Chakwali- the last village near the LOC

A young girl, in Chakwali, Gurez or Chak-I-Bahaar, which was it’s original name.

The Shina speaking Dard couple, in front of their house in Chakwali, the last village of the Tulail Valley, just a few kms away from the LOC.

When you cross the check points from Bandipora, towards Dawar, don’t forget to mention that you are there to visit Gurez Valley and not just Dawar, otherwise access will be denied. Though, special permissions are no longer required to travel to Gurez, the checkpoints are very much there and the Army and JKP are keeping a close watch. The road to this remote village is horrible, filled with back breaking potholes and the old fashioned speed breakers, without any markings on them and which are big enough, to ruin your car’s suspension. Between one village and another, truly there isn’t much difference, therefore, don’t take everyone’s advice who says they visited this place and you must too. I was there to find out about the state of affairs of the local school. The short interview will be uploaded on this post later. Until then take my word, this is the land of the Dards, the last village of the Tulail Valley, where there is extreme poverty, which hardly has any visitors and is closed for the majority of the year, due to the terrible climatic conditions.

A few quick answers before my next update-

What are the permissions required? None.

What is the procedure? Carry your identification and passport size photos (just in case).

Is it safe to travel alone? I wouldn’t recommend it, at all. No one will do anything to you, but you can get stuck due to climatic conditions or just a breaking down of your vehicle. Transportation is not easily available and neither are basic amenities. Your phones will not work, either.  There are way too many checkpoints and to get access alone, to these places by yourself will be very hard. A lot of people lie about visiting Chakwali, as most of the villages on the way, look very similar. So don’t tread there by yourself, believing any random person.

Is it a safe place to travel? Of course, it’s safe and gorgeous. Roads are some of the worst one’s I’ve driven on. But Bandipora isn’t safe right, now. There was an encounter going on when I was coming back to Srinagar. Plus, grapevine has it, shit is going to hit the ceiling very soon. There may be months of curfews so keep it off your travel list, this year.



It was a tedious, trying, tiring trip. But so worth the effort. There is a lot of misinformation that gets spread about traveling to this part of Kashmir because who the hell, is going to to go there and check, right? But I will try to be as honest as possible.

Let’s start from the beginning, first. Having covered the Mughal Road (which I will share in a later post), I spent a night in Srinagar and the next day I was on the way to Dawar. Driving as much as I do, does get exhausting but thankfully this time around, I was with a local, who couldn’t drive but was fabulous company. Anyone who tells you it’s safe or pleasant to travel to Gurez by yourself, whether you are a man or woman is making stuff up. I don’t take other people’s word for anything. Only once I had travelled to Kashmir by road a number of times with a maid, a cook, an assistant and my cousins did I start driving down by myself and even now, in December/ January I think a million times before doing so. Kashmir, IS A CONFLICT ZONE! Please, don’t listen to a sales pitch right now and think it’s all hunky dory.

Having warned you, let me also tell you, Kashmiri’s are lovely as are the Dard’s , the Shina speaking tribe of Gurez. They are warm and hospitable and they make great company. To reach this lovely, secluded area, you will have to first go to Bandipora, which is a couple of hours and a little more than 60 kms away from Srinagar. This is the dodgy area. The encounters and search operations in Bandipora, make it difficult for people to travel to Tulail.

Beyond this point, it’s totally militarised. There are multiple check points, where I hear people are turned back from, especially foreign nationals. In the past, I was turned back, but this time around, from the Army, to the JKP to the BSF, all seemed very friendly. Honestly, I was shocked at how, polite they were. Since, I was driving, I thought I would be asked to get off the car at the check points but they just asked my companion to take my ids with him, while they chatted (checked on me) with me.

Is it safe? Well, on the way back, in Bandipora, there was an encounter going on due to which they were redirecting the traffic. It’s safer to be a tourist in Kashmir, than to be a local!

Great Lakes trek

Kashmir Great Lakes

I returned from paradise, in a transient state-neither here, nor there both, SB and SC confused about how to behave. SC who is rarely allowed to come out, has been raging to go for a while, throwing a fit inside SB’s perfectly crafted heaven (or hell, where she is most definitely going). SB who has been coaxing and pleading with her, to calm the hell down, ‘wait till we reach Kashmir, then it’s your turn’ had managed to keep a lid on the little one, with those words.

After the enormously difficult trip from Delhi to Srinagar, I had my doubts SC would be seeing the light of day. Uniformed men scare the crap out her, they remind her of a time when the Mum was unwell and the cops would come to the house at night, because the neighbours would complain about the ruckus she was creating; of domestic violence and of course of bribery. SB on the other hand sees them and is reminded of her being harassed for trying to save a man’s life, of her calf being felt up, of trying to be used as a human shield and of course of being threatened not once but multiple times. This one goes mental when she encounters them, staring at them right in the eye and speaking in a tone that makes most of them mistake her dislike for an arrogance, that can only come out of being connected in this country.

But once I reached Sonmarg, all the walls just came crashing down. The right tone of voice, the wind blowing through her hair and some yummies for her tummy, is all it takes for SC to be happy. And of course being pampered silly, never really harmed anyone. From Sonmarg as she walked with her companions to Tabletop, those ten kilometres were the hardest. No one tells you how far these places are, to be fair they assume it would as easy for you to trek, as it is for them, who have been walking on those terrains, forever. The number of Indian tourists who were complaining about how far the lakes were, should have changed our mind but it didn’t.

By the time, we reached Tabletop, after a few hours of walking and the boys set up the tent, SB had disappeared into thin air. Not a whimper, even, I shit you not, there was complete silence. As the kids gathered around the tent, to peep in and look at what we were upto, SC, just lapped up all the attention and had the time of her life. Tabletop is not a camping site, it’s a midpoint to Nichnai pass, where one can stop for a quick bite or a hot cup of chai. As we had started late and it was about to rain, on the first day we camped, here. Due to my clumsiness and propensity to get burnt, I was banned from touching the cylinder. So I switched on my Sare gama mini as my companions, prepared our meal. One by one, women and kids came asking for medicines. Next time, I better carry some.

The next day, we began early. By 7.30, we were all packed and ready to go not realising what we were up for. If you have been trekking in Ladakh or Himachal, this is a fairly easy trek for you. Even if you play a lot of sports or are fairly physically fit, you will enjoy this but if you are Moi, who falls sick on high altitudes and waddles like a duck, wow, this is going to be so bloody taxing on you! First, there was a steep uphill climb, then a walk through the forest which was so beautiful, with Silver Birch trees everywhere and then there were the dreaded rocks as we made our way upstream along the bank of the river. A group of Kashmiri men, waited for me to make my way, through them, while they waited patiently.

Nichnai Pass

When we reached the Nichnai camp site it was around eleven thirty in the morning. We hung around for a bit and decided to keep walking towards the Vishansar camp site. It just grew harder and harder. On the trek to Gangabal, many moons ago, I had to be given CPR, I was hoping to not land up in a similar situation. Whilst, I was thinking it was hard only for me, I saw more Indian tourists returning without making it to their destination and even some foreigners getting sick. Music surprisingly didn’t help the pain that I started getting in my ear. That’s when I remembered a chant I was taught in a Sufi class, ‘ Allah Hu, Allah Haq’. Now, before you begin to give it a religious connotation, just recite it once and you will realise it is very similar to any breathing exercise, that is taught in a yoga class. So, that’s what I did. Sipped slowly on water and went ‘Allah Hu- Exhale’, ‘Allah Haq-Inhale’, as we crossed through the mountainous terrain, through a river and as we walked through the rain. Up until where the uphill climb for the Nichnai pass began and ‘Uncle’ the horse rider, left the luggage at the pass and came down to get me. We saved more than an hour like that, he said and me from collapsing, I thought.

At the Nichnai pass too, there is a small makeshift cafe, where you can get the usual, eggs, tea and maggi. Of course at that altitude, things become five times the price but the respite that you get from the tiny little, cup of tea, is well worth it. Word of advice, if you ask any Kashmiri how far your destination is on this trek, they will all tell you it is just around the corner, which it is not! According to my Fitbit, on the second day, we walked more than 25 kms from Tabletop to Vishansar camp. What took me the entire day, as I waddle and bounce, would take you about eight hours or even less.

The Great Lakes Trek, Kashmir

On the third day, we rested the entire morning, and then walked upto to Vishansar and Krishansar lake in the afternoon. Took shelter under a rock as it rained, profusely and then made some pictures of the lakes, which to my eyes, looked too similar to Gangabal. On the fourth day, we again began our descent towards Tabletop instead of Nichnai camp, as aesthetically it just didn’t please my eyes-there were just tents of various shapes and sizes, lined around and the sound of chatter, everywhere. Due to a lack of water and the number of shepherd’s homes, Tabletop is unpopular with the tourists, making it perfect for anyone who has aversion to crowds.

On the fifth day we came back to Sonmarg and SB started to slowly show up, while SC has been slowly disappearing. Essentially this trek starts from Sonmarg and ends at Naranag, covering all the major lakes – Vishansar, Krishansar, Gadsar, Satsar and then Gangaba. But since one has already visited Gangabal earlier and was short on time, could only manage these, for now.

Just Another Friday

Yasin Malik arrested

Yasin Malik arrested from his residence in Maisuma

Kashmir through my eyes

Waiting for the arrest in Maisuma

Friday protests in Batmaloo

A Friday in Batmaloo

Burhan Wani protests

Strike in Srinagar

Graffiti in Batmaloo

Kashmir through my eyes

Waiting in Batmaloo on a quiet Friday afternoon