PANGS OF PARTITION… INDIA-PAKISTAN (PART-3)

Part 1 of the story:

https://vacationsnippets.in/2018/09/08/pangs-of-partition-india-pakistan-part-1/

Part 2 of the story:

https://vacationsnippets.in/2018/09/15/pangs-of-partition-india-pakistan-part-2/

Day 4: Swat Valley
I woke up with a guilt. I should have been at Saidu Sharif already. But I must admit, I was feeling much better and the view of Indus river from my room was mesmerizing. After a nice hot breakfast, I got ready to leave. Time read 08.00 hrs. Saidu Sharif was about 100 km from here and it would take another 3 hrs to reach there. I got the tank filled up and started driving up north to Swat valley. As the weather was good and the road was decent, XUV picked up speed. After driving for an hour, as the elevation started to increase, the quality of road deteriorated… I was reaching Shang La top. It has an elevation of about 9800 ft. The air here was much cooler despite it being around 10.00 am. I could see snow at far off mountains. I parked my car on the side and stepped out in open air. The SCO signal had already died. Seriously, the quality of cell phone network in both India and Pakistan is similar. I clicked a few pics from Shangla top, the scenery was stunning.

shang la
Shang La ; Pic Credit: Asim Shah

As I drove on the other side of the hillock, I was stopped at a barricade to check my papers. The rangers asked me the purpose of visit to Swat valley. They were surprised to see an Indian coming to Swat Valley in his car for tourism. Since I had all papers intact, they didn’t refuse. I was allowed to pass to Swat valley. The landscape changed and turned much greener and lively.

swat valley
Swat Valley; Pic Credit: Faizan Ahmad

In an hour or so I was at Mingora heading towards Saidu Sharif. By the time I reached Saidu Sharif, it was noon. Perfect time to check in a hotel. I was so impressed with PTDC that I decided to check in a similar property. Fortunately, the PTDC Saidu Sharif was available. The place had a feel of an old mansion with trees and gardens on two sides.  The property though old, was comfortable and cozy. I thought of ordering food and resting for a while before heading out. There were a few brochures of nearby attractions and cab services. I had exactly 1.5 days to explore the place before heading to Hunza valley. I had plans to stay here for a day and soak in the experience and see Marghuzar Valley.

Marghuzar Valley
Marghuzar Valley; Pic Credit: Tauseef Shah

Marghuzar Valley, is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, streams of azure water with a dense forest cover heavily populated by a wide variety of wildlife. The area is perhaps best known among visitors for the majestic architecture of the ‘White Palace’ that adds to the valley’s splendor. 
Source of Information : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1365644/white-palace-adds-marghuzar-valleys-splendour/

I strolled out of PTDC after having lunch. There is nothing much to see at Marghuzar other than White Palace built in 1940 by the first King of Swat. This place now serves as a hotel.

white palace Marghuzar Valley
Source of Pic and Information: https://www.dawn.com/news/1194730

To me, somehow, this palace resembled the Chail Palace… both these mansions are quiet, lush green and built by Maharajas. Having a hot cup of coffee enjoying the lush green lawns is an experience in itself. I was done with Marghuzar valley by 17.00 hrs. So, instead of staying here, I decided to drive down to Miandam, which was 2 hrs away. After settling the bill, I took the route via Matta to Miandam. The road was being repaired at many places so the speed was slow and at times, I had to give way to vehicles coming from the other side. Somehow, this route reminded me of Delhi-Meerut highway… stop and go traffic, under construction highway, people jostling for space…somehow, I reached Miandam by 20.00 hrs.

Marghuzar Valley to Miandam
Source of Information: Google Maps

 

 

I again searched for PTDC which was easy to find. The location of this PTDC is excellent as the building is surrounded by lush green manicured lawns. In the back drop I could see the mighty Hind-Khush mountains. I ordered for dinner and retired to bed. Food was not as good as I had in PTDC Saidu Sharif but considering that I was the only guest at the motel, I appreciate they prepared a meal for me. Time read 22.00 hrs when I slept.

Day 5: Swat Valley
I had full day to explore places I always wished to go to. I wanted to visit Saidgai Lake. Since it was already November and the trek to the lake from parking would be a long climb, on the advise of locals, I dropped the idea. It was a difficult decision as Saidgai Lake is one of the most fascinating and picturesque lakes of Swat district.

Saidgai Lake
Saidgai Lake; Pic Credit: Ihsan Khan

Saidgai Danda is perhaps one of the lakes that has a charm that’s unrivaled anywhere in the province. Whoever have the nerve to tour it, have been fascinated by its stunning beauty. Lying high in the lap of lofty mountains separating Dir and Swat valleys, it’s accessible from both the valleys via different access routes. It’s one of the highest lakes of Pakistan fed by glacier water.
Source of Information: https://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Pakistan/Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa/blog-940673.html

It was morning 06.00 hrs when I was ready to leave for my first stop… Matlitan waterfalls near Kalam, which was around 5 hrs away. I left the hotel with my bag and baggage as I wasn’t sure where I would be staying for night. Weather in this part was already cold and it was a possibility that upper areas may receive first snowfall of the season. The road was broad enough for two cars to pass, though the surface wasn’t smooth. As I stopped at a petrol pump for refilling, a policeman asked me about my whereabouts. As I explained him my odyssey, I could see the bewildered look on his face. An Indian in Swat for tourism? That wasn’t rare, that was non-existent. Well, he was going on vacation to his hometown Kalam. I offered him lift as I was also going on the same route, which he gladly accepted. He was Mr. Khan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, working at Abbottabad. I was happy that a local guy was with me,as he could guide me the route and fill me with information I might need. Besides, traveling alone sometimes gets boring too. As we drove along the highway, we started chatting on all fronts, from beauty of Gilgit Baltistan belt, to development of India, to Pakistan China relations, to partition era and what not. Khan not only knew the history and geography well, he was a good conversationalist too. We deliberately kept the India-Pakistan tensions out of our conversation as we both would defend our motherland. The route was scenic and he suggested we stop at Toorwal Bridge for pics and a cup of tea. The weather was cold outside as it was still early, around 07.15 hrs. It was a small bridge on river swat with lush green hill around. There was a tiny tea stall run by a localite, just below the bridge, which caters to local shepherds and villagers. I parked the car and Khan got us two cups of hot tea. This was a blessing in this cold weather. The sun was not really up from its slumber and wind blowing was cold. Swat river was in full flow. One can see water gushing with such a mighty force, shearing the rocks and making its way. Looking at the mighty mountains, ravines, gorges and river, one realizes how insignificant we are when compared against nature.  Passing cars were the only noise that disturbed the tranquility of the rural life here.

swat river
Swat River… Pic Credit: Agha Faizan Asif

15 mins stopover refreshed us and we resumed out journey. Local time showed 07.30 hrs. Kalam was still 35 km away but with road under construction, it was taking a lot of time. XUV was unperturbed and delivered as much power as needed. Fortunately, there had been no trouble with the car. Khan praised the car on more than one occasion, once for the power and second time for the features. Mahindra was leaving a good impression in our neighboring country. We reached Kalam at around 09.00 am. This sleepy town was still asleep as the sun was just peeping out from clouds. I decided to have breakfast with Khan before saying good-bye. There was a small shack which served delicious Kashmiri sweet bread and hot milk with cream. It was delicious and very reasonable priced. I thanked him for his lovely company and resumed my journey to Matlitan Waterfalls.
kalam forest

Kalam Forest; Pic Credit: Hussain Ali
Just outside Kalam city, there is a dense forest known as Kalam forest. It is a beautiful stretch to drive on with butter smooth road and tall trees. The drive through the forest was very well captured on my action camera. Once I crossed the forest area, the road quality deteriorated. It had lesser tar and more gravel and after driving for about 10 km or so, the gravel gave way to loose dirt and then swamps at many places. The landscape was turning from beautiful to stunning, while the road turned from bad to worse. Soon, at a distance, I could see the Mighty 22 waterfall. It was so white, it appeared as if it was a cascade of milk. Immediately my DSLR started working overtime and it seemed this was the place where my 8GB memory card got exhausted. I now switched to the 32 GB one. Fully satiated clicking pics for about 20 mins, I finally sat on the bonnet of my car to admire its beauty with my eyes (not with eyes of camera). The force with which water falls from the top, pushing through cliff, paving its way, it was spell bounding, a treat to eyes, a visual delight. I was lost in my thoughts gazing at the miracles of nature.

Matlitan waterfalls
Matlitan waterfalls; Pic Credit: Paras Ali

The Mighty 22 Falls or Matiltan Falls comes in the way towards the Mahodand Lake from Kalam in Swat district of Pakistan. The valley is full of mesmerizing landscapes and the waterfall is a popular spot among the locals. 
Source of Information: https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/7795417

Mahodand Lake was still 30 mins away. Local time read 10.30 hrs. There was no cell phone signal coverage here. I resumed my journey up north. There were mountains on one side and river Ushu on the other. The view was mesmerizing and weather was amazing. Road to Mahodand Lake was pretty narrow. There was no tar and had loose gravel which made the tyre grip weak. I had to switch on AWD mode which made driving a tad bit easier. Fortunately there was no snow on the road. On more than one occasion, I thought of taking a U-turn and going back. Somehow, I mustered courage and continued driving. The first glimpse of lake made all my worries go away. Mahodand was beautiful and huge lake.

mahodand lake
Mahodand lake…. pic credit: Muhammad Amir Cheema

Mahodand Lake lies at the foothills of Hindu kush mountains at an elevation of 2,865 m (9,400 ft), surrounded by the meadows, mountains and dense forests. Similarly, the banks of Mahodand lake are covered by pines and pastures that serve as a camping site during the summer. The Mahodand lake is fed by melting glaciers and springs of the Hindu Kush mountain and gives rise to Ushu Khwar, the major left tributary of theSwat River
Source of Information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahodand_Lake

I parked my car at the parking slot and walked towards the lake. I removed my shoes and dipped my ankle in the waters. It was freezing cold. Still, I loved it. The waves splashing my feet was a wonderful experience. Soon, my feet went numb. The wind now appeared much colder. I desperately needed tea. As my eyes searched for a tea stall, I saw an old man selling tea in his pot. Hot tea and cold water seemed a wow combination. I started chatting with him. He told me about the good old times of Swat and then the terrible Taliban era. “Par ab koi masla nahin hai”, said the old man, who seemed to have experienced all shades of Swat. Upon knowing that I am an Indian, he seemed happy. I realized that people are similar everywhere…its just a border that gives them a distinction, an identity, a belongingness. Soon I bid him farewell and continued my journey. Time read 12.00 noon. I was deliberating whether I should go back to Mingora or further travel to Kumrat Valley. I chose latter.

kumrat valley
kumrat valley; Pic Credit: Muhammad Faisal
Kumrat valley is a charismatic valley in Upper Dir district of KPK province in Pakistan. It is one of the stunning valleys of Pakistan, and a scenic spot for tourists. Thousands of tourists from all over the country visit the mesmerizing Kumrat valley in every summer. It is a treat to enjoy the pure greenery and cool weather. Kumrat is covered with lush green meadows, snow capped mountain, garrulous river Panjkora, captivating foggy mounds and tender forests are ever pleasing attractions of the region, which provide as habitats for range of flora & fauna. It is situated in Upper Dir Kohistan region.
Source of Information:http://www.narrativepak.com/kumrat-valley/Kumrat valley was good 5 hrs away from Mahodand Lake. It was already noon and non-stop drive would make me reach there by 17.00 hrs, which meant no sight seeing for the remaining day. I had to explore Kumrat valley the next day, which was meant for travel to Chilas. Kumrat Valley to Chilas was 16 hrs drive which seemed impossible now. Determined as I was, I started driving towards Kumrat valley, via Kalam. Suddenly, there was an alarm buzzing in the car displaying that one of my rear tyres had low pressure. Could be a puncture as the road was terrible. My fear turned out to be true. I had a flat tyre in middle of nowhere. I was hungry, angry and running out of time. Having no choice, I pulled the XUV on the unpaved road. As I lifted the car on the jack, grey nimbus surrounded the sky and soon it started drizzling. I continued changing the tyre as I wanted to leave the place as early as possible. The drizzle turned into full fledged rains which gave way to heavy downpour. The gravel road soon turned into a muddy swamp and soon small waterfalls flooded the so called drive way. Not a soul was seen as far as eyes could gaze. I was drenched too as I didn’t seek shelter while it poured. The Tyre was changed but I needed to get it repaired at Kalam. This meant further delay. The downpour was so heavy that I could see some rocks falling on the road ahead. The last thing I wanted was a proper landslide blocking the only road to Kalam, which was still around 2 hrs ahead. I tried to utilize this time munching on dry fruits and juices. Mohd. Rafi crooning old Hindi melodies made the ambiance magical. It was already 30 mins since it had started raining and there was no sign of rain stopping. Standing here will serve no purpose, I thought. I finished off my pseudo meal and started the engine.

New-Mahindra-XUV-500
Mahindra XUV500; Pic Source: https://www.cartrade.com
XUV’s 2200 CC engine roared back into life. I switched the beast in AWD mode as I wasn’t sure of the terrain which lay ahead of me. The head lights and fog light were switched on too. Slowly, I staggered along the path ahead. The rain was heavy and the amount of slush and small rocks it brought on the road was making driving difficult. The visibility was poor but the road ahead was poorer. So much of water got accumulated between each swipe of wiper blade that I was seriously considering halting again in the middle of road. Bad decision to move from Mahodand Lake. Suddenly I felt as if there was no road ahead. It was all gushing water. A waterfall was formed on the road… In local language… a Nullah. A Landslide too? I wasn’t sure as there were no vehicles queued up to confirm the same. I will have to get out of the car and check by myself, I thought. Upon checking, I observed that the loose gravel was washed away already. The depth of water was low, but the flow was rapid. I was perplexed. With no one around to help, it sounded a crazy idea to just barge into gushing waters. But do I have a choice? After a lot of deliberating inside my head, I decided to take my chance. I reversed the XUV to gain some distance to speed it up. I checked the AWD mode. It was ON. Slowly, but steadily XUV crawled and held the ground firm. As gushing water hit the wheels and side door, XUV swirled for a moment, but recovered in a flash. A little grunt and it cruised easily from the pool of water. Ahh, mission accomplished, I thought. Well, this was just the beginning. I gained confidence from this escapade but there were numerous ones on the way. Soon, I reached Mighty 22 waterfalls. With so many waterfalls traversing on the road, is this the reason its called Mighty 22? Further journey till Kalam was uneventful though I had wasted so much time on the way owing to untimely rains. It was around 16.00 hrs when I reached Kalam. Went back to the same petrol pump for tank top up. It also had a Tyre puncture shop. By the time I started there, it was already 16.30 hrs. The road was as bad as the weather I had faced earlier. After driving for a few kilometers, all I could see was a dirt track with slush. The only solace was that the view was out of the world…simply superb. Green valley, the mist floating gently from one peak to the other, cloudy day with sun peeping out for a whisker. I was driving slowly as I didn’t want any more trouble for the day. I realized that it was such a busy and beautiful day that I had forgotten to have my lunch. Alas, I could have had it at Kalam while the guy was repairing puncture. Now, I had no choice but to drive till Kumrat. Soon, Panjkora river joined me. The river hugged the road tightly and guided its way to the lush green Kumrat valley. I had to stop and click pics of the place, not once but twice. It was so beautiful. 
panjkora
Panjkora River…. Pic Credit: Khurram Shahzad

The Panjkora River is a famous river in the side of northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwestern in the state of Pakistan. It increase high in the glaciers of Hindu Kush Mountains and flows downstream south via the Upper Dir and Lower Dir Districts and joins the spectacular place of Swat River near the areas of Chakdara, Malakand District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is in the direction of Indus River watershed basin. 
Source of Information: http://www.pakistansource.com/panjkora-river-renowned-river-kpk-pakistan/

Soon, the road started to deteriorate further as I began ascending Bargoi pass which is at an elevation of more than 11000 feet. As I rolled down the window, I could feel that air was cooler and fresh. The view of valley from top was amazingly green. I was tempted to gaze at the valley below, but the serpentine potholed road ahead forbade me from doing so. As I climbed the adventurously steep road ahead, I stopped at the Bargoi top to satiate my desire of clicking pics of alluring valley below.
bargoi top
Bargoi Top; Pic Credit: Bakht Bedar
There was a small shack serving delicious maggi and tea. This small break of 15 mins was really refreshing. As I moved ahead towards Kumrat valley, the road passed through rich green forests, colorful flowers, beautifully furred horses and parched black stones. It was around 19.30 hrs when I reached Kumrat Valley campgrounds. There were a few vehicles already parked with tourists and most of them were about to cook dinner. Their tents were already in place. As the groups saw a strange car with a stranger number plate, they were curious. When I introduced myself, they were quite elated and asked me to join their barbecue and bonfire. With river Panjkora flowing by the side, yummy mutton seekh kebabs on the grill and bollywood music on Bluetooth stereo, it was a perfect evening which refreshed me. It was around 21.30 hrs when people started chitchatting around campfire with dinner plates. We all collected garbage in a huge plastic bag and disposed it off in the dustbins kept at camp ground. I was carrying a tent, but laziness prevented me from erecting it. I took out my sleeping bag, rolled the passenger seat to 180° and crashed on it. I could see the stars in the night sky through the sun roof. It had been long since I had seen such a starry night. Recently in India, I had seen stars only twice… once in Ladakh and another time at Binsar, Uttaranchal. 
It would be a long day tomorrow as I needed to drive all the way to Chilas, which was around 400 km away. It was almost16 hrs drive. Don’t know when sleep engulfed me, but it was a peaceful night…Kumrat Valley was beautiful.
kumrat to chilas
kumrat to chilas ; Source of Information: Google Maps

To be Continued…

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