We left Ath Muqam just after 3 o clock in the afternoon. The drive was immensely scenic. Road though narrow was metallic to start with interspersed with springs and water falls that bisected it, every now and then. The roaring river Neelum flows all along, it’s boundaries marked by lush green thickly forested slopes. Heavily guarded, we encountered the Military check posts and structures frequently. At the scenic spot of Karen, the divided states of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir converge together with only the narrow strip of river separating the two. The picturesque villages, fields, houses and mosques were clearly visible across the border as the drive along the line of control continued for quite a few kilometers. Just when the glittering and pearl white murmuring stream flowing down the hills near Dawarian intersected our course, it reminded us of our climb across the pass from the far side a few years ago. The more we travelled, the more we were enchanted to the sublime atmosphere and the raw beauty of the valley. What adds to its rapt charm is the typically quaint and colourful architecture and embroidery that is evident even deep in the heart of the valley. This delightful architecture is the hallmark of the remarkably attractive valley of Sharda along with its camp cities that were visible once we crossed a wide stream just before the town. Sharda is typically known for the remains of an ancient university that have stood the test of time and survive to date.
From Sharda onwards, the road became increasingly bumpy and muddy but equally mesmerising. Located at just about 23 kms from Sharda, it still took the jeep more than two hours to reach Kel.
Nestled between the lush green mountains and plateaus_slopes rolling down from everywhere, all the way down to the twisting serpentine of gushing river Neelum that bisects the verdant meadows and Military setups and checkpoints sprinkled here and there, marks this stunning small paradise of Kel.
Having negotiated the worst of road and weather conditions, when the jeep approached the lovely settlement, it felt truly unbelievable. What rendered the whole episode dreamlike were the unbelievable sequence of events that had unfolded during the course of the day, one following the other, while at the same time we were overwhelmed by the pristine beauty and simplicity of the town and the engrossing atmosphere that was prevailing. Tiring, cold and rainy as it was, we took a simple but delicious meal, rented a room in a small hotel and went to sleep.
When we got up next morning, it was still overcast and damp. Our next destination was upper Domail. Under normal circumstances, there is a probability that one can hire a jeep right from Kel. However, the heavy rain had dismantled the makeshift wooden bridge located a couple of kilometers downstream. This necessitated taking about half an hour long walk along the Shaunter nala while we marvelled at the amazing beauty of the valley. Since we crossed the quaint bridge and moved to the far side of the stream in the morning, the probability of finding a jeep was higher. Fortunately, we were able to find a jeep parked there that took about another hour to amass the passengers and initiate its journey. From there, it was nearly twenty kilometes long jeep ride that took more than two hours as the jeep tootled along the twisting ascends while literally exposing the virtual heavens to the travellers. The bumpy mud and rocky track laid on a steep gradient eventually led us to upper Domail_ a lovely mountain village located near the confluence of two mountain streams. We pitched our tent, hired the porters for the next day and took our lunch. The scented breeze was immensely refreshing and invigorating whilst the serene charm and intoxicating aura of the isolated narrow valley trapped within the towering peaks far from the reach of civilization was truly fascinating.
More to follow…..