Kashmir – heaven on earth

The Nation

Kashmir – heaven on earth

The thrill of adventure was truly felt during the journey with the hint of danger being felt in the form of rough roads, ravines, land sliding, traffic, slipping, sliding

Salman A Bugvi

July 20, 2018

The phrase ‘Heaven on Earth’, a much heard sentence was truly realized during a five day visit to Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir. Although never having visited Switzerland, the inclination to accept the comparison between Kashmir and Switzerland is strong.

Geographically situated in the North East Top of Pakistan, the true, untouched and pure beauty of the Valley starts from Atth Muqam 75 Km from Muzaffarabad. The route from Lahore to Islamabad and Murree is comfortable due to expressways. Sadly the road from Murree to Kohala is in bad shape and the journey is slow. The path to Muzaffarabad is excellent and the city has to be crossed to move ahead.

The Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Plant is visible on the way. It is truly amazing that such a small river is able to generate nearly 950 MW energy. During the journey various springs and waterfalls join the Neelum River. Observing the Potential and Kinetic energy available, Pakistan is truly blessed to have such resources.

The road is poor in some sections, nonexistent in other parts or at best satisfactory. Skill, concentration and patience is required in driving. The man made effects are pronounced till Atth Muqam with poles, shops, houses, cars, jeeps visible. However the feeling of human interference is reduced onwards. The experience of this heaven on earth was one of isolation. Although mobile networks, dish TV, internet is available, to remain away from these resources is peace itself, especially in the environment of Kashmir.

Keran is a scenic location with good guest houses for families and touches the LOC with the Neelum River being the dividing line. Rather than rushing through the journey it is best to cover the ground slowly stopping for prayers, enjoying the various spots, touching the cold water, climbing on rocks alongside and taking photographs.

Next point is Dawarian where a jeep trail of 18 Km goes to an altitude of 12,300 feet. Ratti Lake is a place to visit which requires hiking, trekking. The trek is difficult for women, children and the elderly however mules and horses are available which makes it easier. The word Ratti according to my knowledge is affiliated with the color red. The small shrubs and plants being red in color in the mountains and alongside the lake.

Ahead is Sharda, a holy and symbolic location for Buddhists and Hindus. It was a center of learning and a place for healing due to the spring water. Sharda University was established here during 11th century. Guest Houses, recreational facilities like boating is available. However one end is commercialized with shops, market, cars and sadly garbage. The tendency of people to crowd together in a city like environment was not much appealing. However moving past the suspension bridge the other side of the town was much peaceful and secluded.

30 Km onwards is the town of Kel with all facilities and resources for tourists. It is the jumping point to visit Arung Kel. A chairlift journey takes 10 individuals at a time across the valley to the tourist station.

Being ignorant and a little bit too ambitious we decided to attempt the journey through trekking. In comparison to the two minute chairlift it was a 2 ½ hour walk or climb. The river was crossed by a suspension bridge and for 30 minutes the trek was simple with a wide path. The happiness on the easiness of the trek was short lived as slowly the path became narrower and the incline began reaching up to 60-70 degrees. The rain fall compounded the situation and we realized how unequipped we were to undertake the journey. Observing other hikers gave insight about coming prepared with boots, backpacks, skiing sticks, water, medicine and rations. Being in poor physical condition itself was a hardship and the will to improve strength and endurance grew stronger. Some hikers were well prepared with modern gear, while some even had on bathroom slippers. It was good to see women also taking trekking seriously, however the need to be extremely fit and healthy is necessary for them.

Due to being novices and not being accustomed to climbing, after much slipping and sliding, the tourist station was visible. Despite being tired and having a 60-year-old colleague, the 45 minute journey to Arung Kel was undertaken after encouragement from locals. To quote the locals’ after so much effort you should not go back without reaching Arung Kel’. Intrigued by the promise of so spectacular a place, we reached the top with the help of guides and sticks.

Truly it was one of the most beautiful places that I have visited in my entire life. A vast area of green grass and plants with colorful huts. Mountains all around with clouds, you feel you can touch. Weather which cannot be imagined by people living in the plains. A truly amazing place worth the effort and sweat.

The trekking to the top is moderately difficult and the rain caused slipping and sliding. The locals knew which trail or path to follow. Boys work as guides on the paths and they were extremely helpful during the whole trek.

A word about the hospitality of the locals is necessary. Being aware of the boycott Murree campaign apprehension about attitude, prices and treatment existed in the mind. However the whole attitude of Kashmiris was one of helpfulness and kindness. At no hotel, shop or place were we overcharged and almost all individuals has similar rates. The army men employed at checkpoints, people giving directions, waiters, chefs, hotel owners, and guides were all polite and gentle. To give an example of this good treatment, a shopkeeper even placed band aid on my finger due to cut by a sharp edge on a fruit crate. The smiles of children sitting by the roadside and waving of hands to tourists indicated the friendliness being inculcated in the young generation.

The return journey was extremely enjoyable with stops at attractive spots. The selfie craze truly took over and hundreds of pictures were taken to captivate these scenes and take them home to remember and share with family. The thrill of adventure was truly felt during the journey with the hint of danger being felt in the form of rough roads, ravines, land sliding, traffic, slipping, sliding. However along it came the belief in divine help with some solution always being available on calling the Almighty. May the Almighty protect the land and people of Kashmir – truly a heaven on earth.