We were 4 people on two motorbikes who traveled through all districts of Kashmir. During this visit we didnt carry any tents and had no arrangements of hotel stay whatsoever. Therefore during the whole journey we slept either on the road side or rented couple of CHARPAEES (kind of bed) again on the road side.
The journey was started at the lower end of Kashmir starting from Gujrat and we went up to beyond Kel the farthest village in Kashmir. We traversed through the whole of Kashmir and while doing so we had to go through streams and rivers, some of them very fast flowing and we could hardly make it to the other end. One of our bike with two people on it, slipped and just stopped before it was wiped out into a water fall several feet deep. Those two learned their lesson not to use head phones so that they could listen to a warning coming from the other team participants. This was a great trip but a real tough one.
Apart from our nights on the roads, we had some terrible experience of being fired at from the Indian side of Kashmir and the accident mentioned above. The total journey took us eight days to complete and we touched some very remote areas where they had not seen any tourists and especially visiting those areas on small motorbikes. The bikes we had were Kawasaki GTO 125cc and Honda CG125CC. The GTO struggled on the steep slopes but Honda performed marvelously in all terrain. This was a good learning experience for the whole team.
Night Stops: Gujrat, village after Kotli, Banjosa Lake, Close to Muzaffarabad towards AthMuqaam, Kel, Muzaffarabad, Outside Dina towards Jehlum, Gujrat, back to Lahore
All districts of Kashmir
Districts of Kashmir:
Bhimber, Mirpur, Kotli, Bagh, Muzafarabad, Poonch, Neelam, Sudhnutti
Mountain driving, Off-road on motorbikes, rivers etc.
Total Distance Covered:
This trip was executed on bikes and we covered all districts of the beautiful Valley of Kashmir.
Districts of Kashmir:
Bhimber, Mirpur, Kotli, Bagh, Muzafarabad, Poonch, Neelam, Sudhangali
W had covered a smaller leg of this trip last year, therefore we entered into Kashmir from where left in our last trip. The area covered was Bhimber district and we exited at Mirpur. In this trip we covered all other districts but Bhimber. There are a number of routes to enter into Kashmir but we covered them from south to north not to miss any area on the route. Kashmir is a mountainous region and offers beautiful views of lush green meadows and pine forests.
The trip started as few of my other trips started with an evening drive to Gujrat to stay at one friends place and then to continue from there on.
We had a plan to leave at 4am as in summers the day heat starts fairly early so wanted to avoid it and enter into the mountains before noon. However the weather suddenly changed late night and we heard some very loud thunders and heavy rain showers whole night. It seemed that our trip was going to be delayed. I could not sleep almost the whole night and kept checking the weather. At 3:30 am I got up and came out on the doorsteps, sat there and enjoyed the rain when no one was around. The peace it gave me was priceless. I admired it from the bottom of my heart. At the same time I kept praying for the rain to stop for our trip to go ahead on time.
The morning broke early and still there were heavy showers with thunders. I was looking towards the north and found out that the clouds were giving way to the blue sky far off on the horizon. It was 6ish by then. I being the group leader decided to leave as I was sure that we will drive in the rain for some time and that will go away as the clouds were traveling south as it looked to me.
I was confronted by others saying that I was crazy to start the drive in such weather, all the more when we were going on two poor motor bikes. They had to give in, in front of my passion to reach the mountains as soon as possible.
We were four friends including myself, Shaukat (my partner on many expeditions), Tariq (my old friend) and Shoaib (our neighbor- first time traveling with us) on this journey. We got ready and were already with our halmets and raincoats on. We left Gujrat going towards Jehlum. We had to go through some rough driving by buses and trucks as they sprayed dirty street water on us and scooped the whole puddles onto us in our first hour of driving. After that I was proved correct as the rain stopped and we entered into a clear day. We were soaked by then, however driving on the bike helped us getting dry quickly.
We crossed through Lalamusa, Kharian, Jehlum and reached Dina. From here we left the GT road to go towards the Mangla Dam and further on to enter the Kashmir region at it one of the major towns named as Mirpur. The drive became quite pleasant as we drove next to the Mangla Lake that continues from Mangla all the way to Mirpur.
Mirpur is a medium sized town with every household having at least one of them working in the UK. So one could see the British Pound effects in this city. I think this is the only city in Pakistan that would accept Pound Sterling for purchases. Here is what wiki says about Mirpur.
‘Mirpur (Urdu: میر پور), also known as 'Little Britain', is the largest city in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and the capital of Mirpur District. Mirpur is located at the extreme south of Azad Kashmir at an elevation of 459 metres (1509 ft). It is 125 kilometres (68 miles) south east of Islamabad via the Grand Trunk Road and 295 kilometres (183 miles) south of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.’
After having a short break we continued towards Kotli our next destination. This drive was bit tiring as there was not much scenery in this area and the roads were small. We crossed some small villages and finally reached Kotli. We intended to stay here but when we reached Kotli we still had a lot of daylight available and on top of that we did not find Kotli a place to stay over night. Hence we moved on and thought to reach Rawlakot and stay at the lake.
After driving for a little further we saw some very steep switchbacks and found ourselves driving on them just shortly. This was the first challenge posed to our bikes so far but was a real one. This was about 10 kms ride on a very steep surface. The icing was that we met by clouds after only a few turns and it became almost impossible to see in front more than a few feet. We stopped at a few places to wait and see if the clouds go away but clouds were determined to stay around. So the only option left with us to keep going but very slowly with our headlights on and be vigilant for oncoming traffic that was very little anyways. The drive continued at snails pace and finally we made it to the top place and found a small village there. Its name was Baloch. Due to the romantic weather the views around this area were amazing, the clouds started to move on after we finished the tough leg of our drive. We had a late lunch break here and filled our bikes with some so called patrol from the drums as there was no patrol station there and a small shop was selling patrol our of metal drums. We were all set to go again.
Now the drive was through some picturesque mountains and we safely made it to our destination but not before it was already dark. The place we reached was Banjosa Lake that is close to another town named Rawlakot. I visited this place the year before as well and that motivated me to cover Kashmir on bikes.
There are a couple of rest houses at Banjosa but we could not find anyone to help us book a place to stay that night. On the other side of the lake there is a small cafeteria so we came to the owner and asked for food. He happily gave us to left over’s as the diner time had passed. The second request we put to him was to arrange for us to stay the night there. He showed us the attic just above the café that had a wooden ladder going straight up into it and could hardly be used for sleeping four. However we had no choice but to agree that we happily did. Our backs and bums were soar due to the long and tiring drive. Two of us went for another round of the area; we drove through dense jungle at night and had another flavor of the mountain. Trust me it was worth it and we definitely loved it. Once we were back we also crashed like others.
Morning fun at Banjosa was amazing with its calendar picture setting. This lake is tucked in between lush green mountains and dense jungle. The lake is small but attractive. We left that place and came to Rawlakot. We had no destination today so we just drove, clicked pictures and enjoyed ourselves. We crossed Bagh another famous place in Kashmir. Already we had covered Mirpur, and Kotli Districts and Bagh was the third district we were crossing. It was nothing great around here unless we detoured but we continued instead.
We passed through a river where there was not much water flowing but the bridge itself was the waterbed. The water was flowing right over it. Despite my warning our other bike kept going at moderate speed and slipped from the algae. They slipped for about 20 feet and their bike stopped with its front tire hanging down at a place where there was a fall of about 15 feet. It was creating a small waterfall there. Luckily no one was hurt and only bike got damaged. It took us a long time to recover them from the water, as the place was so slippery that we couldn’t even walk on it. Finally we were on the other side of the river and were trying to repair the broken pieces of the bike to make it drivable.
The road was again steep ahead of us and steadily we reached Sudhan Gali in the afternoon. It was a pine forest and a small village. The beauty was excellent without any doubt but there was a lot of noise from some insect in the trees. The sound was very annoying and we could cope with it for long and drove off. We continued driving towards Muzafarabad – the capital of Azad Kashmir. We drove right on the line of control between Pakistan and India where crossfire take place every now and then.
Before reaching Muzafarabad we had a stop at a beautiful lake in a rest house. The caretaker opened the rest house for us to freshen up. The view was pretty but the day was quite hot. We stayed there for a couple of hours to roam around before we left for Muzafarabad. We reached Muzafarabad and found it even hotter so we continued towards Neelum Valley to find better weather for the night. By evening we reached a village and inquired about any possible hotel or rest house but go to know that there was one hotel that burned down last year so there was no place to stay. We did not want to continue driving, as it was already getting dark therefore we requested a cafeteria guy to give us some place to sleep. He promised to give us two Charpaeees (local form of bed) but only after the last bus passes to sleep in the veranda at the bus stop. We agreed, as there was no other choice available. Two of us again slept early (early means by 10pm and we the remaining two started to repair the damaged lights and other stuff on the bike from the fall the day before. It was 2 am when we finished working on the bike.
The Charpaee was too small to fit two people on it and the floor was very dirty to sleep on and there were a lot of insects there too. So we squeezed ourselves and slept for the remaining couple of hour of the night.
As we were sleeping right at the bus stop so had to get up early even if we didn’t want it. So we got ready and started to drive towards Kel-the last village accessible in Neelum valley. We crossed UthMuqaam where a child and an adult died due to firing from the Indian side. Unfortunately the road on the Pakistani side is right on the Neelum river and it remain under the fire directly. The border here is just the river width. These casualties are really regrettable on both sides of the border. We kept driving and missed a turn ended up entering a garrison. The army personnel showed us the right road on the other side. However instead of going back we thought to go through the dirt track. That proved to be one of the toughest and most dangerous ride of my life. The next half an hour we spent on this walking trail on the bikes. It was so small that if I were asked to walk over it I would have thought twice before doing it. In our case we only got to know that once we were already on the track and could turn back. Somehow we managed to cross this very tough and tiring patch and reached the road. At one place we were clicking some pictures without knowing the other side was India and heard the guns firing. Suddenly an army jeep came and asked us to leave immediately if we wanted to live. We made this terrible mistake and really deceived death by a hair margin. This is what we realized later when we spoke to other Army guys. We drove like crazy from here to get as far as from the border area. When we crossed a certain point on the road the border started to go far from it. It was a relief for us.
The other challenges that we faced reaching Kel were the two flash flood streams. There was very fast flowing water in both of them, but we had no choice but to cross them along with our bikes. We managed to do that we a couple of falls in the water and not without a few scratches here and there. But good thing was we finally made it to the other side each time without loosing anyone to the water plunging into the river deep below.
The trek was quite tough and the road was broken and most places. There were landslides at a number of places and due to that the trek was quite slippery. There were small rocks on the road that made the turns extremely dangerous on the road. We negotiated this road very very carefully.
Despite all the hazards the drive was extremely refreshing with the picturesque views and breathtaking vistas. We loved this place at each turn. The Kel area was very beautiful and it would be justified if I call it little Switzerland.
Later afternoon we made it to Kel, which is full of greenery. There are lush green fields and pine covered mountains. There is a river passing by, the white water flowing at tremendous speeds looked like pearls. The difficult route we covered was worth it. Here we got booking at the rest house and had a very comfortable night. This place was extremely pretty and we loved staying here. We walked through the fields and enjoyed our evening to the fullest. We had ordinary food at a local shop there but the environment made it ready delicious. We were up late into the night before crashing.
The day was pleasant and we had some more fun before left to drive back to Muzafarabad. We were scarred of passing through those streams yesterday. However we made it across each time without any incident. The drive back was full of fear due to driving on the border and other hazards. We kept driving and reached Muzafarabad safely. We checked into a hotel there and left to explore the city. We saw the merging Neelum and Jehlum rivers, amazingly both had their distinguished color merging into each other and creating a long line of separation with two colors. This town was quite vibrant with some nice places to offer. There was an old castle and garden. Sight seeing was in abundance around it. We had a good time here. We did some shopping from the main bazaar and headed back to our hotel. It was full of excitement day and we really enjoyed it. The next day we were to leave for lands so we tried to enjoy the mountains as much as possible until next time.
We were driving back the tiring 3-400 kms and passed through different towns swiftly. The weather became very hot as soon as we had hit the plains. The temperature was soaring to above 40 degrees. We continued our drive and reached Dina just before the evening. We found out here that on one of the bikes the headlight stopped working. It was very dangerous to continue driving on the highway without a light. We tried to find a place to get it repaired but all our effort was in vein. So we decided to stay in Dina for the night and to move further in the early hours of the day. Again we requested a cafeteria owner for the place and again he gave us two Charpaees yet again. We slept in the open just behind his small café next to the fields. We locked our bikes together and had to put our bags under our legs. We were four and two beds only therefore we slept with one persons head on one side and the other having his head on the other side with bag under the legs. One could imagine this as a very uncomfortable position but that’s the way it was. It was just for a few hours only.
As soon as we got up we drove off, crossed the Jehlum River on GT road to reach Gujrat before midday. Here we spent this day with our friends before leaving for home the next day.