|AZAD KASHMIR - A PARADISE ON EARTH|
Physically scythe-shaped, the territory of Azad Kashmir is dotted with a vast chain of scenic and natural beauty spots amidst flowing streams, gushing out springs and flowering plants. The mountain tops over the valley look like circular and rectangular caps. The panorama is really enchanting.
The valley rivals those of Kaghan and Swat in beauty and boasts of remarkable alpine scenery. It is bounded to the east by the line of control or (ceasefire line) with Indian held Kashmir and travel to foreigners is rather restricted.
Azad Kashmir extends from the plains of Mirpur at the northern edge of the Punjab through the outlying foothills of the Himalayas, to the mountains in the north at 6,000 meters above sea level. It is drained by three major rivers, the Jhelum, the Neelam and teh Poonch whose valleys are very beautiful.
There are four districts of Azad Kashmir namely Muzaffarabad, Poonch, Kotli and Mirpur. These districts abound in natural beauty and rivers and streams flow throughout Azad Kashmir.
All the four districts have lush green forests which provide cool breeze and foliage to the visitors.
Roads are the only means of transport in Azad Kashmir and play a basic role in the development of the territory. The area of Azad Kashmir is 5134 square miles land strip in the shape of a crescent moon, 250 mile in length with width varying from 10 to 40 miles. The terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous with 15,000 feet high mountains in north-west touching the Punjab plains. The area is criss-crossed with rivers and numerous nullahs.
The total length of roads in Azad Kashmir is 730 miles of metalled and 530 miles of fair-weather roads in addition to 830 miles of link roads.
Situated at the confluence of the Jhelum and the Neelum rivers Muzaffarabad the capital of the State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is at a distance of 86 miles from Rawalpindi and 49 miles from Abbottabad. Surrounded by mountains, it looks like a walled town. It is the administrative capital of Azad Kashmir. Behind the Secretariat to the east is a road climbing above the town from where one can walk upto Pir Chinasi at 2,900 meters with good views of the Jhelum Valley and the higher mountains above the Neelum to the north. From the cool on the Abbottabad Road, you can walk along the ridge looking over the Jhelum and Kunhar rivers.
Past the Red fort, crossing Neelum river at Ghori, a few km way is 'Makra mountain' 3,890 meters which is visible from Muzaffarabad and continues on to Shogran in the Kaghan Valley. This is a superb short trek, although you need to camp overnight halfway.
The upper Jhelum valley makes another interesting scenic excursion from Muzaffarabad. follow the Jhelum upstream, taking the road beneath the Domel bridge. This was the old route to Srinagar. The valley is broad with raised terraces above the river. Rice and maize are widely grown. Some 10 kms out of Muzaffarabad the river widens to from a small lake. This was created by a landslip some years ago. There is a small Angler's Hut here, which makes a pleasant picnic spot. It is possible to take boats out on the river. Book through the Tourist Department in Muzaffarabad.
The city was founded by Sultan Muzaffar Khan of Bamba dynasty and was the seat of an independent State for quite a long period under his successors.
The city is now a combination of old and new buildings and a blend of different cultures and languages. It has besides official buildings, farms, parks and the historic forts standing on the banks of the Neelum, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Rawlakot and Kotli are connected with Pakistan by the Micro-weave system of telephone.
There are rest houses, good hotels and guest houses in Muzaffarabad city where the tourists can stay.
The rather sleazy bazaar in Muzaffarabad can be explored for its walnut carvings and its Kashmiri shawls. It is sometimes possible to get a good bargain.
Border skirmishes between the armies of renowned Mughal Akbar and the Chak rulers of Kahsmir were common. To ensure safety of the people, and the land, the Chaks realised to raise defence posts and efficiently counter the offensives.
During the year 1949 the construction of the red fort was undertaken. It was finally completed by Sultan Muzaffar Khan the founder of Muzaffarabad city during 1646. When the Mughals overtook the Kahsmir rule, this fort lost its importance. The Mughals were more interested in Kabul, Bokhara and Badakshan. During the Durrani rule the fort again came into limelight and its importance was rediscovred.
Maharaja Gulab Sign and Ranbir Singh, the Dogra rulers, reconstructed and extended the fort for political and military operations. Towards the end of 1947 the Dogra forces filed away leaving the fort wide open to anybody.
The architectonics of the fort show that great experts in design and structure participated in its construction. It is surrounded on three sides by Neelum river formally known as Kishan Ganga. the northern part had terraces with steps leading to the bank of the river. The Eastern side of the fort was very well protected from the hazards of flood waters but some parts in the north were slightly damaged. There was an inn at the entry of the fort which has to traces left now.
It has been in the bad shape for quite some time and wears deserted look. The structure still stands with all its inherent glory, grandeur and its historical background.
Dhirkot is best approached from Rawalpindi via Murree and the nearby Kohala Bridge over the Jhelum, the gateway to Azad Kashmir. It is small township situated at 6,000 feet above sea level and has a bracing climate. It is famous for its healthy surroundings, high altitude landscape.
The town also is famous for the beauty spots. Almost all the area is covered with green trees like deodar, pine and oak. the Dak Bungalow - rest house - which is situated amidst the dense forest is 5,500 feet above the sea level. the Dhirkot is also famous for the fruits mainly apples and apricots.
Bagh, the Tehsil Headquarters of Distt. Poonch, is situate at the confluence of two mini rivers - Malwani and Mall which flow all the year round.
Bagh city comprises at least 5,000 shops and has a hospital. the total population of the Tehsil Headquarters is over 3 lacs. Two rest houses are available for tourists. Permission for stay can be obtained from the nearby Forest Department, P.W.D. There are two degree colleges, one is for boys and the other for girls. 'Haji Pir Pass' is 20 miles from Bagh city which is linked with metalled road.
The hill station of Chikar, 27 miles from Muzaffarabad has grown into a fairly large township. Three miles from Chikar is the hill station known as Loonbagla which is situated in the middle of a vast range of densely grown forests.
The outstanding features of this hill station are its healthy climate and picturesque surroundings.
Chikar is linked with Muzaffarabad by a motorable road and is connected with Bagh in Poonch district via Sudhan Gali.
Chinary situated some 40 miles from Muzaffarabad is a scenic place with a very enchanting Rest House built by the former Dogra rulers. It lies just some twenty yards upward in the Bazaar. A visitor can easily see the Occupied Area beyond the border above 10 miles away.
The city has a Telephone Exchange, a first class dispensary. It is famous for its fruits such as apples, apricots, walnuts and honey.
It is a valley of fountains, springs, waterfalls, flowering trees and plants. Geographically too, it is a hospitable valley. The Neelum Valley, 90 miles long bow-shaped with majestic pine, fir and deodar trees, lies north-south of Muzaffarabad (capital). This ninety-mile long kingdom of vegetation is ripped apart by the indigoblue Neelum river which flows serpentinely down hills to merge itself into the river Jhelum at Domail. Domail, the confluence of two mighty rivers, presents highly fascinating scene of youthful embrace. This heart-warning spectacle is most soothing to the eye.
The valley, starting from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, is about 150 miles long. It lies on both sides of the river Neelum.
The geographical features enhance the natural beauty of the Valley. Its elevation, a mere 2,000 feet at the start, gradually rises till it attains a respectable height of 8,000 feet. On both sides there are high mountains and peaks. Nearly all the forest wealth of Azad Kashmir is to be found in this part of the State.
There are two approaches to the valley. One from the Kaghan Valley which is linked with it at two points, the Nuri Nari Hali (Pass) and the Ratti Gali and many minor Passes. From Dawarian it takes two days for hiking or riding and night stay at Dharian at 12,000 feet.
The second approach is from Muzaffarabad. It is a distance of 55 miles which is jeepable in fair weather. The Neelum meets the Jhelum river at Domali (meeting of the two) on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad city. From Paticka forest one reaches Nosari, 24 miles ahead of Muzaffarabad. Next come Chaliana (height 3,200 feet), Qazi Nag, Barian, Salkhela, Kundal Shahi, Athmaqam on this road. On a number of places, the local population has built rope crossings on the river. It is a very dangerous device and the very thought of crossing these points is horrible but thrilling.
Tao Butt is an example of vegetational generosity of the liberal nature. The spot is donned with all delicacies and niceties. Nature flirts here with fantastic environment. The forest wealth abounds in the Neelum Valley. Deodar, pine, fir, wild walnut, strawberry and hosts of other high statured trees and other types of wild growth and herbs are the treasure of the valley. Besides being invaluable in economic terms, the variety of natural growth offers a captivating scenery. Shunder Hill tops are covered with green forests and the fields are lush green with crops.
The valley is accessible by an all weather road metalled up to Kundal Shahi and well maintained up to Kel. At the gateway to the Valley lies a sprawling town of Bhateeka with a dependable commercial centre. For a tourist, Bhateeka can be the first journey break. This town has a modest bazaar with day-to-day activity. All essential items are available in the bazaar which feeds a fairly large number of villages behind it. On its back runs the forth-emitting river Neelum. The village and bazaar are connected by a suspension bridge crossable by jeep alone. This old bridge is being replaced with an RCC one enabling it to afford heavy traffic. The running streams, water channels and water falls across the Bhateeka village presents another heart winning scene. It is fully electrified.
A few years back, the Federal Minister of Power and Water, Government of Pakistan had a hydel station built in this village over a perennial nullah which is in fact a mini river of Bhateeka. The quality of life here is full of emotions despite its simplicity. It is perhaps due to verdure. Financially, it is an affluent town. Majority of the village folk is engaged in profitable business abroad especially in the Middle East countries. A number of scheduled banks of Pakistan are operating in the village on the strength of remittances from abroad. But despite fattening coffers, the town has no industrial activity. The ratting of machinery is unknown to the town.
The serene atmosphere shrouded into lush greenery and milky-white waterfalls and water curses and their rhythmic flow totally absorbs the visitors. Added to the general plant fragrance is the sweet smell of menthol plants along the banks of the nullah, it cuts its way across the crop-fields in such wavy manner that it looks as a white ribbons over green head of damsel Nature. Bhateeka is linked by ancillary roads with other surrounding areas uphill and downhill.
The other midway station in Kundal Shahi. Also a small commercial centre. Kundal Shahi headquarter the operational centre of the Azad Kashmir Logging and Saw Mills which is responsible for timber extraction to commercial markets in Pakistan. Kundal Shahi station has a rest house manned by the logging and saw mills at the Western bank of river Neelum adjacent to metalled road. A tourist range bifurcates from Kundal Shahi to Jagra Nullah which is again a mini river running all the year round. Its water is glass-like limpid having good potential for trout fish development. The range is also accessible by a kutcha but well maintained road. The forests are so thick in the range that a trip to the range would be like going through a tunnel. It is tunnel of forest indeed.
The other important station in the Valley is Athmaqam connected by metalled road with Muzaffarabad. This town has a Town Committee of its own with an Intermediate College, a hospital and a telephone exchange. A few scheduled banks of Pakistan are also operating here. The rest house, built at the foot of the Western hilltop which tapers towards Balakot in the NWFP, is accommodative. It has been built in such a way that its lawns face the river below it. A daily bus service piles between the town and Muzaffarabad. From here upwards emerges typical Kashmiri living pattern with houses built of wooden logs, most of them double-storeyed. Curd, cheese maizebread along the chutney is the other palatable diet. The other major diet is rice.
So far is the half of the Neelum Valley and after it are the more enchanting spots full of exuberance and life. Kairan is another beauty spot on the river side with a neat and clean wooden flooring rest house. Its lawns slope down towards the wester bank of the river. The bazaar consists of over a dozen shops with a post office and telephone call office. Commodities are transported to the bazaar from Athmaqam by trucks. The physical feature of Kairan resort resembles a broad forehead of a person with thick hair on the head. Stay is more comfortable here.
Ten miles west of Mirpur, at the end of a jeep road, Jangwan is the well known shining spot on the confluence of the Jhelum and Poonch rivers. It is an ideal place for fishing and anglers in large numbers visit it with rod and line.
Bagshar lake is an ideal tourist resort in the Samhani valley in Mirpur district. It is a four mile long sheet of crystal clear water that soothes the senses of a traveller after a 40 mile road journey from Gujrat via Bhimber on the old Mughal road to Kashmir. It was through this road that Mughal Emperors travelled to Kashmir.
On the top of the hill there is the famous Mughal fort, overlooking the lake. Rising four stories high this massive structure of granite is a feet of Moghul engineering that has stood the ravages of time. It has also played an important role in subsequent history during the time of Ahmed Shah Abdali, Ranjit Singh and Gulab Singh.
Baghsar, the lake and the garden can be compared to any other Mughal monument in beauty and splendour. All around the gardens there are orchards and along the borders laburnum grow in wild profusion.
Rawalakot is situated in the heart of Poonch district at a height of 6,000 feet and is a plain saucer shaped valley. It is approachable from Rawalpindi via Kohala and Azad Pattan by motorable roads.