Kashmir for many means only four things Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Dal Lake, but if you haven’t seen this hidden Kashmir, you are missing something awesome in your travelling life.
In continuation to our last few drives of Kashmir covering Doda, Kishtwar, Sinthan Top, Daksum, Aru, Aram Patri, Doodhpathri, Yousmarg, and our Winter Drive to Aru, Sonmarg and Dachigam National Park, This time we planned to cover the Northern Part of Kashmir, mainly Lolab and Gurez valley. The plan was to drive through Mughal Road instead of congested NH1, cross Pir ki Gali and stay at Aharbal for couple of days before moving to Northern Kashmir.
SX4 was all set for yet another tough but beautiful drive. Nothing much was required to purchase as we had everything from our last trips. We stocked up the food, medicine, a kitchen with all other stuff. Tents, mats, sleeping bags were also packed, just in case we plan to get little more adventurous 😀 .
Day 1 (6 June) : Gurgaon – Akhnoor
First days is always a boring drive under extreme heat. We left home around 5 Am and did that boring drive all the way till Jalandhar. Meanwhile got to know from a friend that there is some trouble in Jammu as a result of a protest, and we had to cross Jammu to reach Akhnoor. We continued our journey with a little restlessness on how will we cross Jammu, when a friend suggested another route which bypassed the trouble point completely. We reached Aknoor around 7Pm and stayed at Army facility arranged by a friend.
Day 2 (7 June) : Akhnoor – Rajaouri – Bafliaz – Mughal Road – Pir Ki Gali – Aharbal
Trip actually started from today as we explore some of the unseen places in our past trip. From Akhnoor we tanked up fuel quickly drove all the way to Rajouri through narrow but empty roads. Road condition started deteriorating from Rajouri onwards and it was all broken hell, till we reached Bafliaz. From Bafliaz onwards road has smooth tarmac with few bad patches in between. Post Pir Ki Gali, roads are all butter smooth.
There was residual snow on the sides of the road bringing the temperature down to almost 7-8 degree Celsius. Pir Ki Gali was the coldest and windiest point in the whole Mughal Road section we covered. After 30 minutes of our break at top we headed straight to Aharbal, where Mr Khursheed was waiting for us. He made wonderful arrangements for our stay. You just can not ask for any more beautiful stay than what we got, surrounded by green trees.
As we reached quite late, we decided to have a quick food and rest for the day, and it started raining as well.
Pir Ki Gali, Mughal Road
Pir Ki Gali, Mughal Road
Pir Ki Gali, Mughal Road
Day 3 (8 June) : Around Aharbal
Finally a relaxed day in our trip, no rush or hurry to take out the car or start on time. We prepared our breakfast inhouse in our mobile kitchen and decided to take a walk towards the upper meadows of Aharbal, on the treks that goes towards Konsernag. I so much wished to do the trek for Konsernag but not today, we will do it some other day. Today we will do just a casual walk with kids and soak into the nature. We walked inside the woods till around 1 Pm before returning back to our hut. Freshened up and headed for the lunch at the restaurant where Kursheed ji was waiting for us to take us around and show some more hidden places. We explored some other beautiful huts available for tourists and finally the majestic Aharbal Waterfall.
Unfortunately the waterfall is all fenced out so you can not touch the water, but it is for the safety of people. Perhaps there are reasons for doing suicide in this lovely place. Whatever it is, we enjoyed the lovely views and gushing water of the waterfall.
Kursheed ji also shared with me some wonderful details on the offroad drive towards Kongwatan and a wonderful trek for Konsernag, that got me all excited for another quick trip to Aharbal soon, very soon.
Post a quick dinner, we went inside the hut as it started raining again. I guess rain god decided to accompany us on this journey, we don’t mind that, after all he is a GOD.
Trekking around Aharbal
More beautiful views as you walk around Aharbal
Aiming for the Sky, yours truly
And the Junior
Sun in glory
Wonderful sitting area at Aharbal Restaurant
Day 4 (9 June) : Aharbal – Shopian – Pulwama – Kupwara – Chandigam (Lolab Valley)
Time to explore the Northern region of Kashmir, something I was waiting for long time. It was matter of just 140 Km of drive through some lovely roads, so we started lazily, with a late breakfast and a warm goodbye to Khursheed. Avoiding NH1 we took the Pulwama route and merged back to NH1 just before Pantha Chowk, and took a left towards Kupwara. Absolutely wonderful roads with some narrow and under construction sections, nothing that can make you worried.
We stocked up eggs, bread and few other stuff from Kupwara market, but stay at Chandigam was not resolved yet. We entered Kupwara Tourist Reception Center to confirm the stay and received a very warm welcome from the staff. Stay assured in few minutes, we freshened up and continued our journey towards Chandigam. Lost in last 15 kms, we took some interior roads passing through the fresh rice paddy fields. As they say, you find yourself the best, when you are lost, so don’t be afraid of taking unknown turns.
Reached Chandigam Huts and once again a warm welcome by the staff. It took us some time to adjust the saturation meter of our eyes, green is greener and blue is blown blue. For sometime you start doubting your ability to absorb colors, but then reality stuck very fast.
Ladies and gentleman, get ready for awesome nature and overdose of colors.
In the evening a Major posted in Lolab valley visited us as they were quite interested to see HR and RJ cars in these far corner of Kashmir. And guess what, yet another round of hospitality, this time by Army. We got an invitation for a tea party day after tomorrow, at the unit near by, which we accepted with a big smile and happy heart.
But that is day after tomorrow, evening is still young here at the guest house and all my cameras were out. Lets soak in
A wonderful morning at Aharbal
Tourist Reception Center Kupwara
Beautiful Drive through Lolab valley
Tourist Rest House- Chandigam
Tourist Rest House- Chandigam
Day 5 (10 June) : Around Lolab Valley, Nai meadow
Another Lazy day in hand, it feels so good when you know that the day’s drive is just 15-20 km. Atleast I can focus more on photography and less on driving and route calculations.
But didn’t I told you we had a company, of Rain God. And he was in full happiness, so much so that he showered all his happiness on us, but not before a lovely morning walk.
I was up by 6 Am and decided to take walk through the super green walnut trees, a very rare things you can do in your daily life. By the time I came back, Nandini was also up and in full form, and so was the Rain god. It started raining heavily and we knew that next 3-4 hours we have to be under cover.
But we had a lovely wooden shade at our disposal where we spent almost next 3 morning hours, with tea and breakfast served in the middle of rain. Life felt so awesome and colourful.
By 11 Am, Rain God decided to have some mercy on us and went down for walk, leaving us alone to enjoy a sunny day. We decided to take this opportunity and drove to a near by Nai Meadow, only to meet the Rain god once again. While returning we decided to visit the local bakery at Sogam, kids were excited to something new and how they receive that lovely bread on their breakfast table.
Unfortunately we forgot to pack Umbrella this time, and we needed it right now. Post 5 minute discussion with few locals around, we saw five umbrellas coming to us for sale on the spot, and we bought it all. It doesn’t happen very often 😀 .
Walk to Nai Meadow was not very interesting and was full of slush, we didn’t liked it much hence we decided to return back to huts, to find a huge crowd gathering in the garden of the premises. There was a fish pond auction happening that day and locals gathered for the bid, and we saw some more locals checking in, the place was buzzing, not to our liking. But then it gave another opportunity for some portrait photography right at our door step.
Night was enjoyed with a simple dinner and star photography.
Good Morning Kashmir
Wallpaper from Lolab Valley
And the Junior was up by the time we came back from walk
I can live here all my life
Javed, the ace baker in Sogam village, bakes wonderful Girdha and Sheermaal
And I also decided to try my hand in baking
Only to be followed by a hot cup of tea
More Foxes on the way
Day 6 (11 June) : Chandigam – Kupwara – Seelo – Watlab – Bandipore – Tragbal – Dawar (Gurez Valley)
Another exciting day, starting with a lovely breakfast hosted by CO of Lolab valley specially for us, meeting lovely families of the unit people, followed by a wrong drive calculation blunder. Major who invited us for the Tea Party sent a Casper to be followed by us to the unit. We were up and ready in best of our cloths (generally I complete whole 10-15 days trip in one single jeans, luckily I had a spare this time). Followed Casper upto the unit and were surprised by the grand breakfast offered. We had wonderful time talking to CO, some of Unit members and their families.
By 11 Am we started our drive towards Bandipore, while our stay at Dawar was yet not confirmed. I was in touch with the Dawar TRC caretaker Mr Lone who confirmed nothing available for next 3 days. But I was not in mood to turn around so we decided to reach Dawar and find something else, but no change in the plan.
I planned to meet another Major friend posted at Drugmulla on the way but unfortunately he had to visit the fields and we could not connect. We drove out of Kupwara and took the turn for Watlab and Bandipore. Meanwhile had a chat with the CEO of Gurez Development authority and he gave me a shocker. From Bandipore to Dawar is 82 Km and I kept 3 hours for it, while he corrected me by telling that it will take minimum 4-5 hours to cover that 82 km. And he suggested not to take SX4 there. That was demotivating, but may be he was not aware of my background and the history of SX4. So we moved on.
Roads disappeared from Bandipore onward, and it was all broken trek with deep holes to swallow small cars. I did the recalculation and realised that it will take us around 6 hours to cover that 82 km, and we are not reaching Dawar anytime before 8 Pm. With a lot greater pain and patience, we reached Rajdhan pass and took a longer break. The drive till now are bone breaking and absolutely no pics. That’s what I hate about drive trips, when roads are bad and you have sedan, all your focus goes into reaching destination safely in one piece and photography goes for six, straight out of stadium.
At Rajdhan pass the Jawan confirmed that its another 40 km of much more worst road and my heart sank couple of feet down. It was 6:30 Pm at the pass and we had 45 Km to covers. But slow and steady wins the race, its all about the patience game and we had seen this many times in past, so we can do it this time as well.
Slow and steady we moved own, navigating through the mess, stopped at checkpost just 15 km before Dawar, we were offered tea and biscuits while out identity were verified.
At around 8 pm, we reached Dawar and went straight to Tourist Reception center, where I met Mr Lone, who surprisingly kept a big dormitory all for us. I was so elated to see the stay arranged for us already and no need to run around for stay or pitching tent after that cruel drive. It took us 6.5 hours to cover that 82 km, some of the worst roads I have driven on.
TRC doesn’t serve food as yet, so we had dinner at a near by hotel. As of now there are only two places to stay in Dawar, TRC (2 big dormitory, 6-7 rooms) and a hotel near by with 7-8 rooms.
Night was cold, I wasn’t expecting it to be that cold in June, it must be around 7-8 degree Celsius at night, but days were warm with a max of 24 degree Celsius.
Tomorrow we will explore Gurez Valley, time for some much earned sleep.
A busy day at Wullar Lake
Plenty of sheep as we approach Rajdhan Pass
Finally Rajdhan Pass
Finally Rajdhan Pass
Day 7 (12 June) : Around Dawar
Another lazy day, I love these lazy days in between our long drives. Gives me a little breather from driving and more time to take out my camera. I woke up at around 6:00 Am while everybody were in deep sleep, took my camera and went out for a walk. It was cold outside but sun came out with that much needed warmth of the morning. I walked for around 2 km doing some early morning sunrise photography, while everybody watching me in surprise but with a smile, and a “Assalam alaykum” from my side makes that smile on the other side much much bigger. People are very friendly, always ready to strike a conversation and I had good time talking to some local folks, who even offered me the tea.
Came back to hut after a refreshing walk and took the role of Chef from driver/photographer, making multiple stuff for kids and us.
Plan was very simple today, actually there was no plan. We just roamed around, drove in any odd direction. but best thing we did was drove upto Barnoi village, and received another set of super hospitality from the locals. Kids enjoyed navigating through the streets of the village and crossing the wooden bridges, and finally a lovely tea at local house.
Barnoi is the village from where Tulail valley starts and goes far ahead. With a population of 900 people, this village have seen couple big fires burning many houses down, but people have built the village back again and again. School kids were amused at us but equally helpful to help us showing places around the village.
By 5 pm we came back to TRC and decided to cook some tasty Pulao with egg curry, a wonderful meal along with Rain God. Oh sure he was not leaving us anytime soon
Beautiful morning at Gurez Valley, with Habba Khatoon peak in the center
Exploring Gurez Valley
Barnoi Village, near Dawar
Views around Barnoi Village
Views around Barnoi Village
Views around Barnoi Village
Clouds over Dawar today evening
Beast enjoying the sun and rain
Double Rainbow, Clouds, Rain, Sun, Habba Khatoon peak. Perfect setup for Gurez Valley
Day 8 (13 June) : Dawar – Tulail Valley – Dawar
Another new place to explore today, but with a new plan. Mr Lone confirmed that SX4 can not go to Tulail Valley, which I was not ready to agree. He suggested to hire a Sumo, good idea, lets to talk to driver first. Talked to the driver and he himself was quite hesitant to go to Tulail, why? may be its really bad. After talking to few more people I surrendered the idea of taking SX4 to Tulail and hired a sumo, arranged by Mr Lone, and what a wise decision it was. If I would have taken my SX4 to Tulail, it would have been a last drive for the beast. And I am not exaggerating, it was so bad that Tata Sumo was scrapping at every turn. Slush was monstrous and deep.
But the views were just amazing, I didn’t even expected it to be this beautiful, I was feeling very sad that I only had a day in hand to explore Tulail. It needs a week to explore 5% of Tulail valley, specially when you are a photographer.
We drove till Badugam and road after was just impossible, I suggested Muqbool (pilot) to stop and turn around, we don’t want to tick mark places in my checklist. Instead of struggling and spending all that time driving, I decided to keep us limited to some part of the valley and just soak into it. We took a longer break at Shekhpora which is a big village in Tulail valley, and to my surprise had a Guest House there as well. Next time I am staying there for sure, very soon.
We took a walk through the village and reached to a very nice view point, giving us a lovely view of the whole village along with lush green fields. it was almost 4 pm and we didn’t felt the need of lunch, we were so involved in the beauty of the nature. Had a cup of tea at Shekhpora and we drove back to Dawar with a very sad heart. We wanted to spend more time there, much more, atleast a week, but alas next time.
Muqbool was leaving for Bandipore next day and we decided to convoy and drive together just in case if I needed any help if I get stuck, he is one gem of a driver if anybody need a driver in this region, ping me if you need his number.
We stocked few raw vegetables from the market for dinner and cooked another wonderful meal our-self, while watching Kung Fu Panada on tab, for some reason I was not in mood of night photography today. I think I was just too overwhelmed by the beauty of Tulail valley that my mind was refusing to settle down. I wanted to go back, and my mind was making a plan with a devilish smile.
Villages on the way to Tulail Valley
magical Tulail Valley
Yours Truly trying to capture some of the beauty of Tulail Valley
Nature so beautiful
Day 9 (14 June) : Dawar – Tragbal – Bandipore – Manasbal – Ganderbal – Srinagar
We planned to start little early today so that we reach Srinagar by noon, the plan was to reach near Kokernag and then try Warwan next day. I tried connecting with Maqbool over phone, he confirmed that he will wait for us near Dawar bridge, but then phone lines snapped, and no communication after that.
Meanwhile I was worried about the fuel. tank had petrol just enough for 110 km and we need to do only 80 km for nearest petrol pump. Though Lone ji arranged 20 ltr of petrol for me in jerry can, I wanted to keep the car as light as possible to navigate through those really ugly patches.
Anyways I decided to leave with just that 110km fuel in tank, we have to take a chance here. Tried calling Muqbool many times but no connectivity, something was wrong. We tried searching him around Taxi stand without any luck, hence decided to move on.
Return journey was little better, I guess Rain God was done with our company and decided to stay in Tulail, leaving us alone. How mean, I also wanted to stay in Tulail. No worries, we are fine without Rain God, and with dried slush. Our return journey was little faster but Murphy Uncle shows up when you want him the least.
I had a cough bout problem which sometime get aggravates all of the sudden, and it happened right when we reached the worst spot. No choice, cough or no cough, we have to move on. I was very worried as my cough was bad and bad was the road. She this time tried a clove treatment for my cough and it worked like wonder, and it worked this time as well.
We reached Bandipore by 2 Pm, filled by the fuel tank and drove straight to Srinagar. Plan was to stay near Dal lake and enjoy the evening Shikara ride and then drive straight to Warwan tomorrow. I was in touch with the DFO Marwah region and he assured us a stay.
We reached Srinagar by 4 Pm and Boulevard road was all jam packed with traffic, took a bypass through Lalit Hotel and drove straight to Mughal Darbar for some food. Most of my know Houseboats were fully booked and we were loosing time. Right then I received a phone call from my mom which changed our plans. There was an urgency at home, we had to cancel our plan for Warwan and decided to drive straight to home.
But we needed a place to stay tonight, I asked the parking attendant for any hotel near by and he suggested to take a room in Mughal Darbar itself, quick negotiations and we were inside a cozy room with a street view
Tomorrow we will drive back home.
My Windows Wallpaper, clouds looks a sheep watching you
Pir Mazar at Rajdhan pass
Day 10/11 ( 15/16 June) : Srinagar – Gurgaon
As usual a boring drive back home, heavy traffic around Ramban, a night halt at Jammu and finally at Home
And my Sincere thanks to the
CEO of Aharbal Development Authority, Md Yasin
Ground Man of Aharbal, Mr Khursheed Bhat
AD of Gurez Dev Authority, Mr Iliyas
Caretaker of Gurez TRC and a gem person, Mr Lone
Last but not the least, thanks for the super valuable inputs from Amit Tyagi, Kaushik Shil and Jagjit Singh
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