5th September 2015 (Saturday)….Kokernag to Inshan…80 km
After initial hesitation and confusion things went well at Kokernag. Despite frequent interruptions I managed to sleep sufficiently. Got up early and drove straight to Vailoo. It was a short but refreshing drive. The road was empty, ran along a murmuring stream and orchards laden with ripe apples, pears and walnuts.
Vailoo was just waking up. People were hurrying home with bread to be chewed with noon chai. Few tea shops were open. I stopped at one of them. The man told me to wait as milk supply was on its way.
There was a stream nearby. I utilised the time in washing the car and getting fresh. I could hear a baa baa sound being made nearby and noticed a lamb tied to a meat shop. Soon a man arrived, took out a big knife and slaughtered the lamb.There was a big baa and then the silence. This was perhaps the first time I saw a lamb being killed before my eyes. I felt bad about me and my species.
After tea I drove few kilometers further and turned left near a broken bridge. The underconstruction bridge was broken in floods in September 2014. After driving on a narrow road and crisscrossing few small village reached bustling town called Larnoo. Lots of taxis ply from Larnoo to different villages including Warwan.
A little ahead road was being repaired where I was made to wait for over two hours. Soon I reached Lehanvan the last town before 24 kilometer ascent to Margan top. There is quite a good market and lot of places to eat here.
After a cup of tea I started ascending to Margan top. The road passes through alpine forest and lush green meadows. It is lined up with Bakkarwala huts grazing sheeps and mules. The road is all gravel and potholed. Met lot of bakarwals with their sheep. goats, mules, women and childern coming down from high pastures as winters were approaching.
There is an army police check post just before the final ascent to Margan top. ID cards and papers of vehicles are checked and entered in a register. From thereon the ascent is very steep and a first or second gear drive. There was hardly any traffic barring one or two sumos carrying passengers to Warwan Valley.
It was drizzling when I reached Margan Top. The road was all wet, loose gravel and rocky. There was no body around. The views around looked desolate and fearsome. Soon I saw group of Bakarwals with their families, herd of sheep and mules marching towards me from the other side of wide pass. This was followed by many more groups. They looked happy and good to talk to. They were going down to plains for winters and would be back again to the high pastures in next summer. Women and childern looked fearless and rustic.
Margan Top (around 14500 ft ASL) is the gateway to Warwan Valley. The road till Margan top is quite old and bad. Beyond that rest of 24 kilometers road to Inshan was built recently and is bit better comparatively. I was told there were three large alpine lakes nearby but are said to be infested with dangerous pythons.
Due to inaccessibility and militancy Warwan Valley used to be referred to as the valley of death. With military presence the area has become comparatively safe now. A building was under construction. I was told that a tourist bungalow was being built. It was also told that on a clear day the peaks of Nun Kun in Zanskar Valley can be seen from the top.
After spending good time at the pass I drove down towards the other side of the pass. Soon I saw a beautiful wide valley opening up. The lush green well terraced fields of the valley were divided by a beautiful meandering rivulet which I later came to know was called Darya-e-Chenab in the region.
It was raining throughout. So the frequency of my getting out of the car to click pictures was far less than normal. So reached Inshan pretty soon. There was an army check post right at the entrance of the Valley. The army men were all from Punjab and were amused to see a red passenger car with a solo traveller from Punjab. Since we spoke same language and were from same area, we connected well. They were posted in the area recently due to Amarnath Yatra and were manning few posts perched high up on top of the hills around.
The army check post was exactly outside the forest rest house and I did not have to ask for directions. The army man introduced me to Abdur Rehman, the caretaker of the rest house. After little bit of hesitation he agreed to accommodate me for night stay. After a little getting to know session, Abdur Rehman advised me to go and have a look around the area.
There were few shops on the left side of the road and then a bridge on the river Chenab. After crossing the bridge I turned left and drove towards village Aftee which was around 12 kilometer. The drive was along the right bank of river Chenab. The road was tough and rough and best for a 4×4 vehicle. I enjoyed the drive and beautiful vistas like anything. Met lot of bewildered people on the way. Perhaps they were not used to seeing small car roaming in the valley.
Situated at an altitude of 7000 ft ASL, Warwan Valley (Kishtwar District) is sandwiched in between Kashmir and Zanskar Valleys. It was a popular destination with foreign nationals in the 80’s till militancy took over. There is still no electricity and mobile connectivity. The only road to reach the valley is through treacherous Margan Top which remains open for only four months in a year. There are about 17 villages in the valley, schools with almost no teachers, dispensaries with almost no doctor.
It is due to army that the whole area has now been cleared of militants and few travellers have started visiting the valley. The area is still very virgin, endowed with vast vistas, beautiful meadows, crystal clear streams and waterfalls. The main occupation of the people is agriculture and allied activities. A big chunk for some people of the valley comes from ferrying yatries on mules and horses during month long Amarnath Yatra.
After a good two hours drive to Aftee village and exploring a part of Inshan I returned back to the rest house. The army men had left by now. The helper of the caretaker prepared namkeen chai on wooden chullah and served me with a bread. It got dark pretty soon. Since there was no electricity, Rehman put the generation on for about two hours enabling cooking of food. Utilizing the opportunity I charged my camera and laptop battery.
It was pitch dark outside. The entire valley was engulfed in silence, bone chilling cold and no soul around. My plan of a walk got abandoned pretty soon. Returned to the rest house and instead decided to enjoy few drinks before the dinner was served and generator goes off. Dinner comprised of rice, dal, sabzi and roti. It was simple but very well served.
After dinner we had nice talk. Abdur Rehman and his help were keen on knowing about me and what was I doing solo in Kashmir. On the other hand I wanted to know more about the people and the area. Being a muslim dominated area they have their own customs and way of living but to me basics looked no different.
Like everyone else they want good, peaceful, happy and healthy life. They want to be recognised and respected. Like all of us they have challenges too. For most of us challenges are our own creation but they are very genuine in their case. No electricity, no mobile connectivity, no schools, no hospitals, harsh road conditions that too only for four months, harsh winters, utter poverty and above all utter neglect by the authorities.
Still to me they looked more warm, happy and healthy!!!