Valleys Within the Valley

  • Shabir Ibn Yusuf
  • Publish Date: Jul 16 2018 2:35AM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 16 2018 2:35AM
Valleys Within the Valley

It is said that every corner of the Kashmir Valley is a tourist destination in itself. That’s not an exaggeration. Shabir Ibn Yusuf takes us to the unexplored valleys of Bangus, Lolab and Drangyari in the Kupwara district. Bangus valley was formally declared as a tourist spot in 2008.

 

 

Bangus valley is one of the unexplored areas of Kashmir with vast tourism potential. Lying within the Trans-Himalayan area, Bangus is a unique ecological combination comprising a mountain biome, which includes grassland biome with flora at lower altitudes and coniferous forests.

The valley which lies at an altitude of around 10,000 feet above sea level is in the northern part of district Kupwara within the Handwara sub-district. Occupying an estimated area of 300 sq. kms (20x15 km) the principal valley locally known as the Bod Bangus (Big Bangus) consists of a linear elliptical bowl aligned along the east-west axis. The valley is surrounded by Rajward and Mawar in the east, Shamasbari and Dajlungun mountains in the west and Chowkibal and Karnah Gali in the north.

 A smaller valley known as Lokut Bangus (Little Bangus) lies on the north-eastern side of the main valley. Both the valleys have level green meadows surrounded by low-lying mountains covered with dense coniferous forests and a stream flowing through them.

Unlike Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and other tourist destinations of the valley, no visitor from other states or from other districts of Kashmir visits the area. The reasons are obvious: One, Bangus is located in one of the highly militarized zones and, two, the destination is under-developed.

There is no accommodation like hotels and guest houses for visitors. The visitors, who are often from different parts of Kupwara district, get tents along for night stay. The night stay is only possible when a visitor gets permission from army whose camps dot the tourist spot.

There are two roads leading to Bangus. One passes from famous Mawar area of south of Handwara and another from Chowkibal area of Kupwara. The road from Mawar side passes along the Mawar River to the Nowgam army camp - the Brigade Headquarters manning the Nowgam Sector.

Another road that passes through Chowkibal also gets connected to Bangus through Drangyari army camp. At both the places the visitors are asked to show permit from the District Magistrate Kupwara. After getting the clearance, the visitors from both the sides have to trek through thick deodar forests.

To get a permit to trek in the Bangus valley, the visitor must send an application in advance to the District Magistrate in Kupwara, along with two photographs and a copy of ID proof. It takes about two days to get the document and the visitors can get help from the Tourist Reception Centre at Kupwara.

For nine months every year, the 300-square-kilometre Bangus plain is carpeted with up to four metres of snow. From the sky, it resembles a giant bowl of powdered sugar. Neither animals nor people – barring the troops who cling on to their positions despite the freezing arctic-like temperatures – interrupt the stillness of the Bangus winter.

In May, though, the ice gives way to a dense carpet of grass and wild flowers, watered by the melting snow and a profusion of streams running off the glaciers that surround it. Much of the Bangus plains become a matted weave of grass and peat floating on water, which ripples underfoot.

There has been no recent census of the extraordinary migration that begins in the spring, but local residents say that upwards of 50,000 buffaloes, cows, sheep and horses are driven into the Bangus’ two major plains – the Bod, and the Lokut. Some herders bring their own animals; others drive the livestock of better-off villagers in return for 40 kilograms of grain.

In the wake of the Kargil War, the army set up permanent positions in the pastures. Although stringent restrictions on the herders are still in place – each Bangus resident must report her or his presence to the soldiers and the use of weapons to kill predators feeding off the herds is prohibited.

From Mawar side, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC) has constructed a beautiful guest house located on the banks of the Mawar River at Reshwari. This is the main place of stay near Bangus.

From Chowkibal side, the Roads and Buildings department has constructed a guest house in Reddi Chowkibal. However, the guest house is losing its sheen because of non-maintenance of the structure.

In the summers, Bangus is a trekkers’ paradise as it is surrounded by the Shamsabari and Leepa mountain ranges and the Rajwar and Mawar areas. Its lush pastures are a heaven for the nomadic Bakarwals.

“It feels like the tourism and other government departments are deliberately slow in carrying out developmental projects in the Bangus valley. In the past decade the senior officials of the tourism department and the members of the assembly are only making huge promises in front of the media of making Bangus a tourist destination. But the reality on the ground is contradictory as even connectivity to the resort has not been ensured yet,” said Imran Ahmad of Handwara.

Abdul Manan, who has visited Bangus valley many times, apprehends that the government would keep the Bangus valley as it is. “The government will never want more movement of the locals through this area as it falls near the Line of Control and is a highly militarized zone,” he says.

In the year 2008, Bangus was declared a tourist spot by the Jammu and Kashmir government in a bid to develop tourism infrastructure and showcase the area as a tourist destination. The government released Rs 1.85 crore under tourist destination development scheme. However, it seems little was invested on ground as the valley still lacks the basic tourist facilities like guest houses, restaurants, road connectivity.

Nevertheless, lack of infrastructure and tourist facilities in no way lessens the marvelous beauty of this valley.

Officials of Bangus Development Authority told the Kashmir Ink that the valley doesn’t attract visitors due to various reasons, main reason being lack of basic facilities such as accommodation and road connectivity. The BDA officials said that the valley is a forest area and the Authority was unable to do any construction. “We have to get clearance from the forest department for trekking route and construction of accommodation structures,” BDA officials said.

The officials said that the current year saw a good number of local visitors to Bangus. “It is our hard work combined with the support of local schools and colleges who choose Bangus valley for their field trips,” the officials said adding that besides social media promotion they had collaborated with local educational institutes and due to that a large number of visitor footfall was seen this year.

BDA believes that the onus of promotion of Bangus lies with the tourism department. “We had requested the tourism department to put hoardings at Srinagar Airport and other places but those did not come up. We had planned a Bangus Festival also but that also did not happen.”

Environmentalists are concerned about the tourism plans. Officials said no study had been conducted on the possible impact of tourism on the fragile Bangus ecosystem. In Gulmarg, large-scale tourism has already led to a serious problem of plastic waste while the massive uncontrolled influx of Amarnath pilgrims has ravaged the once-stunning Lidder River valley. Officials say the construction of the Bangus road may also facilitate timber smuggling out of the valley, which is next to impossible because of the protective natural wall provided by the steep Neel Dori Pass.

Deputy Commissioner Kupwara, Khalid Jehangir, told the Kashmir Ink that every effort was being made for the uplift of Bungus and Lolab. “Three bio-toilets and three shelter sheds are coming up in Bangus for the tourists,” he said.

The DC said that for wide publicity of Bungus a short film is in the making. “It has been shot with the help of drones and that is in making,” he said.

About the apprehensions of damage to the ecology, the DC said that tourism department was working on a comprehensive plan. “That won’t hurt the ecosystem of Bungus at all,” he assured.

About the permission of constructions, Khalid Jehangir said that there is a established law for restricted areas. “The procedure has to be followed,” he said.

 

DRANGYARI VALLEY:

Drangyari is considered a complete tourist destination in itself and is very famous among the local population. It lies in the foothills of the Nattishanner Gali, on the road leading towards Karnah. The Drangyari is surrounded by places like Badi Behak, Aincha and Tilipatra which are famous for their wildlife.

There is an accommodation facility on the way to Drangyari at Reddi. In adjoining areas of the Drangyari region there are also some historical spots like Farkan, Melyal, Raja Ram Mountains, Ram Kund, Seeta Kund, Lakshman Kund and Hanuman Kund which are a series of springs situated in Melyal Harie region and are considered sacred by Hindus. These can be approached via the Kralpora-Keran Road. There is also a temple by the name of Kheerbhawani at Tikker Kupwara. On way to Drangyari one can also enjoy the scenic beauty of Rawathpora wadder.

 

LOLAB VALLEY:

Lolab valley, known as Wadi-e-Lolab is known for its fruit orchards, lakes, springs and lush rice fields. Lolab can be easily reached by road. Travelers staying in Srinagar can easily reach Lolab by a local bus or hire a taxi.

Lolab Valley is adjacent to the Neelum Valley and is separated by the Line of Control. 

Poets refer to Lolab as a true destination and as a “land of love and beauty.” Lolab valley is 5 kms wide and 26 kms long. It is located at a distance of 120 kms from Srinagar in Kupwara district. Lolab is a combination of three valleys - Potnai valley, Brunai valley and Kalaroos valley. There are beautiful Nagmarg meadows which separate Lolab from Bandipora district.

The headquarters of Lolab is situated at Sogam. It is said that Sogam was very densely populated a long time ago. Travelers visiting Lolab also visit the resting place of saint Kashyap reshi, which is located at a distance of 1 km from village Lalpur. A spring called Lavnag can be found nearby. The spring has crystal clear water. Gauri spring is another major spring in the area. Government has taken several steps to maintain the Lolab Valley in its pristine beauty.

In Lolab valley there are other valleys knows Seemab Valley and it is located at the entrance of the Lolab Valley. The valley has a natural picturesque beauty and a perennial water body by the name of Daal Kul. It is surrounded by lush green forests and therefore provides ample scope for day picnics. A few adventure activities like rock climbing and trekking can be considered while visiting this place.

Another place known as Sattbarran Kalaroos is a unique place where the past and the present of architecture meet. It is unique place of ancient architecture situated on the outskirts of village Madmadav in Kalaroos area. Sattbarran can be reached by road up to Kalaroos and three kilometers by foot. On the back side of the Sattbarran there is a cave which is believed to be a way to Central Asian States.

Then there is Chandigam, stated to be one of the best tourist spots in Lolab valley. Having a macadamized road network, it is utilized as a camping cite. The lush green jungles surrounding Chandigam provide an ample scope for the adventure loving people for trekking and mountain biking.

Like other valleys in the region, Lolab Valley is also home to many Himalayan wild animals which include Himalayan black bear, Himalayan brown bear, snow leopard, ibex, markhor and musk deer.

 

 

 

Roads to bangus

 Handwara-  Nowgam -Nildori-  Bangus 

 

Handwara - Zachaldara  -Wadder  -Bangus 

 

Kupwara- Kralpora -Hafrada -Bangus 

 

Kupwara -Chowkibal -Drangyari -Bangus 