We woke up early and soaked ourselves in beauty of Warwan valley for one last time, army once again was ready with their breakfast for us (this is really something new I have experienced where Army was so kind and helpful). Again the day would be long, so wanted to start early, same winding road keeping the valley and Dariya i Chenab beside us, was slowly taking us to Margan Top. 2 days back when we came, it was almost evening, today morning the same road in bright sunlight was looking awesome!! Sheppard taking the herds of sheep, narrow winding road turning upwards, dense forest in between, unnamed waterfalls flowing across the gravel road, made the whole surrounding mystic. After 2 hours of drive, we finally reached the Margan Top and just before the final turn of the pass, in our left Kazim first spotted the Nan-Kun Peak at a distance. The pyramid shape is unmistakable. In spite of few clouds we could enjoy the full view of the peak from back side of it, last year we have seen these duos from other side at Zanskar, this time it was great view from Margan Top. We took usual stop at top, had some pictures but still had to go a long way, so started our downwards journey from Margan Top. I would someday be back to explore those python infested glacial lakes in the top of Margan Pass .
Nan-Kun at a Distance:
At Margan Top:
After winding down for 24 km, we came back to same army post, they asked us how was the visit, we were really overwhelmed by the beauty of Warwan, expressed that and they asked where we were heading next, when heard Handwara and Kupwara, their smile disappeared, they suddenly became serious and advised us to take care as those are really disturbed part of valley according to them. Keeping in mind the uncertainties and more so on permit, we kept going and soon reached the black topped road after more than 48 hours. We crossed Valioo and reached Kokernag, tried to have a quick look at the garden, it was good but really crowded even on a weekday afternoon. We took half an hour break there, sat in the corner of the garden, were enjoying the splendid garden and also the people who were having fun times there.
The journey resumed and first thing Kazim did was taking a car wash and it was really necessary after the 2 days long Warwan affairs , our next destination was Verinag and as we understood, we can take a short cut in left without going all the way back to Anantnag. The left turn took us in a nice narrow valley simply full of apple orchards, it was just a village road (kind of a link road it seems) but very scenic, we reached Verinag around 5 in afternoon but the garden, the stream, flowers and mostly its location just in the middle of hills would make it feel special, indeed this is the best garden so far we had seen in Kashmir Valley.
Source: Wikipedia – Verinag spring which is in Verinag town issues from a high scarp of a mountain spur, and is considered the source of the river Jhelum. It is situated at the bottom of a hill covered by pine trees and evergreen plants. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir constructed an octagonal tank of sculptured stones around the spring for which carvers for were brought from Iran. A garden was also built by Jahangir next to this natural spring which is of pre-Islamic religious significance. The construction date of the octagonal tank and the garden is 1029 Hijri or 1620 A.D. is duly inscribed on a stone slab built into the southern wall of the spring. The water is collected in a pool surrounded by arched recesses, and then flows down a 300-yard canal to the Bihat river. Jahangir wished to be buried at Verinag gardens, but his wife, Nur Jahan, disobeyed his wishes. Today nothing remains of the pavilions which once decorated the area. According to a legend, goddess Vitasta(Jhelum) wanted to take rise from this place, but it happened that when she came, Shiva was staying here, whereupon she had to go back and then she took her rise from Veravurthur, a spring about a mile to the north-west of this place. Virah in Sanskrit means to ‘go back’ and ‘nag’ means a water spring and, as Vitasta had to go back from this place, it came to be called Virahnag or “Vernag”.
Here are few snaps on what we have experienced there in Verinag.
Octagonal Tank at Verinag:
When we finally left Verinag, it was already 6.00pm, From Verinag one road goes left straight towards Quazigund but somehow Kazim knew taking that route would need tolls to be paid, he somehow managed to get another road which would take us up at Quazigund but just after the toll plaza. So he took that route, we wasted some more time and finally hit the Jammu Srinagar highway and the wide road was really a break after the broken roads of Warwan. At Wanpu we left the NH and turn left towards Sophiyan / Kulgam. It was another 13 km till we reached Kulgam and then 30 odd km of night drive took us to Aharbal. We initially could not locate the Tourism GH as it was one km further into the forested road but Shaukat Saab, caretaker of Aharbal (again his number was provided me by Amit) was constantly in touch with us and guided us to the guest house over phone and we were greeted with warm welcome there by the GH Staff, they were all very good and courteous and the GH was one of the best I have seen in JK tourism in terms of location and staff. We were the only guest that night and got the full attention. Once again I was terribly missing my camera stand and the full moon night outside made a magical charm on the whole ambience. Suddenly from the remoteness of Warwan to the comfort of Aharbal with electricity, geyser, hot water, friendly staff yet quite remote and pure blissful ambience was a great transformation for us. During dinner we had the bad news broken as because of President’s visit, Huryiat Conference had called for 24 hours valley strike on next day. Next day 27th Sep, we were supposed to be at Dudhpathri, now after discussing with locals and considering the fact we had to go through few potentially disturbed places like Sophiyan and Pulwama, we were forced to change our plan. Called up Khan Saab, CEO of Dudhpathri Development Authority and he also advised us not to make any movement, Aharbal guys were more than happy to host us for another day and we took it as blessings in disguise, as we needed a break too after hectic journey of Warwan and the place Aharbal is too tempting to stay for another day.
This is absolutely a day of rest, very unlikely and unusual for our kind of trip, where we visited just the Aharbal falls a km away from GH and relaxed the whole day in the GH. As it was a strike day, many local families came to visit the place, I got introduced to a lady who was a teacher of local school and we had a long discussion on the current situation in Kashmir. She mentioned she didn’t think Indian Govt or especially Indian Army treat them well, she said still to visit her school from her home a barely 5 km of journey, almost every other day army challenged her identity and asked her to show her face removing the veil and that too in multiple locations. I am not getting into an argument how far that’s required considering current situation of Kashmir but yes it’s really irritating if you have show your proof of identity 5 times a day and if you somehow forget to take your I-Card, you might end up loosing a working day, may be it’s not a comfortable situation to live in there. She explained sometimes in disturbed days, they had to give shelters to militants as those guys were armed and simply threatened to harm the kids if they didn’t listen but next day army would come and would harass them in a bigger way without considering the fact that you really couldn’t stand against a gun. But one thing for sure they have understood the futility of these so called armed struggle that perished their one whole generation in last 25 years, every common people now wants peace except a few with some other motives.
Going back to nature, we gone to Aharbal falls, pretty close to the GH and though the waterfall is only 20/25 ft height, the volume of water and the narrow gorge would keep a lasting impression in your mind, yes Aharbal should be in a must visit place if you visit the valley. The deep blue water gushing across the narrow stiff cliffs of rock was a view to enjoy. Rest of the times we spent in the sprawling lawns of the Guest house, my kid enjoyed most running there. I would be back at this place sometimes in future for the famous trek to Kausarnag. I was started feeling nervous a bit as tomorrow would be a very big day, first we have to meet SP, Tourism at Srinagar for Gurez Permit and then from SP Handwara we have to collect the Bangus Permit before we can stay the night at Reshwari. The situation was more complex as we have no spare day left as we lost a day due to strike here at Aharbal.
Awesome JK Tourism GH at Aharbal:
The river gushing through the deep gorge:
Relaxed evening at Aharbal before a tensed day ahead: