20th September 2015 (Sunday)….Kupwara to Gulmarg…200 km
Contrary to my fears, had fabulous sleep inside the car parked on the main road in between hotel Raj Mahal and security picket near bus stand Kupwara. Two cups of tea, freshening up and I was on my way to Chowkibal, Tangdhar and Teetwal. Permit is required for visiting these areas, It being Sunday, I was not sure whether I would be allowed or not. Even then decided to drive until wherever I could go. Moreover being solo I was not very keen on visiting remote areas. Not many tourist visit these areas, despite being virgin and very beautiful due to disturbances.
It got murky and started drizzling, still I was enjoying the drive on freshly washed tarred and wide road. There was hardly any other vehicle on the road. I drove through beautiful Kashmiri villages. People were seen hurrying home with fresh bread from crowded bakeries to munch with ‘Nun Chai’.
The trees around looked fresh and rusty green in rain soaked autumn. Enjoying the drive for around 25 kilometers like that I arrived in Chowkibal. The rain became harder, I hurriedly ran into a shop to seek shelter. The jampacked tea shop was oozing with the aroma of freshly boiling tea. Deftly serving, the boy from UP presented me a kashmiri bread with steaming cup of tea.
A little later I was on my way again hoping to drive as far as I could. Another 8-10 kilometers and I was asked to park my Lalpari on one side of the road at an army check post and meet an army officer. After asking few questions, the army officer politely told me that he could not allow me to drive any further and that I would have to return back.
Since weather was dampening, I was solo and not very keen so did not try much and decided to return back. I saw a board mentioning Bangus Valley and came to know that there was another route for going to Bangus from this side as well.
On one side of the road was a flat wide valley with ripe paddy fields and a patch of green trees in between. Mountains in the background were wrapped in haze, sky was overcast, still the overall landscape was wonderful.
Ripe paddy fields with the green trees and scattered homes in the wide valley on the way to Tangdhar.
Yes, I was taking back with me fascinating memories despite the fact that I could not visit Bangus, Tangdhar and Teetwal and even it continued raining and could not click many pictures as well. Still enjoyed the play of the clouds, drizzle, happy faces and golden yellow paddy fields and that I was driving solo on these roads which are difficult to even imagine back home specially keeping in mind the current law and order situation in the area.
Picture taken from the other side of the road mentioning Bangus valley. Just see the rain drenched wide beautiful tarred road, murky sky and Lalpari, the only vehicle plying on this famous border road connecting Kupwara with Pakistan occupied Kashmir through LOC near Teetwal.
Returned back to Kupwara which by now started looking like a very familiar place. Went for walk in the busy bazaar one more time before leaving for the next destination.
From Kupwara I drove to Baramulla via Handwara (50 km). The plan was to reach Gulmarg before the end of the day. Since I could not reach Tangdhar/Teetwal, I had some spare time so thought why not have a look at Uri, the last border town on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad (POK) road NH 1A, the once famous jhelum valley road.
Baramulla to Uri is around 50 kilometers. The road runs along river Jhelum. Since 7th April 2005, the famous Karavan-e-Aman (Peace Bus) between Srinagar-Muzaffarabad (POK) runs on this 170 kilometer road, crossing LOC at Kashmir friendship bridge.
Visiting this over one thousand year old ancient ASI protected temple dedicated to lord Vishnu DATTA MANDIR was a pleasant surprise. This along with many other temples which I visited during the trip tell me that Hinduism was a once thriving religion in the area before the arrival of muslim invaders. The temple was ransacked by tribal invaders during partition in 1947.
A little drive further I came across another wonderful sight, Nand Singh Memorial, the saviour of the valley. Shaheed Nand Singh belongs to village Bahadurpur in Mansa district of Punjab (India). He was awarded Victoria Cross by British due to his heroic deeds in Burma during World War II in 1944. He was also awarded Mahavir Chakra for his bravery in fighting with raiders from Pakistan in 1947, during which he sacrificed his life.
Known as the Gateway to Kashmir in the pre-1947 days, Uri was the first stop after crossing Lalpul (The Red Bridge) in this side of Kashmir. Uri has suffered the most from the division, it still is the last most bustling town before LOC at Kaman (18 km).
It has a busy market. I met a Sikh shopkeeper right at the entrance of the market. A little later I met another gentleman from Jammu who was serving as a teacher in school. He was living in Uri with his family since last 18 years. He took me to a dhaba owned by a punjabi, where we had nice punjabi kulcha-chana.
He volunteered to take me to a Gurudwara (a sikh shrine) nearby. After crossing trade facilitation centre Salamabad, we crossed a bridge over Jhelum and drove on a dirt road to village Parampilla where Gurudwara was situated. The army men posted at the check post did not stop us as we were visiting Gurudwara otherwise a permit is needed to drive through that point.
Lalpari, the teacher from Jammu and his friend, Uri dam and Uri town in the background are seen in the picture.
Visiting Gurudwara at Parampilla was a nice experience. After paying respect at the Gurudwara, baba ji at the shrine gave us prashad and served a cup of tea.
Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, the 6th Guru, is said to have visited this place along with Badshah Jahangir on a tour of Kashmir.
This trade facilitation centre in Salamabad was inaugurated by CM of Jammu and Kashmir in 2013 to facilitate trade between India and Pakistan.
After having nice time in Uri and thanking the teacher I drove back on the road to Baramulla for onward journey to Gulmarg. I was told this bridge which was to connect main highway with the village of Parampilla where Gurudwara is situated, was under construction when it collapsed during flash floods of 2014.
This abandoned bridge on the road (Uri-Baramulla) was very interesting, although I am not sure what it is for or was it once operational or not, looked like abandoned rail bridge. I was also told once there was a dirt road from Uri to Poonch before partition which is now out of bounds for us Indians due to control of Haji Peer with Pakistan and situation CFL (cease fire line).
Lalpari posing on a bridge on Uri-Baramulla road welcomed by Pir Panjal Brigade.
It was around 5pm evening when I arrived back at Baramulla. Drive till Pattan (27 km) was on NH 1A road. A little later I turned right on Pattan-Sheer Pora road and joined main Mangan-Gulmarg road. The road passed through interior rural Kashmir. It was nice to observe the life of people living in this part of Kashmir.
Arriving Tangmarg was very nostalgic. The first time I was here was in 1983 some 32 years ago when I was studying in BA Part 2 and had arrived here on a bus to take part in a 15 day long youth leadership training camp at HAWS (High Altitude Warfare School). Although there was a motorable road back then but I chose to trek to Gulmarg along with few other participants. Tangmarg has changed a lot in these 32 years. There was a big market and a number of big hotels lined up all along the wide tarred road in place of small dingy road smelling of horse dung.
It was dark and lonely but the road to Gulmarg was very good. Although it was off season and Gulmarg was secluded, still had some life in it. Few shops were still open. Like all through the trip I checked up and listened to my heart to check whether I sleep in the car or find some hotel. My gut feeling said inside the car. It felt good and safe, so had few drinks before having dinner from one of the dhabas seen in the picture, slipped inside the car, pulled the covers over, locked it from inside and went to sleep.
What a wonderful feeling, 32 years ago I slept inside the HAWS camps as a student dreaming about freedom and life to come, this day I was sleeping inside the car having driven solo through most of Kashmir, a family man, having snatched early freedom from job and still dreaming about freedom and life to come!!!
(This picture above was clicked next day morning immediately after alighting from the car after having a fabulous sleep)