This is going to be an exciting day as we move towards Warwan Valley. It was planned to start from Aru as early as possible and proceed to Martand Sun Temple and Achabal and from their moving to Kokernag and subsequently towards Warwan via Margan Top. A Google map is attached for better understanding but it might not be showing it very accurately.
We knew it would be a long day and so started early. Basheer, the guy from JKTDC Aru accompanied us as he was going home little beyond Pahelgam. The same guy whom I didn’t like much in last 2 days while staying at JKTDC Aru, became a different man all together and while dropping him off, he won’t let us go without having a cup of tea at his place, first touch of Kashmiri warmth and I was thinking how difficult is to make judgment on the people. Basheer’s house is a small one but still under construction, he took us to his nicely decorated guest room and offered us some snacks, cakes, akhrote and of course the promised chay. We requested for Namkeen chay and that’s what he served us. We didn’t understand how almost 45 minutes have been passed chatting with his family but ambience became heavy as he unfolded how he lost his father, brothers and almost all of his family due to the 25 year long militancy. This pensive mood was felt across the valley, you would find almost every family has lost someone or other due to these violent 25 years and they now a days want simply a normal life. Let’s not get into the reason why it happened but reality is it happened and changed their lives for ever, it almost taken away a generation from them and it would need couple of more generations to heal the wounds. We left Bashir’s place and soon after taking a left from main road towards Ananthnag and moved towards Martand Sun Temple.
Martand Sun Temple:
It’s more than 1300 years old structure and the ruins would still impress you. Martand is another name of Sun God in Sanskrit. ASI, renovated the whole places and built a nice garden and one shouldn’t miss the place if you go towards Pahelgam.
The Martand Sun Temple was built by King of Karkota Dynasty – Lalitaditya Muktapida in 8th century AD. It is said to have been built during 725-756 AD. The foundation of the temple is said to have been around 370-500 AD., and also some attributed the construction of the temple began with Ranaditya.
The temple was completely destroyed by Sikandar Butshikan in early 15th century. It took one year for Sikander Butshikan to fully damage and destroy this Martand temple.
Architecture and style
The temple was built on top of a plateau from where one can view whole of Kashmir Valley. From the ruins and archeological findings, one can say it was an excellent specimen of Kashmir style of architecture, which had blended the Gandharan, Gupta, Chinese, Roman, Syrian-Byzantine and Greek forms of architecture. This beautiful Martand temple has a colonnaded courtyard, with the shrine in its center, which is 220 feet long and 142 feet broad. It was surrounded by 84 small shrines.
Martand Sun Temple:
We spent some 30 minutes and enjoyed the beauty and architecture before moving towards Achabal Garden. I didn’t find it that impressive compared to Kokernag or Verinag but may be because I was there in wrong season, I heard these gardens look awesome in spring season with lots of flowers.
It was built about 1620 A.D. by Mughal Empire Emperor Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan, called the “greatest garden lovers of them all.” The garden was rebuilt on smaller scale by Gulab Singh and is now a public garden. A main feature of the garden is a waterfall that enters into a pool of water.
It was almost 12 noon when we left Achabal gardens and realized by then we were running late, considering we have to cross Margan Top and drive 48 km of very bad to worse roads across the Pass to reach Warwan Valley which was still 100 odd km away. So we skipped lunch and skipped Kokernag garden too, keeping it for return leg started our drive towards Warwan Valley. Kokernag is located on NH1D which connects Jammu to Kashmir Valley via the alternate route through Kishtwar and Simthan Pass. We drove for another 12 km on NH1D which is an excellent road through Vailoo before taking a left turn towards Margan Pass via Mattigaoran. The landscape was beautiful with wide valley colorful with gold and green encircled by mountain ranges. The road turned ok from excellent as we left NH1D and subsequently started turning bad and tar road completely vanished when we reached Mattigaoran after another 15 km from where we left NH1D. From here onwards, roads are only having loose gravels, boulders, water crossing and I could easily understand how bad it could be during monsoon when Amit attempted this road. Kazim, being an expert driver, was also little tensed and we could see the ascent and could count up to 15 loops on the top. It’s a long 24 km arduous climb towards pass that would start just after an army check post where your car details would be entered. The road gets worst around 6 km away from top and we had to literally clear the boulders from road to save the low GC Innova from underbelly hitting. It’s around 4.00pm we finally reached the top and frantically trying to locate Nun-Kun peak which we heard could be seen from top, but it was cloudy and even some light snowing started in the other side of the pass, we didn’t wait much on the top but the vast landscape with all snow peaks around made it surreal. We later heard from army, there are three extremely beautiful alpine lakes those could be trekked within an hour from M-Top but all of them cautioned us not to go without a group as they have encountered huge Indian Rock Pythons in that areas. Not sure how much truth was there but locals said there were a few incidents of people got vanished while trekking in that region. Anyway as we started our descend from pass we discovered the road is much better in this part, reason primarily is the road up to Margan Pass was built way back in Mid Eighties but the road was not connected to Warwan Valley. Mufti Govt., in 2008 connected the road to Inshaan at Warwan Valley from Margan Top but the road built earlier was not re-laid and as a result the road in Daksum/Valioo side is in worse condition that what it is in Warwan valley side.
On the way to Warwan Valley:
At Margan Top
First look at Warwan Valley – Simply Magical:
We finally reached Inshaan around 6.00pm as evening approached by that time. Inshaan is having only 2 accommodation options, one is the dakbunglow which militants burnt during those days of turmoil, it is being rebuilt but not yet completed. The only other option is a Forest Rest House which falls under DFO, Marwah region, where there are 2 small rooms only. There is no electricity, landline phone available in Inshaan, it’s raw and rustic nature you would enjoy once you reach there. BSNL built a mobile tower but because of electricity issue that is not yet in operation. I have spoken to DFO, Marwah, Dr. Anand, a very nice gentleman and he assured me a stay in Forest RH for 2 days. To book Inshaan FRH, you have to speak to DFO, Marwah and please note as there is no telecommunication in place, you have to book atleast a month in advance, so your booking information can reach the Caretaker of the Forest RH. All VIP, MP, MLA stay only in this FRH as there is no other Government places to stay in whole Warwan Valley, so there is some uncertainties always involved incase of VIP Movement. But the people in the valley are so good and warm hearted, I personally think you would never find it difficult to have a stay there with locals if you wish so. We met the caretaker Abdur Rahaman there and the he was sadly down with flu. Initially he was little cold towards us may be because of his health but it’s Kazim who slowly took the control of the situation, offered to cook for the night and request him to get a chicken for us. Meanwhile my wife being a doctor came into help in making Rahaman fit with some medicines. He soon became active, made a great namkin chay and served that with biscuits, after a long and hectic day those were really a wonderful break. Rahaman was a very easy going person, initially scared us by asking for “koi to ek nishan chod ke jao” while taking my wife’s sunglasses (later Kazim told him it was for ladies) and sometimes wearing my Quecha Trek shoes, made me begging that I brought only single pair of shoes there. He became very friendly with us soon and Kazim that day cooked one of the best chicken dish I ever had, a candle light dinner, in the full moon night with Kazim’s handmade chicken and rice made it a wonderful end to a very tiring day. Just outside the hut, bakhrewalas taking their herds of sheep towards Margan pass as I heard from them, night movement usually be much easier because of almost zero traffic. The full moon lit valley with sheep moving in the winding roads of Margan Pass, the river Dariya i Chenab flowing like a silver lining with its gushing sound, the snow peaks of Zanskar and Pahelgam/Seshnag region encircling us casted a magical spell on us. We didn’t know when we gone to sleep finally.
The morning was bright and sunny and the valley was looking amazingly colorful. We came out of the hut and invited by the army to join with them in the superb breakfast of Roti and Sabji. We started chatting with them on the possibility of places to visit but they were really surprised to know that we came there just as a tourist. Warwan valley is triangular shaped sandwiched between Pahelgaon/Seshnag range in West and Zanskar Range in East and cut off my Pirpanjal range in south. Across Pirpanjal we can cross it through Margan Top, opened only between May to November. The road from Margan touches the western fringes of the valley. There valley is divided North South by the river Dariya i Chenab which finally meets Chenab at Ramban. There are several footbridges over the river in various places for walking down but only motorable bridge is opened in 2009/10 by current NC Government in Inshan where you can cross the river with a car. So the valley at Inshaan with current roads alignment looks like English letter “X” where Inshan is located in the middle. Refer to the handmade map below for better understanding.
The left (West) lower fork is coming down from Margan Top, only motorable connection of the valley with outside world. the left (West) upper fork is going across several villages like Uran, Bryn and the last village is connected by road is 16km away named as Churaman. As per locals from Churaman, survey of the road till Panikhar in Zanskar was already completed, though no one sure when the actual work would begin. The right (East) upper fork goes through village like Minglee and finally to Aftee around 12km from Inshaan. The road ends there. Aftee is turned into a model village with Sat phone connection which is only operative during day for local, during night it’s for use of Army only, a high school with just 2 teachers and 500 students, a health center which usually keeps under lock and key and doctor comes only during visit of MLA/MP. The big joke in the name of model village indeed!! People there thought we came from press and they took me 500 meters by walk to get a snap of their only high school and closed health center. Reasonable enough, they have lots and lots of grievances against the administration and Government who are too passive there. One of the students who wanted to be an engineer asked me “Sir tell me how we could compete at all India level after plus 2 when we have just 2 teachers for 500 students and we don’t have classes in most of the days”. I had no answer really, felt good that they wanted to come to main stream India but the question is how they could unless Government does its role appropriately. Back to the map, the right (East) lower fork goes to Nayapool via Dasbal village where the motorable road ends and trek route started towards Marwah and then subsequently to Kishtwar. The road work is going on in that side but no one knew when the loop from Kishtwar to M-Top – Inshan – Warwan valley – Marwah – Kishtwar would be completed. Now except the left lower fork of ‘X’ which is coming from Margan top, rest all so called motorable roads are actually for a 4X4 vehicle, so much mud / slush and gravels are there, it’s extremely difficult to navigate those roads with normal cars. As we had a long trip to go, we didn’t take any chance with Innova, hired a local Sumo, which took 1500 for a day to take us through various parts of Warwan. Left upper fork was inaccessible because of a huge land slide a week back, we only covered right upper fork till Aftee (12km) and right lower till Dasbal (10km) and back to Inshaan and it took us 5 hours. Mokhtab was our driver in Sumo, very friendly guy (+919906741384) you can call and enquire about road condition of Margan Pass or anything on Warwan, those who plan to visit by hired car, can contact him as well for a nice trip in every corner of the valley.
The only Motorable Bridge in Warwan:
Dariya i Chenab:
The gorgeous Valley:
Extreme Left Mokhtab and middle Kazim with 2 middle school students in Dasbal:
Eager to pose before Camera:
One of the many footbridge over Dariya i Chenab:
Golam Mohammad Wani – the retired school teacher offering us Apple from his orchard:
A cute Face:
The Apple Tree:
Golam Saab with family, Mokhtab seen second from left:
The farm land:
Roads are all Kachha:
The beauty of Warwan is difficult to express in words, the meadows, the apple and akhrot orchards, the golden farm land, the deep blue dariya i chenab flowing across, snow peaks all around makes it a must visit place for all. In addition to that you would find the most welcoming people of valley here, we took atleast 10 cups of tea, roti, cakes, apples, akhrots number of times during these 5 hours. Sometimes they stopped our car to get acquainted with us and offered us apples and tea, took us to their home, introduced us with the family members, awesome experience indeed. Once again the nice day was followed by a brilliant dinner with Kazim came into play with his great chicken curry and Rahaman prepared a nice alu-gobi. Army was even so friendly, when we came back from our day visit, we found they brought lunch for all of us from their camp. I have visited many places in India and outside of it but never touched so much the way I was touched in Warwan.
Awesome Vistas of Warwan:
Model Village Aftee:
Primary School at Aftee:
A wonderful JK Tourism Hut in Aftee but there is no approach road
Government Higher Secondary School at Warwan Teacher Student ratio 1: 250
A wonderful moment:
The Visitor’s log in Warwan, since Anirban’s visit last year, I am 3rd guest and first tourist to visit:
Kazim in middle and extreme right is Abdur (Nishane chod ke jao) Rahaman, an excellent host
Tomorrow we will depart from this part of heaven again towards Margan pass and yes would try to spot Nun-Kun from there and then via Kokernag and Verinag we would be moving towards Aharbal at Southern Kashmir.