Neelum is known as “Piece of heaven”, which stretches 240 km from Chahla Bandi Bridge to Taubat, north of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir. This valley is as beautiful as its name. The Neelum Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in Pakistani Kashmir, with rivers, clear and cold water canals, springs, forests, and lush mountains. There are cascading waterfalls and cascading waterfalls from the high mountains, the sharp, milky waters of which flow over the road, and the headwaters of the big rocks finally join the gray waters of the Neelum River.
If you want to see the cool sweet springs, the noisy foaming waters, and the waterfalls falling from the heights, there is hardly a better place than this valley. The capital of this valley is Athmaqam. The valley consists of two tehsils, Athmaqam and Sharda. The road from Muzaffarabad to Sharda is in good condition, but beyond that, there is a broken, bill-eaten, unpaved, and from somewhere rocky jeep road that leads to the last village, Taubat.
This area was called the Drava before independence. In the cabinet meeting of the government formed in 1956, nine years after the formation of the independent government, Ghazi Kashmir Syed Muhammad Amin Gilani proposed the name of Kishan Ganga river as Neelam river and Dravah as Neelam valley, and these names were changed as per the decision of the cabinet. ۔ Thus, yesterday’s Drava is today’s Neelum Valley.
When the call of this remote human settlement in the foothills of the Himalayas came to my name, I said goodbye to my job, and the city packed my things and set out to get lost in the lush mountains of Kashmir. When the car reached Jhelum, I stood on the river bridge and saw the waters of Jhelum. The muddy water was flowing slowly. I was going to see the same river from where it enters the Pakistan-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was flowing slowly, but there is a river of green water flowing in the mountains, making noise, raging, foaming. Jhelum alias Neelam alias Kishan Ganga. Inside the car was the sound of a song, “What name should I call you, what is your name.”
Cities, towns, settlements keep passing. When Rawalpindi turned small, and Murree turned, the car took the road to Muzaffarabad. The journey from Kohala to Muzaffarabad was narrow but continued on a cool road. The car kept moving in the shade of the trees. In the surrounding mountains, new, vibrant grass grew. There were green scenes. In the greenery, there were pomegranate trees on the side of the road with redbuds. Seeing red flowers bloom in such greenery makes a strange wave run in the heart. My heart wanted to take Anarkali with me on my journey, but John Elijah immediately came to my senses and said, “Look at the flowers, don’t break the flowers.” Anarkali kept passing by and came to Muzaffarabad after seeing these scenes. A city of overpopulation, house upon house, people above people. After crossing the Neelum River bridge, I left the car and took the jeep. My destination was the Neelum Valley.
When I walked along the Neelum River, I started thinking about how the river is flowing satisfactorily as a border between two countries. On one side was Pakistan, and on the other side was India. The Neelum-Jhelum hydel project has started at Nosiri, where Pakistan is building a dam on the Neelum river. Summer had begun, but the project was still in its infancy. When the capital of the valley came up, there was a crowd in the bazaar. When the car came out of the crowd, Karen came. The government of India was based in Kashmir, which was across the bridge over the river.
The driver softened the voice of the tape recorder and said, “Sir! Kashmir is with them (India). We have the only problem”. Walking along the Line of Control, I realized that one thing the two sides have in common is music. Indian music plays in cars on both sides. There is no difference in culture either. The food is the same. Color and race are also one. There is also a river flowing in the middle. There is also a cloud passing above. Just the flag changes. The government changes. Hearts change. When the driver had finished speaking, he turned up the volume on the tape recorder. The song echoed in the car, “Heartache can come from those eyes.”
The town of Dwaris came. From here, the road leads to Rati Gali Lake. Rati Gali, where nature has spread a velvet carpet of green grass and painted it with yellow, blue, and orange colors and decorated the landscapes around the blue waters of the lake, which tourists and hikers can see in the mountains of the Himalayas. They hit the head, cross the canals, climb and walk. Rati Gali, a lake that, even if a person lays down everything he wants to see, does not feel any loss.
The car moved forward. A little further on, a road goes up the hill, which leads to Upper Neelam village. Probably because of the name of this village, the whole valley was named Neelam. When Sharda came, the jeep stopped at the bazaar. Eyewitnesses saw donkeys grazing on the roofs of houses and shops. Seeing such a scene, laughter spread on the lips. Sharda where donkeys graze on the roofs of houses. The roofs of houses along the slopes meet the mountain, from where animals can easily climb the roofs. Grass and herbs grow in the mud on the roofs, and donkeys follow in their scent.
Up to Sharda, the urban environment is slightly overshadowed by the valley, and the necessities are abundant and easily available. The places ahead of Sharda are rural areas. The road to Sharda is also fine. Beyond that, it is in a very dilapidated condition. The Neelum River flows a little wider at this point. Sharda is the second subdivision of the Neelum district. This region has been the center of knowledge and wisdom since ancient times. If you cross the river bridge and go to the other side, you will find traces of a ruined fort. It was not a fort but a university.
According to some historians, Sharda was the name of a Hindu temple. Was Sharda a temple or a university? It is still being researched. According to the eminent researcher of the state, Dr. Ahmad Din Sabir Afaqi, Sharda, and Saraswati are two names of the wife of Brahma in the Hindu faith. They are considered to be the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. In ancient times, temples were centers of worship and education. Al-Biruni describes the geography and condition of this temple as follows: “After the temples of Chakra Swami and Somnath of the Sun God Thamanir of Multan, Sharda is also a very large temple. Samat is a famous Sanam Kadha. ” Sharda, a village on the banks of the Neelum River in the 21st century, is now known only for its tourism. The Neelum River flows silently, touching the foothills of this village.
The journey began again. The road ended, and a rough road began, from which a mountain spring would flow fast in places. The jeep would cross the water and then hesitantly move towards its destination. Sitting inside, I feel like I’m riding a camel. The sun was shining from the mountains. The long shadows of the pine had grown longer. When the jeep entered the nail, it was greeted by the fragrant air spread all over the area.
After checking in at the tourism department’s motel, I sat on the balcony next to my room in the dim evening sun and watched the valley go by. On the roof of a house on the right, two young children were playing tennis with a small green plastic ball. Next to them, four boys were playing another game on the roof of the house, probably a staple type game.
Downstairs, on a muddy path between a mountain slope lined with wooden beams, women would occasionally pass with brass and silver pots on their heads. These jars contained water. At the beginning of the path, there was a clear water drain with a wooden beam on top of it, and a few women were washing clothes on the side of the drain and the beam. The women would fill the jugs with water in pairs and climb the dirt road to their homes. In a field along the same pier, which was fenced with wooden planks, two girls would go round and round and fall on the ground after a while, then laugh out loud for a long time. The sound of their laughter was mingling with the laughter of the children playing tennis. After a while, the two girls would get up, and the game of spinning would start again and would continue until they fell.
There were numerous dandelions in a field just below my balcony, with a brown cat sniffing between them. The setting sun rays were falling on the dandelion, due to which their fibers could be seen shining from the edges. Smoke was billowing from the chimneys of houses in the valley on the right. The sloping roofs were painted red, white, and malt. Occasionally a jeep or motorbike passes through the jeep road.
After a while, the last rays of the setting sun began to shine on the faces of the two pieces of cloud that had been in the sky since time immemorial. When the headline colored the sky, it became cold in the valley. By the time the clouds receded, the water had receded, the children’s games were over, and the brown cat had left for home. Smoke rose from the chimneys. Dinner was being prepared. The cold was getting worse. Darkness began to spread. The valley began to tremble. I, who these scenes had lubricated, wrapped myself up and went into the room.
Came back to the balcony at 11 p.m. Now there were stars in the sky. The last dates of the moon were. It was a night. Silence resounded in the valley. There was only the sound of water flowing in the gutter or its beating. The chimneys were cold. The town was asleep. The barking of dogs came from far away and then came and went. Dogs barking in the quiet valley were making the atmosphere mysterious. When I came to the room and lay down on the bed, sleep was far from my eyes, but when I closed my eyes, the whole valley of nails began to revolve around my eyelids. I fell asleep dizzy. The goddess of sleep had embraced the whole valley. By morning, the whole universe was frozen.
With the first rays of the next morning, I left the nail. The jeep hesitated on the difficult dirt road. Registration at military posts continued. The Neelum River came to a point along the side of the road. The jeep was passing through the river just a foot high. Then there was a waterfall whose water was falling on the road. The whole way around, the shower was muddy. When the jeep crossed the waterfall, a cold shower soaked his face.
The road along the Neelum River began to rise again, and the jeep went up. The river went down somewhere. Next were the settlements of Sardari, Pahlavi, and Helmat, and somewhere at the end was Taubat where the car was to stop, the last stop of the journey, in front of which the road ended. On this day, I noticed that women in these areas of the valley are hard workers, work in the fields, take care of livestock and, in particular, wear red clothes.
Caravans of gypsies were found at various places along the way. The Bakrwal tribes were constantly on the move with their livestock and family. Hearing the noise of the jeep, the goats would leave the road. The Bakrwals leave Kashmir and cross the high gorges of the Himalayas to the plains of Deosai. From there, they take the road to Skardu or some to Astor. The ice of Deosai had not yet melted, so the caravans of goats were moving slowly. Staying here and there. They would camp in every town. There were tents in the streets. The lives of these gypsies are also a mystery. While walking, he is buried where death comes. Their graves are scattered from the settlements of Kashmir to Skardu and Astor.
A Bakrwal said that this is the profession and path taken by our ancestors for centuries. Walking and walking, that’s their life. As I passed by, I saw a goat slaughtering a goat by the river. Seeing this, I stopped. Bakrwals die of starvation but do not slaughter and eat their cattle. When he went to find out the cause, he found out that the animal had slipped and fallen from the mountain, due to which both his hind legs were broken. One day the gypsies used to carry it, but now they can’t carry it and slaughter it. I remembered the saying of Mushtaq Ahmed Yousifi, “We have not seen a goat die of natural causes in the Islamic world.”
The journey continued. Springs were flowing from the road here and there. The jeep kept traversing these milky waters. A gypsy girl sighed at the sound of the horn, turned around, and covered her face with shame. Green eyes spread inside the niqab. She was holding a tea kettle in her hand, along with two cups and a few dry leaves in a shopper’s bag. My heart wanted to tell him that if you are a gypsy, then I am a nomad at the moment. They are both human beings, so why meet in so many hijabs. The Gypsy was left behind. The car sped forward. I looked through the car window and saw that there was silence. There was a time when I thought that one day I would cross Kashmir with these gypsies and go to the Deosai field and take the road to Skardu. Along with the goatherds, in the hospitality of the gypsies, steaming a cup of tea, maybe one day it will be possible.
Jamgarh came. Immigrant settlement. When Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Indian-administered Kashmir, residents of a Muslim settlement along the LoC left their homes, crossed the river overnight, and entered Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The migrants have been resettled in Jamgarh by the state government. The roof of the whole town has the same color: orange. Stories of pain are rife in the town. There are memories of those left behind. There are lamentations of burnt houses. There is mourning for the lost goods. The jeep passed quietly through the town. There was silence in the town. People were silent, or they were permanently silent.
After a four-hour hesitant journey out of the nail, Taubat came. An isolated mountain village. There were specially built houses made of wood. The lush green fields were surrounded by wooden fences that were probably erected for land demarcation. The river Neelum was flowing fast in the middle of the valley. People were happy to prepare the fields. The children peeked out of the windows of the houses and waved at the passenger. The elders were sitting outside the small shops. The red anchors were waving in the fields. This is the village where Shab Basri stayed today.
Woke up the next morning and marched towards Gagai village, the last human population of Kashmir. It was a walking distance. There were forests on the way. There were fields. There were birds. There were one or two marmots. The fog was flowing along with me. While walking, I came to an open place at the foot of the mountains where the Gujjar Nala coming from the Barzel Pass meets the Gagai Nala. The two starts flowing together and hand over their waters to the Neelum River at Taubat.
The sun began to shine. The mountain squirrel came down from the tree, climbed on a piece of wood lying on the bank of the stream, and began to bask in the sun. The air was cold. Somewhere around here were marmots whose whistles echoed from time to time in the air. Then came a forest that crossed and reached the population. After a four-hour trek, I was in Gagai village. This population of a few is the last population of Kashmir, followed by Astor District, a three-day walk away. There are forests or streams in the middle. There is loneliness and loneliness.
The village is beautiful, covered in snow for seven months of the year. I asked a man there, “Do you do nothing at all when it snows six or seven months of the year?” If you don’t do anything, how can you spend so much time locked up at home? A smile spread on his uncle’s lips, and he said, “No, there are no less than twelve children in every household, and what to do.” I wanted to submit that uncle I meant some work, but he was silent after hearing the answer.
As he started walking, one of the villagers said, “Wherever you go, there is no population. Go back to Taubat from here.” Just go a little further; maybe if I find a good scene, I will take a picture and then go back. A little further on, a servant was carrying an ax on his shoulder and a bundle of wood on his back which he was cut from the forest. He looked at me and said, “Oh brother! Don’t go ahead. Someone like that will catch you and slaughter you. Then the problem will get worse.” I heard this. On the way back, the phrase “If someone grabs and slaughters, the problem will get worse … the problem will get worse … the problem will get worse …”
Before returning, I put my hand on my forehead and took one last look at the snow on the Barzel Pass, protecting my eyes from the sun. Far away were snow-capped peaks covered with snow. These were the peaks of the Barzal Pass. In front of him was the Astor district of Gilgit-Baltistan. In my book of deeds, everything had been written before the journey of the last human population of Kashmir. Across the veil, the pen was writing another journey on the blackboard of destiny. A new circle was forming in my feet. The line of travel was spreading on my palm. Exhausted, I bowed my head. It was a submission to nature. As I closed my eyes, I felt as if my existence would crumble due to exhaustion. Then my knees touched the land of Kashmir. The forehead touched the dust of Kashmir. The same prostration that gives salvation to a man with a thousand prostrations.
Kashmir is beautiful. I saw as much as I could. I don’t know what happened across the LoC. But all I know is that there are thousands of bullet-riddled graves. There are thousands of women who have been raped. There are thousands of mothers who have lost their wombs. There are thousands of old people whose young sons have been shot and silenced. Thousands of hopes have been dashed. Sandalwood forests have been set on fire. Where caravans used to land, ants have now encamped. The sailors of the boats on Dal Lake have grown old, singing songs of freedom. My work today is the names of the suffering Kashmiris and the names of the red anchors waving in the air.