4Th August 2015, Tuesday……Day (4) Chamba-Bhaderwah 150 kilometers.
Getting up that morning at Chaugan amongst hectic activity all around was a unique experience. I don’t think I slept for more than four hours, yet it felt very fresh. People around were sipping tea, brushing, changing clothes, chit chatting and getting ready to for the good day. There was a sense of urgency and expectancy in the air.
For some time I sat quietly on my bedding savoring the moment. I never thought I would ever sleep in the open and especially at Chaugan during Minjar Mela and more so after the fatal fall the day before which had almost spoiled my whole plan, and yet due to my stubbornness here I was enjoying the moment.
I wanted to live in that environment a bit more but since space was needed for merchants to display their merchandise, I reluctantly folded my bedding, carried them on my back and slowly started walking back towards where my car was parked. I found it bit tough as I was able to use only one hand and arm.
Despite the fact that I was not able to use my left arm and hand and since the pain was bearable, I wanted to continue with the program. The challenge was whether I would be able to drive the car with only one hand available. The thought of going back home was depressing and not finding any favour in my heart. So I decided to continue with the program and return back in case I found it tough enough.
Following three options were playing on my mind:
- Drive through Sach Pass to Killar and then to Kishtwar.
- Drive to Bhaderwah-Kishtwar.
- Drive to Chowari Jot and then go back home.
I checked up with few cab drivers at the bus stand, everyone advised me against driving to Sach Pass as, due to recent rains, the road was in pretty bad shape and might not be suitable for low ground clearing vehicle. Not many were sure about Chamba-Bhaderwah road though.
I did not want to drive to Jot as well, so the only option left was to try Chamba-Bhaderwah route. With these thought on my mind I set out for Bhaderwah.
Koti was 22 kilometers from Chamba. I had been to Koti two time earlier during my bike rides to Sach Pass but that was through a different route Pathankot-Chamera-Koti. So this was my first drive on this route.
After driving for few kilometers on Chamba-Pathankot road I crossed a bridge and was now driving on the right bank of River Ravi. Early morning drive was amazing. The landscape was picture perfect.
It had all the major natural elements, glorious blue sky, majestic tall mountains, gorgeous river, lush green surroundings, thick fog and charming villages. Sparse traffic on the road made it feel like a dream and for sometime I forgot feeling any pain in my elbow.
Engulfed in thick fog and situated on the banks of River Ravi, below in the valley with lush green farms and backdrop of majestic mountains, village Kiyani looked like a mystery World. I thought, how charming would it feel to live in such a heavenly place.
Relishing all these thoughts I never knew when the junction on Koti arrived. The road to the right goes to Sach Pass and the left to Pathankot and Bhaderwah.
I took a little break, charged the batteries, made some enquiries, freshened up and had nice simple food. The owner of the shop was an interesting fellow. He told me that he could not enjoy childhood due to fear of his father, youth was lost in finding job and now in mid age he was busy feeding the family. He told me he did not like this kind of a life. He wanted to live, a life of freedom, a life of joy, a life of travel, which he has not so far.
It was 11am when I left him at Koti, crossed a beautiful bridge on River Baira Siul and turned right towards Sundla. Road to the left from the bridge goes to Chamera Dam and then to Pathankot. I have driven on that road many times in the past but this was my first time on the road to Sundla.
I was now driving on the left bank of River Baira Siul. Sun was out but the sky was partly overcast. In the beginning the bed of the river was quite wide and I saw many trucks and tractor trolleys mining sand deposited on the river bed.
The bridge on River Baira Siul near Koti and villages hung on both sides of the river and landscape around gave it a pretty look from a distance.
After crossing a small town of Sundla I reached Manjir, a small junction from where the road to the right through this gate leads to Surangani and then to Dam on Baira Siul River. From Surangani another road branches of to the right near a bridge and links it to the main Chamba-Killar road at Badoh.
With partial blue sky, pure white still clouds, majestic mountains, lush green surroundings and meandering river, the landscape from Manjir was absolutely mesmerising.
The road to the left from Manjir leads to Salooni, Langera and then to Bhaderwah in Jammu & Kashmir. After some enquiries and a cup of tea I started driving towards Salooni.
From Manjir the road climbed steeply and the landscape became even more beautiful. Although with bandaged painful elbow it was very uncomfortable yet the scenery around was so mesmerising that I could not resist getting out and in the car to click pictures frequently.
As I was nearing Salooni the landscape was becoming better and better. I could sense, on a clear day and especially in winter, how beautiful the views of mighty Pir Panjal would be . I wowed to return back to live that experience sometime later at a suitable time.
Situated at a height of 6000 feet ASL, Salooni is a tehsil headquarter and a major town on the route to Bhaderwah. The entrance to the small township has series of quaint shops, followed by small ground with an temple at the other end.
It lies on a ridge and panoramic views of snow clad Pir Panjal Range are crystal clear in winters.
I liked Salooni very much. Parked the car and went walking through its busy bazar and then into the nearby lanes. It seems to have everything a traveller looks for, all the basic facilities, eating joints, beautiful weather and amazing views of both the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar ranges.
Surrounded by deodar trees, it has a beautiful 1908 constructed HPPWD rest house right in the middle of the town.
Due to the condition of my left arm I knew I won’t be able to shave myself. So got myself nice shave and then a haircut from a UP based saloon.
It was around 1pm midday and I had just travelled around 45 kilometers since morning in five hours. Bhaderwah was still around 85 kilometers away. Although I was not sure of my destination for the day yet reaching a safe place before sunset has always been my priority especially when the area is unknown to me.
With these thoughts in my mind I left Salooni and after descending for few kilometers and with mesmerising views of mighty Pir Panjal, reached a bridge on a nallah. A sign board at the bridge read Himgiri (25 km) to the right and Langera (25 km) to the left.
I turned left and reached a place called Kihar five kilometers from the bridge on the nallah. In Fact the nalla was River Siul which originates near Padri Gali quite close to this road in J&K, which eventually meets River Baira near Bairagarh to form River Baira Siul a tributary of the River Ravi.
Kihar was a small town with eating shops lined up on both sides. It has a rest house and last himachal police station on the route.
After driving for about 20 kms from Salooni I reached at a place which marked the beginning of Gamgul Siah Behi high-altitude wildlife Sanctuary in Bhandal Valley. The vegetation was typical to the higher altitude area, and the landscape was interspersed with deodar forests, coniferous forest and alpine pastures.
The sanctuary is host to a small populations of Musk deer, Himalayan tahr and pheasants. Also, one can spot number of colourful birds in the area.
Children playing in a school on the banks of beautiful Siul River down below the valley was a pretty sight from the road.
Another five kilometers from Kihar I reached Bhandal yet another small town on the road with one or two eating joints and a rest house. It is a gateway to Bhandal Valley famous for its rich forests, landscape and treks to nearby Jammu and Kashmir.
Suddenly the sky became overcast and rain looked round the corner. With hovering dark clouds, lush green forests and meandering river down below the valley, the landscape became even more desolate and beautiful.
Soon I reached a small village with a mosque, it felt that the village has a majority of muslim population. Being close to J&K, it seems majority of muslim population of Himachal Pradesh belongs to this area.
The next town to arrive was Sanghni. After Salooni, Sanghni was the other town I liked the most on the route. It lies at the meeting point of two water streams and has the only homestay on the route. Another feature of the route was a number of water streams and waterfalls all through the route.
There was a beautiful watermill or gharat just after crossing the village Pringul. An old man runs the mill, tea shop and namkeen.
From this point the road became totally barren. For several minutes I did not see anyone on the road. The clouds became darker and gloomy. I was driving alone on the road and was more conscious of the stark surroundings.
After crossing langera, the last village of himachal, the road became very narrow and desolate. At times the road was muddy, full of slush and potholed.
Soon it started drizzling. Khundi Maral, the last border post of Himachal Pradesh was still 10 kilometers away. With no one else insight I continued driving on the bare barren road with stark alpine landscape around.
It was still raining when I reached Kashmir border at Khundi Maral. It was good to see a tea shop just before the last HP police post. Mushtaq, the man who runs the shop, prepared tea on earthen chulha by burning waste wood logs and cow dung fuel.
Sipping hot tea with barfi at Mushtaq’s place around woodfire, tasted so good. It was 5pm, clicked few pictures, bid farewell to Mushtaq and drove further towards HP police checkpost.
At police check post, me and my car was thoroughly checked, asked to show id and write details in a register. Keeping in view the weather conditions, the policemen at the post advised me to return back as there were some huge water crossings, broken bridges and no villages for miles together.
I thanked them but as per my habit, I decided to continue. Rain was getting more and more fiercer. But I kept on. There was hardly any traffic on the road. The quality of road improved a lot after entering Kashmir.
The road was wide, tarred but broken from both sides of the road at many places and there was huge pile up of debris all along the road, still I did not face any major challenge.
Suddenly I found myself driving through a huge meadow on both sides of the road. Instantly it was like I have entered heaven. It was still raining but the landscape was just out of the world.
Soon I reached a place which had tents and eating places on both the sides of the road. These places are run by gujjars mostly. I came to know later that this was Padari Gali and that there was even a bigger meadow closeby which can be reached by 1-2 hours trekking.
Located at a height of 10500 ft ASL, Padri Gali is a large meadow and a mountain pass, the highest point on Bhaderwah-Chamba route. It is 40 km from Bhaderwah and is a very famous picnic spot.
The gentle curves and slopes of hills all around are beset with lush green carpet of grass and beautiful landscape. The meandering stream and Bhaderwah far away can be seen from one of the vantage points of the meadow.
I had nice time walking over the grassy slopes, looking at the expanse of the horizon, watching beautiful sunset, sitting quietly and admiring the river flow ever so silently down the slopes and into the valley. One of the shopkeeper asked me to stay the night and be their guest but being first time and new I decided to drive down to Bhaderwah.
It was 8pm and Bhaderwah was still 40 kilometers away. The road was wide but was broken at a number of places. Huge debris was scattered at many places along the road.
There was a J&K Police check post after few kilometers drive. Since it was raining they did not insist on me showing id details or anything else.
Reached Bhaderwah at around 10pm. The road quality near Bhaderwah was pretty bad. When I reached it felt as if the entire Bhaderwah was fast asleep. Some security persons were making rounds in the market. It was a kind of different feeling.
All the eating places, hotels and guest houses seems to have closed. One or two shops were open. I asked one of the men at the shop for guidance about any hotel or a restaurant. The man called someone and pretty soon two young boys arrived on a bike. They asked me to follow them. Soon we reached a guest house.
Somehow I didn’t like the room and left the guest. I drove the car here and there and finally found a safe place near a temple, parked the car, ate few apples and went to sleep.
First night in Bhaderwah…………………..!!!
Map of the route followed for the day