As is known to all Kashmir valley is the largest valley in the entire Himalayas. It is encircled by beautiful mountains all around its distant horizon with River Jhelum running all across its length from south to north. In between this oval shaped valley a semi-circular sub-mountain range, called Zabarvan, lies to the east of Srinagar city.
Literary “Zabar” means Better and “Van” means Forest. In fact this mountain range has not a thick forest cover, yet it is known as Zabarvan.
This range extends from Harwan to Panthachok/Pampore but its exterior part at Harwan further extends to Ganderbal thus covering a length of about 32 kms.
It’s most beautiful part falls in Srinagar city between Harvan and Gupkar, overlooking the entire city with famous Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens, Tulip Garden, Royal Spring Golf Course, Parry Mahal, Astanpur, Badami Bagh Cantonment and many other monuments at its foothills.
Mount Mahadev, 3,943 mtrs is the highest peak in the range which is the best attraction for adventure lovers. Shankracharya hill is its extended part cutting the main range at Gupkar Col.
In its north-east, behind Mount Mahadev, lies famous Marsar lake, the waters of which straight runs down to Harvan in Srinagar which is one of the sources to Dal Lake.
Earlier its water was harvested in Sarband Resorvior but due to dredging of reservoir its water is now directly purified at Nishat Treatment Plant and supplied to some part of Srinagar city.
Scope for adventure tourism in Srinagar:
When we talk of Adventure Tourism we just think of Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, unaware of the fact that vast opportunities of adventure are open to us within the city limits. Zabarvan range has tremendous scope for adventure tourism but should someone realize its importance. Different adventure and recreational activities could be undertaken at different places in this mountain range.
There is possibility of hosting of dozens of adventure activities here. Notably Biscoe School has been regularly taking its students to scale Mount Mahadev and Twin Peaks annually since its inception. With the introduction of day trekking by Mr. Mahmood Ahmad Shah, President, JKMHC the local boys are now frequently undertaking day treks to deifferent areas in Zabarvan range.
Mahmood Ahmad Shah, President, JKMHC the local boys are now frequently undertaking day treks to deifferent areas in Zabarvan range.
But appreciably the District Winter Games Association, Srinagar first-time conceived idea to develop snow sports in this region. In May 1998 the Association launched first-ever Ski-Mountineering expedition to Mount Mahadev with the financial support of J&K State Sports Council.
The 11 member team, including this writer, explored every inch of the mountain and zoomed down all its virgin snow covered slopes and ridges. It was a historical ski expedition to the mountain.
It was a huge success and later lured many other youngsters to go there for skiing and snowboarding. Notably some young skiers followed the footsteps of senior skiers and undertook another ski-touring expedition to Mahadev recently after nearly two decades which proved that skiing was possible in Srinagar.
Possible mountain activities:
Zabarvan offers best possibilities for undertaking different mountain activities just within city outskirts. Introduction of more recreation tourism products would certainly increase the number of staying nights for tourists in Srinagar.
We receive enough snowfall in Mahadev region which remains in good condition for a longer period on the western slopes and ridges of Mahadev, sometime till May.
The Tourism Department and other tourism players need to encourage the Ski Touring and snowboarding here. Heli-Skiing and Snow Kayaking are also possible. The Tourism Deptt should create a Ski and Snowboard Hire shop at Dara and also permit the Adventure Tour Operators to run hastle-free ski touring and other adventure activities here.
Sky-running, a recognized athletic event, also know as Mountain Running, is becoming increasingly popular in the world. It is also catching up fast in India. Pertinently the Uttrakhand Govt recently organized its first National Championship at Auli that attracted too many athletes from allover the country.
Though we have best mountain terrain and contours for this kind of activity in Zabarvan range but we lag far behind to other tourist resorts of the country. Appreciably the J&K Ski and Mountaineering Association introduced Mountain Running in 2011 after holding first-ever race from Faqir Gujree to Astanmarg, which they coincided with the celebration of International Mountain Day.
Recently two athletes of JKMHC, Nawab Mauzam and Tufail Qureshi, also undertook this challenge from Chakdara to Mahadev top and back, covering the distance in record time of 6.11 hrs.
Entire Zabarvan range offers best one day, two day, and even three day treks for intended tourists and local youth. The JKMH Club is active for sometime organizing day treks in the area.
The most frequently visited routes in the range are; Twin Peaks, Mamnet, Lidwas, Astanmarg, Brain top, Cheshmashahi to Zewan via Twin Peaks, Forest Depptt trail from CMs House to Dachigam, Shorab Koll trail, and Dara to Mammar (Kangan) etc.
One could also undertake treks in Khonmoh and Khimbar areas. A three day trek from Dara to Pahalgam via Mahadev, Marsar, Lidderwat and Aru could be fascinating fore the tourists.
For more serious trekker spring is the best season when the youth could undertake snow trekking and mountain climbing in deep snow.
At Chakdara we have huge boulders and sediment rocks those offer great challenge for rock-climbers. The rocks need to be cleaned and mass removed from them. The adventure club and schools could organize rock-climbing courses here.
There is tremendous possibility of introducing Zip Tours in this mountainous area. Zip Tour is a combination of many Ziplines with mild trekking. We have such Ziplines at many resorts in Southern India. The Govt should allow the local promoters to lay such ziplines on Private Public Partnership modes. It is a fascinating recreational activity.
The J&K Ski and Mountaineering Association first time introduced this aero sport on Zabarvan range in mid 1980s in association with a Swiss Paragliding School.
Three Swiss Pilots, led by Mr. Rudy flew from a Zabarvan ridge above Hotel Taj Vivanta first time and landed in Cheshmashi garden. This was in fact first paragliding flight, not in Kashmir but in India. Later Astanmarg area was explored by a local ATO.
We have good thermals in the area that gives good height to the pilots. There is also possibility of introducing many other recreational activities here like MTB, Orienteering, bird and wildlife watching and Bushwalking etc.
1. In order to exploit the potential of this mountain range and to create infrastructure the Govt should create Zabarvan Development Authority. The Authority could also take care of maintaining cleanliness in the frequently visited areas.
It is painful that on Sundays scores of people visit upper reaches of Harwan and leaving behind lot of garbage.
With the creation of ZDA snow sports could be promoted in Srinagar in near future. Unfortunately Srinagar Development Authority is not indulging in tourism development projects in the city.
2. There is urgent need to create a Tourism Police Post at Dara that could save the environment and take care of tourists.
3. Promoting ski touring in the upper reaches of Dachigam National Park could help Wildlife Department to save its endangered wildlife. In harsh winters it becomes difficult for their Guards to watch and ward at higher areas in knee deep snow.
It is admitted fact that adventurers some time act as watch dogs to preserve environment and ecology. Mountaineers are good friends of nature so they never damage it.
4. The J&K State Cable Car needs to find out possibilities of installing a Cable Car in the area but outside National Park.
5. The Tourism Department should plan to create an Adventure Water Park on Harwan Nallah. The boulders in the stream need to be removed and water blocked. Different soft and white water activities could be conducted in that Park.
Muhammad Yusuf is Director Adventure Call Tour and Travels. and Gen Secretary ATOAK