We woke up early (6am) to leave for our today’s destination Kundal Shahi. Breakfast was served in a traditional way and a strong cup of tea sprinkled a new life within us. A sunny and warm day welcomed us on the road again as we left Mr. Masjid.
We all love the delicious Anda-Paratha, a true delight with chai, in Punjab, and we witnessed same Azad Kashmir. In Punjab, people love to have Paratha with Saag and salted Lassi in the morning. But now it has been replaced with tandoori Paratha in different eateries. People also like to have it with Haleem, Chicken Karahi and, of course, Nihari. We also had Paratha at Majid's and set to our cause.
Before Dhani village, we met a huge landslide; the patch was dusty, rough, and dangerous to ride on but the patch rich with welcoming people and Chasmas (founts); we reached Dhani. The village is known for its famous Dhani waterfall. We stopped at the Tuck shop for a while and enjoyed the beautiful view of waterfall. We meet Zaheer Hashmat & his friend here & had a interesting discussion on current political conditions of Pakistan. Huge and noisy waterfall changed its views as we went near. We left for Nausehri after spending some refreshing time at the waterfall.
Nausehri seemed to be a different place than we expected it; we saw a lot of Chinese engineers, workers & loaded trucks traveling to and forth. Everyone seemed busy and truly, there was no place to spend a night. We crossed Nausheri Bridge and went on the other side of the river.
There is a continuous steep slope after Nausehri which exhausted us. 16km of continuous slope started at 1,073m and ended at 1,301m of elevation. Whenever the slope seemed to have an end, there was more left. Frustrating!! The stop and go strategy helped us cover it & we reached Chilaina where the slope fainted a little.
We stopped for a while at Chilaina check post for security clearance. Indian occupied Kashmir can be seen from here, people with visas cross the border from here. Titwal, village of Kupwara district of Indian Occupied Kashmir was just at distance of river. We could clearly see the Indian check posts and people hovering around on the other side of the river. Here Neelum River separates the both Azad Kashmir and Indian occupied Kashmir.
Fascinating journey started after Chilaina, easy and calm we could see people on India as well as Pakistan side. Thinking of how near we were to them but still miles away gives the feeling of extreme strangeness & sadness.
“do you ever happened to wave hands at them or tried to talk with them?”
“No, we can see them working their routine lives, but we never try to signal each other but Thursday”.
“What so special happens on Thursday?”
“If the water of the river is slow, people from both sides of the river come close by, where they see and talk with their relatives and even send gifts across the river under the supervision of army at both ends.”
We had our lunch break at Jura reaching at 2.20pm which left only 12km until Kundal Shahi. We ordered Kashmiri Dal (red beans) and boiled rice, pretty simple right? You can get this dish at every hotel anytime of the day in Kashmir. It was simple and delicious. We had Kava after the lunch which is a tradition of the local people.
On the way, we saw young boys playing cricket which we joined and had great time with them. How we could miss it? We had a group photo with the kids and they presented us walnuts.
We reached Kundal Shahi at 4.30pm and found a decent room for the night. We went on to explore the town and met charming kids at the bank of the river. We played Kabbadi on the sand. For once, it looked as if our childhood was back. We sat there, saw river flowing; I could not describe the feelings of watching the sunset over the river. Sitting there, listening the noise of the river and watching the sky changing its color from blue to black was so fascinating.
All set, everything in place, in town, got the room; people were nice, played cricket and Kabbadi, time to rethink about next day. Next destination was about 20km away. we could reach there in couple of hours. Were we changing plans for tomorrow to have a detour? Let’s find out.
The overnight discussion with the hotel staff at Kundal Shahi proved to convince us to have a detour of adjoining village Kutton. Kutton was 8Km away from the Kundal Shahi and we took a local transport to reach the village.
We took breakfast with Paratha, Channa (Fried bread with chickpeas) and tea at a local hotel and head straight towards Kutton. The road was surrounded with beautiful green hills, pine trees and Jagran Nallah(stream). This Nallah is a source of electric power for the locals. Two power projects are working on this stream, one near Kutton and other relatively medium sized project at Jagran which is producing 30MW power. Jagran-II is also being considered which will be provide 40MW power. The Nallah meets Neelum River at Kundal Shahi.
Kutton was clean, quiet and refreshing place for a family visit. A great small village with beautiful surroundings. Locals were busy plucking walnuts. “Now the new generation does not like to work in fields, they prefer to work where they get daily or monthly wages. Nobody wants to wait until their crops are ready to get money. People are going abroad for work, the few who are left here, not appreciating themselves to work in the fields. Agriculture is dying in this part of the valley.” Locals shared how the way to earn the living have changed. We spend some time hovering around and decided to come back at 10.30am. A quick visit wasn’t enough to truly to admire the beauty of the valley.
11:40am: We were ready to start pedaling again, with a distance of 20KM to cover; we could easily make it in couple hours so we went slowly. Surprisingly we meet Mr. Zaheer and his friend again just outside Kundal Shahi. It was a pleasure to see them again and it felt as if we met one of our best friends. We had biryani in our lunch after reaching Authmuqam, a small town of Neelum Valley. It was severed with the chickpeas and no surprise Kashmiri Daal. Hot Kava sprinkled new soul among us after the lunch.
We left Authmuqam at 2.15pm and started pedaling towards Keran. We stopped at Seegam, a small village before Keran and met an elder of the village Mr. Bashir. A chef who spent most of his life in Islamabad working as a home-chef. He presented us the “Chaat” which he was selling in small well-managed wooden shop. Indeed it was spicy and tasteful also it was filled with love, honesty, kindness and hospitality of Mr. Bashir. Difficult to find all together?
As Afzaal was busy in discussion Mr. Bashir, I got together with the local kids. I asked them questions relating their study and things they wanted to accomplish. These kids were not aware how the technology is going to change Seegam, but the hardworking & passionate kids vision progress and peace in Azad Kashmir.
After reaching Keran at 4.15pm and found room for overnight stay. It didn’t take long and we found a nice clean room with hot showers. We went to the bank of the river and saw a lovely sunset over the river. Local kids joined us and it turned out to be a warm welcome. We came back to the room when it was dark.
Keran is a village and a tourist resort. We could see Indian occupied Kashmir in front of us. Again the river divided the both sides and act as a boundary. The adjacent village on the other side of the Neelum River in Indian occupied Kashmir is also known as Keran.
So, the last day of the ride remains, this was ~42km to reach Sharda with not-so-good road condition. We decided to spend more time pedaling and avoid stopping frequently. Did we make that in time? Why we happened to spend 3 hours while having lunch break? Stay tuned and let’s find it out together.
Al-haram Hotel, Authmuqam (+92 355 8156999)
|Overnight in Karen||Neelum Star Guest house Keran (+92 343 2428163)|
Kids were shy and away from the technology.
Everyday people sit and gossip about their routine lives and listen each other