Sonmarg (translation: ``Meadow of Gold``) is a hill station in Ganderbal district in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir about 80 km north-east of Srinagar.
Sonmarg gives rise to The Three Sisters (Kashmir). In its vicinity lies the great Himalayan glaciers of Kashmir Valley namely Kolhoi Glacier and Machoi Glacier with some peaks of above 5,000 m: Sirbal Peak, Kolhoi Peak, Amarnath Peak and Machoi Peak. Sonmarg is situated in a valley at the bank of Nallah Sindh, 87 km north-east from Srinagar. It is a popular tourist destination, nestled within the imposing Himalayan peaks. It lies at an altitude of 2800 m above sea level. The drive to Sonmarg passes Nallah Sindh, a major tributary of the Jehlum River in the Kashmir valley. It is upwards of sixty miles long valley and deep rock-grit gorge to open grassy meadow land and village-dotted slopes.
Sonmarg has no permanent settlement and is inaccessible during winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanches. At the 2011 India census, Sonmarg had a population of 392, excluding tourists and those working in the tourism industry. Males constitute 51% and females constitute 49%. These are the permanent residents of Sonmarg though seasonally.
Sonmarg had historical significance and was a gateway on ancient Silk Road along with Gilgit connecting Kashmir with Tibet. The Zoji La pass lies 15 km east and is one of the highest passes for road transport. It still is a base camp for Ladakh on NH 1D, and is strategically important for Indian army for the defence of Ladakh.
Sonmarg is a city with a significant rainfall. Even in the driest month there is a lot of rain. The Köppen-Geiger climate classification is Dfb. The average temperature in Sonmarg is 6.5 °C. About 932 mm of precipitation falls annually.
Sonmarg, which means ‘meadow of gold’ has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. The Sindh meanders along here and abounds with trout and mahseer, snow trout can be caught in the main river. In late April when Sonmarg is open for road transport, the visitors can have access to snow which is furnished all over like a white carpet. Private vehicles are not allowed. Visitors have to hire taxi and it is controlled by taxi mafia. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier a major attraction during the summer months.
The climate of Sonmarg is very bracing; but the rainfall is frequent though not heavy, except for two or three days at a time in July and August with fine spell in between. From Sonmarg, trekking routes lead to the Himalayan lakes of Vishansar Lake, Krishansar Lake, Gangabal Lake and Gadsar Lake, stocked with Snowtrout and Brown trout and Satsar, glacier-fed and surrounded by banks of alpine flowers.
A close by excursion is to Baltal, 15 km east of Sonmarg. This little valley lies at the foot of the Zojila, only a day’s journey away from the sacred cave of Amarnath is a base camp for Amarnath yatra. Trekkers can also reach the starkly splendid roof-top of the world Leh, by crossing over the Zoji La pass.
At Sonmarg the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department is organising river rafting tournaments yearly, which has recently seen the participation of teams abroad. A large number of Hindi movies have been filmed in Sonmarg.
Good to Know
Sonmarg is easily accessible from Srinagar or Srinagar Airport (SXR), the capital of Kashmir, in under 3 hours by car or by bus on NH 1D 87 kilometers which leads along Nallah Sindh a key tourist attraction. Sonmarg is inaccessible during winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanches, NH 1D is closed in December every year, the local traffic is permitted only up to Gagangear village, which is the last permanent settlement of this area. Only the Choppers of Indian army lands at Sonmarg during winter carrying essentials for the army camp, and the army personnels are the only people who stay at Sonmarg during these harsh weather conditions. After Kargil war these high altitude meadows have seen heavy deployment of Indian army. The government has given a green signal to dig a 6.5 km long road tunnel, Z-Morh Tunnel, at Gagangear and 14.2 km long tunnel at Zoji La, which will not only keep Sonmarg open round the year but also the road to Dras, Kargil and Leh in Ladakh. This project is still on paper and the construction has not started.
Main attraction of this place is Thajiwas Glacier. Be very careful from the pony and car touts. This will always misguide you and ask handsome amount to access them. Your normal car will not have access to reach Thajiwas Glacier. You must need to hire either pony or four-wheel drive SUV to reach there. It is just about 5 minute drive by car. They may be ask you about Rs.900 for pony per person or Rs.5,000 per vehicle. Always negotiate with them. You can easily negotiate them for Rs.700 for three places (Thijiwas Glacier, Fish Pond & Sarbal Park). In Thajiwas, you will get the snow but tout will misguide you for not having over there. At last if you want to enjoy snow in Thajiwas Glacier, hire a SUV vehicle for Rs.2,000, I’m sure you will see it (snow) over there.
You can hire sledge-cart for Rs.100 to 200 and gum boots for Rs.50 to 100 in May (which is peak time for them).