17th September 2015 (Thursday)….Plan Bandipora to Dawar…110 km
I kept awake till late in the night. I was trying to sleep inside the car parked at a filling station on the outskirts of Bandipora. This part of Kashmir was in the news mostly for wrong reasons. Killings due to insurgency, infiltration, militancy and so on. Not many tourists visit this part of Kashmir. Lights were off and it was dead silence. There was hardly any traffic on the road.
Still had enough sleep that allowed me to get out of the car well before dawn. The first thing I did after getting up was to have a walk on empty Bandipora-Sopore road. Cool kashmir breeze was very refreshing to both the lungs as well as mind. It blew away all the negative thought that kept haunting me throughout night. Soon some members of the staff at the filling station got up and offered me morning tea. They were all very helpful and gave me some wonderful tips about the area.
Since I was without stepney, the first task in hand I had was to search for appropriate tyre, old or new one. Even after searching for more than two hours I could not find one and decided to continue the drive without stepany.
Bandipora is a town and a district headquarter, situated on the northern banks of one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia, Wular Lak. It is bound by mountains on the remaining three sides. My destination for the day was Dawar, headquarters of Gurez tehsil 86 kilometers from Bandipora. Initial part of the road till Tragbal (42 km) was very steep dirt road and had number of hairpin bends. Since I had already been on very tough roads in the trip, I did not find the road very tough.
The view of Wular wetland and paddy fields were amazing from the road. The road became tarred and smooth just before Tragbal. There were number of roadside eateries and I stopped at one of those and had nice bread omelette with tea. Surrounded by big pine and fir trees, Tragbal is a kind of pass and has an army check post.
I was surprised to see Mcd signboard near army check post Tragbal. While disclosing my details at the post I asked the sikh army jawan about this sign board. He smilingly told me that there used to be a Mcd restaurant inside army camp but it was no more there now.
Landscape was becoming better and better as I approached Razdan Pass. A signboard mentioned Sanga viewpoint near the bend seen in the picture.
I was now driving driving through a large ridge. There was an army camp and Shrine on the right side of the ridge. It was Peer Baba shrine, very popular with people of the area and where large number of people visit regularly.
It is believed that Peer Baba came from Multan (Pakistan) in 1933 and fasted for months without taking any food or water. In 1940, he came down to Razdan during a heavy snowstorm and subsequently died. He was buried close to Razdan Pass.
Beautiful Razdan Pass (11672 ft) is gateway and halfway to Gurez Valley. One can enjoy 360 degree views all around from nearby hillocks. There is an army check post on the pass and everyone is allowed to cross after entering details in the register. The pastures around the pass are very popular with bakkarwala. A large herds of sheep and goat can be seen grazing all around. The hills around the pass are manned by army as border with Pakistan is very close.
I felt very happy at the pass. Had fabulous time walking and enjoying breathtaking panoramic view all around. Although it was partially clouded and bit hazy still standing there and viewing vast landscape was a lifetime experience.
The road near the pass was paved and well maintained. Driving on this longing pass through the stunning landscape was a dream like experience.
It’s amply clear from the picture, how happy I was on that day while having memorable time at Razdan pass.
Paved road continued for few kilometers down the hill from Razdan pass. Descend continues till a small village of Kanzalwan where border with Pakistan is just across the hill.
The road to Kanzalwan runs along beautiful Kishanganga River, which flows into India from Pakistan and after flowing for few kilometers renters Pakistan. It is called River Neelam in Pakistan. The landscape around was totally different and beautiful.
After crossing a bridge at Kanzalwan I was asked to enter details in a register kept for the purpose. The polite and helpful army men at the post asked me to submit xerox copy of my identity card on return journey. The drive from hereon till Dawar is on the right bank of River Kishanganga.
Unique limestone mountains of Gurez Valley start visible from the road. The turquoise green water of River Kishanganga was crystal clear.
Cricket is a very popular sport in India and is played all over. But I never expected this in Gurez Valley. Some boys were playing cricket on the outskirts of Dawar. I watched them play for sometime and noticed that they were playing very well and were engaged in a serious match.
The moment I entered Gurez, Habba Khatoon (mountain in the picture) presented an awesome sight. The neat colourful buildings of Dawar town presented a fabulous spectacle. River Kishanganga flows right through the town.
The vastness and beauty of Gurez was far too overwhelming. I stood there in awe appreciating the beauty of the valley for quite some time. After awhile I drove into Dawar town and was impressed instantaneously. Dawar looked like a place with almost all the basic facilities. It was bigger and livelier than what I had thought. It has a market, schools, college, hospital, guest houses, restaurants and tourist bungalow. A big taxi stand is right at the entrance of the town.
People of the area looked fair, tall, well built and smart. Most of the them were wearing typical kashmiri dress. I drove through the entire length of the town to have a good look at it and check on with few guest houses and hotels. Finally decided to stay in a dormitory at tourist bungalow which had all 10 beds available to me since I was the sole occupant of the dormitory. Only one other room was occupied that night and the rest of tourist bungalow was vacant.
In the evening I went walking in the market to immerse myself with locals. It felt kind of strange as I seemed to be the only outsider in the town that evening. I saw non veg items being roasted at many places in the market. Veg food was hardly available in the town.
So bought some apples, bananas and chips from the market for dinner. Went back to the room and had nice time sleeping inside the large dormitory of tourist bungalow.