Wednesday, November 5, 2014

(Part 2) Reached Taobat - The Stunning Dead End of Kashmir's Neelum Valley

This is Neelum Valley Travelogue Part 2
Click here for Part1
Finally Reached Taobat After a Journey of 44 Hours

Day 3 Continued: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
At 10 am, Asadullah – the jeep driver – informed us that our destination, Taobat, had arrived. Located at the brink of the animal kingdom, Taobat is the last human settlement on the Neelum Valley Road, after which there are vast highland pastures and rugged mountain passes to far-flung valleys. It literally felt like the end-of-the world – the boundary between civilization and nature! Due to the remoteness, ecosystem thrived in the area and even human beings look like part of nature! The place is so beautiful that not acknowledging the Creator would be no less than a copyright infringement!

Staying at the Edge of the Jungle
We did not have a hotel booking, nor a firm itinerary, so first thought to try Jahanzeb’s recommendation: Al-Syed Shabistan, a guesthouse run by a local Yahya Shah.

I conveyed that to Asadullah, but the four-wheeler stopped in the middle of the dirt trek – or in the middle of nowhere actually. There were no signs of life, let alone of any tourist accommodation. Amid our drowsy bewilderment, he pointed out far in the backwoods, across the river, and instructed us to cross the swinging wooden bridge by foot!

Yes, we wanted to escape the ugly urban world, the reason why we traveled that far, but we had no idea that it would lead us directly to the jungle life, almost!

Across the bridge, the only signs of life were a few tourist huts and a camouflaged army check-post. Huts looks deserted partly due to the political situation around Islamabad and mostly due to the end of the tourist season. Asadullah sent a local kid to the village to bring Abdul Hai – the guesthouse attendant – who was running personal errands as there were no visitors since past few days.

In the meanwhile, we haggled with the owner of the adjacent cottage which had slightly better facilities, mainly the TV, but since we wanted to keep away from all distractions so with mutual discussion finally decided to stay at Al-Syed Shabistan.

Al-Syed Shabistan – the Best Accommodation in Taobat
The guesthouse was a bit far from the village, located on the opposite bank of the river, but perfectly livable and cozy. River Neelum was flowing right in front of us while an intense jungle, Nilsar Forest, was located on the back. For kids, who were intrigued more by the colorful tent houses mounted besides our cottage, there was enough space outside to run around. Overall, it appeared a good place to stay for the next few days, and at the end of the trip it proved to be the best of four places we stayed in.

Al-Waheed Hotel; Taobat’s Commercial Hub
Before settling down in the ensuite, we wanted to have a look around the village, mainly to have the belated brunch. Asadullah – the jeep driver – favored again and gave us the much needed ride to the Waheed Hotel, the only place in Taobat to get outside food easily. It was the tail end of the Neelum Road, the junction connecting “Taobat – 1” which we had already crossed with “Taobat – 2” and “Taobat Bala”. The trek to Taobat – 2 continues to Ali Tuck Shop before entering into the disputed territory. The local jeep stand was also located there along with a few grocery shops making it the village’s commercial hub.

Heavenly Views and Daal Lobya from the Balcony of Al Waheed Hotel
We seated at the hotel’s wooden balcony and ordered Daal Lobya, red beans with rice, the favorite staple all round Kashmir, and chicken curry. While the food was being cooked, I looked around to make up for Misha’s broken shoes and finally bought a cheap nylon sandal, made in China, for Rs. 100 (USD 1)!

Views from the balcony were breathtaking. Blue stream flowing in the front, the wooden bridge hanging on the stream, and lush green mountains making a fantasy background; it was so inspiring that we kept visiting the place on daily basis, for the breakfast.

Reality Check
After having the brunch, and lounging for a few more hours, we decided to go back to our cottage. But then there were no jeeps going in that direction so we had to walk back.  It was hardly a couple of furlongs, but for our lazy urban legs, the stroll proved to be a hard nut to crack – a reality check for the days to come!

Back at the guesthouse Abdul Hai was busy in preparing hot water and making other arrangements. He also informed us that the electricity would only be available during the night, i.e. from 6 pm to 6am that being supplied through an off-grid small hydel generator installed on a nearby stream. Taking advantage of whatever daylight was left, we explored the backwoods behind our guesthouse, before eventually settling down in the room for our first night on the bed after two days.

Last Question of the Day
While going to sleep, we started discussing about the differences in the rural and urban life. Rural life is natural but it is obviously more difficult to live without facilities. It is also a fact that modernization tends to spoil the natural beauty but then people living in such remote valleys also have the right, and the desire, to access urban amenities, especially road and electricity. Would it be easy to find a right balance such that inhabitants could improve their quality of life while maintaining the nature at the same time? I slept before finding an answer.

Continue Reading Part 3

Al Syed Shabistan: Located Almost in the Jungle
The Cozy Al Syed Shabistan is Undoubtedly the Best Place to Stay in Taobat
A View of Our Guesthouse from Across the River
The Makeshift Kitchen was Right at the Riverbank
Abdul Hai - Chef at Al Syed Shabistan
Misha Running Between the Cottage and the Kitchen
River Neelum was Flowing in Front of Our Cottage
A View from the Riverbank
Village (Taobat-1) was on the Other Side of the River
The Dense Nilsar Forest was at Our Back
Another Tourist Cottage Besides Ours
Yet Another Tourist Cottage
A Tourist Group Arrived But They Left Soon
Identity Check
There was a Tent Village also in the Vicinity of Al Syed Shabistan
So Close to Nature, Taobat is an Ideal Campsite
Inside View of a Ready Camp
The Shared Washroom of the Campsite
Exploring Behind the Campsite
The Pathway Was Full of Colorfull Flora
Misha Enjoying the Trek
The Flowery Trek Continued Along the River
Cornfield is a Common Sight Around Neelum Valley
We Walked Till This Point
A Busy Bee
Looks Like a Saffron Flower But It Was Not
More Colors of Nature
A Bee on the Yellow Bunch
The White One Was My Favorite There
Al Waheed Hotel - Taobat
A Torn Out Accommodation and a Grocery Store Besides Al Waheed Hotel
Gloomy Circular Staircase of Al Waheed Hotel
At the Balcony of Al Waheed Hotel
View from the Balcony of Al Waheed Hotel
A Panchayat in Front of Al Waheed Hotel
Jeep Stand was also Located at Al Waheed Hotel
An Open Jeep Coming from Kel Making the Last Turn at Taobat
Jeep Wash in Front of Al Waheed Hotel
Wood Fire at Al Waheed's Kitchen
Abdur Rehman - Chef at Al Waheed Hotel
Yahya Shah - the Owner of Al Syed Shabistan - Leading the Maghrib Prayers
Let's Call it a Day


  1. Please also post the lodging and dine in expenses as you did in part 1. It helps the new travelers,

  2. Salam beither, we are group of 10 people going neelum valley last week of September. Can you provide contact number of al sayyed shabistan please.

    1. W'salam. Here is the contact number of Mr. Yahya Shah, a local notable who runs Al Sayyed Shabistan: 03025441076.