The history of Pahalgam is one of religion, mythology, legend and of pilgrims and pilgrimages. The local people referred to it as the “Valley of Shepherds”. For several centuries its rich pastures were used by nomadic herdsmen to graze their flocks. However, in the recent past, the early twentieth century, it has also become a tourist haven out of curiosity. This place falls en route to the Amarnath Cave and is thus the transit resting point for millions of Hindu pilgrims from all over India and the world at large.
The permanently resident population of Pahalgam would not exceed 10,000 but its floating population of tourists and pilgrims turns this place into the most important centre in the Anantnag District.
In the realm of verifiable history of Kashmir, the Mughal period records Pahalgam as a part of independent Kashmir. From the earliest times it appears that Kashmir was ruled by Hindu kings upto1346AD when the ruler Sham-sud-din took over. In 1586 Kashmir was annexed to the Mughal Empire by Akbar but later in 1757 it was conquered by Ahmed Shah Durrani and annexed to Afghanistan. In 1819 it was conquered by Ranjit Singh, to be annexed to the Sikh empire. In 1846 the British annexed it but later sold it to Gulab Singh of Jammu for Rs7.5million and he took up the title of Maharajah. The Jammu & Kashmir state continued to remain independent during the British period and until the partition of the subcontinent into India & Pakistan. At this point of time, the ruler of the state Maharaja Hari Singh decided to accede to India.
Given this kind of past, the bulk of the population of this region was Muslim but it was ruled by Hindu Kings and thus the religious traditions of the state tended to be tolerant to all forms of worship and a culture which embraced secularism. The region boasted of a Sufi tradition and a strong Kashmiri identity distinct from the rest of undivided India.
Thus even today the Kashmiri identity embraces in its fold the people of Jammu who are predominantly Hindu, the Kashmir valley, predominantly Muslim and the Tibeto-Mongoloid race of Ladakh & Leh who are of mixed Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist lineage.
Thus Pahalgam has continued to acquire an important status for the pilgrims and tourists visiting Amarnath. It is around July –August when the Shiva linga, an ice formation of the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva at the Amarnath cave attains its maximum height on a day of the full-moon. It celebrates the day as one on which Shiva appeared.
Thus the history of Pahalgam is enshrouded in myth, mystery, and mythology .It exemplifies the rich cultural tradition of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.