23th Sept 2015 (Wednesday)..Shopian.Aharbal.Mughal Road.Jammu..Amritsar..535 km
It kept raining throughout the night. I, however, had a nice sleep inside the car parked at a filling station just outside the apple town of Shopian. Morning rituals and a cup of tea later I was on my way to Aharbal.
Aharbal, 18 kilometer from Shopian, is a little detour on the historical Mughal road. The road to Aharbal bifurcates (8 km) to the left near Hirpora. Standing there at the starting point of mughal road in Shopian in the heavenly drizzle, my inner mind re-enacted scenes depicting large Mughal caravan moving up on the grassy slopes of mighty Pir Panjal Range full of valour and pomp some four centuries ago.
This dream like stretch of modern marvel 84 km Mughal road connects Shopian (Pulwama district of Kashmir) to Bafliaz in Poonch district (Jammu) reducing the distance between Srinagar-Poonch from 588 km to 126 km. This was part of historical road used by Mughals to travel to Kashmir from Delhi via Lahore and Jhelum town (Now in Pakistan) in 16th century.
The wide rain washed road was looking even more beautiful in early morning hours. Driving on Mughal road that day was another dream come true. A few kilometer later, the road bifurcated to the left at Chowgam. I was now driving on a narrow steep single road. The whole 8 kilomter’s stretch passed through beautiful woods, small kashmiri villages with water streams criss crossing the road at a number of places.
After crossing a bridge I turned right thinking Aharbal waterfall to be on that road instead reached a tourist rest house which had public convenience. Availed the opportunity, washed Lalpari, took both and cleaned the mess from the inside of my home (Car).
So freshened up I turned back and drove on the opposite side and reached a little market place. It was the town of Aharbal. There was a tourist complex on the left and a path through the middle of the complex lead to the waterfall.
I was not the only one walking towards the falls that day, there were other tourist as well. Most of them were local kashmiri families which had come to see the falls and enjoy picnic in the lawns of the complex. Few steps through the paved pathway, another set of stairs descended down to another which had gushing water running under it.
This is the path on which we walked down through the tourist complex.
and this is the one leading to waterfall.
Aharbal (Kulgam district), is located at a height of 7500 ft ASL, on the Veshu River, a tributary of the Jhelum River. The water from the River Veshu falls noisily 82 feet and 23 feet through a narrow gorge of granite boulders, making a pretty sight.
It is also referred to as the Niagara Falls of Kashmir, owing to the volume of the water that falls. The terraces leading to the falls are fenced, but care must be taken to avoid slipping.
After spending some quality time at the falls and clicking few pictures, I walked back to the main road and drove back to Mughal road.
The landscape around looked beautiful. I stopped at few places to click pictures.
A view of Aharbal town, tourist complex and path leading to the falls.
A closer view of the Aharbal tourist complex and path leading down to the waterfall.
Lalpari posing on the bifurcation of the road leading to Aharbal. Aharbal is 8 km steep narrow road from here.
Mughal Road passes over Pir Panjal Mountain range, at altitude of 11,500 ft and is higher than Banihal Pass 9300 ft. It makes for alternate road route to Kashmir valley from rest of India, other than overcrowded Jammu-Srinagar Highway through Jawahar Tunnel.
The road was historically used by Moghul emperors to travel to Kashmir during the sixteenth century. It was the route used by Akbar to conquer Kashmir in 1586, and his son Emperor Jahangir who died while returning from Kashmir on this road near Rajouri.
The new road was proposed in the 1950s, with the intention of improving the economy of the valley of Kashmir. Then the Chief Minister of Kashmir took up this project in 1979 and named it “Mughal Road”, but it came to halt as militancy took over.
Finally construction started in 2005 and completed in 2009. Officially the road was opened for the first time in 2009.
The road runs all along a river crossing many bridges named liked the one in the picture above. Although it is a newly laid wide tarmac yet abruptly broken at a number of places due to landslides. It looks difficult to travel in rainy or snowing season and the chances of getting immediate help looks minimal as there are hardly any villages and settlements along the road, the only people seen around are the roadside workers.
One cannot, however, afford to miss the site of this inn, the Aliabad Sarai constructed in 17th century by Mughals to spend a night before heading for remaining journey. I parked the car on one side of the road and stood there for a while trying to visualize what kind of scenario it would have been in those days some four centuries ago.
The landscape around continued to be hidden under the thick blanket of clouds. Raining had stopped still white greyish clouds continued to hover around the whole horizon blocking the views of mighty mountains.
All the bridges on this road are named, I believe they denote a nearby village, settlement or a historical place. This is the last bridge before Peer Ki Gali.
Soon I reached Pir-Ki-Gali and my joy knew no bounds. This was the place I surfed on the net for years and here I was, solo on my own car, another dream come true. After chatting with fellow travellers, a little stroll around, took out my tripod and clicked few pictures, to remember in the times to come.
PEER KI GALI (11500 ft) is the highest and midway point of Mughal Road. It lies at a distance of 43 Kms from Shopian and 44 Kms from Bafliaz. It has also become yet another busy Tourist Destination.
It is a central meeting point for the people of South Kashmir area and Poonch and Rajouri districts. They organize joint picnics nowadays at this central tourist spot.
This is not only a beautiful and picturesque tourist spot, but also famous for a shrine dedicated to ‘the living saint’ Sheikh Ahmed Karim, a white bearded saint. Due to the location of the shrine at this place, thousands of religious tourists also visit this place.
It was surprising to see few makeshift shops selling basic stuff, snacks and tea. The landscape around was heavenly, sprawling large meadows, meandering streams, grazing horses and sheep, deep valleys, clouds hanging around in the sky, it was a very serene.
It was good to see happy faces all around. All the vehicles stop here enabling travellers pay their respects at the shrine and also to soak in wonderful scenery around. After spending around one hour, it was time to say goodbye to Peer-Ki-Gali and move ahead.
Soon I reached Bafliaz the ending point of Mughal road.
Took a break and had lunch comprising local food dal, chawal and sabzi and then moved on towards Rajouri. Although the landscape around continued to be good but 45 kilometer road from Bafliaz to Rajouri was pretty bad. It was narrow, potholed and steep road. Roads and traffic through Rajouri was pretty bad too, took a little tea break and then drove off towards Jammu.
By the time I reached Jammu it was around 10pm, took dinner comprising dal and tandoori roti and tried to sleep inside the car parked near the dhaba on the main Jammu-Pathankot highway, could not succeed though. It was 11pm, sleep was nowhere close, so decided to drive with the intention to sleep whenever I felt like. Since I love driving in the road and road being very good, I continued driving all through and reached home in Amritsar at 3.00am morning.
Thus ended yet another dream drive IN THE CAR ON THE CAR. This drive gave me lot of satisfaction, joy and confidence, I drove to some of the remotest and most beautiful places, some of the highest and toughest passes, and on some of the most deadliest roads……….all by myself, solo, sleeping inside the car most of the times, and at some of the most infamous and remotest of places, fought with my fears and came out triumphant!!!