A valley behind the wall

Along the dangerous border with India, lies the heavenly village of Leepa. But getting here is nothingless than an adventure

When we talk of Leepa Valley, news of Indian shelling and dislocation of the local Kashmiri population comes to mind. But there is another side of the picture and that is the scenic Leepa Valley, with swaying golden fields of rice and gushing streams nestled in lofty green mountains.

To reach Leepa Valley one has to take the Jehlum Valley road from Domail in Muzaffarabad. Domail is the point where Neelum River from north and Jehlum River from east joins to form the greater Jehlum River. As one cruises along the serpentine and gushing Jehlum River, one crosses a number of small towns including Garhi Dupatta and Hatian Bala. At Hatian Bala one has to cross the river over a typical suspension bridge to get to the right bank of the river. Now the road leaves the river bank and enters into a mountainous vale. The road is metalled and is quite reasonable up till Reshian. Reshian is again a small mountain town with all basic facilities. All public transport vehicles including buses ply up till Reshian. From Reshian onwards the road is strictly for four wheelers, especially if you love your car.

From Reshian, a small jeep-able track branches upward towards Daokhan, a tourist resort on top of the mountain in the heart of thick pine forest. At Daokhan two rest houses belonging to tourism and forest department are available. Tourism department has also established a number of concrete camping sites for the more adventurous lot. The rest houses are booked only from Muzaffarabad. Daokhan is a quiet and peaceful place with breath taking views of surrounding valleys and provides for lovely walks in the woods for soul searchers. The road to Daokhan leads onwards to Leepa valley through an older route but is now used only in special circumstances. Daokhan is about four hours drive from Muzaffarabad and is a recommended stop over on the way to Leepa Valley. However, one must take necessary food along as the same may not be available at the rest house and this advice is valid for rest houses all over Azad Kashmir.

To reach Leepa Valley, one has to climb down from Daokhan to the main Reshian- road. The further you go towards Leepa Valley, the more the track becomes tougher till one reaches the bottom of a mountain wall. As one looks upward at the wall, one can find the serpentine road clinging to the mountain just like a snake with numerous whirls. The jeep slowly starts ascending in the top gears with frequent reverse gears at the u-turns. It takes about twenty minutes to reach the top where the road sneaks through a narrow gorge to the other side of the mountain and there, by gosh, Leepa Valley with its beautiful surroundings is before the intrepid traveller. That does not mean in any way that the journey has ended. Now the vehicle descends, again through numerous hair raising turns and twists. There are about eighty u-turns in total while ascending and descending this mountain wall. The interesting part is that what seems a dangerous track, even for roads, is a every day road for military and over-loaded forest trucks.

It takes some two hours to reach Leepa Valley from Daokhan. Leepa Valley is a beautiful border valley with a few thousand Kashmiri populace in north-eastern Azad Kashmir sandwiched between Neelum and Jehlum valleys. The poor locals are one of the worst victims of indiscriminate Indian shelling and one really admires the bravery of these people for not leaving the area. The valley is surrounded by lush green mountains covered with coniferous forests. The valley has its own hydro-power plant for local electricity supply which is situated over the main Leepa stream. The most enchanting scene in the valley is the green or golden swaying fields with typical Kashmiri houses built in the midst.

A typical wooden Kashmiri house is double storied; the upper storey is meant for the family while the lower storey is meant for the cattle. Kashmiri men and women clad in their traditional robes appear to be from another world, un-influenced by the present day materialistic needs, probably that is why Kashmir is referred to as heaven on earth. It would not be out of place to praise the NGOs doing some good work in the area, especially for education. It was indeed not a good sight to see the gun totting Indians sitting on their border posts over-looking the valley and thank God it was a cease-fire time between India and Pakistan.

All basic facilities are available in Leepa Valley but the best part is to sit along one of the many crystal clear water streams and enjoy reading a book or having food, our favourite pastime.

Leepa Valley is a strongly recommended tourist resort although the facilities are minimal. Advance booking of rest houses at Daokhan and Leepa Valley from Muzaffarabad is a must as is taking your own food supply along. The road to Leepa Valley is weather dependent and is closed in winter. The best time to visit is from May to September and of course as long as the cease fire continues.

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