I fell in love with North Kashmir instantaneously.
Kashmir & Ladakh

Kupwara: The Beginning of My Epic Journey to Offbeat Kashmir

Kashmir is not new to me. I saw this Paradise on Earth twice before with my husband when we visited most of the famous and touristy places – Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonmarg; we also saw the little known places like Yusmarg and Doodhpathri. I hardly knew anything about Kupwara then.

Since the time I came back from my solo backpacking trip from South East Asia, I was craving to see go to the mountains – huge mountains. So, North India was the obvious choice. But I was not sure about the exact location.

As many of you already know by now, I look for places which are still authentic and uncommercialized. So, after considering Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Ladakh, I zeroed down North-West Kashmir for two main reasons; first, Kashmir is love at first sight for me; second, I had absolutely no idea about this part of Kashmir (it is truly offbeat).

So, North-West Kashmir it was then!

Read also: Tangdhar, Karnah: Journey to the Wild (North) West of Kashmir

Teetwal: Exploring the Edge of North-West Kashmir

Exploring the off-beat destination - Doodhpathri, Kashmir
Visited Doodhpathri, Kashmir, in October 2015.

The Perpetual Dilemma

Truth be told – although, as I mentioned before, this was not my first visit to Kashmir, I was still worried about going alone (Summer 2018).

The reason being, just few days before I landed at Srinagar, there was little unrest in the Kashmir valley. Few stone-pelting incidents have occurred in and around Srinagar while protesting against the killing of few terrorists in an encounter in Shopian.

Of course, I didn’t want to reach Kashmir during a curfew. However, coming from Chhattisgarh state, I knew that the national media often show only half truth; they focus on the negative aspect of the story because that is what gets them the TRPs!

Read also: 5 Reasons why you should travel to Chhattisgarh

Is Chhattisgarh safe for tourists?

Always happy and excited to land at Srinagar Airport.
Always happy and excited to land at Srinagar Airport.

After giving it some thought, I finally decided to keep my travel plans flexible and finalize it only after reaching Srinagar, based on the actual situation there. So, I took the flight and reached Srinagar.

The moment I landed there, I knew everything was going to be okay.

There is something about Srinagar and Kashmir that pulls me towards it, no matter what! But one thing is for sure, it is not just about the abundant natural beauty of this State; the hospitality and warmth of the beautiful people of Kashmir compels me to come here again and again.

And after spending a day enquiring with the local people about the ground situation at North and West Kashmir, my intuition to go ahead only strengthened.

So here I was, ready for truly offbeat Kashmir!

Reflection during Golden Hour at Dal Lake, Srinagar.
Reflection during Golden Hour at Dal Lake, Srinagar.

Srinagar: A Mesmerising Transit City

Since I have been to Srinagar before, I wanted to spend the least amount of time in the city.

While sitting in a cab, that I hired from airport, as I crossed many old and new areas of Srinagar, memories and imagination came rushing; memories of my first visit to this city with my husband; and imagination based on many famous books I had already read about Kashmir by that time (extraordinary ones included – Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, a moving memoir by Rahul Pandita, and Curfewed Night: A Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir, an internationally acclaimed memoir by Basharat Peer)

Lost in my thoughts, I reached my hotel, kept my backpack and left for the famous Lal Chowk. As I strolled the lanes of Lal Chowk, I couldn’t help myself from thinking about the historical significance of this place in the political struggle of the people of Kashmir.

Near Lal Chowk, I finally arrived at a motorbike renting shop, Kashmir Travelogue, and met Faisal Nazir. After doing the formalities, I hired a 500cc Desert Storm Royal Enfield for my trip. Although I mostly travel through public transport, this time I wanted to explore the region at my own pace, without worrying about the logistical arrangements.

Bike also made more sense because, after reaching my destination, I would not be dependent on anyone for exploring the region.

Bike all set for the epic adventure in Kashmir.
Bike all set for the epic adventure in Kashmir.
The Final Plan – A Self-Supported Bike Trip to North-West Kashmir

Since the delivery of the bike was to be taken the next day, I headed straight towards Dal Lake. Let me confess – my love for Dal Lake is eternal. There are only few things in life as soothing as sitting in a cosy Shikara floating in the middle of Dal lake while watching the sun go down as if taking a dip in the lake.

Next morning, after checking out from my hotel at Srinagar, I picked up the bike, relished a hearty Kashmiri meal and left for Kupwara post lunch.

I couldn't miss the Shikara ride watching blissful sunset at Dal Lake, Srinagar.
I couldn’t miss the Shikara ride watching blissful sunset at Dal Lake, Srinagar.

Journey to Kupwara

Kupwara is around 90 kms from Srinagar and the quality of road was surprisingly good. The green farms, distant hills and row of trees beside the highway gave me ample company. Crates of fresh cherries also popped intermittently for sale beside the highway.

But, I was a little disappointed by the route; I had forgotten that Srinagar to Kupwara is a busy highway in this region. This meant that, it was not quite pleasurable for a biker to ride with tons of four wheelers and trucks zooming by.

Landscape en-route Kupwara from Srinagar, Kashmir.
Landscape en-route Kupwara from Srinagar, Kashmir.

Kupwara: The Crown of Jammu & Kashmir

The District Administration calls Kupwara the Crown of Jammu & Kashmir. And I can understand why. With the unspoilt natural beauty of green meadows, surrounded by evergreen forests, valleys and mountain ranges, Kupwara district has immense potential for tourism.

I reached Kupwara town by evening. The town is located at the intersection of three main roads, namely Sopore-Kupwara road from the south, Kupwara-Kralpora road from the west and Kupwara-Kalaroos road from the north. At the intersection of these roads, lies the bustling main market.

Talri river, which is one of the main tributaries of the famous Jhelum river in Srinagar, dissects Kupwara. Kupwara is also the last town where you should stock up on your things like petrol, food and snacks, clothes, etc.

To my surprise, I found couple of basic hotels at Kupwara (City Park Hotel and Raj Palace Hotel). But, I was not very keen on staying at any hotel in the main market; so instead, I stayed at Dak Bangalow, Kupwara after taking permission from the Additional District Commissioner of Police (office is right opposite Dak Bangalow).

Sunset at Talri river, Kupwara, North Kashmir.
Sunset at Talri river, Kupwara, North Kashmir.

Kupwara and Around

After reaching Kupwara, one can comfortably spend a week exploring the nearby areas. The places worth visiting include Lolab Valley, Bungus Valley, Sadhna Top, Tangdhar Valley, Satbaran, Kalaroos, Keran Valley, Machil, etc.

Read also: Lolab Valley, North Kashmir: A Bike Trip to the Land of Love and Beauty

Kalaroos Caves and Satbaran: Unsolved Mysteries of Lolab Valley

Once the food and stay at Kupwara was sorted, I went to see the picturesque Wayn village. Locals recommended me this place and told me that it was located just outside the Kupwara city.

The road to Wayn village took me little inside pine forest. All I could hear was the rumble of the motorbike; and all I could see was rows of huge pine trees on both sides of the tiny road. However, a deep sense of chill engulfed me since as the dusk approached and I got lost.

Since, it was already getting late, I decided to turn back. I spent the remaining time watching sunset from the banks of Talri river beside a public park (near the new bus stand); all the while, thinking about my first ever long-distance bike trip.

Pine forest where I got lost for a while and turned back to Kupwara.
Pine forest where I got lost for a while and turned back to Kupwara.

Permissions for the Onward Trip

For my onward trip towards West of Kashmir, I was required to take prior written permission from the Superintendent of Police (SP) office at Kupwara.

Thankfully, the SP office was just beside the Dak Bungalow. So, the next morning, after packing my stuff on the bike, I went nervously to the SP office. The procedure for the permission was rather simple; after filling the form, submitting requisite documents and answering the queries, I got the permission in about half an hour.

I kept the SP permission safely, made multiple copies of the same, filled the petrol, packed my lunch and left for Tangdhar.

Sights like these are constant reminders of bloody past and struggling present.
Sights like these are constant reminders of bloody past and struggling present.

Truth About Kupwara

Although almost always highlighted for the wrong reasons in the national media, I felt warmly welcomed in Kupwara.

Right from the bike mechanic, to the officials at the SP office, police personnel at check posts, servers at the restaurant, and local guys I met at the market; each and every person offered me tea and happily shared his knowledge about the places to see and things to do.

As I left Kupwara behind, I was still pinching myself for coming this far. I had converted my dream of riding in the surreal and offbeat Kashmir into reality despite all odds and fears.

No matter what media portrays about this region, my belief in humanity, goodness and in myself, only strengthened. And I knew, I made one of the best decisions of my life by coming here; it was the beginning of my epic journey!
I fell in love with North Kashmir instantaneously.
I fell in love with North Kashmir instantaneously.

Do you like exploring lesser known places? Have you visited offbeat Kashmir? Do you have any question regarding my journey? Let me know in comments below.