I remember being overwhelmed by the exquisite beauty & scale of the Himalayas after my first trip to Ladakh, a Ride of a lifetime! Waking up to stunning views of Pir Panjal mountains on the historic Mughal road and Aharbal with gorgeous landscapes of pine-covered Himalayas, rivers gushing through the mountains, orchards laden with fruit and heart warming people, this was my first time in Kashmir. Already in awe of its beauty I was looking forward to less explored Lolab valley. Read about Mughal Road: A night to remember! (Map of our route)
Lolab valley in Kashmir also called Wadi E Lolab is known for fruit orchards, lush green paddy fields, beautiful meadows & lakes surrounded by pine-covered mountains. Located near Kupwara about 120 km north of Srinagar, the route passes through one of the most stunning mountain landscapes, studded with wild roses & daisies at every turn on the road!
After an adventurous night on Mughal Road we started early from Aharbal to reach Chandigam in Kupwara via Srinagar. As we neared Srinagar, colorful carts of fruit sellers started to appear on the roadside. Selling fruits like cherries, plums and apricots from nearby orchards, we bought a whole carton of fruits to munch on the road.
Just before Sopore, we were stopped at a check post on the road for identification. Sopore in Baramulla district is a sensitive area and the town was under curfew at that time. After waiting for a few minutes, we were allowed to pass but were instructed to stay on the main road till Kupwara. We managed to cross Sopore and reach Kupwara by evening but the last 3-4 km from Sogam town to the J & K tourism bungalows in Chandigam was a bit confusing. Through small villages in the middle of paddy fields, locals guiding the way, we reached the bungalows before sunset.
We stayed here for the next two days exploring nearby villages, lakes and caves around Chandigam and Kalaroos. It was Ramzan – a fasting time for Muslims, the chef informed us and there weren’t any groceries or vegetables in the kitchen. He got us freshly baked bread with tea and asked us to drive to Sogam, the nearest town and get whatever we wished to eat, and he’d cook for us. We decided to take the jeep and drive back to Sogam for the groceries before it got dark.
In spite of being tired after a day of riding, hearing about shopping all the women got excited and sat in the jeep. We even took the soft top off the jeep to get the most of the drive. 😉 So four of us land up at this shop in the small town of Sogam and stop at a grocery shop beside a mosque. As we get down, I notice a few curious eyes stare at us. Shy yet inquisitive, they scanned us from head to toe in awe; like we were some exhibits in a museum! But we were as fascinated by them and stared back with a smile. 🙂
Surrounded by Deodar trees the bungalows are at the edge of the village. The next morning we woke up to watching Wild Mountain foxes run by the complex while sipping tea. As it was Ramzan we requested the chef if we could make breakfast on our own. He was more than happy and we took over the kitchen. After a delicious breakfast of potato curry, masala omelet & freshly baked bread from the village bakery with tea, we decided to pack our lunch and drive around exploring Chandigam.
Through small villages with quaint wooden houses, kids playing on the streets, goats & horses grazing, as we got out of the village the landscape opened up to lush green paddy fields, lakes lined with daisies and ducks swimming in the water, surrounded by pine-covered mountains, it was like walking into a painting!
A picnic is the closest to camping we could do here, and everyone was delighted with the idea. We parked our vehicles, climbed up to a shaded spot under the trees by a small stream and enthusiastically set up our picnic spot. While munching on the fruits we got on our way from Srinagar, we lay down a tarpaulin sheet, got the stove working and boiled water for our lunch, courtesy MTR that has meal pouches that just needs soaking in hot water for a few minutes before eating. Chilling out with family & friends, under the trees in the midst of nature, is bliss! After food we couldn’t help but lie down enjoying the cool breeze, looking at the trees above. After a short snooze & tea in the woods, we walked around the meadows and met a few locals, one of them a woodcutter and a few kids returning home from school.
The last day of our stay in Chandigam, we decided to check out Kalaroos village, about 20 km from Chandigam that has ancient monuments and caves. Near the village there’s a huge rock called Satbaran, for the seven doors carved on it.
It’s a small trek on top of a hill to the caves and while walking around we found two boys who were more than happy to guide us. There aren’t many people, who visit this area they told us, but they hike everyday and hang out around the caves, as the view from up there is great. Locals believe the caves led all the way up to Russia and the name Kalaroos came from Qil-E-Roos, which means Russian fort! Their stories and adventures on the way to the caves through the pine forest with wild flowers and small streams, transported me to an enchanting wonderland.
A small opening in the rocks with wild roses growing out of its edges, one has to crawl on all fours to get inside the cave. Surrounded by rocks it’s cool inside and the walls are slippery covered with droplets of water and moss. It’s dark with no light inside other than our phone torches, it felt a bit queasy with the damp smell of rock and we came out after a few minutes. The boys told us about a few people who tried to go inside the cave but weren’t able to go further than a few kilometers, due to lack of equipment. No one knows if the story of the caves connecting all the way to Russia is true, but nonetheless it was a fairytale trip down a rabbit hole, much like Alice in wonderland!
After a good day amidst nature riding through flowered meadows, calm lakes and the mountains beyond, we got back to a few locals roaming around the tourist complex. After enquiring we got to know that they were curious and had walked all the way just to look at us! The district headquarters know every person who enters the area especially tourists, and news had spread about us Indians, as they called us. Some of them even knocked on our door and the rest of the evening went laughing & chatting about our mutual fascinations over cups of kahwa. After a special dinner of delicious Kashmiri Yakhni, (a slow-cooked yogurt based light curry) with pulao that the chef prepared specially for us, I was in heaven! As I walked around and looked up the starlit sky I saw the glowing Milky Way galaxy through the Deodar trees, a perfect ending to an extraordinary trip to Kashmir!
I don’t know if it was the enchanting beauty of Lolab, the intriguing stories or the people who offered these unforgettable experiences but travelling to Kashmir valley was nothing short of a trip to paradise! All the adventure we had on the road and the memories we made on our trip are in my mind forever and I dream of going back there again to relive the magic of Kashmir. A video from our road trip to Kashmir shot on iPhone; every time I look at it, I want to go back!