Last updated on July 14th, 2018.
Aru is a small picturesque village in the South of Kashmir. Despite being just 12 km away from a very touristy Pahalgam, it often gets overlooked. Nevertheless, both Pahalgam and Aru offer different experiences. In this post, I would like to share with you Aru story and advice on how to approach it in a better way. I would like to focus especially on the following questions:
- Is Aru experience for you? (or Pahalgam will be your choice?)
- How to reach Aru Village from Pahalgam?
- Where to stay in Aru village?
- Trekking from Aru Village – Green Top trek
- Can tourism help improve the life of the villagers?
Is Aru experience for you? (or Pahalgam will be your choice?)
Aru is a family of 450 villagers who love their place. This is not hard to understand when you are surrounded by snow-covered mountains from all the sides, with fresh water river flowing through the village, with many waterfalls and above all friendly and hospitable people.
Aru is a place where people laugh and have a good time in each other’s company without TV or internet. With just three small dhabas (local food places), four guest houses and 7-8 shops, local people don’t care much about competing with each other for money.
Each morning you can see villagers cleaning the roads around their homes to give Aru a fresh look. With all the local habits, natural beauty and happy people this place does look like it was taken from a fairy-tale. While I was tempted to write “leave Pahalgam for Aru Valley” I understand that this experience is not for everyone.
Despite breathtaking views, there are certain things you will need to compromise with. As of now, there is only BSNL phone connection (means you will not have connection and internet). The guest house owner where I’ve stayed told that he or his brother travel to Pahalgam daily to check their emails.
Moreover, all the guest-houses feel like homestays. Local people will go out of their way to make you experience their village in the best possible way. Nevertheless, it’s a mountainous area. Sometimes there are power cuts during bad weather – but it happens everywhere.
From the other side, there is Pahalgam. This place captivates with its picturesque surroundings, once you arrive. Pahalgam is a very dynamic town with a market, plenty of restaurants serving all possible cuisines in the region, hotels for any budget and a plethora of adventure activities.
Nevertheless, there is also an abundance of tourists, cars, noise and souvenir lanes. If you prefer a comfortable all-inclusive stay, check Pahalgam. If you can leave a digital environment for a while – choose Aru – it’s unbelievable.
How to reach Aru Village from Pahalgam?
Despite many reputable guides will suggest the only way is to hire a personal taxi – there are very nice shared jeeps which villagers use to commute to Pahalgam and back. The ride is around 30 minutes and ticket costs 30 INR.
You can find a jeep stand near the main parking lot of the town (coordinates – 34.01179, 75.319156). If you are coming by public transport to Pahalgam, you have to communicate to the driver, you intend to go to Aru Valley. There are two stops in Pahalgam and you need to get off at the first one near the main stand.
It does make sense for big families to hire a personal car. Nevertheless, if you are an independent traveler willing to spend some money, I would recommend investing it in the village itself.
Aru Valley hotels – where to stay?
There are four guest houses in Aru village – Milky Way, Friends Guesthouse, Rohella and Snow Mount. According to Gowhar (guest house owner), all these places can host up to 80 tourists. Many homeowners have also trekking tents which tourists can rent.
I’ve stayed in Friends Guesthouse and it is so lovely! It’s managed by a family (mainly three brothers), who can tell you anything and everything about local lifestyle and show you around.
They will take care you are happy with everything. There is hot water, numerous blankets and heater to keep you warm.
There are two types of rooms available. Double room and a big family room. Double one is 600 INR. Family one is 800 INR. (Please note, the price may slightly differ depending on the season). Though I’m a budget traveler I don’t bargain with villagers and farmers.
Read also: How to find accommodation in India?
Side case: I was sitting in a dhaba in Aru enjoying my morning Kahwa (traditional Kashmiri tea), while I heard a talk of one tourist with a shop owner – 20 INR chaai bahut menga (20 INR it’s an expensive price for tea). This dude had enough money to hire a car to come to the village, but he bargains for 20 INR (~0.3 USD) tea?? (Don’t be like him).
Aru Village trekking – Green Top trek
There are numerous treks you can start from the Aru Valley. I will mention a few day options recommended to me by the local people:
Green top – a trek with breathtaking views overlooking the valley, snowy peaks and a river. Despite I’ve done quite a bit of trekking in the past, this route had unique scenery and feel. On the way, you will meet a few gypsies who live nomadic in the mountains.
I recommend taking a local guide to get a better insight and, at the same time, support local people. Despite you can make your own way up by asking shepherds and gypsies, it’s quite hard to figure out the route if it rains. Moreover, local villagers charge the price per trek (~500 INR) even if you are a group of people. On the way, you are guaranteed to learn something new and interesting from the locals.
Trek length is around 7 km one way (14 km in total). It takes 3 hours to climb and 2 hours to descend. The maximum altitude you will reach is 3500m. Local people call it one of the most picturesque treks.
Green top trek level is from easy to moderate. The final hill climb reminded me Thorong La to High Camp climb in Annapurna Circuit trek, though Green Top route lies on much lower altitudes.
Note, there are also many long trek options that start from Aru Valley – Tarsar Marsar lakes trek, glacier, etc. Nevertheless, they require time, guidance and camping. Several treks start from Lidderwat base camp near the river. It is possible to do a day trek to the camp as well.
You can rent all gear from the villagers for nominal prices. By the way, you can trek up to Sonmarg by foot. Locals estimate it takes around 2-3 days to reach Sonmarg depending on the walking pace.
Can tourism help improve the life of the villagers?
Aru is a village that is mainly dependent on tourism for development. Villagers here as in most parts of Kashmir can speak English, Urdu, Kashmiri and Hindi, and are very hospitable people. Along with this hospitality, they also share a concern for their natural environment. They despise plastic and are not happy about “day-tourists” who come there for a few hours and leave their chips & junk packages around.
I trekked with Mohraj (one of the brothers from guesthouse family) and he shared several ideas he would like to implement to better maintain the ecology of the region. He along with few other volunteers at the end of the summer tourist season, go around the valley and trekking routes to clean it from the plastic. He wants to install dustbins along the treks if there is a funding.
More tourists will definitely help this village achieve new milestones. Nevertheless, the tourists need to be responsible as well. Mohraj shared his story that he doesn’t work for money rather he just loves trekking up in mountains and he feels that is his real home. It is a responsibility of all of us to follow the rules while being a guest in someone’s home.
So if you are coming with your drinks and snacks, be so kind to take them back with you to the bigger city. I gave an idea to Mohraj to introduce fine for tourists spreading plastic waste as Pahalgam and Aru are no plastic areas.
I hope Aru will save its authenticity for many years to come! What about you? Would you like to explore the pristine nature of Aru Valley?