About the blog: Kashmir is undoubtedly a paradise. In our recent trip to Kashmir, we not only travelled to the common tourist places, but also explored a number of offbeat places. In this blog, we will give you a glimpse of an unexplored gem in Kashmir – the Lolab Valley and Kalaroos Caves. Read on to know more.
Did you know there is a tunnel that connects Kashmir all the way to Russia? While the veracity of these facts cannot be claimed, the romanticism of such an existence is quite prevalent in part of Lolab Valley in Kashmir. This blog is your detailed guide if you want to visit Lolab Valley and Kalaroos Caves in Kupwara district of Kashmir.
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It was bright and sunny after a few days of rain and clouds when we started from Srinagar early in the morning. Our destination for the day was the beautiful Wadi-e-Lolab or the Lolab Valley. This oval-shaped valley is located in Kupwara district in Northern Kashmir. Kupwara used to be one of the disputed border areas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and tourism was quite limited there. But things are changing now for the better.
Even while I was planning our Kashmir trip, I wanted to visit the offbeat and unexplored places in Kashmir like Gurez and Lolab Valley. Unfortunately, Gurez was still not opened for tourism because of excessive snowfall at the Razdan Pass. But we did have the opportunity to visit the gorgeous Lolab Valley.
Where is Lolab Valley Located?
Lolab Valley is located in the Kupwara district of Northwest Kashmir very near to the most disputed Indo-Pakistan border. The valley is known for its natural beauty and is fondly known as the “Land of love and beauty”. To be honest, we really did feel love and beauty all around Lolab.
Lolab a small valley about 5 km wide and 26 km long located between Kashmir Valley and the Neelum Valley. The entire region consists of three valleys – Potnai Valley, Brunai Valley and the Kalaroos Valley. Nagmarg meadow separates Lolab from Bandipora district. Lolab valley is located about 120 km from Srinagar and can be reached through Kupwara town. The main towns in the Lolab Valley are Chandigam, Sogam, Kalaroos, Kigam, Lalpor, Tekipora, Kandi and Muqam.
Our Experience at Lolab Valley – the Land of Love and Beauty
It took us almost 3 hours to reach Kupwara town from Srinagar. The road to Kupwara goes through Pattan, the ancient capital town of Srinagar and Sopore. The road towards Lolab Valley is through a huge army camp. However, that day there were some military activities going on and that road was blocked.
We took a long detour towards Lolab and soon we reached the entrance to Lolab Valley – a gate with a sign “Welcome to Wadi-e-Lolab”. The beauty of the valley was quite apparent as we passed the gate. The river kept us company and the pine and fir trees around us made the place look simply beautiful.
Lolab Valley is known as the “Fruit Bowl of Jammu and Kashmir”. Fruits like apple, cherry, peach, apricot and walnuts are quite common in Lolab. The valley also has large pastures of land and rice fields that are dotted by small houses with tin roofs. And you can see the Himalayan ranges in the distance.
After a few minutes’ drive, we reached Khumriyaal, a small village in the Lolab Valley. We were driving without any particular destination in mind at that time and were thoroughly enjoying the views Lolab Valley had to offer. After all, we did not have any particular plan in mind and this aimless driving was quite a unique experience. Of course, we had our Kashmiri friend, Aarif with us who was also one of the best guides that we could have in Kashmir.
Lolab Valley is simply stunning. Vast expanses of green paddy fields and pastures looked ethereally beautiful. We saw the locals working at their fields with huge smiles on their faces. To be honest, we hardly saw people at Lolab valley. Forget about tourists, locals were also very few in number.
The Lahwal River traverses through the valley. Thick pine and fir forests form a significant part of the surrounding mountains. There are small lakes and pristine meadows nestled within the mountains and hills. Numerous springs and nameless waterfalls come down these mountains. And beyond the horizon you can see the snow capped Pir Panjal ranges. Lolab Valley is untouched and pristine.
My words would do no justice to the place. Because I cannot use enough adjectives to describe Wadi-e-Lolab. So let the pictures do the talking!
The Villages of Lolab
Lolab Valley is dotted with a number of villages. The main occupation of the villagers is farming and cattle herding. As we traversed through the villages we saw the local Gujjars doing their own chores. Many were working in their fields and a few were in the shops waiting for customers. Most of the barren land we saw was the barren paddy fields. It was the dry season. But we knew that in a few days the fields would look emerald green.
There is a Government tourist bungalow at Khumriyaal. But we did not find anyone at the bungalow. There is another tourist bungalow at Chandigam which is apparently in a better state and has a caretaker.
We explored around Khumriyal and then we decided to visit the Kalaroos Caves. Google Maps are not quite trustworthy in these areas. We put our destination in Google Maps and roamed around the same region for some half an hour. Finally we gave up on our Google search and went back to the age-old practice of asking for directions. Of course, the villagers were quite happy to point us in the right direction.
Kalaroos is another quaint village of the Lolab Valley. But what is most interesting in this village is the Kalaroos Caves. Kalaroos is quite popular in Kashmiri oral and textual traditions for the cave located high up on the mountain surrounding the village.
After asking for directions at every turn, we finally reached the end of the village where the hill stood. We hiked through the muddy village road towards the hill. It had rained the last few days and the trail was extremely muddy. We had to carefully walk on the stone slabs that were placed on the muddy trail. Finally we reached the base of the hill. We have to hike up the hill for about a kilometer to reach the caves.
Halfway up, we saw the first glimpse of the Kalaroos caves. A huge cave like structure stood having seven arched niches carved into the stone. At a first look, it seemed like a meditation place for Buddhist monks. Maybe, this place was once the meditative zone for a monk, who knows! The local Kashmiris call this natural cave is as Satbern or Satbaran.
Mystery of Kalaroos caves
The locals believe that Satbern or Satbaran are the entry point of the Kalaroos caves – the caves leading all the way to Russia! This is the local legend of the Kalaroos caves.
Such is the significance of the caves leading to Russia, that the entire village is named after it. The name Kalaroos comes from the word “Qil-e-Rous” that literally means Russian fort. It was a passage to Russia and the neighboring Central Asian countries in the good old times.
Satbaran at Kalaroos Caves
The seven door huge rock structure or Satbaran does look like a formidable fort entrance. The name Satbaran comes from the word “Sat Barr” meaning 7 doors. These seven doors signify seven distinct routes to Russia! A local boy we met even said that his great great great grandfather used to come from Russia using these tunnels!
Not mucgh is known about the historical origin of Satbaran. It is believed that Satbaran was an ancient temple where the Pandavas used to worship.
Well, whether or not these caves lead to Russia, we do not know. Infact, all that is known about these caves are from the exploration of the caves by a Virginia based couple Amber and Eric Fies. They led the exploration of the caves in 2018 with appropriate caving gears, headlight and oxygen. They explored 3 visible caves and reached the termination points of 2 caves that ended blindly. The Indian army had sealed the third cave years before.
Satbaran today hardly leads to 50 meters and ends abruptly. It might be possible that they were once a part of a larger archaeological system. However, after our exploration of Satbern, we decided to hike beyond. We heard that there is another cave a few metres ahead of Satbaran.
We crossed a mountain stream, hiked within the pine trees and once again were not able to find the cave. After roaming for almost half an hour, we saw a young boy coming down from the hill. We stopped him and Aarif asked him for directions. As lovely as he was, he took us to the cave.
This cave had a small opening that led to its crevices. I was a bit skeptical of entering the cave. Aarif and our local guide were already climbing up and were almost inside the cave. Finally, my curiosity gave in and I too went inside the cave. It was not quite easy, I was scraping to hold anything and everything. But finally I managed to reach the inside of the cave.
The various formations inside the caves proved that the cave was rich in copper. We used the torches in our mobile for light. Our guide took us quite inside the cave all the way to a place that looked like the opening of a tunnel. This is one of the caves that leads to Russia, supposedly! Russia or not, our young guide told us that if we walked through the tunnel for almost 2 hours we would reach some other part of the Lolab Valley.
Well, this sounded quite plausible. Russia seems too far!
We explored the cave for about 45 minutes and then returned back to Satbern. Agni was waiting for us there. He usually does not prefer caving and so stayed back to take pictures and to enjoy the beautiful valley.
After our cave exploration, we simply sat in front of the Satbaran enjoying the crisp mountain air and the cool sunlight on our skin. Everything was so simple and beautiful. In the meantime Aarif continued his conversation with our local young guide. Finally we hiked down to Kalaroos village.
While I was quite careful on my way to the cave, the return was not the same. And so I fell! Into the mud! While crossing the muddy tract, I slipped to my fall. Thankfully no one was there to see my clumsiness, but my jeans and shoes were all muddy. As I was crossing the village, one young woman saw me and invited me to her house and asked me to wash my shoes and jeans. After that she served us all Kahwa!
There is something so beautiful about Kashmiri Kahwa. People bond over cups of Kahwa here in Kashmir.
Kalaroos village is quite friendly. A few women looked at us from their windows curiously and returned a smile when I waved at them. A few who could speak Hindi would come and talk to us. There were even a few who wanted us to stay back at their village. They were quite happy to open their homes for us to stay with them and enjoy the Kashmiri hospitality. It was a lovely feeling.
Although we could not stay back this time, we promised the villagers as well as ourselves to return to Lolab Valley again!
How to reach Lolab Valley?
Lolab Valley is located about 120 km from Srinanagr and the entry to Lolab Valley is 9 km from Kupwara town. You can hire a car from Srinagar and visit Lolab Valley. You can do a day trip to Lolab from Srinagar.
Local buses are available from Srinagar to Kupwara. From Kupwara, you have to take a local vehicle to reach Kupwara.
Where to stay at Lolab Valley?
There are J&K Tourism department tourist bungalows at Chandigam in Lolab Valley. There is also another tourist bungalow at Khumriyal village. We did not see any homestay facilities at Lolab Valley, though the locals invited us to stay at their place.
Kupwara town has a few hotels where you can stay. However, the stay options are basic.
As for food, if you are staying at the tourist bungalows, have your meals there. Kupwara town will have a few eateries.
Lolab Valley is beautiful. Added to the mystery of Kalaroos Caves, the place is quite irresistible. However, tourism is at nascent stages here. The place is tucked away from commercialization. Although the villagers want tourism, they also seem to be wary of crowds and people. Lolab Valley has all the potential to become a tourist destination. However, it has to be done with care, keeping in mind the sensibilities of the local people.
Lolab Valley Travel Guide – FAQs Answered
Lolab valley is located in Northwestern part of Kashmir in the Kupwara district. The entrance to the valley is 9 km from Kupwara city and the centre of the valley is about 120 km from Srinagar city.
To reach Lolab Valley, take a bus from Srinagar to Kupwara. From there, hire a car to reach Lolab Valley. You can also hire a car from Srinagar to visit Lolab valley and Kalaroos caves.
The distance between Srinagar to Kupwara is 85 km and it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to reach there.
Kalaroos Caves is located in Kupwara District of Kashmir in Lolab Valley. These caves are surrounded by some interesting myths. It is said that these caves lead all the way to Russia.
It is believed that the Kalaroos Caves have tunnels that lead to Russia and the Central Asian countries. But no archaeological proof has been found yet conforming to the fact.
Kashmir is quite safe for tourists. Kashmiris are one of the most affable hosts and they welcome tourists with a warm heart. Touristic destinations like Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam and Srinagar Dal Lake are quite safe. Tourists are respected in Kashmir.
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