Friday, November 28, 2014

(Part9) Dilema of the Peaceful Keran

Keran Resort - at the Brink of the Geopolitical Fault Line

This is Neelum Valley Travelogue Part 9 
Click here for Part 8 Part 7 Part 6 Part 5 Part 4 Part 3 Part 2  Part 1

Day 14: Sunday, August 31, 2014
We Needed a ‘Break’ in Vacations!
Last evening we reached Keran Resort and booked a room for three nights. After living in tough conditions for two weeks the time had finally come to change gears to the relaxation mode and Keran was the right place to do that.

Relaxing at the Edge
Located at the river bank, and easily approachable from Muzaffarabad through a metalled road, Keran is a peaceful and laidback place perfect for a leisurely holiday – but with a twist. That part of the free flowing River Neelum is Kashmir’s version of Berlin Wall, or the Line of Control in the local context.  On the opposite side of the watercourse, right in front, lies the Indian Occupied Kashmir at a stone’s throw away. The heavy presence of the two most antagonistic armies, both of which do not think before exchanging heavy artillery fires, could not be a good omen for a laidback picnic. However, thankfully, there has been peace in this ‘sector’ of the LoC for last few years benefiting both holiday seekers and locals.

Keran Resort – Highly Recommended Even for Most Picky of the Tourists!
Managed by a local tourism outfit, Valley Trekkers, Keran Resort is the most sought after lodging facility in the area. We also found that pretty livable with well maintained building, good range of facilities, spacious and adequately furnished rooms, hospitable staff, and aesthetic location. The backyard fruit orchard at the riverside needs special mention; apple laden trees, lush green scenery, and a tranquil ambiance makes the whole experience quite pleasurable. In short, I would highly recommend the place. The best would be to go there in the off season, avoiding the months of June and July mainly because of the high demand. From my personal point of view the only missing element was the lack of authenticity as the arena was fenced and out of bound for locals. Still then I made up for that by inviting inside and joining a bunch of cricket playing local teens!

For the rest of the day we did nothing special except for lounging out, fruit picking, and eating chicken karhai while the kids found enough place to run and chase around resort’s pets. Because of the weekend there were quite a few tourists, highest number of visitors we saw during the trip, however, the resort was far from being full. Most of the groups we interacted with had no plans to go further and were there for a 2-3 days break. The young Lahori bunch of friends was complaining about the low ground clearance of their car – Vitz. But they were enthusiastic about attending Imran Khan’s dharan on the way back.

Back to the Real Ugly World
That was the first time after so many days that we had access to the television, which was hysterically showing the political developments in Islamabad. Like everyone else, we also glued to the idiot box and kept doing that for the whole night. It was absolutely mayhem on the streets as the protestors started marching towards the red zone while the security forces had been firing live rounds to bar them from doing so. We wish we could go back to Taobat where there was no TV!

Day 15: Monday, September 1, 2014
For most of the previous day, or in fact all, we confined in the resort’s premises to chill and relax. To break the monotony, we ventured out firs thing in the morning. Outside, there was nothing much to do, or maybe we got enough of the trekking and hiking, except for a small rip-off dhaba where we had breakfast before returning back. Adjacent to the Keran Resort, there was another guesthouse maintained by the government which we found worth exploring. It looked in good shape with a lush garden in the center and a playing are with swings which kept kids’ interest alive in the trip.

The Fault Line; But Whose Fault Was That
On the backside of the guesthouse, there was an access to the fast flowing river in the shape of a pebbles beach. On the opposite side of the river, in the Indian occupied territory, we could see signs of life. The landscape was as green and had no difference as compared to our side although the cottages looked quite worn out and most of them looked abandoned. Cron was cultivated on the steps of the hill slope with fruit trees in between. The most obvious thing was the mosque where the moizzin was reciting azaan on the loudspeakers for Zuhr prayers. We could also see some locals walking around and kids waved hands at them too but it was probably too far for them to notice us. Hopefully, the conflict line could be abolished in the future so that Kashmiri people on both sides of the river can once again meet each other without any hassle.

When we got back to our room, the couple from Karachi whom we met the previous day was leaving. The place looked empty as other groups had also departed except for a family who were going to visit the nearby Upper Neelum village. We also wanted to explore that but then cancelled the idea and instead chose to relax more!

Day 16: Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Riding the Rocket Bus, Again!
We had spent three nights in Keran and it was time to move to our final destination of this trip – Kutton. With all the backpacks we once again boarded on a Rocket Bus going towards Muzaffarabad. The bus was packed to the capacity but we compressed in somehow in the rear portion. As per the local etiquettes, ladies had the first right on the seats, while gents were standing in the alley. Good for kids and wifey! Commuters were mostly going to Athmuqam, an important town in Neelum Valley, where we reached in around twenty minutes. We had to get off at Kundal Shahi, which was another ten kilometers and took twenty more minutes. Kundal Shahi is the junction where one can hire fixed rate car like taxis for Kutton, which is more like a hill station.

Kutton’s Jagran Resort
Hiring a car at Kundal Shahi for Kutton was not difficult at all. It took me hardly ten minutes and we were in the old Toyota Corolla going up the hills. From Kundal Shahi to Kutton, it was a beautiful mountain road running alongside the furious Jagran Nala. On the way there were quite a few scenic waterfalls, on both sides of the road, coming through the thriving natural greenery. We were in the wild again. In about half an hour or so, we reached Kutton’s Jagran Resort, where we intended to stay for next few days. Usually one has to get advanced booking from their office located in Muzaffarabad, which was not possible for us, however, due to low season we got a cottage without much fuss.

In fact, we had the luxury of selecting a room of our choice, where we put out backpacks and rather than settling down requested the driver to drop us to the Kutton’s main bazaar to have a look around. It appeared to be a low-key locality as any other rural town in Pakistani mountains. The differentiating factor was the abundance of ‘ladies tailors’ in the market which I saw very first time at such locations! While doing the grocery I found locals friendly and hospitable. There was nothing much to do so we walked back to our room after having Daal Lobya from a roadside hotel.

At the resort, there were only two or three tourists groups staying one of which was leaving when we reached back. For the dinner, we ordered Chicken Karhai from the resort’s mess and called it a day after having that.

Continue reading Part 10

Keran Resort - the Mountain Village Behind is Located in the Indian Occupied Territory
Entrance of Keran Resort
Keran Resort's Main Building
Extension in Keran Resort
An Abandoned Cottage in the Resort's Premises
'Closed' Tourist Information Center at Keran Resort
We Had the Rooftop Breakfast at this 'Rip-Off' Dhaba Outside Keran Resort
Apple Laden Tree in the Backyard of Keran Resort
Most of the Apples Looked Unripe
Here I Found Some Ripe Ones!
Fruits if Hard Work
An Apple Loving Sheep
Another Apple Lover
You Guess!?
Beware of their Duck Brigade
Misha Enjoying a Scene from the Room Window
Indian Occupied Kashmir
A Mosque in the Occupied Area
Signs of Life on the Other Side of the Line
Government Tourist Resort
Lush Garden of the Government Guesthouse
Left Keran for Kutton and Reached Athmuqam
Athmuqam Bus Station
Work in Progress on the Neelum River Road Between Athmuqam and Kundal Shahi
On the Way to Kundal Shahi
Reached Kundal Shahi - the Gateway to Kutton
Kutton Junction at Kundal Shahi
Hired a Cab for Kutton
A Waterfall on Kutton Road
A Land Cruiser in Kutton Bazaar

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