Lolab Valley ; a corner of heaven
Pani Tere Chashmon Ka Tarapta Huwa Simaab Murghan-E-Sahar Teri Fazaon Mein Hain Betaab
Your springs and lakes with water pulsating and quivering like quicksilver, the morning birds fluttering about the sky, agitated and in turmoil,
O Valley of Laulab!
Mere sight of the valley skipped my heartbeat. It is really a hidden corner of paradise for mortals like us. Even though the road is really easy to reach from Srinagar hardly people are aware about this beautiful valley surrounded by high mountain ranges. We have heard about Lolab's beauty in the last trip from a traveler in Gurez. And that stayed in my mind. This time we wanted to do it anyway. So we planned for it in this winter. First day we were in Gulmarg to enjoy the snow scenery. Once that was complete we headed out from Gulamrg to Sopore and ahead on the high way we took a turn towards Kupwara. The sudden change in the scenery raised my expectations. Dense forest of Deodar on the hill slopes and snow all around made it look like otherworldly.
First view of the Waadi - e - Lolab ( Lolab Valley )
We were supposed to reach there in the evening but due to constant photographing on the way this was on the only photograph I got. It's taken before entering into the main region of Lolab that day. But this is what itched in my mind. Even the moon was looking really big and shining on the snow covered valley. The whole atmosphere was anything but ordinary.
Initially our driver was trying to scare me away from visiting this valley. Even lot of army personnels are deployed but nowhere I saw threat or animosity in people. There were some stares because hardly any tourist comes here in winter due to the proximity towards the border. But this whole area is far safer due to locals as well army. Both are cooperative for tourists. Simple rural folks who are interested into their daily affairs. The plus point of the valley is it's not spoilt by tourism and people do not run behind you to make you purchase anything from them. They are relaxed and open for a roadside chat over a cup of Nun chai ( salted tea ).
Surroundings were getting darker but I saw lot of wooden houses similar to Gurez style of housing. Most of the houses had huge tree trunks as wall to protect them from getting cold in the winter. But rooftops are changing with the times.
We were supposed to stay with Mr. Khursheed's house but all of a sudden one relative was hospitalised. Still he came to Kupwara for us and connect us with Mr. Gulam Rasool back in the valley. I was not well in Gulmarg so I went to a hospital in Kupwara for check up. Khursheed uncle stayed with me throughout and help to get genuine medicines from a closely medical. We barely know each other but this gesture touched my heart. Nowhere we felt we are outsiders. Gulam uncle met us outside his village . A simple man in Phiran with broad smile. In first glance we felt like at home.
Our welcome with tea, cakes, namkeen, bread and chips biscuits.
As soon as we were inside the house we were greeted with a warm and colourful carpeted room. Imran bhai ( Gulam uncle's son ) came with a platter with snacks and tea. It was more than what we had thought of. A complete delight. He didn't stopped there but got heavy blankets and Kangdi ( traditional Kashmiri heater to keep one warm in winter ) . In my last trip we wanted to stay in a local house but that was not possible. This time it happened because of our Kashmiri friend Shahid.
Welcome with Nun chai ( salted tea ) & cookies.
Unlike southern part of the country or Himachal Pradesh Kashmir is not famous for Homestay. And we wanted to have an experience to live with local , eat in their style , explore the village. This time it happened. We got a chance to experience the hospitality and the warmth of Kashmir people for two days. Just like the beautiful nature people are nice.
The colourful carpet and ample blankets ready to host us for two days.
So coming back to our schedule we had sumptuous dinner ; local rice , mutton and fish. That was like too much after a heavy snacking an hour before. But we can't say no to our host. Yes they take utmost care of their guest and feed well. We had a log chatting session. Slowly sleep took over the control due to warm blankets and tiredness from the journey. Next day when I woke up the scene was like this. I couldn't take off my eyes from the vista from the window.
Good morning from the window.
Homestay view from outside
Gulam uncle asked me to join him for a morning walk night before. So I woke up early and followed him in the cold. Sun was shining upon land and the forest was glistening. The scene was nothing like I have seen before. Snow covered the whole valley floor and in the distant mountains.
Ice formation on window
Snow design in the morning
Fog was rising up on the lake surface and also over the far off fields. The reflection of mountain range in the lake was still like a painting. For this is what we came here all the way. Experience serenity in winter wonderland. I was just wondering how it will look in the summers ! Greenery all around and gushing waterfalls from the forest coming down into the valley floor. This is where I made a resolution to visit in the summers again.
Morning walk by the lake
Village view and the mountains protecting the valley.
Blue tint in winter looks very nice so the golden yellow shining early morning over the village and the forest. Lakes like this are spread across every village. That way people store the water for them especially in summer month for the farming.
The lone tree looking down into the lake.
After a walk I returned back with uncle for the breakfast and preparation for the long walk inside the forest. BUT I was not aware it will be that long until I was lured deep inside by the natural beauty. This is what will happen with you inside this deodar forest full of natural fragrance.
Another lake and a team of boys exploring the vicinity.
A few kilometres ahead we visited another lake on the edge of the forest. Local boys were having fun accompanied by their dog. We had our share of fun. This time Imran Bhai's brother in law from Srinagar was giving us additional company . He studied computers and was here on a visit to meet his sister. After the lake Gulam uncle wanted us to show the beautiful forest . But it was so enchanting especially the snow carpet on forest floor and tall trees rising to meet the sky. We just proceeded ahead. Anagha was so enthusiastic to explore so we marched ahead.
Raginee and Anagha venturing into the forest full of snow.
Sometime it was difficult due to the snow trapping in our gum boots. But we kept marching on. In between we saw monkey families basking in the sun completely okay with our presence. Their fur was golden and thick. We got a chance to record a short video from the distance.
The word pristine has a visual.
What you see in the movie is crystal clear water flowing through the streams and beautiful snow design; that was in front of us. Mere sight of it was refreshing . Where else is the divinity ? Nowhere but here where people are kind, land is undisturbed , seasons come and go! I felt elated in a moment and sad the other. Why such a heavenly land is disturbed by the human conflict ? The picture media paints down here is far different than up in the mountains. People are warm and offers shelter if anyone is in need. This is what we have experienced across the valleys of Kashmir and Lolab was not different.
Beautiful Deodar forest
Our gracious host leading us into the forest.
They are curious to know about you ; your lifestyle, aspirations , culture and experiences. Just like any other fellow human being. One thing I noticed from Imran Bhai's discussion is that most of the people haven't seen Srinagar from this part of the valley.
A view from the top where two tiny dots are Raginee and Anagha basking in the sunlight.
So if you wish to know them or they to know rest of the country we must meet them. The valley of Lolab is full of natural resources like purest of water , pulsating with life , deodar forest and the fragrance of wood spreads across the mountain ranges and valleys. Even the beautiful birds and wildlife makes it a complete destination for a nature lover or a honeymooner. The place is not like a typical destination oriented region. But the whole valley itself is a destination. Roam wherever you can, meet local people have a cup of nun Chai ( tea ) and Bakarkani / Katlai ( Kashmiri bread ) with them.
What we experienced is curiosity and care for the traveler . Our daughter never felt she is far from home. She instantly made friends with Ummama , Shmela ( Imran's kids ) . We are back here in Pune. But the Lolab Valley has a place in our heart forever.
Evening walk and also posing for the camera.
We completely lost the track of time so our forest walk finished around 03:30 p.m.. The lunch was late but our eyes drank the natural beauty. Post lunch we took rest for sometime and headed for evening walk on the outskirts.
Imran bhai & Athar
The winter scenery is entirely different experience. Snow covering the landscape, lakes and rivers dotted by the leafless willows and poplar trees. It’s like you are part of a cinematic experience. Mornings with the fog , golden sunshine and the blue tinge of the evenings both are equally beautiful and unforgettable. That's why visit Lolab Valley in winter as well. Summers are full of green and colourful with wild flowers . But winter enchant you with the song of ice.
Still bicycles are having place in the heart of kids in villages.
How to reach : Cab is the most preferred way you can go. Or else you will have to hop on and off local transport. You can stay in Srinagar and travel by cab to Lolab ( Chandigam village. )
The advantage of a cab is wherever you want to stop and take pictures it's possible. The whole route is scenic. So you will regret by going local transport and not stopping by. Sometime splurging some money is better than saving. And of course you will have lot of space to keep your gear and bags.
If you wish to stay there's one guest house also. For homestay reach out to us.
Roads are nice from Srinagar and back. On the way Wular lake is a sight that must be experienced.
Leafless trees, cold winter evening and a passerby.
Almonds from the orchards along with the breakfast.
Anagha with our host uncle ( Gulam Rasool ) & his grandchildren.
It's time to say goodbye.
Memory from the valley.
Wular Lake : while returning from Lolab Valley towards Srinagar. Mount Harmukh dominating the horizon.