No special permit or entrance fees is required to visit Thajiwas Glacier in Sonamarg, in Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir. The view of the Thajiwas glacier is spectacular. Perched at an altitude of 2,730 metres (8,960 ft), Sonamarg has beholding sights of snowy mountains. It is a major stop-over on the Srinagar-Leh highway. The Sindh River that meanders through the splendid valley adds to nature’s spectacle there. In my opinion, mid-March-April, just when the road opens, is one of the best times to be there and see the whole of Sonamarg covered in wonderous snow. I fell in love with the serenity of Sonamarg with its white blanket on. My friends tell me that it has a different character in the summer months and looks resplendent with greenery when the sun shines.
Thajiwas Glacier in Sonamarg
Because of its easy accessibility from Srinagar, Thajiwas glacier shines as a major attraction during the summer months as well. The 3-4 kilometers trek is a must-do adventure in the summers. The journey offers good view of mountains, rivers, meadows etc. But in winters, the whole route is covered in snow and its not easy to walk. And if you are interested in snow-related adventures like skiing, ice skating, and sledging on frozen glaciers, winter is the best time for you to visit Sonmarg. As you go higher towards the glacier, the sight of the pine trees and the hotels covered in snow makes for a picturesque white Christmas setting, often seen in movies. The 360 degree views, all covered in snow is mesmerizing. Since Ziro point was still closed, Hubby and I spent our time playing in the snow and admiring the virgin beauty that was available in abundance.
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When to visit Thajiwas Glacier? Where to Stay?
The road to Sonamarg is closed during peak winters. It only opens in the month of March and then remains open till the bitter winters knock again. To make the most of snow season, one must keep track of the news or check from the hotels. I wanted to see snow and thus, I made a trip to Sonamarg, in the mid of March, when it had just opened. Most of the hotels in the Sonamarg market were still closed because they were covered with 6-8 inches of snow. I stayed at Rah Villas, located in Kullan Rezan NH1D, around 11 kilometers before Sonamarg and it was the best place to be at. It had reopened in February and was fully operational. It was not covered in snow like what I saw in Sonamarg, but had lovely views of snow all around. The accessibility to the nearby places was also hassle-free. We loved our stay because even at -6 degrees in the night, we were very comfortable in our temperature controlled room. The location was extremely peaceful, the rooms were cozy and the hospitality was just perfect.
So do check with your hotel if they are fully operational, have enough water and heating facilities and only then make the booking during the early season. Once the snow melts in April/May, Sonamarg shows a different side of it. Just like its name, the meadows shine like gold, everything turns green and people trek to be mesmerized by the Thajiwas Glacier. All the hotels become operational. Kashmir is beautiful and unique in every month and there is different side to it in summers/winter/autumn and spring. The onset of spring is mesmerizing. I recently experienced it during my trip there.
What is unique about Sonamarg?
If you are looking for a busy intinerary, then Sonamarg may not be the place for you. But if you are someone who loves being in nature’s company, surrendering to tranquility and just being in the moment, “The Meadow of Gold” aka ‘Sonamarg’ is one of the best places to visit. The views of snowy backdrop and the pine trees create a dramatic scenery for nature lovers. The lush greenery during summers and pleasing ambience is a pleasant break from the din and chaos of the city life. Also, the lakes of Sonamarg have wooed the hearts of many writers and travellers. They have been talked about in books too.
Sonamarg is called as the meadow of gold because its surrounding peaks turn golden at the hours of sunrise and sunset. Also, during autumn, the orange colors in the trees, making the valley look golden and magical. It also serves as a base for travellers who sign up for the holy Amarnath Yatra. In Sonamarg, there is a very small market, some small cafes and the popular glacier -Thajiwas, where some movies have also been filmed. At the top, there is a point called snow point, where people usually go and get the beautiful view of the glacier. The ponies (summer) or the sledges (winters when it opens) take you till there. There is a fence where the last scene of the movie ‘Bajrangi BhaiJaan’ was shot.
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We thoroughly enjoyed Snow Sledging
As we started from our hotel towards Sonamarg, we thought there would only be some bit of snow but we were both surprised and pleased to see lots of snow all around. The road to Sonamarg had opened a few days ago and now we knew why. It was gorgeous all around, nothing less than pristine. I had seen Gulmarg covered in snow and Sonamarg all the memories of the last trip. The roads were wet, the houses were neck deep in snow and one could only hear the gurgling of the Sind river. Our driver informed us that no one lives in these houses during peak winter and everyone moves to lower altitudes. Also some tunnel construction was on and I wondered if we humans hadn’t done enough harm to the mountains already. Did we need really need more tunnels and bridges? A few kilometers down the road, there came a point where the left road was supposed to go to Ziro point (the border of Ladakh) and the right, there was the Sonamarg market and the Glacier.
When we reached the markets, almost all the shops were closed. It was extremely cold. And the way to the glacier was covered with thick snow. We could see many hotels around but ninety percent of them were closed as we could see seven to eight feet snow on their entrance and in the premises. The driver stopped at the point where we could take boots and coat for going to the snow point. It seemed difficult to do that in our shoes, and we didnot want to get cold, so we rented both. They charged Rs. 300 per person for coat and boots. Just then, the ‘poniwallas’ will get after your life to choose snowbiking or sledging. In summers, they are the ones who bring ponies. We took some time in deciding what we wanted to do. Snowbiking looks thrilling but creates lot of pollution. Sledging involves people pushing and pulling you through snow. We were confused and wanted to go to the top on our own. However, we were not sure how far it is. And also there was a lot of snow to tackle on our own. The weather also started showing signs of rain. And the poniwallas did not make it sound easy as well. They talked of three levels as if it was too far away. Honestly, it was not. One can go on their own if they take breaks and have enough time in hand. The weather can be unpredictable so take your call. We decided to go with sledging after some bargaining. And it turned out to be a great experience. There were three points that the helpers took us to. I think one was called Maya point, the other was named after some movie which was shot there and the last one was called Snow point, bordered by fences. The glacier is beyond the fence and it is covered with snow throughout the year. You will find a number of coffee and maggi points there. There comes a table top kind of area where people walk around on snow, do sledging, enjoy maggi and coffee. And from here the view of Thajiwas glacier is gorgeous. We crossed the fence and went a little higher too but soon it began to rain. We enjoyed our coffee and maggi in the rain. The return journey on the sledge was also lots of fun.
Things to do around Sonamarg
Apart from Thajiwas glacier, the drive up the Zojila Pass is popular. If you there during March and April, Zoji La remains closed at this time but you can reach it until Batal. Yousmarg is a favourite picnic spot, very close to Sonamarg. You may check with the local drivers. Ziro point, Kargil War Memorial, Pahalgam, Srinagar can be visited from Sonamarg. People usually plan a day trip from Srinagar but I would suggest that you must spend a night or two in Sonamarg. Manasbal lake, Kheer Bhawani temple may also be visited on your way or return. They are close to Srinagar.
- If you have hired a taxi from Srinagar, they can only take you till the market and starting point of Thajiwas Glacier but for exploring other places, one has to take taxi from the Union for exploring Sonamarg.
- The winter months from November to March are extremely cold and the place is completely covered with snow. It is closed during peak winters – December, January, February
- Trekking, photography, spending some time on the banks of the Sind River and indulging in local food are some of the must-do things in Sonamarg.
- Sit by the Sindh river, enjoy its gurgling sound.
- Enjoy maggi and coffee, or you may also request your hotel for some noon (pink chai) chai and kashmiri roti. Our hotel arranged for them.