Lolab Valley, the offbeat Kashmir
When you think of Kashmir, generally it is Dal Lake, Gulmarg and Sonmarg or Pahalgam that comes to the mind and that's where most of the tourists go.. and that's where we avoid going :) The idea of going on a holiday for us is to get away from the crowd, away from the zillion people and away from the cities or the over rated tourist towns that are some times just a rip off and no where provides you a relaxing and memorable holiday. Hence we look out for places where we don't see too much crowd and is away from the normal cities or tourist places. Hence we decided to do Kashmir this time and yes not the usual places, but the off-beat Kashmir. Yes it is generally considered that this is NOT safe and not much developed to find any amenities etc., but hey what's life and fun without a bit of risk..
So we decided to do this trip with some of the off-beat places like Kupwara, Chandigam, Lolab Valley, Tangdhar via Sadhna Pass and see the beauty of untouched Kashmir. In this post I'll be covering our journey from Baramulla - Kupwara - Chandigam. If you wish to read the previous posts click here.
Day 9 - Baramulla - Kupwara
Anyway so we woke up and ordered breakfast 🍳 at least to pass some time and decided not to venture out at least not early morning and observe the situation for some time.
The hotel guy helped us updated on the situation and what’s happening to make us comfortable. He was a nice guy and we really had good conversations over breakfast at the rooftop of the hotel from where we had good views as well. It was better than staying in that tiny cage room.
The conversations with him ranged from the impact of militancy in Kashmir for Tourism and how the clashes between Army and locals is killing the whole industry or the people itself to the various places of Kashmir valley and how beautiful is the valley and what the government should do to make it safer for everyone to live in Kashmir. I truly enjoyed the conversations...and that also helped me to understand what the locals think and feel of Army presence in Srinagar, the issues and what’s the reality instead of believing in media say which is absolutely bull-shit in my opinion now.
The breakfast - Aloo Paronthas with Pickle.. believe me they tasted yummm..
Anyway so after about couple of hours, we understood that the situation is getting better and it will not be too risky to continue our journey further. The “bandh” was still in place but looked like the locals were taking it easy and there wasn’t much violence on the roads. This made us comfortable and we decided to proceed further to Kupwara.
So we loaded our bags, settled the bill and zoomed out of Baramulla towards Kupwara. The roads were looking pretty empty without much traffic in this area and didn’t had much of crowd anywhere so we assumed that it will be safe. We were instructed by the hotel guy to avoid any places where we see any large gathering of people or see any disturbance on the road. We didn’t see any such disturbance so we’re pretty happy. On the way we stopped for topping up diesel and tats where I was shocked 😨 to realise that I left my ID with ten hotel guy and now I had to drive all the way back to get it as I would certainly not leave my ID card (that too original) with anyone. So I had no choice but to go back and get the ID. We called the person and told him that we are on our way to collect the ID and he was very apologetic that he forgot to give it back. He also mentioned that he forgot to charge us for breakfast and we told him that we can settle that when we meet him for ID’s. So we drove back, collected the ID’s, paid him for the breakfast and proceeded to Kupwara.
The streets of the Bandipora town
See the horse cart guys with milk cans
The drive to Kupwara was good with some villages on the way and a lots and lots of Walnut farms. Then we proceeded to the hotel called Raj Palace that was in the starting of the town limit after the SDM office. The hotel was good and the people there were very nice and soft spoken. I checked with them for the process to get permits etc. and they told me to go to the SDM office and explained me the process as well and told me that if I submit application today, I might get it today evening or by next day.
These roads were surrounded by Walnut trees all the way. We could see the trees but not the walnuts :(
A typical sight on Kashmiri roads
Entrance of the Kupwara town
Landscape started changing and got a lot charming once we left the town
awesome views all over
Main bridge over the river
The sight of the main market where we were supposed to stay for today. We were recommended to stay here at a Hotel called Raja Palace as that the only decent hotel here in the Kupwara market.
So we stopped here and found the hotel. I went there to check out the hotel inside and the rooms. The hotel guy showed me the rooms which were just OK" for our liking but as I wasn't aware of any other option and not takin it could have been risky, I accepted to take the rooms. But then when I went to the cash counter, the manager who was sitting there told me that since we are there for visiting, we should go and get the permits from the DM office and then come back and do the check-in. He also suggested that I must visit Chandigam as its a beautiful place and then we can return here to stay and I can pay them later when we come back.
I was relieved with the information I got and the manager was such a polite guy and helped me with zillion questions about the place, safety, what to do and what NOT and that food will be limited as its Ramadan time so suggested that we eat here only when hungry as no other hotels/restaurants are open or serving lunch.
Sow we decided to go and get the permits as per his advice. The drive to DM office was just 10 mins. We reached there, parked our beast and I went to get the permits along with the photocopy of the documents that are required for the permits.
So We straightaway went to the SDM office to get the permits for Tangdhar and Lolab Valley. The SDM office was on the way into the town and was pretty crowded. We parked our car outside the office campus and then I went inside along with all the papers and original papers for the permit. The process for the permit was simple. I was asked to meet the ADM, take the application form, fill it, attach all the photocopies of the documents and then submit for the permit. They usually give the permit in 2-4 hours or even next day after submission so I thought I’ll submit the application and then come back after lunch to get the permits if they’re ready. So I filled the form and when I went to the ADM, he asked few questions and wasn’t very supportive of giving the permit.
I sensed some hesitance and asked him if I could meet the SDM? He initially hesitated but then asked me to check with SDM’s PA if he can allow. I checked with the PA and he immediately agreed to have me meet the SDM. I went inside and requested him for the permits. He was a very nice guy and welcomed me to Kashmir, asked me few questions and then asked me to fill the application and submit that he said will approve immediately. He called the ADM and told him to help me with all the paper work and issue the permits. I was so happy as I didn’t had to come again and waste another couple of hours or a day just for permits. It took us 15mins to complete the paperwork and then the SDM signed it and we were good to go further. I thanked all and went back to the car park.
After getting the permit, we moved back to town side and on the way we saw this JKTDC Tourist Information Center and Rest House and decided to check that out just to get some information on the area, what to do, where to stay etc.. and glad we did that. When we entered the place, we met one of the office admin who introduced us to the CEO of the Kupwara district who was inside his cabin. Listening to our conversation he actually came out and welcomed us to be there as tourists. He was in a bit of a hurry as it was Prayer time so he requested us to come back after an hour so that he can help us with all the information we were seeking. We agreed and decided to go for the lunch in the mean time.
So we went to Raj Palace again for Lunch as looked like that was the only restaurant that was open at that time because of Ramadan. As we sat inside the restaurant, the guy told us that it might take some time as he’s the only one serving and there’s a lots of rush. So we waited for some time till he came and took our order. We didn’t knew much what to order so he said he can get some dishes and we can eat whatever we want and pay for what we would eat! Seriously, I think this is the first ever restaurant I’ve seen anywhere in the world who would do this. So we order 4 different dishes from the Wazwan menu and had whatever we could from that and liked.. the food was just simply awesome and too yumm. We were too hungry so filled our tummies to the fullest 😂
The dishes we had, Rogan Josh, Rishta, Chicken Yakhni and Chicken Curry.. one of the best meals we had ever!
So after a sumptuous meal, we went back to the tourism office to get the information from the tourism folks. The CEO, Mr., Rathr welcomed us and seriously made us real comfortable over there. He was so appreciative of us coming there and assured us that we will be fully safe in Kashmir and will have a pleasant time. He shared all the information for the places to visit and things to do and more importantly what not not to do as some of the areas could be risky or sensitive. He also suggested us to stay at their guest house at Chandigam instead of Raj Palace as that was more scenic and better than the latter. We agreed to stay there as anyway we were going to Lolab valley and the rest house was over there itself. So after we collected all the information, we thanked him and the staff over there and proceeded to Lolab valley.
Photo with the CEO of Kupwara Town at his office. He was a gem of a person and helped us during the trip a lot! Really was fortunately to have met him.
Thank you sir!