Before starting the trip report, I must acknowledge the help and support from our driver Md. Kazim, who took me to Zanskar last year. We all are aware the valley is not completely safe and in slightest pretext any major issue could erupt anytime. I spoke to dozens of driver from Valley but none was really prepared for such a long 15 days trip to the places called Warwan, Bangus, Handwara, Kupwara, Sophiyan primarily because of 2 reasons:
1. They have enough tourist in Kashmir in recent years to earn easy money by driving between known and established places and that too in most of the times by day trips.
2. They are definitely not confident about the situation in valley where they are not familiar with.
Kazim, though a Kargil driver, not that fluent in Kashmiri (Knowing Kashmiri is really helpful in many of the interior places where they won’t understand Hindi or Urdu), ready to be our companion for these wonderful 2 weeks, without him, we really couldn’t make this trip. I was aware about his safe and sound driving in difficult road already but this year I discovered his culinary skill and believe me in many remote places, he brought everything and surprised us with excellent chicken curries and rice and yes he didn’t take a single rupee for that, it was more like a friend, relative, companion he was than the driver. Next year November, I am planning to attend his eldest son’s marriage ceremony at Kargil, got the invitation already and it would be so thrilling.
The only thing he did a mistake was bringing his new Innova instead of the Xylo/Scorpio. Innova got battered badly in Warwan, Karnah and Gurez, if you plan these places, high GC cars like Xylo/Scorpio even Sumo would be much more effective.
I never could sleep before catching an early morning flight, this time the tensions were building up more as I didn’t have any of the permits I needed at the time of journey. For Gurez, I sent all the details with photographs and application almost a month back of our journey and Sunny Paaji was kind enough not only just to submit those but followed up several times being present in SP Office physically. After he submitted the papers, J&K Police sent the verification request through their home ministry to my local PS. This was really a complicated process and still today I didn’t understand through what exact channels the verification was routed as J&K and Kolkata Police were not in sync on this. Even after the verification was done at my local Police Station and subsequently sent to regional office for further routing, it never reached the J&K Police. Several calls, visits all were futile and I had no option than to start my trip without the permit. This is the reason, I would suggest anyone applying for this permit, please do so a lot before than recommended and keep on following up with the concerned authority.
So finally boarded the morning flight from Kolkata and subsequent change in Delhi, finally took us to Srinagar around 12 noon. I knew my first job was to visit SP Tourism Enforcement office and sort out the permit issue. When I reached they acknowledged quickly about my application and but couldn’t do anything as police verification was still pending. SP was out for lunch and I was told to wait until he came back. Meanwhile I tried my luck going to Director Tourism Office (which is adjacent to SP Office inside the TRC) and meeting PA of Director Mr. Shafee, once again I was introduced to him by Amit. Shafee was a nice gentleman and he heard the details and ready to issue me a recommendation letter to be produced at DC, Bandipora office to get the permit. I readily accepted that as I was really not sure what SP would finally decide. I got the elusive recommendation letter signed by Dy. Director Ajmat Saab but that’s a day when my luck was fluctuating like a pendulum. Soon after handing over the letter, Shafee called up DC, Bandipora to apprise of the situation and there the shock came, DC confirmed over phone as per latest rule, he was no more authorized to issue the Gurez Permit to anyone who doesn’t reside in Bandipora. So the letter was taken back and put into waste paper basket. It’s already 3pm by then and I had to proceed to Aru for my night stay, time was slipping out, I ran to the SP Office again as recommended by Shafee and met Quayum Saab who was the SP, Tourism. Once again it’s Amit who introduced me with Quayum saab and even gave me his mobile number. He tried his best as well by calling the Kolkata Police Office Number (North Regional Office) but at that point these guys said the routing of the request was wrong and it should be directed to CID Control,West Bengal as local Police station can only verify on what the person has done within the PS jurisdiction, over all verification has to be obtained from CID Control. The complexity keeps increasing, Quayum Saab was sad but he was helpless too and it was really heart breaking that even after trying seriously with all documents in place for more than a month, we are denied permission to visit a place which is part of our own country. As a last resort called up Amit around 4.00pm and updated him about the situation. Surprisingly in the middle of all negativity, Amit was extremely positive, he asked me to wait there and promptly called up, Talat Saab, Director Tourism J&K. Things start moving from this point, Talat Saab called up SP and then SP asked me to come back on 28th Sep again at his office, hoping by that time police verification might have come. Meanwhile SP office asked me to produce Driver’s address proof and photograph as well including the car registration number. We have done that too. Though SP didn’t give any commitment but I felt the situation might change after Talat Saab’s call. I can’t really thank Amit enough, not just for his help but the moral support he provided me at a stage when I was not only damn tired after the whole journey but utterly frustrated for not getting the permit even after loosing one full day at Srinagar TRC.
We hope for a better day on 28th Sep and finally left TRC around 5.00pm for Aru. It was already late and we caught in a terrible traffic jam just outside Srinagar to loose one more hour. Evening was approaching when we finally got our way towards Ananthnag. During this whole drama, I completely forgot to call Sunny Paaji for which I really want to apologize. Now I had a plan to visit Sunny Paaji’s Aru Eco Resort which I didn’t even find on the way in the middle of darkness, it was already 9.00pm and raining heavily. The road to Aru from Pahelgam was felt little tricky and we just drove with high beam on taking the road as it was coming. At the end of the road we finally reached the JKTDC Aru and we had no option to search for any alternative at 9.30 night after such a long and hectic day. JKTDC Aru is located nicely but honestly didn’t like the people working there, the first surprise came as they blatantly charged 2000/- per night for a room and when I pointed out I have seen the JKTDC website on same day it was being sold at 1000/- per night, he simply said 50% discount is available in booking over net but not if you reach there and try to book, I was in no mood to fight but straight away told him I need to move if he charges me just double. Then he came out with an alternative plan, asked me to stay first night without any registration in their book and for second night asked me to pay full 2000/-. I had not much option than to agree to that at that point of time, but it was evident to me that they go by their own wishes and could take unsuspecting tourists for a ride. We were so tired that next day we got up at 10.30, where as in my whole life ever in a trip I never got up after 5.30 in morning. They offered us trout and chicken and finally brought a bill of 900/- for these 2 items, (The hotel menu card doesn’t include either of these items), after lot of bargains, we got horse at 500/- (Down from 800) for Lidderwat ride what we later learnt from Sunny Paaji that can be managed in 350/- during that time. So if you stay at Aru, JKTDC, be careful about the hotel staff and better I would say, stay at Aru Eco Resort, which is probably the best located property in Aru with nice treatment to the guests, a signature of Kashmiri warmth, which you would miss in any of these so called commercially established places like Sonmarg/Gulmarg/Pahelgaon. We later visited the eco resort and it’s one of the greatest repentance of our whole trip that we couldn’t stay there for a night.
As we got up late, we were really confused if we should still go for Lidderwat but finally decided for that and it proved to be a good decision. We were little skeptic in beginning as my 7 yrs old daughter had to sit in a horse of her own but we decided to take the chance. The ride starts from Aru and it’s a 12 km distance one way, so if you have just a day in hand and you are not a seasoned trekker, trekking is ruled out. The horse riding was a fun though the horse owner very easily directed us to move our body weight to balance it whenever we were in a slope. The downward slopes were scary comparing to upward slopes or level walk. We soon entered into a dense pine forest still muddy due to heavy rains from last few days. We kept going saving our heads from tree branches and ofcourse from the weird movements of the horse in slopes. Soon we started getting heights and at one time find lidder river just beside us, the clear blue water was very inviting and the vast green meadows with sheep grazing made it feel like a different world.3 hours of riding over horse brought us to Lidderwat Valley where we found an Israeli couple pitched their tents and planning for further hike on next day. We even found tourism huts in leederwat, a definitely worth place to stay if you can, brilliantly located though unmanned, I asked the locals and they confirmed it’s not locked and anyone can stay there. We were tired after 3 hours of unfamiliar horse riding and took some rest in the meadows, got a cup of hot tea from the Israeli couples which was enough to get rid of all tiredness. It was already 3.30pm and we started our return journey along the same route, while coming back it took slightly less time (2.5 hours) and we reached Aru by 6.00pm. Once we returned we were informed Sunny Paaji came to the hotel to meet us, we really felt sorry as we should have contacted him by then, we gone to Paaji’s resort and believe me once I saw the property and the location, it was a big regret not to spend there a night. Pics can’t do justice always but still have a look into the place here. We couldn’t meet Sunny as he left for Srinagar but God has made a separate script for our meeting and we met very surprisingly later in the trip, would elaborate as I proceed with the T’log
The day was much better than last day as Lidderwat is an awesome place to visit and we started feeling the beauty of the valley. Tomorrow will be a big day as real flavor of unknown Kashmir would begin as we proceed towards Warwan Valley.
Starting of Trek for Lidderwat:
Road continues keeping Lidder at left:
Open meadow appears:
It’s heavenly with the valley and Lidder flowing in between:
The JK Tourism Hut at Lidderwat – Excellent Location:
Aru at Dusk:
Kid became friendly with her horse:
JKTDC Aru – Location wise excellent, otherwise not very friendly:
Aru in Morning:
Aru Eco Resort my favourite place to stay in Aru:
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