Tangdhar, Karnah: Journey to the Wild (North) West of Kashmir
November 16, 2018
I had never heard of Tangdhar until I met Faisal in Srinagar.
When I went to Kashmir Travelogue to collect my rental bike, Faisal Nazir, the owner, casually asked about my trip plan.
“North-West Kashmir,” I said.
“Well, tourists hardly go there; mostly Kashmiris who have home there, go to those areas,” he replied with a bit of surprise.
“That’s the whole point.”
“Okay, so where exactly in North-West Kashmir do you plan to go?”
“Hmm…I don’t know!”
Hearing my reply, Faisal quickly made a small list and handed it over to me. He recommended some really cool places to explore depending upon the amount of time I have. Tangdhar was the first name in that list.
Tangdhar is a small village in Karnah Tehsil of Kupwara District in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The moment I saw the location of Tangdhar on Google Map (extreme North-Western corner of Kashmir), I was sold to the idea of driving to such remote corner of the State.
Preparations before leaving for Tangdhar
I started my journey from Srinagar and reached Kupwara town (around 90 kms away), where I stayed overnight. I left for Tangdhar, which is around 70 kms from Kupwara, the next day after stuffing my stomach with hot Kashmiri rotis in breakfast.
Because of the proximity to the Line of Control (LOC), prior written permission is required from the SP office, Kupwara to visit Tangdhar. So, after meeting the concerned officials at the SP office, Kupwara, I got the necessary permit (valid for five days) to visit Tangdhar.
After taking multiple copies of my photo ID and the permit, re-filling the fuel tank and packing my lunch, I bid adieu to Kupwara.
The beginning of my journey to the Wild West
Once I crossed Kupwara town, I finally got the kind of roads I was waiting for; smooth tarmac with rows of fully-grown trees on both sides; farmlands on the plains and peaks of snow-capped mountains at a distance; crossing the streams intermittently.
As the human habitation decreased with each passing mile, I found myself completely immersed in the beauty of the landscape; so much so that I actually lost track of the route.
After cruising through Kralpora, Panzgam and Warsun (around 22 kms away from Kupwara), instead of taking a slight left immediately after crossing Warsun to continue on Kupwara-Trehgam road, I went straight into a pine forest unknowingly.
Lost in nature, quite literally!
Let me share some background. Have you seen movies, where the actor, while riding a car or bike, suddenly reaches an intersection and instead of taking the actual known route, gets captivated by the beauty of the unknown route and takes the wrong turn (mostly ends with a tragedy).
Similarly, the mystic beauty of the pine forest with the buttery soft tarmac was so inviting that I ended up taking the route without a second thought. I did realize the traffic change from highway to this sudden seclusion; but I was too elated to mind the change!
I was spellbound by the sheer beauty and calmness of the route. All I could hear was gushing stream towards my left and rumbling of pine trees swaying in the wind as if wanting to tell me something. I could not find a single soul as I gradually started to climb a small hill amidst the forest.
Tragedy in the end after the wrong turn?
My momentary solitude was broken when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw an SUV speeding towards me. The thought of being all alone, in the middle of a jungle, away from highway and surrounded by guys in their early 20s rang my alarm bells. By now, the smile on my face had vanished.
Just when I felt that my pounding heart could come out of my mouth any moment, the SUV slowed down, came next to my bike, and its window rolled down. For a moment, I became absolutely numb.
Even before I could react, the guy on the driving seat hesitantly said, “Shayad aap galat raaste aa gayi hain! Highway to peeche reh gaya. (Probably you have come on the wrong road. Highway is left behind.)”
All I managed to say was – “Thank you so much!” They replied with another “Thank you;” took a U-turn and rode back towards the highway.
As I stood there realizing what just happened, it dawned on me – haven’t we become overprotective? Seeing a tourist taking a wrong turn, a bunch of guys went out of their way and followed her to inform her that she had indeed taken a wrong road; and here I was doubting their intentions. Yes, the world is indeed a lot safer than we perceive it to be.
So, my wrong turn story didn’t end in a tragedy; instead, it ended with my reinforced faith in humanity and Kashmiriyat!
Army Check Post No. 1
Once I came back on the main road from my unplanned detour, I got the first Army Check Point right after Warsun. After verifying the permission to visit Tangdhar, the Army men cordially allowed me to get on with my journey.
Sadhna Top: Highlight of the journey to Tangdhar
After the first check post, I can’t emphasize enough how scenic the entire route was. The bonus, however, was good roads and perfect weather.
I was told by the locals that one of the best points on my trip would be Sadhna Top (Sadhna Pass). Honestly, when I heard the name, Sadhna Top, for the first time, I thought what could be the chances of Sadhna Top being related to the popular yesteryear’s actress, Sadhna, who made Sadhna cut a rage in that era. Stupid comparisons, I know!
At a height of around 10,000 ft, Sadhna Top is a high mountain pass on the way to Tangdhar. It is one of the major points of interest for locals and tourists alike. Sadhna Top gives fascinating panoramic views of all the nearby mountain ranges; you can even get glimpse of mountain peaks located in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) (don’t be surprised if locals refer POK as Azad Kashmir).
With around 10-11 hairpin bends to reach the top and dangerous dropoffs, Sadhna Top is definitely a treat as well as a challenge for any biker. It is one of the most dangerous roads in this region. The pass is known to have claimed lives.
Slowly and steadily I climbed up and reached the top.
Army Check Post No. 2
At Sadhna Top, I had to stop for the second Army Check Post. Braving the strong icy wind, I parked the bike, opened my daypack, took out the permit and ID and went to the stern-looking soldier sitting in a small booth. After seeing the permit, relevant photo IDs and enquiring about the purpose of my visit, I was let go.
It seemed I was lucky with respect to check points; but, my luck ran out when it came to the quality of road.
Although the quality of road till Sadhna Top was good, but once I crossed it, the tarmac was almost non-existent. The journey on zigzag, treacherous roads was uncomfortable to my hands and legs, but was worth it.
As I reached the foothills of the mountain, after safely and successfully finishing the nerve-testing decline, small hamlets came into view.
From here, the main village of Tangdhar was not very far. But, I gave in to my hunger and stopped to have my packed lunch.
At last, Tangdhar!
By the time I reached Tangdhar, it was already evening. Being the only outsider in the entire village, that too on a bullet, all curious eyes were upon me.
Relaxed with the thought of finally making it to my destination, I inquired about the location of Daak Bangalow in Tangdhar. A young guy raised his hand in the direction of a prominent building and showed me the way to reach there. Daak Bangalow had a nice courtyard and was located on the other side of the stream flowing right in the middle of the village.
Staring at a huge lock on the main gate of the Bangalow, I felt disappointed and started thinking about my alternatives. Looking at the disappointment on my face, a small shopkeeper sitting at the other side of the lane asked me to check the second gate a little ahead. A second gate! Yayy. Dragging the bike on the slope, I reached the second gate.
Seeing me outside the gate, Javed, the hyperactive and extremely helpful attendant, came running to open the gate as it had started drizzling again. Showing me all the rooms, he recommended the best room (newly built VIP room with the beautiful Kashmiri furniture) on the first floor.
By the time I unpacked my backpack, Javed was on the door with my favorite Kashmiri Kahwa.
As I sat on an old plastic chair in the balcony keeping my feet on the railing and hands holding a cup of piping hot Kahwa, the drizzle stopped; the only sound I could hear was gushing stream just beside Daak Bangalow.
Dark clouds gave way to the snow-capped mountain peak, and, although I could not see the sunset, the golden glow of the peak was nonetheless magical.