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Yusmarg Valley in Kashmir

By Arka Chakarborty

The sparkling lakes, green meadows, snowcapped mountain peaks, rich built heritage and the generous and welcoming people of Kashmir are renowned the world over. While a travel itinerary of Kashmir may involve the bustling lanes of Srinagar, the dream-like, romantic valley of Betaab and the centuries-old Mughal gardens, there are very few who think of including Yusmarg (also spelled Yousmarg) in their bucket list. It is a crying shame too, as the journey to this scenic abode of tranquility is relatively easy! Intricately linked with history, legends and memory, the valley of Yusmarg offers visitors an experience like no other. If the idea of getting away from the crowds of tourists just to relax, enjoy the astounding beauty of nature and have a quiet, peaceful or adventurous time with loved ones appeals to you then Yusmarg can be an ideal pick. Let’s embark on a journey unlike any other, a journey through time, space and legend, to a little slice of heaven.

When one hits the road in Srinagar, there are three options to go to Yusmarg valley. One can opt for a private car. If that is unavailable, then a taxi (either individual or shared) is another agreeable option. Depending on the type of taxi one chooses, the fare can vary between 2500 and 3000 rupees (Khan, 2024). There is also a bus service available that can take tourists a part of the way (till Charar-e-Sharief). The commute to Yusmarg is in itself an enjoyable experience with green pastures, scintillating peaks and dynamic streams adorning the open countryside.

A significant stopping point between Srinagar and Yusmarg is Charar-e-Sharief. Located around 28 km south-west of Sinagar, Charar-e-Sharief is a shrine situated in the town of Charari Sharif and is one of the oldest and most revered religious structures still frequented in Kashmir. Known also as Hazrat Sheikh Nooruddin Wali, this shrine is dedicated to Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, famed in history as Nund Reshi (1377/78-1438 CE). There have been numerous saints and religious teachers in Kashmir who have touched the hearts of the people. Very few, however, are as revered as Nund Reshi, one of the first Muslim Rishis of Kashmir. Born in the late fourteenth century CE, Nooruddin witnessed a period of rapid transition in terms of religious views in Kashmir. Born to ‘Salar Sanz’ and ‘Sadra’, Nooruddin, it is said, refused to breast-feed from his biological mother as a baby. Legends say that he was finally breast-fed by the illustrious ascetic Lalleshwari or Lal Ded. While the initiation and institutionalization of Islam were led by saints who were essentially outsiders to Kashmir (namely, Sheikh Sharfuddin or Bulbul Shah and Shah-i-Hamadan Mir Syed Ali Hamadani), Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, through his magnetic personality as well as his verses, prose and philosophical works composed in the common speech of the time, spread the message of Islam throughout the length and breadth of Kashmir across all social streta, bringing together devotees and followers from across the socio-economic spectrum. Nund Reshi’s ideas of non-violence, vegetarianism and tolerance is said to have influenced subsequent teachers and saints such as Resh Mir Saeb, Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom and Shamas Faqir. Legends say that after his passing, Noorani’s grave floated for some time, landing on the exact spot where his shrine was subsequently built in 1446 CE by the celebrated sultan of Kashmir Zain-ul-Abidin (r. 1420-1470 CE). The primary structure, however, has not survived. It was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, notably during the Chak period and the Mughal period. In 1808 CE, Atta Mohammad Khan, the Afghan ruler of Kashmir who was a devout follower of Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom, rebuilt the shrine. In May, 1995, during the Indo-Pak conflict and militancy in Kashmir, the shrine was destroyed and rebuilt for the final time. As one observes the well-built stone plinth, central chamber adorned with multicolored patterns, Persian and Kashmiri verses and latticework windows, one is reminded of the richness of the history and heritage associated with it and the reverence with which the patron-saint of Kashmiris who inspired it is remembered (KN Network, 2022; Trawell; JKTDC; Aafreen, 2023).

After paying respects to the sacred resting place of Nund Reshi, one proceeds to Yusmarg. The 17 km-long stretch between Charar-e-Sharief and Yusmarg is a slow climb. This road, offering a somewhat less smooth journey than the road from Srinagar to Charar-e-Sharief, is blocked during winter and is unsafe to travel through. Hence, planning a trip to Yusmarg during winter is inadvisable. The winding road offering a steady elevation in height finally opens up to the vibrant greens, blues and whites of Yusmarg. Surrounded by a dense forest of pine and fir and scintillating mountain peaks like Tattakutti (4725 meters), Sunset Peak (4746 meters) and Romesh Thong (approx. 5000 meters), Yusmarg, itself located at an elevation of 2396 meters (7861 feet), is a sight to behold. The relative anonymity of Yusmarg means that it is quiet and tranquil, offering a mesmerizing silence that is perfect for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of their mundane quotidian existence. The few visitors who are there can be seen taking walks through the meadow, enjoying a pony ride or gearing up to go for a trek. The sheer floral and faunal wealth of Yusmarg makes it the perfect place for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers. Yusmarg, however, is much more to some than a natural bounty. Strolling through the meadow, one might be reminded that the name Yusmarg has a peculiar meaning which points towards a lot of legend and speculation. The word ‘Yus’ or ‘Yous’ is an abbreviation of the word ‘Youza’ which means Jesus, whereas the term ‘marg’ means path. This indicates the Ahmediya belief that Jesus Christ came to Kashmir. First propounded in modern times in the claims of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, this theory proposes that Jesus Christ did not, in fact, die on the cross or ascend to heaven. Rather, he migrated to Kashmir and (according to some) preached his message of love, peace and brotherhood there. Numerous people believe that while travelling to Kashmir, Jesus walked through this valley, hence the name that literally translates to ‘the Meadow of Jesus.’ These claims are, of course, the sites of much debate and contention (District Budgam; JKTDC; Cliffhangers India; Khayal, 1977; Kashmir Mountains, 2024).

Theories and debates aside, Yusmarg is, nevertheless, divine in its silent grace. The tranquil air of the green meadow is punctured by the foaming waters of the Doodh Ganga River. Fed by the melting ice of the surrounding mountains, the river gets its name from the white foam which is created due to the fast-flowing river running its course over rocks. The ever-motional ‘River of Milk’ paints a picture of contrast juxtaposed with the serene stillness of the valley that it flows through (Kashmir Mountains, 2024).

Those who love adventure and find a relaxing walk or a pony ride to be less attractive may also love Yusmarg as it offers numerous trekking opportunities. A short 3-4 km trek rewards adventure enthusiasts with the brilliant view of the Nilnag Lake, an astonishingly beautiful lake which reflects the mountains and forest that surround it (Tour My India). Those willing to muster the courage to go for longer treks can opt for the 10-km long journey which leads to Sang-e- Safed. Also a meadow, Sang-e-Safed is, however, nothing like Yusmarg. Instead of green pastures, one will find white sheets of ice which cover the landscape even during the summer months. The word ‘Sang-e-Safed’ literally means ‘white rocks’ which dot the whole area. Wild flowers announce life’s triumph even in this harsh environment. The ever-present mist and fog grant the icy valley an air of mystery. Surrounded by the blue sky and white ice, the highlight of this meadow is the frozen lake which sits at the heart of it. When one lays their eyes upon this canvas of blues and whites, the long and arduous trek seems to be worth every second of the effort (Kashyap, 2023).

Nestled amid mountains and forests, Yusmarg is one of Kashmir’s best-kept secrets which deserve more attention. Steeped in legends, Yusmarg offers such a blend of natural beauty and human discourse that is hardly matched by many sites. The journey to the valley and the treks that take one beyond its limits come together to form a remarkable story, a story comprised of legends, history and human and natural heritage. In today’s fast-paced world, Yusmarg may offer visitors an experience which will create unforgettable memories.


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