Pahalgam – The Unforgettable Pony Ride in Paradise

Peerzada Masrat Shah
Peerzada Masrat Shah

It would be a cliché to say the view was picturesque; Kashmir is too beautiful to express in words. We were on our way to Pahalgam. As we left the city of Srinagar behind and hit the highway, my window was splashed with colors. The yellow mustard fields, the green lining of the willow trees, the greenish-grey hills, the shimmering white snow cap, and then the pristine blue sky; one making a backdrop for the other. It was like a layered painting conceived by the greatest of artists.

As our car weaved through the winding roads, the scenery continued to evolve. The landscape was dotted with traditional Kashmiri houses, their wooden structures standing resilient against time and weather. We passed by farmers working diligently in the fields, their faces reflecting a blend of hard work and contentment. The air was fresh, carrying the scent of blooming flowers and the promise of adventure.

After a few hours, we arrived in Pahalgam, a quaint town nestled in the Lidder Valley. Known for its lush meadows, verdant forests, and crystal-clear streams, Pahalgam is often referred to as the “Valley of Shepherds.” The town seemed like a tranquil retreat, far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Our stay was arranged at a cozy guesthouse overlooking the Lidder River, its gushing waters adding a soothing soundtrack to the serene surroundings.

The next morning, we set out for our pony ride. Ponies are a common mode of transportation in Pahalgam, especially for exploring its rugged terrains. Our guide, a middle-aged man with a warm smile and weathered face, introduced us to our ponies. Mine was a sturdy chestnut named Badal, which means cloud in Hindi. As I mounted Badal, I felt a mix of excitement and apprehension, but our guide’s reassuring presence helped me overcome my initial jitters.

The journey began through a dense pine forest, the towering trees providing a cool shade from the sun. The forest floor was carpeted with ferns and wildflowers, their colors contrasting beautifully with the earthy tones of the forest. The path was narrow and often steep, but the ponies navigated it with ease, their hooves finding firm footing on the rocky terrain.

As we ascended higher, the landscape opened up to reveal breathtaking vistas. The Lidder River snaked through the valley below, its waters sparkling like a ribbon of silver. The distant snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas stood majestically against the sky, their serene presence adding a touch of grandeur to the scene. It felt like we had stepped into a different world, one untouched by time and filled with nature’s wonders.

Our first stop was at Baisaran, also known as the “Mini Switzerland of India.” This meadow, with its rolling green pastures surrounded by dense forests, looked like a scene straight out of a fairy tale. The air was crisp and invigorating, filled with the scent of pine and the distant murmur of streams. We dismounted our ponies to explore the meadow on foot, taking in the beauty of the place. Children played, couples strolled hand in hand, and shepherds tended to their flocks, all against the backdrop of this idyllic landscape.

After a short rest, we continued our journey towards Tulian Lake. This high-altitude lake, nestled between snow-capped peaks, is known for its turquoise blue waters. The path to Tulian Lake was more challenging, with steep inclines and rocky paths. But the ponies were surefooted, and our guide’s expertise made the journey manageable. The higher we went, the more spectacular the views became. The entire valley spread out below us, a patchwork of greens and blues, with the occasional splash of color from wildflowers.

Reaching Tulian Lake was like discovering a hidden gem. The lake’s waters were so clear that we could see the pebbles at the bottom. The surrounding peaks reflected in the still waters, creating a perfect mirror image. We sat by the lake, our senses overwhelmed by the beauty and tranquility of the place. It was a moment of pure bliss, a reminder of nature’s incredible power to soothe and inspire.

As the sun began to set, we made our way back to Pahalgam. The descent was quicker, but equally enchanting. The changing light bathed the valley in golden hues, creating a magical atmosphere. We passed by more meadows and streams, each with its own unique charm. By the time we reached the town, the sky was a canvas of oranges and purples, the day’s journey etched in our memories forever.

Back at the guesthouse, we gathered around a bonfire, sharing stories and experiences. Our guide regaled us with tales of the region, its history, and its people. His deep connection to the land was evident in every word he spoke, and it added a layer of richness to our understanding of Pahalgam. As the night grew colder, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and sipped on kahwa, a traditional Kashmiri tea flavored with saffron and almonds. The warmth of the fire and the camaraderie of the group made it a perfect end to a perfect day.

The next day, we decided to explore the local markets and interact with the residents of Pahalgam. The market was a riot of colors and smells, with stalls selling everything from traditional handicrafts to fresh produce. We bought some souvenirs, including intricately woven shawls and beautifully carved wooden items. The locals were friendly and welcoming, always ready with a smile and a story.

One of the highlights was visiting a local shepherd’s home. We were invited in with great hospitality and treated to a simple yet delicious meal of rice, lentils, and freshly baked bread. The warmth and generosity of our hosts were overwhelming, and it gave us a glimpse into the simple yet rich life of the people of Pahalgam.

Our trip to Pahalgam was more than just a vacation; it was an immersion into a world of natural beauty, rich culture, and warm hospitality. The unforgettable pony ride, with its breathtaking views and moments of serenity, was the highlight of our journey. It reminded us of the importance of preserving such pristine places and the simple joys of connecting with nature and people.

As we left Pahalgam, the memories of our time there lingered in our minds. The landscapes, the people, and the experiences had left an indelible mark on our hearts. We promised ourselves that we would return someday, to relive the magic of this paradise on earth.