Despite being prime trekking territory, the security concerns of recent decades mean that relatively few foreigners take to the hills. The once booming industry is slowly picking up, however, and there have been no unpleasant incidents involving foreign tourists since 1995. Given the tricky terrain and the delicate political situation, however, it is not recommended to set off without at least a local guide. Trekking agencies in Srinagar and some hotels mentioned in the text can provide fully organized treks with ponies, porters and all the requisite equipment.
Pahalgam is still the main base for treks, which vary in length and level of difficulty from the two-day round trips within the Lidder Valley to the week-long hike to Panikhar in Ladakh’s Suru Valley. You can also do some good walking from Sonamarg, the last main town in Kashmir before the Zoji La pass. Conditions for trekking are pretty hot and uncomfortable in high summer and the shoulder seasons of late spring and early autumn are the optimum time to trek; the best map is Sheet 1 in Leomann’s India Himalaya series. For more general advice about trekking, see Basics.
Kashmir’s most trodden route becomes crowded during the July/August full moon with thousands of pilgrims, who flock to see the natural ice lingam in the Amarnath cave, at an altitude of 3962m. The trek from Pahalgam usually takes four days and includes overnight stays at Chandanwari (2900m), Sheshnag (3720m) and Panchtarni (3933m). The final stage involves crossing the Mahagunas pass. After visiting the cave, you can either return the same way or make the more direct descent to Baltal, 8km east of Sonamarg on the Srinagar–Leh road.
Kolahoi glacier trek
The five-day trek from Pahalgam to the impressive but receding Kolahoi glacier (3400m) can be shortened by a day if you take a jeep to the first overnight stop at picturesque Aru (2414m). The next day the ascent is via alpine meadows and streams to Lidderwat (3049m), before a gentler stage to Satlanjan (3150m), which allows you to preserve energy for the steep climb to the glacier and back to Lidderwat on the following day. You can then walk back down to Aru or Pahalgam itself on the fifth day.
Sonamarg to Wangat trek
This popular route takes you through a beautiful stretch of the mountains via a number of delightful high altitude lakes, where fishing is permitted with a permit (available through agents in Srinagar). The first staging post at Nichnai (3620m) affords views of the Thajiwas glacier before the second day’s walking undulates to Kishanar (3819m). On the third day you cross over the 4191m Bazkal Gali pass and descend past Gadsar Lake to overnight at Dubta Pani (3280m). Next day’s walking takes in the seven tiered lakes of Satsar en route to the region’s largest body of water, Gangabal Lake (3507m) for a final night’s camping before the descent to Wangat, where there are buses and jeeps to Srinagar.