Aru, a famous village in Lidder valley of Kashmir Himalayas, about 11 km away from the tourist destination Pahalgam, is settled in a bowl shaped small valley, amidst Birzamall and Tson Mountains. It is situated at an altitude of 2414 mtrs The Nafran stream, flowing from Katernag Lake, joins Lidder rivulet here and makes Y-shaped flow at Aru. After two streams join here it catches speed and thus creates holes, chutes and grade 2 to 3 rapids. After Mandlan village the river turns turbulent and offers a challenging White Water Rafting run up to Ganeshpora near Ashmuqam. The river runs through green coniferous forests. Sheshtar Tschen is a Gujar dominated small village on way to Aru.
Aru is a base for Lidderwat, Armin and Katernag trekking routes. A trek to Mount Kolahoi also leads from here via Lidderwat and Satlanjan. One can also undertake a circular trek to Sindh valley via Sekiwas, Sunmous pass and Surfrah from here and can also visit famous Tarsar and Marsar lakes enroute. Lidderwat is about 11 kms away from here, while Katernag is about 7 Kms.
Previously it was impossible to reach Aru in harsh winters due to frequent avalanches, land slips and tree felling and so was remaining cut off from Pahalgam for longer periods. Though being focal point for wildlife it was difficult even for wildlife guards to watch and ward wildlife in waist deep snow during winter months. We have now well maintained motorable road running from Pahalgam to this beautiful village. This connectivity has made possible to keep the valley open for whole of the year and is thus helping to promote winter tourism here as well.
Aru is in fact a play-field for some adventure sports like trekking, paragliding, mountaineering, orienteering, mountain biking, mountain running, off the road sports, sport angling, snow and white water sports and is a gateway to wilderness. Notably Paragliding was introduced in Aru during late 1980s by some Swiss Pilots with the assistance of J&K Ski and Mountaineering Associations. Appreciably Mr. Mehraj Din of Highland Excursions took first flight here.
To the delight of Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir (ATOAK) the Tourism Department has arranged some snow skiing courses here for locals and tourists this winter through Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports (JIM&WS). It is a great initiative taken by Tourism Department towards introduction of Alpine Skiing in Lidder Valley and is certainly a welcome step for promotion of winter tourism in the region. Appreciably the department has also laid the foundation stone for a drag-lift here.
The JIM&WS was established at Pahalgam many decades back, but due to uncertainties in the valley it was temporarily shifted to Batote for a longer period where it was conducting the mountaineering activities only. It failed to perform to the expectations during that period. It is now shifted back to the valley and is operating its both summer and winter activities smoothly for some time. Due to unknown reasons it was holding its ski courses at Gulmarg instead of its base at Aru (Pahalgam). Now with the persuasion of Tourism Department it started ski courses at Aru from this year.
The Institute conducted nearly four short ski courses of 15 days duration each at Aru this winter. The courses those were scheduled for January were washed out due to late snow fall in the area. With an aim to encourage and inculcate a spirit of winter sports many local youth and children were trained in basic skiing. This type of job oriented course would help locals to earn their livelihood who otherwise sit idle in their home during long winters. There is urgent need of creating trained manpower for such adventurous activities.
In Aru there are many other ski slopes at the foothills of some surrounding mountains like Haerskhum, Tson Peak, Birzmall, Ganishbal, and Gaashangan etc. These slopes could be very useful for basic to advanced skiers. There is now need of installing some drag-lifts and a Chairlift for providing mechanical transportation to intended skiers. There is also need of providing a snow packing machine (Snow Beater) to make skiing a pleasant sport like other resorts of the country. Since snow sports are catching up fast in Lidder Valley there is need to raise more infrastructures to make the valley round the year tourist destination. Tourism Department should shift its Ski Rental Shop from Nunwan to Aru immediately so that the equipment is readily available at the ski resort of Aru. The accommodation needs to be made winter specific. Use of wood for bukharis should be discouraged to protect the green gold here. There is also need to explore new ski slopes in the vicinity of Aru village. Behind Paenz ridge and Draidar there are long and naturally groomed slope where snow remains for longer period. The JIM&WS must find out possibility to hold their advance courses there.
One of the popular snow sports to catch the fancy of experts in both skiing and mountaineering is “Ski-Mountaineering” or “Ski-Touring” or “Back-Country Skiing”. Not many know that the Ski-Touring (Ski-Mountaineering) has tremendous potential in Lidder Valley particularly in Sekiwas and Kolahoi regions of Lidder valley. Ski-mountaineering involves going over mountains with special ski gear. This sport is sort of cross-country or backpacking. Skiers undertake from daylong ski–touring to even weeklong or still longer expeditions. Ski-mountaineering is more adventurous than the alpine skiing. Back-Country skiing was introduced here way back in late 1970s when two local enthusiasts undertook first reconnaissance of Lidder Valley. The famous fearless Mountain Guide of Aru, Ali Mohammad accompanied the team up to Lidderwat. Their exploration paved way for future major expeditions. In January 1984 the J&K Mountaineering and Hiking Club organized first-ever major Back-Country ski expedition from Pahalgam to Sumbal in Sindh valley via Aru, Lidderwat, Sekiwas, Sunmous pass and Surfrah (Sumbal) and set the record. In late 1980s the J&K Ski and Mountaineering Association and the Highland Excursions inspired the foreigners for such ventures. This type of winter sport grew fast in the Lidder Valley as the foreigners, representing Europe, Australia and Asia, found our slopes, and ridge very challenging and virgin. Some skiers even attempted Mount Kolahoi during winter and successfully scaled it. The long slopes with high degree of difficulty attracted the youth towards Extreme Skiing. It has more economic benefits than any other snow sport as it uses indigenous goods and engages the local staff. The last Back-Country ski expedition that went to Lidder valley was a Kashmir-Bavarian expedition in March 2011 in which 10 skiers took part.
Like Frislan and Bisaren tourist spots, scores of tourists visit this enchanting and mesmerizing village. It is one of the most liked tourist spots in the Meadow of Shepherds. Many tourists stay here overnight to enjoy fresh air. Aru has some Guest Houses and a few hotels offering accommodation to limited tourists. Some campsites have also come up here for the use of potential tourists. The tourism and mild agriculture are main sources of income of villagers. Lavender Parks are additional attraction to the tourists.
Read the rest of the artuicles at its source Greater Kashmir News by its author ,Director (Operations) Adventure Call Tour and Travels.