So what does Kashmir look like across LOC?

We see guns and we see terrorists when we think of what the world is like across the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir; and often that's pretty much all that we see. What we don't see is the natural beauty the region is blessed with - the high Karakoram mountains, gorgeous valleys, blue lakes and gushing mountain rivers. We also don't see a region which has stayed almost pristine, aided, often, by the huge presence of army on both sides of LOC and limited access for tourists. But this isn't a post about politics, it's about nature and it's about the people who live across LOC.

I haven't been to Pakistan or crossed over to the LOC, so much of what I am sharing is through conversations with my friends in Pakistan who have been there, and some from online research. However, before we go any further, let's understand the geography a little better first.

kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
Neelum Valley (picture credit: Designer429)

Geography of undivided Jammu and Kashmir

The undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh at the time of India's independence, is today split between three countries - the most coveted part, the Kashmir valley with its capital at Srinagar, is part of India, Aksai Chin is with China, and the rest of the state is with Pakistan.

Each of these regions are unique, but they also share many common things. For instance Kashmir on both sides of LOC follows the same faith, culture, food and people, while Ladakh and Aksai Chin have similar geographies. At the same time while Kashmiri is the language in the Kashmir valley, across the LOC only about 5% of the population speaks it.

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Map of Kashmir (map credits: BBC)

But our focus here is on Kashmir across LOC administered by Pakistan, so let's explore that in detail. Unfortunately we Indians don't have an access there, though my dream is to have a borderless world where we can go anywhere our heart takes us to. Also, for this article I am not including the Gilgit Baltistan region, but I promise to certainly bring out its beauty in another post soon.

Places to visit in Kashmir across LOC

From the perspective of travel, Kashmir on Pakistan's side has two popular valleys, named so after the rivers which flow through them - Neelum valley with Neelum river (also known as Kishanganga in India), and Jhelum valley with Jhelum river. I have actually explored both the rivers a little during my travels in Kashmir - Jhelum in Srinagar and Kishanganga in Sonemarg.

People of Kashmir

The story would be kind of incomplete if we talk about the land, but not about it's people. To talk about the people of Kashmir, let's hear it directly from Salman Alam who is himself a Kashmiri. He is from a place called Bagh, though now he is settled in Lahore.

To understand Kashmir's people better, here's a story about a small boy.

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A young boy in Kashmir

"When you asked me whats across LOC, I'll say there is a kid on this side of border with green eyes & when you see deep in his striking eyes you'll find hope & the passion which makes him strong enough to survive against all odds. His smile will tell you that Kashmiris are pure souls. If you ever come to other side of border he'll greet you with a smiling face. He'll tell you there is no terrorism in the valley of Kashmir. This is the land which allow us to play in its meadows and mountains."


But what is Kashmir to a Kashmiri in Pakistan?

"LOC divided the landscape, people & culture of Kashmir, but it couldn't divide the passion of their living. You may call it a disputed land, but when you go there you'll see life full of its color in their lorries and bazaars. They don't even know the reason why they are living in a disputed territory, but ignoring all the odds they have learn to live happily.

They don't know what would be the future of Kashmir, but they are hopeful. They don't want to go anywhere else because this valley is the mother of thousands of people where they live peacefully. This valley owns them."

Journey to Kashmir

However, before we start with the exploring the region, let's get a little more acquainted with the journey to Kashmir in Pakistan, which in itself is quite fascinating. The best way to reach there by road, and people often start their journeys from capital Islamabad.

Let's hear it from someone I know and who also visited there recently - Zubaria Jan. In fact it was through her stunning pictures which opened up my eyes to the beauty of Neelum valley and Kashmir in general.

"Though the tale of reaching Kashmir is a long one but the sights I can tell you, were absolutely breathtaking. Seeing the small valleys unfolding and the river taking turns, flowing with all it's might and the loud noise of the water fall charming the entire village. Armies marching up and down and the noise of gun fires echoing in the mountains, where jawans were practicing. This all makes Kashmir very alien and foreign, something that can never be imagined but only felt by physically being there.

Those muddy paths with the heavenly views felt so unreal and the beautiful wood houses, which one encounters only in the movies and TV screens were now just one step away. A small boy coming from madrassah, some young men busy in a group discussion and an old lady carrying woods - would all stop and start staring at you. They all wanna know your purpose of coming here, in this distant village and that too along with cameras in hand."

Read more: Sarhad ke us paar

kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
Journey to Kashmir (picture credit: Ibrahim Zauq)

kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
A truck in Kashmir (picture credit: Salman Alam)

While Zubaria traveled through Kashmir, a local once asked her, accha aap Pakistan se aayi hain? (You've come from Pakistan). I wasn't surprised to hear that at all, I've often been asked the same question in Srinagar and around - the sense of Kashmiriyat is certainly strong on both sides of LOC.

Here's another account of an Indian journalist who visited there in 2016.

"In the approach to the Kohala bridge — this is the first entry point to Jammu and Kashmir state from the Pakistan side; it is also the place where Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was detained in 1946 on the orders of Maharaja Hari Singh — no one can miss the signposts and hoardings with “ Aao Kashmir Chalein (Let us go to Kashmir”). The slogan is everywhere, from security bunkers to road signs, somewhat similar to Border Road Organisation signs that remind us that “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is one."

Read more: The other Kashmir

Neelum Valley

Neelum valley is a 144 km long valley along river Neelum and runs through thick forests of Kashmir. The river was known as Kishanganga till 1956 when the name of officially changed to Neelum once it crosses over the LOC (source: Dawn). No matter what the name, the valley is one of the most stunning parts of the region and is in itself a reason to visit Kashmir.

kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide neelum valley
Neelum valley (pic credit: Aetazazii)

Here are some popular places to explore in Neelum valley.

1. Arang Kel

Arang Kel is a popular tourist destination in Kashmir, known for it's lush green pastures and stunning scenery. My Instagram friend Zauq visited Arang Kel recently and loved it. This is what he had to say about the place:

"The place I liked the most from the travel I have done in Kashmir so far is Arang kel in Neelum Valley. It is a plain area on a mountain. The ridge of the mountain is the Line of Control between India and Pakistan on which to one side are the Indian military men to other side are the Pakistani. There are people living in Arang Kel since long ago even though the area is very sensitive and many people have died there through time due to cease fire violation on LOC many times. The place is home for the people residing there and they are not ready to leave, although they have lost many dear ones. There are rest houses of local people for tourists and Military rest house too is available.

kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide arang kel
Arang Kel (picture credit: Ibrahim Zauq)

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Making shapes in the night! (picture credit: Ibrahim Zauq)

It's a heavenly beautiful place in both winter and summer. Lush green in summer and all covered in white disguise in Winter."

Access to Arang Kel
The access to Arang Kel is not easy. You can go till Kel in Neelum Valley through vehicle but then after Kel, you have to cross a river through a cable car and then you have to hike for one and half hour to climb the mountain and reach Arang Kel.

2. Ratti Gali Lake

Ratti Gali lake is located in Neelum Valley at an altitude of 12k ft and can be accessed by a 16 to 18 km jeep track from main Neelum valley road.

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Ratti Gali lake (image credits: Sher Ali)

My friend Sher travelled with his friend and really liked the jeep track as it was really thrilling. The journey goes through deep forests and on the same side times it's also very dangerous. After a 1.5 to 2 hour jeep track you will reach at ratti gali lake basecamp. from basecamp it takes 45 minutes to reach ratti gali lake. We have to trek from the basecamp.

The lake is a marvel of its own. You feel very peaceful there. The lake surrounded by the glaciers and high mountains gives you unique pleasure.

3. Sharda Peeth

Sharda Peeth is an abandoned Hindu temple, built in the typical Kashmiri temple style. Located on the banks of river Neelum in Sharda village, this used to be a major centre of learning and one of the 18 maha shakti peeth.

It's a historically important temple and was documented way back in 632 CE by a Chinese Buddhist monk. Like most other temples in Kashmir, it's now in ruins too.

Read more: Lost temples of Kashmir

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Sharda Peeth

4. Line of Control (LOC)

Zubaria visited LOC, something which even I haven't done from our side, and it was surely a surreal experience for her...

"After the stay at Chumb our local driver offered to take us to the LOC... upon hearing his offer we all stared at each other for a while, not sure if it was the horror, fear or excitement. Whatever it was, it didn't remain for too long and we couldn't help but say yes. It was a great opportunity and none of us could afford to lose it.

kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
An old Kashmiri man (picture credit: Ibrahim Zauq)

As the car headed towards our new journey, it remained filled with mixed unknown emotions as if we're going to climb K-2 or Everest. Nobody would talk because we were all trying to figure out what exactly it was that we were feeling and then all of a sudden Zauq turned to me smiling and after a pause asked "What are your feelings about this?" And before I could answer our smiles turned into a happy laughter and then the whole car was sharing the same excitement. We both started uttering words like "OMG I still can't believe this, I'm nervous, ecstatic, a bit scared, emotional, nostalgic, my heart's pounding fast etc etc" we were trying to fathom our feelings into phrases but it just seemed impossible. The rest of our time we kept looking out of the window imagining all the possibilities of what it would be like to be at the border between the two states."

Read more: Sarhad ke us paar


kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
India as seen from across LOC


5. Minimarg & Domail

Minimarg is a beautiful little town nestled between mountains covered in dense green foliage and trees, at an altitude of 2844 metres, and on the banks of Neelum river.

Osman Anwar, a travel blogger from Pakistan travelled solo across Kashmir and has some amazing tales to tell. From taking lifts on bikes, to using his connections to get easier access, he has lots to tell. I do not know him but could still connect with his words. Here's a small excerpt from his story

"Due to Minimarg's proximity with the Indian border, I had to restrict my camping and trekking ambitions and was forced (read: glad) to swap my tent for a cosy shell-proof underground bunker.

Minimarg served as the perfect prelude to the spectacular lakes and roving green mountains of Domail.

The fact that both these places are hard to get to, coupled with their special permit requirements, means that they are out of reach for the typical tourists, who would otherwise throng these places and litter them. In fact, it's refreshing to see that both places are absolutely pristine."

Read more: Finding magic near the Line of Control

One of places not to be missed in Deosai is the Rainbow lake which changes colours throughout the day. Reminded me a little of the Panyong Tso which also changes colours through the day as well as different seasons. Swimming at the Rainbow Lake, unfortunately, isn't allowed but you can take a raft across the lake to a hut and eat some really tasty food there.

These are just some of the places to visit there, and there are many more like Chitta Katta Lake, Shounter Valley and Pearl valley (Rawalkot).

Jhelum Valley

Jhelum valley is a 50 km long valley along river Jhelum and surrounded by lush greenery.

Chham falls

These beautiful falls are located in Chinari, a village in Hattian Bala District. They are located at a distance of about 50 km from the capital city, Muzaffarabad.

Wondering what it looks like? Here are some gorgeous images from the falls. Enjoy :)

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Some action at Chham falls (picture credit: Ibrahim Zauq)

chamm falls kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
Chham falls (picture credit: Ibrahim Zauq)

Ramkot fort

Built at the confluence of river Jhelum and Poonch, Ramkot Fort is one of the many forts built by the rulers of Kashmir in the 16th and the 17th Century.

The fort is not so easily accessible, and you actually need to take a boat-ride from the water sports club to the foot of the fort. The fort can then be reached by a steep climb.

Read more: Ramkot Fort

ramkot fort kashmir pakistan LOC travel guide
Ramkot Fort (picture credit: Mudabbirmaajid)


Permissions to visit Kashmir

Pakistan calls the Kashmir on its side of the LOC as Azad Kashmir, and access to the region is highly restricted. Only people from Kashmir or Pakistan are allowed there. So no foreigners, including us Indians, there.

However, some Indians are actually allowed access there, and these are the Kashmiris from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. There is no visa needed, but you need to apply in advance and prove that someone on the other side knows you. Visits are allowed only to meet relatives (for example a marriage) as well as trade and business.

How to reach Kashmir?

The best way to travel in Kashmir dis actually by road. Muzaffarabad is connected with Islamabad through decent roads and is well connected through buses. However, the best way to travel would be on a hired car with a driver who knows the areas well, and is used to driving on, often non-existent, roads.

If you are coming from India, you can cross from specific points on LOC. Of course, you need to be from the state of Jammu and Kashmir to be eligible, including Ladakh and Jammu region.

Special mention

This story wouldn't have been at all possible without the inputs from these wonderful guys, who also generously shared pictures for this article. Without their help it wouldn't have been possible to write this at all. A big thank you to you guys!

Go visit their Instagram profiles and show some love from India :)

Zubaria Jan
Ibrahim Zauq
Sher Ali
Salman Alam

Comments

  1. nice article,and heaven of earth, beautifull pic

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  2. This part of the world looks beautiful! I would love to travel here and see for myself!

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  3. This is such a beautiful piece of write up.

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  4. It looks so well preserved and natural with these impressive landscapes, lakes and ancient monuments. I think this is almost like a dream Shangrila.

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  5. Incredible captures! The ruins of the temple is very touching.
    Hats off to the Pakistani photographers!

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  6. Thanks for sharing this part of the world looks incredible. Ashame that access is restricted but I guess that's probably why it's still unspoiled. The Neelum valley looks stunning and the rainbow lake sounds interesting,. Thanks for putting this together.

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  7. I've heard about the legendary beauty of the Kashmir region - thank you for the chance to see it via the photographers who were lucky enough to visit! It's such a shame that the region is closed to most visitors - but then, I guess that helps to keep the beauty pristine.

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  8. There are so many beautiful places to visit in Kashmir that I would really want to visit it (I am a sucker for mountains etc). I hope visitors can check it out soon and not remain close :(

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  9. What an incredible part of the world, it's a shame that it's restricted although it means that it remains beautiful. The action shot at Chham falls and the photo of making shapes in the night are great action shots :D

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  10. Love reading about unique and out of the way destinations like Kashmir. What an amazing opportunity it would be to spend some time in those beautiful valleys. I didn't know much about the LOC, so it was fun to learn about the border.

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  11. Super Sid..So true that Sarhaadai insano ke liye hi hai !!! But for people who are beyond this will always feel the beauty, that has been gifted by God...Pity some of us do not have those eyesight !! :)

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  12. Good one which otherwise is not available for us to admire the beauty of this region, thanks for the share....

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  13. You are so correct! The place is so beautiful with green mountains and breathtaking scenery. I have never heard about or seen this about Kashmir before.

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  14. extremely stunned by what I am reading, like this is another side of the world I would love to experience, good thing you were able to see the photos of your friend about the place and see it for yourself in person, and enjoying the place, i am too stunned with your photos and how amazing the nature is, I agree that regardless of what the government are doing, there are and always there are amazing nature surrounding the place. gladly, you also was able to let others share their experience.

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  15. Thankyou for highlighting the natural beauty the region is blessed with, and extending people’s vision of what it’s like in Kahmir across LOC. I love that even though it is a disputed land, the people & culture of Kashmir have not been divided, and their passion for living continues. It really does look like a stunning part of the world, so blessed with spectacular natural features. I would love to visit Arang Kel and Ratti Gali Lake, as well as the abandoned temple at Sharda Peeth . The falls are so beautiful too – there’s so much to do!

    I hope you have the chance to visit sometime soon :)

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  16. Interesting. What I know of Kashmir is that it is known for its natural beauty. I didn't even know it was a conflict zone and wouldn't at all associate it with "terrorists and guns", as you said. Sounds like it is time for you to visit yourself and experience the area!

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  17. Great to see this wonderful collaboration with bloggers and photographers beyond the LOC. I have a deep fascination for the Himalaya/Karakoram/Hindukush/Pamir regions. Sadly I think we will never be able to make it there! Just how much are we losing out on due to this conflict that has no easy solutions now!

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  18. Beautiful post. After looking at POK for a while I have been aching to visit it but being an Indian we really can't. I too have friends on the other side. The closest I had been to was Turtuk village. Love the pictures and your post. Wish I could discover Arang Kel, Chham falls, Ramkort Falls and other gorgeous places.

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  19. It's so interesting - often when we think of these places we think of struggles but it's great to hear that behind the border there's colour and a community doing well.

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  20. How interesting- I literally knew nothing about this place before reading the article. Your friends provided some amazing photos. The waterfalls in particular make me want to go. Too bad I'm not allowed!

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  21. Kashmir on both side is equally beautiful....but one thing i will say due non development work in POK the nature is in much better condition than Kashmir in India.

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  22. EPIC post... I wish someday it would be possible to see all the raw beauty that exists in this world... Sigh. Brilliant work :)

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  23. I regularly visit your site and find a lot of interesting information.
    Not only good posts but also great comments.
    Thank you and look forward to your page growing stronger.
    lucky patcher

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  24. That's an amazing article Siddhartha about Kashmir. The way you crafted the article is amazing with breath taking snaps. On of the best blog article that I came across in recent times. Never knew we got a beautiful spot up there. This makes my curiosity to visit Kashmir. Thanks for this article mate. Keep up the good work.

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  25. Such a beautiful place, have never visited Kashmir even once yet have always dream't of going their since childhood, will pray for kashmiri's.

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  26. Wow so nice picture. Beautiful kashmir, heaven on Earth, beautiful gardens, friendly people.

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  27. very nice article. Pictures in the article are very peaceful.

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  28. such a beautiful place.
    interesting blog. enjoyed reading this

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  29. Great to read about the other side of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, The area beyond LOC and the confluence of Neelum river Jhelum river are uncharted territories for an average Indian (except for natives of Kashmir) and you covered those areas in detail.

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