It was challenging from the very onset. Approaching from the Garhi Habibullah’s side, bus came to a halt at a sharp turn a few kilometres short of Muzaffarabad. The near vertical fragile face of the mountain was bleeding. A slurry of mud and rain water flowed across the eroding muddy road channeling its way into the river deep down.
In a steady down pour and a welcoming moist breeze on a very pleasant August morning, we wore our raincoats and backpacks and began to stroll. Once we were able to cross the heaps of soft mud and make our way watchfully across the landslide, the road became more stable. A couple of hundred meters ahead, walking on a higher platform, the beautiful valley of Muzzafarabad met our eyes surrounded almost completely by the roaring serpentine of river Neelum.
Few minutes walk down the road accompanied by the scenic views of the valley washed by the rain,we were offered a lift by a random UN vehicle that was gratefully accepted. The roads were noticeably vacant and the traffic was understandably sparse but what was most revealing and shocking was the fact that the bus stop was completely vacant. It had been raining heavily and incessantly for days and all the approaches to Muzaffarabad were reportedly blocked. There was no public transport entering or leaving the town.
Determined and not prepared to let our plans fizzle, after much deliberation, we finally convinced and negotiated with the sole rent a car driver to take us a few kilometres further to the verge of landslides blocking access to the Neelum valley. Twenty minutes later the driver dropped us pointing towards a series of weeping and melting slides containing abundance of water and mud but equally considerate to the innocent desire and cause of an occasional stone or a piece of rock that hastily wanted to find its way down the slopes. The driver greeted, shook his head in disbelief but then thought the better of it, charged his bill dutifully and drove back.
Walking in the rain, keeping an eye on the weeping mountain while balancing ourselves, we began to cross the series of intermittent land slides that spread for a couple of kilometres. It all went smoothly supposedly until a couple of slides later, we were halted by a man on duty. He was supervising the clearance of the road while the machinery was at work. We were advised to wait until the reach was clear and no one was allowed to walk across.
As one testing ordeal followed the other, much to our delight and hope, the approach was cleared shortly and we were allowed to stroll further. Soon we realized there were heaps of mud and gravel scattered along the road with vehicles and bikes stuck in between. Some of the guys who had gone through some miserable conditions over the past couple of days had a strong warning to utter. However, our resolve kept us going.
Short of Khori, when it all looked highly improbable, with a stroke of luck, we were able to negotiate a deal with a pick up driver who agreed to give us a ride till Ath Muqam. We embarked on our next leg of journey. There were intermittent slides posing serious challenge but the driver full of commitment managed to cross every barrier skilfully. The landscape became increasingly scenic while the rain lent even more lively tinge and glow to the exuberantly rich and green panorama. Even though we were thoroughly wet and the torn canvas spread over the top of the vehicle was also leaking, the bewitching beauty and atmosphere of the valley was truly gripping. As much as it seemed improbable, it took us three hours to be transported to Ath Muqam. Not surprisingly, the place was equally deserted. The bus stop presented a sorry and disappointing look with no signs of conveyance visible. Just when it seemed, it was over for the day & possibly the trip, the invisible divine hand came to sort things out for us mortals again. Lurking behind the torrents of rain, there appeared the owner of one of the two jeeps parked in the deserted compound of the bus stand. Spirited by his unexpected offer to take us to not Sharda but even Kel in that inclement weather with a lot of premium understandably led to some heated negotiations under the thundering . He finally settled for a demanding price but hoped to drive us to Kel in another four hours by the sunset. Hungry but much conscious of the precious time that was lapsing, we settled for the sizzling pakoras, the only relishing delight available that we could lay our hands on, at the deserted bus stand.
More to come…..