Doodhpathri: The Tranquil Valley of Kashmir
By Geeta Vaishnavi
The valley of Kashmir is famed across the world for its unearthly beauty. The almost divine
natural splendor that Kashmir has been blessed with has brought adventurers, travelers and
pilgrims to its vast meadows, sparkling lakes, gigantic glaciers and mighty mountains for ages. The British period in Indian history coincided by the Dogra rule in the history of Jammu and Kashmir has seen the systematic growth of tourism in the valley, through which the number of people who can directly appreciate its magnificence has steadily increased. In post independence India, tourism has emerged as a major industry in Jammu and Kashmir. As thousands visit the erstwhile state every year to glimpse its spectacular natural and man-made locations, thousands more can sustain themselves from the income generated through this tourism. Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Srinagar, Pahalgam, Jammu, Akhnoor and many such places have emerged as tourist hotspots over the years. Still, there are a few hidden gems of picturesque perfection which are just being discovered. Doodhpathri, a valley located in central Budgam district, is one of those wonders. A green bowl of tranquility, this valley remains outside the tourist map.
Doodhpathri is a bowl-shaped valley in district Budgam located 42 km from the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir Srinagar and around 22 km from the district headquarter Budgam. It can be reached from Srinagar in around two hours. The general route followed to reach Doodhpathri is from Srinagar to Budgam to Khan Sahib to Doodhpathri. While the route can take tourists through some of the most incredible viewpoints nature has to offer, the road itself is winding and damaged at places, especially the route from Khan Sahib to Doodhpathri. Due to the lack of regular snow clearing facilities, the Khan Sahib-Doodhpathri stretch becomes nearly impossible to traverse during peak winter. The valley itself, nestled in the foothills of the mighty Pir Panjal mountain ranges, is actually the composite of two separate meadows named Doodhpathri and Parhace Maidan. The Shaliganga and Sukhnag rivers snake through either side of the valley. The meadow looks like a flawless carpet of soft green grass from afar, so much so that the urge to walk barefoot in the grass has been mentioned by more than one person who has experienced the valley firsthand. This bowl of green punctuated by the milky clarity of the river water is given a variety of colors by the Daisies, Forget-me-nots and Buttercups which bloom here. The whole valley is surrounded by coniferous trees like Pine, Fir and Deodar which add a wild stillness to the ambience.
The word ‘Doodhpathri’ literally means ‘the valley of milk’ (‘Doodh’ translates to ‘milk’ and
‘pathri’ means ‘meadow’). There are numerous possible reasons for this rather unusual name.
One local legend states that the saint Nooruddin Noorani, also known as Sheikh ul Alam or Nund Reshi, once visited the area now known as Doodhpathri. He wanted to perform his prayer there but could not find any water for ablutions. Once he struck the ground with his stick, miraculously milk gushed out from the ground. The saint was unsatisfied and claimed that he could not perform ablutions with milk. The river of milk at once turned to water. Apart from this local legend, another possible reason could be the appearance of the Shaliganga river itself which flows through the valley. As the fast-flowing river gushes through the Doodhpathri valley, it crashes continuously against the rocks that dot the riverbed and foams up, creating the illusion of milky whiteness. Another source locates one possible reason for the name of the valley in the livestock that grazes there. This source points to the claim that the livestock that grazes here produces large amounts of milk, hence the name.
Notwithstanding the true reason behind the peculiar name of the valley, the vast stretches of greenery, blooming flowers, snowcapped mountain peaks and looming trees create such an unforgettable environment that is experienced by the lucky few who visit the place. Another surprise that awaits the visitors is the fauna that roams here. The Doodhpathri valley serves as a seasonal home to hundreds of sheep and goats that are brought here by peripatetic shepherds. Seeming like balls of cotton in a sea of green from afar, these livestock graze in the valley in peace during spring and summer before accompanying their masters to Jammu during the winter months. A few horses and ponies can also be seen traversing the valley, grazing and soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the place.
There is no permanent settlement within the Doodhpathri valley. It has, however, been seen as a traditional grazing ground by semi-nomadic tribal pastoralist groups like the Gujars. They as mentioned above visit and stay at the fringes of the Doodhpathri valley in the summer months and leave for Jammu in the months of winter when the Kashmiri cold becomes life threatening.
There are numerous features which distinguish the Doodhpathri valley from the more well- known meadows of Kashmir. Unlike Gulmarg or Sonmarg, Doodhpathri does not have a well- established reputation for adventure sports yet. In peak winter months, the roads become so dangerous at times that the valley is reputed to be unreachable. The famous ABC valleys of Pahalgam i.e. Aru, Betaab and Chandanwari are similar to Doodhpathri in the sense that tourists frequent these places during the summer months to enjoy the greenery and the tranquil ambience. However, these three valleys are a lot more limited in scope when compared to the vast expanses of Doodhpathri. Given the lack of adventure sports and related activities in the valley and the trouble in reaching the same during peak winter months, there is not much to do when one reaches the valley itself. There are several amazing viewpoints on the way to the valley where tourists and locals can stop and admire nature. A few eateries around the valley offer delicious options from the rich local cuisine. If one is well-versed in horse-riding, one can rent ponies and ride across the open pastures. There is some provision for trekking, although hiring an experienced local guide is advisable in order to avoid getting lost or facing unwanted encounters with wild animals. Otherwise, the only thing to do is to explore the open green meadows and to appreciate the tranquility so far seldom disturbed.
The Doodhpathri valley can also serve as a starting point for one to visit a number of exciting places in Budgam which are seldom explored by tourist traffic. Stochalpathri or Sochalpathri is a small, picturesque place where locals or tourists often rest while on their way to visit Doodhpathri. Tangmar is a little-known collection of small valleys punctuated by coniferous trees. Yusmarg or the valley of Jesus is a valley near Doodhpathri surrounded by some of the
highest peaks of the Pir Panjal mountain range where flowers bloom and the Doodhganga river flows. Nilnag is a high-altitude lake of crystal-clear water near Yusmarg which one has to trek to reach. Mujhpathri or the valley of turnips is a valley 3 km from Doodhpathri. One can reach this valley by trekking. Palmaidan is a valley 5 km from Doodhpathri. What makes this valley special is the sheer number of large stones lying around the place. This is a favorite spot for shepherds. Once, one had to trek to reach this valley, but now a road has been constructed to ease the trouble. The Diskhal valley is a valley on top of the mountain from where the Ashtar glacier, the birthplace of the Shaliganga river, can be observed. A difficult trek can take those with a hunger for adventure to the Ashtar glacier.
The Doodhpathri valley’s reputation as an offbeat location in Kashmir seldom visited by tourists is about to change. According to a recent article in the Hindustan Times government efforts are afoot to turn this picturesque valley into a new winter destination rivaling Gulmarg. A winter festival was organized in order to celebrate this new identity. The festival saw a number of events like all weather vehicle exhibition, snow vehicle exhibition, skiing competition and snow kabaddi. Soon, skiing equipment will be provided by the authorities at low cost to encourage tourist traffic to Doodhpathri in winter.
The journey of Doodhpathri from a shepherds’ summer abode to a tourist destination is far from complete. The green pastures, imposing trees, mighty peaks, lively streams and rich faunal wealth of this valley is yet to be explored by most of the tourist population that visits Jammu and Kashmir to experience its splendor. Hence, if peace and quiet is one’s idea of paradise, one cannot do much better than Doodhpathri at the moment. Even though it receives minimal tourist visits compared to some of the more famous Kashmiri valleys like Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Aru and Betaab, there are a few locals who still depend on the tourist traffic the valley receives in order to make a living. This picture of relative anonymity is about to transform as the UT government seems to be in the process of launching a project that aims to develop this valley into a winter tourist hub. The success of this project will undoubtedly put Doodhpathri on the map and strengthen the booming tourism sector of Jammu and Kashmir.