar, Vishensar, and Gangabal is most interesting among all. It has nearly 55 high altitude lakes within a radius of 20 Kilometers. One can also undertake day treks from Sonamarg to Ludderwas, Eagle’s Nest, Sarbal, Amaranth cave, Lashi Pathri, Thajewas, Zabnar, Hapatnar and Kazim ridge etc. Zabnar, 4040 mtr. high above sea level makes a splendid day walk and provides one of the finest view points in the area for peaks such as Nanga Parbat, Nun & Kun and Amarnath massif etc.
Sonamarg is also called “valley of glaciers”. It receives heavy snowfall during winter but unfortunately it remains cut off from the rest of the state during winter. The frequent avalanches in Shitkari area blocks the road and makes it impossible for tourism players to sell winter tourism here. Score of European Heli-Skiers have zoomed down the virgin passes, ridges and long ski runs covered with fantastic powder snow in Gund and Kulun areas. From April to July it is possible to ski the whole Thajewas Nar. Glacier 6 is not crevassed and provides good ski runs. Glacier 3 would make a fine ski-mountaineering expedition to the peaks “Valehead” and “Umbrella”. A Ski team of J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, led by this writer, undertook first-ever reconnaissance expedition to Thajewas glaciers in May 1988. The team along with some Swiss skiers also undertook ski tour to Bear Valley. There is also possibility of operating other snow sports here.
Sonamarg is also ideal for aero sports. There is best and constant wind condition for Paragliding and Parasailing here. Paragliding pilots could fly here on land as well as on glacier. Paragliding was first introduced in Sonamarg way back in May 1988 by JKSMA. The team took first flight from Glacier 2 to the Thajewas base which in fact was first flight of its kind in the sub-continent
There is also possibility of organizing many other allied adventure and recreational activities like Zorbing, Mountain Biking, Grass Skiing, Angling. Orienteering and snow baseball etc. Orienteering is a Cross-Country race involving map reading. Competitors make their way through unfamiliar mountain terrain using a compass and a topographical map. There is also possibility of introducing Scree Running in Vishensar area. Scree is an accumulation of rock debris on a mountain or hill. Scree Running is a method of descending gravelly slope. There are a number of naturally groomed scree slopes covered with fine small loose stones here.
Sonamarg is an amazing and magnificent place where you will always love to be. This is the time for you to pay a visit. So what are you waiting for?
(Muhammad Yusuf teaches aquatics and adventure sports at Physical Education Department, Kashmir University. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or called at 9419707307. The views expressed are authors own)
Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 Jun 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 Jun 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 3 Jun 2010 00:00:00 IST
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