This post is in continuation with a previous one; and part of my Kashmir Travelogue. On this particular day, we traveled from Srinagar to Aharbal via the apple town of Shopian. After spending some time at the waterfall, we then returned to Shopian and made a quick journey on Mughal road till Peer ki Gali. Details of this day’s travel are further mentioned in the article. If you wish to read the previous parts of the travel leading to this day’s journey, please click on the link below.
Journey So Far: Sightseeing in Doodhpathri & Return to Srinagar
Let me begin this day’s travelogue by sharing an image. Take a look at the picture below. If you thought that this is a shot from either of the Lord of the Rings trilogy then you will be wrong. It is actually a picture of the Aharbal waterfall clicked towards October end. I agree that there is some editing involved giving a red tint to the overall image; but the fact is that even without any editing, this waterfall is one of the most scenic spots in all of Kashmir. Located about 75 kilometers from Srinagar, the place is quite peaceful and suitable for expedition, trekking, photography fishing etc. It may not be that well known to the tourist population; but is a hot favorite among the locals and is often known as “Niagara Falls of Kashmir”.
I learnt about Aharbal from Faisal when I noticed the picture above as his DP in Whatsapp. Once he told me where this place was, I immediately knew that it was going to be a part of my Kashmir trip; and so it was. As per the initial itinerary, we were actually to be heading towards Pahalgam today and cover Aharbal while on our way back to Srinagar tomorrow. But that plan had long changed since we decided to keep Pahalgam for a different trip at another time; where we could dedicate more time exploring Pahalgam and the areas around; rather than just reaching there and returning the next day. For now, as per the new itinerary, we were going to visit Aharbal waterfall today.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Aharbal
An even more important question however was whether or not to stay there for the night. The trip was not really going the way we initially planned it. We extended our stay in Gulmarg by a day, gave up a day in Srinagar and Pahalgam was removed entirely; so I was actually still trying to figure out how to travel from here on. Shoaib was not too keen on staying in Srinagar city and wanted to spend a night at Aharbal.
I knew there was a J&K tourism at Aharbal so staying there was indeed an option; but I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. After much discussion, we decided to make the final decision at Aharbal itself. The idea at that moment was to check out of the hotel in Srinagar, bring our bags along and if we like Aharbal, we will spend the night there. If not, then we will come back to Srinagar by evening.
As per the discussion with Faisal the day before, he was to come to the hotel at 7 AM, post which we will go to his office and take handover of the motorcycles. Like previous days of the trip, Lavish and I were the first ones to get up in the morning and stepped out for a morning walk; and also to get a cup of tea.
We returned after a while, woke Shoaib up and stared to pack our bags.
Faisal arrived at the hotel slightly past 7. We had been talking for almost 2 years but this was actually the first time that I met him. Before this, it were just the telephonic conversations but we did get to know each other well. Faisal was a great help in planning our trip including the itinerary and our stay in Srinagar. His house was nearly 30 kilometers from our hotel but being the gem of a person that he was, he drove early to our hotel just to pick us up and hand over the bikes.
If you need motorcycles on rent in Srinagar, then I highly recommend renting it from Faisal. All his bikes are very well maintained, will not give any trouble, you will get some freebies gear that other rental agencies will charge your for; but most of all, it is Faisal himself who will ensure that your trip remains hassle free. You can contact him at 9596410670.
Grand Valley Inn
We packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel at around 8 AM, slightly late than what we had planned. Grand Valley Inn was the hotel that I stayed at in Srinagar and will definitely recommend it. It is fairly new and not that large a hotel but the owners are very humble people who will treat you more like a family than guests. The rooms are very well maintained and our stay here was very comfortable. It is located merely 2 minutes away from Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh and Dal Lake so in terms of location as well, it is at a great spot. You can contact them at 9906571500 to book your stay.
We first stopped at a vegetarian vaishno dhaba for breakfast. Considering all the negative fuss that you hear about Srinagar in media, I was actually quite surprised finding a Hindu vegetarian restaurant here. And this one was actually in a long line of surprises. Even the Mata Rani temple in Gulmarg sits atop a hill in peace with a Muslim acting as a Pujari. No one ever threatens that temple. No one ever damages the Hindu restaurants in Srinagar. But then media portrays Kashmir as such a sinister place. Makes you wonder that the hell is going on, doesn’t it?
Faisal’s office is at Lal Chowk which I guess is probably the most famous Chowk in all of India; considering all the limelight that it continues to remain in. He had kept the motorcycles ready for us so all that we needed to do was to bring the engines to life and be on our way. This however is where our itinerary changed yet again. While we were sitting in Faisal’s office and talking to him, I asked if Aharbal was worth spending the night. Faisal immediately said no and I kind of took his word for it. The plan now changed to just go to Aharbal and return to Srinagar by evening. This was merely an affair of 4 hours at most and we would still have plenty of daylight left though. Faisal then suggested that we should include and cover Mughal road as well as far as Bafliaz.
Now Mughal road had been on my plans for quite a while. For a brief introduction, Mughal Road is the road between Bafliaz, a town in the Poonch district, to Shopian district in the Kashmir valley in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The road is 84 km long. It passes over Pir Panjal Mountain range, at altitude of 3,500 m (11,500 feet), that is higher than Banihal pass (2,832 meters). It runs through Bafliaz, Peer Ki Gali, Aliabad, Heerpora and Shopian; and makes for an alternative road route to Kashmir valley from rest of India, other than overcrowded Jammu-Srinagar NH 44 Highway through Jawahar Tunnel. (Source Wiki)
So in order to reach from Jammu to Srinagar, you can either just take the NH44 highway; or first reach Rajouri and then cross over to Shopian via Bafliaz and Peer ki Gali. From Shopian then you can just drive straight to Srinagar. This route was historically used by Mughal emperors to travel and conquer Kashmir during the sixteenth century. Akbar reached Kashmir by this route in 1586; and his son Emperor Jahangir in fact died while returning from Kashmir on this road near Rajouri.
The idea of including Mughal road as well sounded great to me and we immediately added it to the day’s itinerary. Now the plan was to first reach Shopian and then go to Aharbal. From Aharbal then, we would backtrack to Shopian and then reach Bafliaz via Mughal road. After spending some time there, we would then backtrack all the way back to Srinagar via the same route.
Srinagar to Aharbal
Faisal had arranged for a Himalayan and a 350CC. All our bags were still packed and sitting in his car but since we were anyways going to return to Srinagar by evening, we left them with him only; deciding to collect again while on our way back.
And finally the ride towards Aharbal started. Today’s journey was going to take us through the small town of Shopian which often remains in the news for terrorist activities around. Even Faisal commented that today we were going to be crossing one of the most volatile areas of Kashmir which kind of made me a bit nervous. So much that I did not even put up the GoPro camera on the motorcycle to record the ride. I was planning on doing it since Delhi and even borrowed GoPro from a friend; but then gave up the idea at last minute because I did not want to be stopped by Army anywhere and get questioned about why was I recording all of it.
Shoaib was riding the Himalayan while Lavish and I were on the classic. Condition of the road was quite good and we reached Shopian in no time. As a matter of fact, the road was quite flat till Shopian and it did not seem at all that were going through a hilly region. Out here, on the single lane highway and will all the Muslim population around, you will actually feel like you were riding through somewhere in western UP. Everything looks so similar.
I think it took us about 2 hours to reach Shopian. Except for one wrong turn that made us travel through a crowded market in a narrow gali in the busy town; the journey was quite smooth. From Shopian, we then took the turn towards Aharbal.
The Kashmiri Angrez
After Shopian till Aharbal, the last 15 kilometers is quite a bit of a steep climb and the vistas too improve tremendously.
After a couple of photography breaks, we finally reached Aharbal, a small sleepy town sitting in the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t for the waterfall here, I don’t think anyone would have ever paid any attention to it otherwise. It is just a small place with a few shops and houses. While we were crossing Aharbal, I stopped at a tea shop to ask for directions to the waterfall.
“Jharna kis taraf hai?” I asked in Hindi thinking that the tea-stall guy, a poor villager, will definitely not understand English. So I thought to make it easier for him and use the word jharna instead of waterfall.
“Kya?” He in turn replied with a very confused look on his face.
“Jharna” I said again.
“Kya?” He asked again.
“Chashma kis taraf hai?” I thought he may not know Hindi but may understand the Urdu word chashma which means a stream of water.
“Hain?” He still look confused.
“Jharna, Chashma?” I used both words
“Hain? Kya?” He used both the expressions
“Waterfall?” Lavish who was by now fed up of the meaningless conversation used the English word.
“Achha waterfall. Haan ye saamne hi toh hai” The villager immediately responded.
And I was silent completely. The only thought running through my head while looking at that guy was, “Achha matlab Hindu aur Urdu samajh na aayi tujhe par waterfall samajh aa gaya? Angrez saale”
The Niagara Falls of Kashmir
Nonetheless, we parked our motorcycles in the huge parking area in front of the entrance to the waterfall. Like other places in Kashmir, there was a guide here as well and he immediately attached himself to us. He kind of booked himself for us all on his own, without us even asking or agreeing to any of it. For a minute I thought to shrug him off but then let him walk with us. And just a walk it was indeed. There was nothing that the guide could offer us. There were no tall tales to tell, no confusing roads to navigate through. He just walked with us and clicked a few photographs but we let him still.
“Fine, we will help a poor man a little” We thought.
We had a cup of tea at the market first and then started on our walk towards the waterfall.
And beautiful it was indeed.
Our guide told us that apart from being beautiful, this waterfall was quite a bit of suicide spot as well. He told us of a girl who had recently jumped to her death here because she did not score good in her examinations and her got scolded by her parents for it. Sounded really sad that someone would think of such a beautiful spot to die.
After spending some time and clicking numerous pictures, we finally started on our way back.
Next part of the journey was to backtrack 15 kilometers and reach Shopian. From there, we would then ride 40 kilometers on Mughal road till Peer ki Gali, its highest point. To read next part of this article, please read Peer ki Gali – The Heart of Mughal Road. If you have any other questions; or need my help in planning your trip to Kashmir; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.