After the hard, long and tiresome preparation for CSS (Central superior services) my mind was not ready to go back to its old mundane urban routine. It was time to heal my mind and body and what better way of doing it other than going back to Mother Nature.
I chose Neelum valley to be my healer. It is the north most valley of Azad Kashmir. Which is known as sapphire valley because of the color of its water. The beautiful Neelum valley is surrounded by Muzaffarabad and Naran. While Neelum river plays the role of border between India and Pakistan. Despite being Kashmir’s one of the most beautiful valley, it is not heavily crowded with tourists. Which helped me as I wanted to spend time away from anything and everything urban.
For this purpose I went to Pir Wadai bus stop at 6:30 pm. There were two options available either I can go directly to Kel (last bus stop in Neelum valley) or I can go to Muzafarabad. The difference between them is that Muzaffarabad is a 4 hour-long journey from Islamabad while Kel is 10 hour-long journey. I chose Kel as I was seeking for adventure.
Weather in Islamabad was hot that day. However it changed when the journey started at 7 pm. The rain which started at Murree didn’t stop throughout the journey. As much as I love rain I still didn’t want it to ruin my trip. As rain doesn’t come alone in hill stations. It comes with land sliding and I wasn’t shocked when the bus stopped at Kohala (place near Muzaffarabad). Kohala is notorious for its landslides although Kashmir government has made efforts to make it secure but the problem still exists. After waiting for forty minutes the journey resumes. I can feel a drastic change in the weather from the hot Islamabad to cold Muzaffarabad’s night. My body was enjoying this transformation of atmosphere.
We crossed Neelum Jhelum power plant at 12 am. The mega structure was lit at night with the help of huge lights. This makes it a sight to be seen and admired. Construction work was still going on at 12. This dedication shows the success behind its quick construction.
After travelling for seven hours, the bus stopped again. This time we were in Neelum, I couldn’t see the sapphire color water of its river but surely can hear the soothing sound of it coming from a distance.
I asked the conductor, “is this it”? “Are we in kel”?
He said, “No sir there is another slide on the way”.
I sat back and opened my bag to grab my jacket. The weather now was unbearably cold. Jacket didn’t help a lot either but it was me who wanted the adventure and now I am getting it so there was no point of complaining.
The place where we now stuck at was Chakoti. It’s a small village at the bank of Neelum River. Bus was standing in the middle of the market. Whole market was closed except one roadside hotel. It was called “The Paradise hotel”. I was hungry. Stopping of the bus at this exact point was proved to be a blessing in disguise. I went into the hotel and sat next to a fireplace. It was a typical roadside hotel. Good food, strong tea and 90’s Bollywood movie playing on TV. After a while i was tired and wanted to get some sleep, I went back in bus and sat on my seat. Weather was making it hard to sleep but then my fellow passenger offered me his shawl. In any other scenario I would have said no; at least once just to be formal. However, this wasn’t just any scenario. It was freezing cold and I really needed that so I grabbed it like a hungry lion. After that I slept for few hours and then I heard a voice saying: “Come back. The road is opened. We have to go, come back”. It was the conductor asking passengers to comeback in bus.
From Chakoti we were going to Sharda, another beautiful and major tourist attraction in Neelum valley.
On our way, it started snowing. I was shocked how much global warming was affecting this beautiful valley as it was March and highly unlikely to snow at this time of the year. Snowflakes were falling slowly from the sky. Valley was covered in white sheet of snow. It was the most pure form of white I have seen in my entire life. Kashmir has seen many border skirmishes over the years. There has been a lot of bloodshed. However, every winter these White Mountains give us (humans) the message of peace from the divine. It is sad that we don’t understand it.
Neelum valley put me in a state of trance. I left the burden of day to day life behind and started feeling a strange happiness and relief. My body was calm, my emotions were stable and I knew that my healing had started. Just when I thought nothing bad would happen there, the bus stopped again. But this time it was stopped at Sharda Bazar (market). I was in the bus for 12 hours straight and now here I was in another market of Kashmir without knowing whether the bus would go ahead or not.
I asked the driver, “Are you going ahead”?
He said, “The road is completely covered with snow and it would be dangerous if we try”.
I agreed with him, as I believe that there are certain points in life where you should accept the things as they are and not try to change them as you want them to be. For me it was that point. I grabbed my bag and booked a room in Sharda. The Hotel was right at the bank of the Neelum River. A window was opened from my room towards the valley. Outside that window was the sapphire water, behind which were huge snow covered mountains.
I grabbed a hot cup of tea and sat In front of the window. For a while my eyes stopped blinking and I thought to myself, “This is it, this is all I wanted. My healer is right in front of me.” The sun peeked behind the clouds and I saw its reflection on the calm water of the river. Smell of wet timber made this scene more serene. I was sitting in a wooden room watching the reflection of a beautiful snow covered mountain slowly appearing in water and I thanked God for blessing this country with such beauty. They say that Kashmir is heaven on earth and I think that I had opened the window to heaven that day.