Travelogue – Starting for Amarnath Yatra from Pahalgam

Amarnath Yatra
Date: June 21, 2006 -> Tata Sumo is the vehicle of choice for going from Pahalgam to Chandanwari. The cost is Rs600 for the entire vehicle one way, or one could take a seat on a per seat basis (negotiable). For Amarnath Yatra, the vehicles line up at the security checkpoint at Laripora village (2km from Pahalgam towards Chandanwari) where they are allowed to go ahead at a certain time early in the morning (between 6:00 AM and 7:00 AM). (Check for the latest arrangements on this account)

Local commuter mini-bus service is also available, but is generally used only by the locals.
The vehicles are reserved in advance from Pahalgam Taxi Stand. There are more than a hundred of such Sumo Taxis available, and most are generally busy during the yatra period, so booking in advance is highly recommended. The taxis make five to six trips to Chandanwari everyday during the Yatra period.

The road from Pahalgam to Chandanwari has been notoriously bad for all these years – in fact there hardly has been any road. But in March 2006 the entire stretch has been laid well with good quality macadamized road, though its still one lane. But most of the drivers are very well versed with each and every curve and turn on the 12 odd km stretch. The steep curves and the high speeds can make the ride very exciting, but spend your time looking outside at the meandering river Lidder flowing below with gushing waters and steep drops. And don’t miss the view of the mouth of the lidder valley as you leave it behind when you take the height; and the many water falls you see on the way.
road-to-chandanwari Only in five miles you will see on your right a widening of the valley as the Lidder calms down over a flat land. Localites fondly remember the location for the “shooting” of the famous hindi movie Betaab. This was the place where the farmhouse that was the centerpiece of the movie, was set up. As you drive up, you will see directions to Shiv Temple Cave, at Shivmarg. This is not a well known temple, apparently having come there in past few years. Try to stop by and take a look if you can; but the taxi Sumos would not.
The taxi stand is one and a half km short of Chandanwari snow bridge. Expect to be encountered by a horde of “ghorewalas”. Now if you have not already arranged for a pony (or a horse, however you would like to call the animal), this is your “moment of truth”! Getting the right pony and the right pony-wallah is crucial to a good, well organized and safe yatra experience.
There are three basic categories of ponies and pony-wallahs.
The first category are the ponies and ponywallahs that belong to Pahalgam and surrounding areas. These are experienced ponies and experienced guides who have traversed the yatra route multiple times – even the ponies understand the route.

The second broad category is the gujjars who jump into the fray to make some money during yatra days. Their ponies are actually “ponies” – smaller built and also not too familiar with the route peculiarities. They may come at a slightly lower rate, but the gujjars lack professionalism – and that, like in any other service profession, has its own value. Professionalism means that the guy keeps an eye on the rider all the time, it means when to hold the horse or the rider during a steep climb down, it means to be not only timely with lunch breaks, but to be able to guide and suggest as to how much time is good for a break, etc.

The third type is the ponies and their owners who come all the way from Katra (in Jammu) specifically for Amarnath Yatra. Of course, their knowledge of local terrain, language and experience is limited.

By one account there are just 1,200 ponies which actually belong to the Pahalgam area, out of a total of about 10,000 that may be active on the route on a yatra day.

The ponies themselves are a stretched lot: not very long ago, the ponies were awarded a day of rest after every two or three days of labor, which means a day off for rest after every trip to Amarnath. But not any more. They work continuously for ten days and even more before they are rewarded with a day of rest.

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