The Amarnath shrine, is a beautiful cave situated at an altitude of 3888 m (12,756 ft) in the Sonmarg valley, Kashmir. Accessible from Baltal valley to its east and Pahalgam to its south, the trek to the cave is rife with snow clad mountains, deep endless valleys, and glaciers. Our Ultimate Travel Jockey, Parth Thakkar went onto the trek last year looking for a surreal experience in the middle of this crowded pilgrimage trek, as opposed to the isolated Himalayan vistas that he is otherwise used too. Here are some excerpts from our chat with him.
Q. Tell us something about your trek to the Amarnath cave?
Q. Tell us something about your trek to the Amarnath cave?
I trekked up to Amarnath last year as a Travel Jockey for FareHawker. It was quite different from other treks that I have done in the past to Himachal and Uttarakhand. The weather to, begin with, was too fickle. It takes minutes to change a sunny afternoon, into overcast weather with cold breeze flowing rapidly. That apart, it is quite a beautiful trek. The view of the Machoi glacier is nothing short of spectacular. Also, thev trails along the sind river is rife with a very interesting terrain particularly during the autumn. It stroked the photographer in me, and I was able to capture some brilliant images.
Q. What about the trails? Are they well defined?
Yes. The trails are very well defined. It is quite a different experience to trek alongside a crowded yatra, as opposed to an isolated trail. But all the pathways, and trails leading upto every point from Chandanwari to the pissu top to the cave, are fairly well defined. Besides, you know you are going to be safe when the BSF and the CRPF jawans are in charge of looking after the security of the whole yatra.
Q. Any difficulties in reaching Chandanwari?
None whatsoever. The people at FareHawker are professionals and they know the terrain fairly well. They took care of everything. But that apart, you can still find a number of cab services from Pahalgam throughout the Yatra season.
Q. Generally it is a two day trek. Tell us what was your itinerary like?
Like you said, it was a two day trek. I started my trek from Chandanwari to reach Panjtarni and stayed the night there. The one thing I was surprised to see was that there was ample of food all throughout, from Pahalgam to Panchatarni and even further uptil Sangam. I hadn't seen that in any of my treks earlier. The weather however, helped a lot. The hues were clearly visible, and I saw the glaciers as clearly as I could. The entire panorama was beyond serene, it was blissful! I reached Panchtarni by the evening and decided to stay there overnight. The next day in the morning I began the ascend to the holy cave and then finally up to the Maha gunah top by afternoon. After spending some time there I began for my trek back downwards.
Q. But how about the initial climb from Chandanwari to Pissu Top? That one is quite steep.
Yes, it is. This part of the journey, although not very difficult, is quite arduous. It is perhaps, a 65- 75 degree steep climb, which can take a lot of energy out of you. But the saving grace is that the stretch itself is not very long... You can accomplish it within 20-25 mins. Even if you take longer breaks in between, it would still not take you more than 40 mins.
Q. Are the trails well- etched all along?
Oh yes, completely. Amarnath Yatra, as we all know is a major pilgrimage center of the country. The very fact that people have been climbing upto the cave since decades now, means that the trails are well etched. Besides, like I said- The BSF and the CRPF jawans are always present in case you loose your way.
Q. How is the view of the Sheshnag Lake? And also, what is the accomodation like for pilgrims
and travelers like yourself?
It took me about 3 and half hours to reach Sheshnag, and when I did I was simply spellbound. The green meadows and the white mountains is the stuff that keeps me going in the first place. And Sheshnag Lake was just that. I got some amazing panoramas and time-lapse shots of the lake. Particularly, the time lapse of the snow sliding down the mountain and falling into the lake was special. As far as the accommodation goes, I pitched my own tent. It was overcrowded but still the they had made all the arrangements for blankets, and tents and sleeping bags... This was quite endearing to see. As far as the number of people are concerned, I knew I had signed up for that. So, I had made my peace with that.
Q. Yes, that is my next question. How is the Amarnath trek different from the other treks you've
undertaken. Is one kind of travelling better than the other?
That depends upon each individual traveler, as to what kind of experience he or she seeks. That will tell you if any particular kind of travel experience is better than the other. Personally, I do believe that you take something special with you, with each travelogue. Amarnath for me was too mainstream (for the lack of a better word), I am used to trek up the Himalayan vistas, on bare isolated trails, with nothing but my backpack and camera for company. That is not to say that Amarnath was not special, I learnt a few things here for which I am only glad that I went for this trek. Amarnath Yatra taught me not to be too snobbish about my treks. We love to trek up to the isolated trails and enjoy the Panoramic beauty and we keep doing that as we must. But just because others travel for different reasons than you, that does not make them any less of a traveler.
Q. So What are the kinds of amenities that FareHawker provided to you for the trek?
Well, all kinds! They took care of everything from essential permissions for photography and documentation, to my car ride from Srinagar to Pahalgam, to my stay at Panchtarani. It really is great experience being associated with them as a Travel Jockey.
Q. And what was your experience like in Panchtarani? It is supposed to be the most busiest spot of the whole journey?
Yes, it is! Since the Amarnath Caves are accessible from both, Pahalgam (from where the trek route begins) and Baltal (from where the Helicopter services begin), Panchatarni is where both these paths cross. It is quite literally the intersection point. So simply put, all the travelers from Pahalgam meet all the travelers from Baltal in Panchtarni from where they climb upwards for the final leg of the trek to the caves.
Q. And how about the final stretch to Mahagunas Top and later to the Cave? Difficult to trek or well balanced?
Definitely not well balanced. Generally you find a balance, when there is a flat plateau between two mountains, or between an ascend and/or descend. Here you find that there is a gradual ascend for a good 3000-3200 ft and then immediately, a 2000 ft descend. So, while it is not difficult it certainly is arduous and physically demanding.
Q. What kind of gears do you require for a trek like this? Particularly in terms of the water that you need to carry?
No, water is one thing you definitely don't have to worry about on this trek. Since, it is mainly a pilgrim route, amenities like water, washroom, light snacks are always what you will find along the route. That apart, your very basic gear... Trekking shoes, warm clothes, jackets. But try to pack light. As a thumb rule you should always pack light while on a trek.
Q. Would you like to tell readers, why choose FareHawker?
FareHawker really serves as a one stop destination for all your travel needs. Apart from trekking up to the caves, they majorly provide helicopter services from Baltal as well. In fact, they were among the first to provide helicopter services in the region. So, when there are two routes to a particular place, and you cover both these routes, and that apart, when you have been dealing with tourism and air travel in Srinagar constantly, you familiarize yourself with practically all travel related activities around the region ... You really know everything there is to know! And that's why you should choose FareHawker. Cos they are experienced and knowledgeable
Q. Any advice to other potential trekkers?
Pack light. Respect the beauty of the mountains. Don't litter. Don't take foolish risks. Enjoy your trip. Keep travelling!
Parth Thakkar is the Ultimate Travel Jockey, associated with
Farehawker. He is a travel photographer himself and loves
mountains, jungles, desert and beaches (in that order).