We woke up by 6.30 in the morning and had tea, roamed around Reshwari for one last time, the place was so serene and peaceful, you would always like to comeback. Soon Bashir prepared a nice breakfast for us and after having that we said good bye to them and proceeded for our day with unknowns. We soon hit TCP Nawgam, the army asked us with a smile if we gone to Bangus, we answered with a smile keeping the answer vague that how beautiful the whole place was. Reshwari to Handwara was around 20km drive. We soon hit Handwara – Baramula road at Langate and turned towards Handwara. We traced back our route to Kulangam to meet Sopore – Kupwara highway and then turned left towards Kupwara. The road was in excellent condition and a further 18km drive from Handwara took us to Kupwara.
Enroute to Kupwara:
Kupwara had a T-junction, bottom end of T is coming from Handwara side and the top left of T is going towards Karnah Valley via Chowkibal – Tee Pee – Sadhna Top. The top right is going towards Lolab Valley and Machal Valley (Towards LOC). We took left as Sabbir saab arranged our accommodation at Chowkibal PWD GH. We reached there after a drive of 23km from Kupwara, found out the PWD GH but surprised to see presence of many police persons there. Anyway we spoke to the caretaker there and he was already informed by Sabbir Saab and shown us the room on upstairs in no time. But it was little congested and not having much openings, felt slightly damped as well. We didn’t like the room and were preparing to spent the night there somehow. Then we thought of taking a tea break there and in this time I noticed a gentleman with 2 other persons sitting in the lawn and heavily guarded by police force. The gentleman saw us and invited us to join him, we gone little hesitantly but then started a nice conversation with him. His only son was studying engineering in Delhi and he started telling us about Kupwara region. He told he had come there for going to a day trip to Bangus with his family members. I was surprised how Bangus trek can be started from Chowkibal but he said there was another approach from Drangyari (Tee Pee) towards Bangus where again after some distance one had to trek, later I found that road as well while going towards Sadhna Top. Soon he introduced himself as Mr. A.R.Khan, DSP, Kupwara. He was very nice and amicable person. Once he heard we were about to settle the night at Chowkibal, he suggested us to visit Karnah Valley and suggested us to visit Teetwal specifically, the border between India and Pakistan and from there we would be able to see Pakistan’s village even in hand shaking distance. He mentioned there was a PWD GH in Teetwal just beside the river Kishanganga where we should spend the night. We were very excited but asked him how we could get the permission. Khan Saab then asked for a paper and just there made a handwritten letter to Karnah Police Station SHO at Tangdhar to arrange everything for us to stay the night at Teetwal. We couldn’t ask for more really, didn’t think even a second to say a thank you and good bye to the caretaker of Chowkibal GH and proceeded towards Karnah with his letter.
A.R.Khan, DSP Kupwara without whose help we won’t be able to make Teetwal or even Sadhna Top:
The Map of Karna Valley – Note the last road marked orange is ended in Teetwal and other side the North South Road marked in yellow is in Pakistan going from Astore (Neelam Valley) to Muzzafarabad. — Source Wikimapia
Just after Chowkibal, first time we had to register our details in an army check post in this route. But problem came when we approached the second army check post just before the ascent of Sadhna. There the army was not willing to let us go even upto Sadhna Top without a valid permission taken from DC, Kupwara. Initially I didn’t tell them about DSP’s handwritten letter as I was trying to understand the reality, I knew couple of people visited till Sadhna Top without any permission. But he explained me rule has been changed and now to cross that check post and going further we need permission from Kupwara District Administration. Finally I was forced to show him the letter given by DSP and realized had we not been meeting DSP at Chowkibal, we won’t even be allowed to Sadhna Top. Anyway we proceeded further and the initial part of the road was not that good but from 10 km before the top, the road turned very good. We crossed the nice meadow of Tee Pee (Drangyari) and there we noticed the road marker to Bangus. It was written as Kastwar – Nildori – Bangus – Lokut – Drangyari Road showing 37.225km and maintained by BEACON. If anyone is having any idea about the exact alignment of the road, please let us know.
The Road Marker to Bangus from Drangyari:
We reached Tee Pee which was 10km from Chowkibal and then another 16km drive took us to Sadhna Top. Just 5 km before reaching the top there is a place enroute from where you would get an excellent aerial view of vast valley of Kupwara and the narrow Keran Valley.
Keran Valley at far from a bend enroute Sadhna:
The top was excellent, on the other side road slowly winding down towards Karnah Valley. Now again the TCP at Sadhna Top asked us to show the permit and all details. Initially they asked us simply to turn back stating civilians apart from locals were not allowed beyond that point. We showed him DSP’s letter and he spoke to his seniors and came back stating this letter was just hand written and not with official stamps, so he couldn’t accept that. Somehow DSP mentioned his 3 mobile numbers there in the letter (probably apprehending this kind of trouble enroute), I asked the army guy to call and verify, now he was in trouble as there was no connectivity (of mobile) on and beyond Sadhna Top. He again gone back to camp to consult his seniors and then came back and asked for Driving License of Kazim. Army kept that and asked us to go quickly till Tangdhar and back and collect the license while returning on that day itself. Though we didn’t mention our intention to go till Teetwal to them, just told we would be visiting till Tangdhar but the direction of coming back on same day was really too much to accept for us. The argument kept going, we said we couldn’t come back on same day as it was already 2.00pm by then, one more round of discussion with their seniors and then finally they agreed to let us go with two conditions, first, we had to come back by next day and second we won’t be going beyond Tangdhar.
We accepted and proceeded further, the valley started getting widened and vista opened up. Karna Valley was really a treat to eyes, we reached Tangdhar which is 26km from Sadhna Top in another one and half hour and straight went to Karnah Police Station there.
Karnah Valley – So lovely:
We met SHO and told him our intention of visiting Teetwal which he rejected out rightly telling no tourist is allowed there, they only issue the permits to local and that too a day pass only. Then we showed him the letter from DSP, things changed slightly but SHO was still not convinced and he said he needed to verify by calling DSP’s mobile number. Next few hours it was a frantic try going on to reach DSP, it was difficult as I said this side of Sadhna has limited phone connectivity due to security reasons, no mobile worked this end, they were trying from landline but as DC gone for Bangus trekking, I was not expecting to reach him any time soon. So police told us to roam around Tangdhar and mean while they would keep trying contacting DSP. We thought of doing the same but finally ended up loosing almost 2 hours by looping around Tangdhar hills in very bad road across the hilly region. We took a tea break at a small village called Tad, spoke to the locals there, they showed us the ridges occupied by Pakistan in far but suggested us to visit Teetwal for a closer look to Pakistan.
We returned the Police Station around 5.30 and by then they were able to contact DSP. Then they said at most they could issue a day permit, no way they could give permit to stay at Teetwal, we really had not much to bargain, we accepted that and asked for Teetwal permit for next day and mean while planned to stay the night at Tangdhar PWD GH. We met Javed, the caretaker and wonderful guy there at GH but he said he couldn’t issue a room without consulting executive engineer, as we were with family, he was kind enough to take us to Executive engineer’s home and there we got the permission of staying at the GH. Executive engineer was surprised too to hear tourists from Kolkata came to visit Tangdhar. The guest house was really nice and food served by Javed was even better, we retired for the day quickly having a big hope of reaching LOC next day.
Tangdhar PWD GH at evening:
Ever helpful Javed, the caretaker with my daughter:
We quickly had a breakfast in the morning and started our day. The destination was Teetwal and a 7 km drive took us to Chamkot, the first army post where we had to show permit and prove identity. At this place, they again asked for Kazim’s Voter I-Card and kept it with them asking us to collect it during return. This was strange, no where in India I have seen despite of having valid permits, army insists on keeping the original proof of identity with them to allow us to proceed further. Anyway we have gone through 7 such check posts including Army, Police, CRPF, BSF etc. for the next 10km journey to Teetwal and road was simply pathetic. The last evening at Tangdhar GH, civil dressed CID persons met us and verified our identity cards, they had the information about us from local police station and according to them any new comer at the valley except locals used to be thoroughly checked. Anyway the other notable point was in all these 7 check posts we had to leave one or the other of our original I-Card. Finally Kazim had run out of all his I-cards and I also had to submit couple of my I-Cards in between. Finally reached Teetwal around 9.30 in the morning. I have seen borders many times but difference in Teetwal was the inhabitation, roads, buses, trucks plying, people walking, even women washing clothes in other side of river, it was all so close within 50 mtrs of where I was standing. The border didn’t look like normal LOC where you would just see a fencing but no human being around, it was rather full of life, could even see those Toyota Van, colorful buses of Pakistan going to Muzzafarabad. But strikingly the roads made in Pakistan end was fully metalled (heard it was built by Chinese) and in much better condition than what we faced in Indian side. Locals mentioned Pakistan end was better in terms of power, road and telecom infrastructure. The locals here too would touch your heart by their simplicity. One old man came to my car and requested me to take his complain that though his house had no electricity for last 3 months, he was paying the bill, they never saw tourists and thought we were some officials came in a visit and honestly looking at his innocent face, I couldn’t tell him the truth, I gave him some false assurance that I would inform the appropriate authority and the smile that appeared then was simply unmatched and priceless.
Teetwal Middle School, Pakistan in background:
Pakistan’s Army Truck going towards Muzzafarabad:
The Toyota Van in other side of border going towards Astore (Neelam Valley, Pak Occupied Gurez Valley):
Pakistan’s Village just on other side of Kishanganga:
The colorful buses of Pakistan:
Towards Teetwal Bridge – Locals cross it to their relative’s place with appropriate papers, so it’s not a closed border:
Otherside of Teetwal – Flag of Azad Kashmir (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) and Pakistan:
Teetwal Bridge – Otherside in Pakistan you can see Muzzafarabad – Astore Highway and this side Indian Village of Teetwal divided by River Kishanganga:
The last turn – Kishanganga after on and off into India, finally enters Pakistan, renamed as Neelam and meet Jhelum and finally Indus
Return was through same route via Tangdhar and Sadhna Top, only important thing was to collect all our I-cards we submitted in between. We had a quick tea break at Tangdhar and then back to Sadhna Top – Tee Pee – Chowkibal – Kralpora and Kupwara. Just before Kupwara we got stranded in a traffic jam due to an army convoy, lost almost half an hour. We didn’t loose any more time in Kupwara, as it was already afternoon, we were hurriedly moving towards Lolab Valley. We were supposed to stay at JK Tourism Guest House at Chandigam, a brand new GH, inaugurated just 2 months back. One of the best JK Tourism GH in terms of cleanliness and facilities, would be this one for sure. The caretakers Umar, Ershad, Yaqub all three were very friendly, we had a nice dinner there and then had a long post dinner chat with them along with cups of hot coffee which was really interesting. These guys were very tired after hosting 3 days of Lolab festival but we never missed their smiling faces and helping hands whenever we approached them. Umar prepared a nice map for us to explore Lolab Valley and with that we would start our journey next day.
We woke up early as it was a long day ahead of us. We had to visit Lolab Valley and then we had to move to Gurez Valley (Dawar) for our night stay. Umar first took us to a place called Naya Chandigam, which was 7km apart from Chandigam GH and the place was very scenic. JK Tourism has acquired land in that place to develop a nature park, which would really be a nice plan. Chandigam is centrally located in lolab valley and the major two big villages in the valley are Sogam and Lalpora. We planned to start from Sogam and took an anti-clock wise loop across the valley via Sogam – Walkul – Takipor – Lalpora – Wavoorer – Khumriyal – Kupwara. Considering the time left we decided to leave Kalaroos for some other day as it was a detour after Khumriyal and we had to reach Gurez on same day. The Lolab valley was a vast land surrounding hills and dense forests and huge farm land, it was somehow giving me a feel of rural Bengal. When we visited, the leaves started turning yellow/red and by October end / November we heard lolab would start looking amazing and gorgeous with fall colors. Lolab is a place where you don’t have any specific destination, you can roam around any road that comes your way and certainly you will enjoy it, it’s just a kind of exploring this wonderful land. DSP, Mr. Khan and Tourism Guest House Caretaker told us, the place was still not completely safe, there were lots of army camps in every 2/3 km and anyone staying in Tourism GH had to be reported to them with all details and that was the reason why during checking in, we had to furnish a lot of information including skin color. Few stray incidents happened mainly after sun down in last few months but when we visited the valley in morning we found it very warm, charming and full of lives.
Few snaps of Lolab:
Lolab’s hand made map by Umar:
Distance Chart of Lolab:
The New JK Tourism GH in Lolab:
Big Lawn was favourite of my daughter:
Awesome setting of the GH:
Umar, Ershad and Yaqub, the nice caretakers of Chandigam GH:
We planned to trace back to Kupwara and Sopore and then turned towards Bandipore via Watlab for our journey to Gurez. But locals confirmed the direct road between Lolab and Bandipore had already been built and awaited to be opened for civilians, it gone through the dense forested region and would be a very scenic route and one could reach Bandipora from Lolab in just 1.5 hours through the new route which now takes almost 4 hours. 10km before Sopore we found a short cut for Sopore Bandipora road through a place called Bumei and we saved almost 15km. We took a short break in Watlab for tea, the place was nice overlooking the Wular Lake, which was really in a sorry state, currently Govt has taken big projects to restore this lake and hope sometimes in future it would be great sight for visitors. We reached Bandipora after 100km of drive from Chandigam. The road became awfully bad after Bandipora and the major reason seem to be the construction of Kishanganga Dam and all the big dozers, trucks of NHPC had destroyed the road completely. It was full of dust in a dry day and during rain would surely turn into a nightmarish muddy state. This was the worst part road we covered during our whole journey. I would say as even in Warwan we got roads very bad but atleast air was clean there, we didn’t get this much of dust and pollution. 42 km of worst road would finally take you to Rajdhan Pass that separates Gurez Valley from Kashmir Valley. From this place you can see Nanga Parvat in a clear day, it was not that clear in afternoon, so we took some snaps and proceeded towards Gurez. The road condition in other side of Rajdhan pass was in much better shape. We reached Kanwalzan where the road had bifurcation, left was going to Bagtore, where we would be back soon but then we needed to take the right road towards Dawar. Here you would see how Kishanganga’s main channel was completely blocked now and the whole water was diverted through a tunnel inside the mountain, might be to get the height difference to generate hydel power. The work had completely stopped due to a stay order from high court and that seems to be the primary reason for putting so much restriction in permit process to stop outsider to enter Gurez as Govt is apprehensive of a bigger movement there against the dam project. We reached Dawar around evening when last ray of sun touching the mighty Habba Khatun peak. We gone to the GH and happy to got our room, thanks to Iliyas Saab (Dy. Director under whom Gurez Tourism comes) and Md. Lone, the nice caretaker of otherwise filled up GH. We called up a month ahead to both and ensured they would keep a room for us. Unfortunately there was no provision of food in the GH and people used to visit Sabbir’s hotel nearby for food, we were tired, so quickly had our dinner and retired for the day as next day we had plan to explore Gurez in details.
Kashmir Valley from Rajdhan Top – Ullar can be seen at right:
Winding Roads going down to Gurez Valley:
Habba Khatun in the last ray of evening sun:
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