20 Nov Best Places to visit in Sonamarg, Kashmir
Each place I had picked in Kashmir to visit was more beautiful than the other. I wonder what I have missed with the places that I did not decide to visit. When I was looking upon the places to visit in Sonamarg, google promised little.
But luckily I kept my plans flexible. So when we reached Kashmir and found out that Srinagar is probably not worth spending a lot of time, we quickly rearranged our itinerary to spend more time in Sonamarg. Sonamarg translates to ‘the Golden Meadows’ and it is stunning. If you can, spend more than a day here.
Also, it is more probable to find a glimpse of snow around Sonamarg than any other major tourist city in Kashmir during the spring and autumn months. Anyway, I will just pour down what I learnt on my trip to Sonamarg. I think some notes can make a difference in your trip and help avoid mistakes that we’d done.
How to reach Sonamarg
To reach Sonamarg you will have to reach Srinagar unless you plan to travel from Kargil or Ladakh. Sonamarg is 80 km from Srinagar and takes between 2.5-3 hours to reach. The altitude increases gradually and the ride remains mostly linear.
Public transport to Sonamarg
The best way to do this journey is by using shared sumo cabs. Although you will need to break your journey. Take the starting cab from Batamaloo in Srinagar that drops to Kangan sumo stand and costs ₹80. You can take another cab from the same sumo stand to Sonamarg for the same price.
Another but less reliable way to travel is by using the bus. A few buses or jeeps travel from Srinagar to Leh daily at 8 am. And since Sonamarg is on the way you can get down there at 1 pm (yes, takes about 5 hours). Enquire a day before at the TRC bus stand a day before. You probably have to pay the full way price for jeeps but may have to pay less (₹240) for the buses.
Travelling from Srinagar? Here is our blog on the popular places to visit in Srinagar
Private transport to Sonamarg
A more comfortable way to travel is to take a private taxi from Srinagar. A one-way drop will cost you ₹2400 and a return trip on the same day will be ₹2900. This is increases as per your vehicle choice. An Innova will cost you ₹3000 for a drop and ₹3500 for the return trip. Check out this blog for taxi rates in Srinagar.
If you are looking for a 2-day trip, the cab price will increase to ₹4500 for the round and local trips. Although make sure that the cab can go to all the places you want to go since I am not sure if the cabs drivers from Srinagar will be able to make the journey to Zero point and Zoji la pass.
How to go around in Sonamarg
There isn’t a lot to do inside Sonamarg town except the Thajiwas Glacier and you can reach the starting point to the trail to the glacier by walk.
But to visit other places that are far off, you will need a vehicle. Vehicles outside Kashmir (with a different number plate) are not allowed on the route to the zero point – towards Ladakh. So you may have to hire one here anyway. If you are hiring a vehicle from Srinagar, double-check with them if they are eligible to travel this route.
In case you are looking to hire a local vehicle, you can check with your hotel or any local shops and they will connect you with a local driver. The standard charges to Zero point and back are ₹2400. They often quote inflated prices but you need to negotiate hard. We paid ₹3000 for a 7-seater for the journey. The journey also includes Zoji La pass and views to Baltal.
Places to Visit in Sonamarg
Thajiwas glacier is the highlight of Sonamarg town. The glacier is around 5 km from the town and you can even walk up to the start of the trail. From there you have two options – to walk or to take a pony.
Now, like at most tourist points in Kashmir, the locals will tell you that it’s too far, difficult and the weather is too unpredictable for you to do this journey. But if you are looking to hike, you can do this on foot. It is closer than what people make it to be and the terrain is mostly flat after the first kilometre. Make sure you read our article on common scams in Kashmir since you will get into situations where locals try to take advantage of tourists.
However, if you are not confident and the first kilometre looks too difficult, you can take a pony at the start. If you start your trek before 9 am, you can get the ponies and lower prices between ₹500-600 (negotiate hard on this). But after 9-10 am, the prices go back to ₹800-1000 per pony till the evening. I took a pony while going and walked the distance back.
At the end of the trail is the glacier which goes dry by summers and autumn by the way. So you can still get disappointed. If you are looking for an adventure, you can still hire a local guide and venture more ahead. There are a few tents that serve some food like maggi, tea and kahwa near the glacier.
The route to the glacier closes off in winters. Spring is a great time to visit since you will still find snow on the peaks. There is no official timings or cost to visit Thajiwas glacier.
Zero-point is the starting point of Ladakh on the highway from Srinagar to Leh and is around 25 km from Sonamarg. The google maps location points it to a wrong location that is 6km away, so don’t get confused.
While the sound of travelling all the way to see a popular point may seem absurd, but heed my words and take the journey. Your trip will be incomplete without it. Your trip will end at a small place called Gumri where you turn back.
The views on the way to zero-point are astounding and unlike others that you have seen in Kashmir yet. You can see huge valleys with a snake-like river cutting through them. Also, the mountains turn from bright green to dry brown as you get closer to zero point.
The road that was in an abysmal condition previously was being overhauled. And the journey today is far more comfortable than it used to be before.
How to reach zero point: You will need to hire a local cab to visit zero point that will cost you ₹2400-3000 for the round trip. This will also include Zoji La pass and Baltal view on the way. If you wish to make your journey up to Dras, you need to pay ₹6000 and start in the morning for it.
Zoji La Pass
Zoji La is a high-altitude pass that crossed over to the Ladakh territory and is located just before the border point. The term ‘La’ means pass in the languages of these highlands and you can recognize one by the name itself.
Like most other passes, the air density remains very low and it is not advisable to spend more than 30-40 minutes in these areas due to lack of oxygen levels that can lead to headaches and nausea.
But the view around Zoji La is amazing. During summers and autumn, the mountains were dry and it looked like the mountains from Ladakh from the photos. During winters and spring, the mountains are covered in snow. Although I am sure the pass remains closed after the snowfalls.
Near the pass is a war memorial that gives an ode to the late soldiers that died in the war of 1948 between India and Pakistan. There is also a small temple right above it and a cafe opposite that serves maggi, momos, tea and kahwa maintained by the army.
During our journey to Zoji La pass, we also saw active construction of the Zoji La tunnel that will connect Kashmir to Ladakh all year round (right now the route is mostly closed during the winters). It will also strengthen the border security for India.
Baltal is primarily a camping ground, 15 north of Sonamarg from where Amarnath Yatris start their journey. The first route comes from Chandanwadi and Pahalgam that is easier and has flatter terrain. The trek route from Baltal to Amarnath cave is 14km and is much steeper and harder but shorter.
The camping area comes to life during the summer months when the Amarnath Yatris gather for the journey. The area is maintained by the shrine board. Temporary tents, bathrooms and food stalls are set up to aid the living arrangement.
Yatris describe the view and the atmosphere of divine spirituality as being very close to nature and god itself. River Sind gurgles past the camp providing the campers fresh water directly from the glacier. People are allowed to start their journey only between 3 to 5 am in the morning.
You can get a glimpse of the aerial view of colourful tents in Baltal on your way to zero point. The tents disappear after the yatra time ends.
Have plans to visit Pahalgam? Check out our blog for on places to visit in Pahalgam and popular treks
Naranag village is a tiny hamlet that is the end of the road that branches out at Kangan towards the north. The centrepiece of the village is the Naranag temple, ancient ruins taking back to the 8th century.
The temple was built by ancient Nagas Karkotas, Hindu Kashmiri Kayastyas of the Naga sect. The community used to have a deep dedication and reverence towards serpents. The temple is in ruins today and needs attention and restoration.
The village itself sits at the base of Mount Harmukh and is the resting place for trekkers and hikers that make the journey. Mount Harmukh is referred to as the ‘Kailash of Kashmir’ and said to be the abode of Lord Shiva himself in Kashmiri Hindu mythology.
Treks from Sonmarg
Slightly north of Sonmarg sit some of the most beautiful alpine lakes of Kashmir. And they are not so easy to reach. Among those are Gangabal, Satsar, Gadsar, Kishansar and Vishansar lakes.
While it is possible to do one or more at a time, there are several tour guides and operators that bunch them together and call it as Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. If you are not an expert in travelling inside Kashmir or high-altitude trek, I will suggest that you do this trek with a tour guide/group. (suggestions at the end of this section)
The Gangabal trek leads to the Gangabal Lake that sits at the base of Mount Harmukh in the north. It is often visited with another lake – Nand Kol right next to it. Both these lakes are considered sacred in Hindu Kashmiri mythology.
The trek trail starts from Naranag village and goes through highlands, meadows, alpine views and glaciers to reach the lake. The trek is considered fairly difficult and is not for beginners without any prior experience of the high-altitude trek.
Satsar Lake’s is derived from the fact that it is a combination or a series of seven small lakes surrounded by beautiful mountains. The Lake is located right after you cross the Gadsar pass on your trekking route in the Kashmir Great Lakes trek.
The surrounding area around Satsar lake is also good for camping and is endowed with beautiful yellow flowers during summers. Like most lakes in the area, Satsar lake freezes during the winter months and becomes inaccessible. During summers around three of the smaller lakes dry up and the lake area shrinks considerably.
Gadsar Lake means ‘a Lake of flowers’. And aptly so, during summers, the lake is usually decorated with alpine colourful wildflowers, a treat to the eyes after a long arduous trek.
Gadsar Lake is also called Yamsar Lake that refers to Yama, the Hindu god of Death and the afterlife. According to the local legends, a mythical creature lives in the lake that captures and eats up local life. Therefore several locals avoid going near the shores as well as try to keep their sheep out of the area as well.
Krishansar and Vishansar Lake
Krishansar and Vishansar lake are two twin high-altitude lakeS that will probably be the first lakes that you will see on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. They are located right before the Gadsar pass that makes for a difficult climb to the next stop.
The lakes turn a deep green-blue colour during springtime and welcome birds from Siberia that flock long distances during this time. Sheep and goats also gather around to crunch on the freshly uncovered grass.
Places to Stay in Sonamarg
The best place to stay at any tourist destination in Kashmir is the JKTDC huts, especially if you are travelling in a group. In Sonamarg, these are located right opposite the main market. You can book single rooms, 1 BHK, 2 BHK and 4 BHK huts.
The huts were decently furnished in typical Kashmiri styles with carpets, sofas, cupboards, electric blankets and comes with a kitchen. There is also a housekeeper who will help you settle in and arrange for a bonfire if you want.
The huts are usually overbooked during the summers and the peak tourist season. But if you travel during the low season and book online, you can get a discount of up to 40%.
There are also a few other good hotels in Sonamarg. But unfortunately, I couldn’t find them online. You can think of reaching there and directly checking in to one. But be careful during the peak season since hotels can be full and much pricier.
Try calling and booking them on phone instead. You can get contact information for some hotels on google maps info sections.
Wondering what cuisines to try in Kashmir? Read our article on what to eat in Kashmir and the best local cuisines
Best time to visit Sonamarg
Spring/Summers in Sonamarg (March – June):
Spring and summers are best to visit Sonamarg. You will still be able to find plenty of ice on the mountains during the spring but the major road and hiking routes would start to open up. Flowers bloom during spring and meadows come to life.
The temperature in Sonamarg remains low even during the summers and usually never goes above 16-18°C and is a great place to seek respite from the heat that scorches central India. The glaciers melt and channel the melting ice into waterfalls that spring up at several places. The way to zero point, Zoji La towards Ladakh also opens up.
Monsoon/Autumn in Sonamarg (July – October):
With the onset of monsoons, the tourist population dwindles and the days become unpredictable, especially for outdoor activities. Long treks are treacherous since weather can change drastically at any given point in time.
And the monsoon ends towards late autumn, the valley sees a lull in activity with one last batch of tourists before winters. This is also a great time to visit since the days are clear but they do start getting chilly. By the starting of October, you will be able to find ice on the highlands again. Plus the prices of hotels and tour agents drop due to the low season.
Winters in Sonamarg (November – February):
With the onset of winters and heavy snowfalls, the highway to Sonamarg becomes unpredictable. Sonamarg along with all further destinations usually remain closed for tourists during these months.