Muhammad Younis details the day-long picnic to Sinthan top
A single waft of cold in scorching sun; what else would you ask for? And then if you receive a full package?
As the temperature in Kashmir notches up to the highest in July, last week, Kashmir Life newsroom decided to go somewhere cooler. After much brooding, Sinthan Top was the mutually agreed place.
Located almost 130 km south of Srinagar, 3,658 meters above the sea level, it is one of the most beautiful spots. It is Kashmir’s high-altitude door to the Chenab Valley and its weather is as mercurial as Kashmir’s politics are. Love it; the opposite is impossible.
A half-filled Mazda bus left at 6:30 am. We had to pick up a few of us, who live on the way.
Because of the highway halts enforced by the new road use regime, we had to stop at a few places. Nevertheless, we didn’t miss the opportunity to eke out bliss from these halts even. By cracking jokes: fresh, stale and half-saids.
Our first halt was Kokernag, which loosely translates as spring of chickens. Here, we had our breakfast in Heaven Dhaba – a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Umar Mukhtar wanted the money instead of breakfast. It was a joke. Not meant for the seniors. We snorted with laughter.
Even though Kokernag in itself is a health resort, we didn’t spend much time here. We wanted to reach Sinthon Top as soon as possible as we did not want to be left by the vagaries of afternoon weather changes on the top.
The life from this point onwards is behind the times technologically, but ahead in aesthetics. The towers of your mobile gradually start to disappear until there is a total disconnect. On the other hand, nature begins to squeeze you in its arms; you start to have the taste of cold. Your body as such feels a need to add up covers. From half sleeves, a few of us put on sweaters, even jackets.
As our vehicle heated up, it needed some cold water. Hence, we made another halt at a place not far away from Daksum, the abode of one of the oldest surviving Dar-ul-Ulooms in the region. Near a running tap, wherefrom we got the water (absolutely pristine), there were a few village women, dressed in plain attire. We had a bargain with them regarding a home-fed chicken. It didn’t come to fruition, however.
From Daksum en-route, a partially macadamized road snakes up the slopes of steep mountains for around 37 km to reach the summit. There are enough hairpin curves; you need to hold tight to something in your vehicle in order not to fall off here and there.
Unlike the congested roads in other parts of the state, not many vehicles can run on this road – it is a tough terrain and extreme hill driving is challenging for drivers, especially from the plains. The residue of the recent landslides was easily noticeable in many places. Even, up the mountain, at some spots, the road is carved out through the snow sheets, glaciers that survive for around nine of the 12 months. The journey could be tormenting to a feeble heart, which is why not many people seem to visit this pass that opens Kishtwar to Kashmir.
On either side of the road, at a number of places, you find streams, as though completely milky white, bubbling down through green foliage. In between them, the sporadic sights of thatched rooftops of the huts of nomads supplement the vista.
Everything, from the flickering torrents to each bend on the road, to little children and cattle outside the huts, is a photographer’s delight. You just need to click. Filters are least needed.
It took us around six and a half hours to reach Sinthan Pass finally. The moment you get down your vehicle, you find a whole new world. The clouds enclose everything. You literally move between them. In fact, at places, you find them below your feet, not above your head. You want to embrace the aura tightly between your arms and sniff the whole fragrance of the surroundings. Cell phone towers in the plains are too dwarfing to catch your device but intermittently a few from Kishtwar can connect you to the rest of the world.
A little trek of more than a few hundred metres up over the white sheets of snow is the Sinthan Top. Life must be a synonym of love there. The spot seems a rendezvous between the two worlds. The sky looks kissing the earth, in snow-white garbs, on its temple. As if they are in a love affair.
At a lesser altitude from Sinthan Top, it is a 360-degree view. The spot overlooks beautiful sceneries of the low-lying regions of both sides of Kashmir and Kishtwar. Far off on each side, the distance your eyes could reach to, you get a panoramic view of snow-capped mountain tops. Below, on either side of Sinthan Top, you can have a view of the whole trajectory of the serpentine roads in one go.
Sinthan Top is a less-known tourist spot that is gradually gaining popularity now. It lies midway on the Anantnag-Kishtwar- Batote national highway. In the past, it is said people from Kashmir would trek up the whole mountain range to reach Punjab plains and Shimla for work. And more often than not, there would be casualties in the process. The road has been recently built by the government, but still, it doesn’t look that secure.
In comparison to the road from Anantnag to Sinthan Top, the road from the Top to Kishtwar is said to be dangerous. On the evening of last Monday only, a marriage party had given slip to a serious eventuality. Returning from Kishtwar, it was destined to Srinagar. The Baraat vehicles were snaking up the road from Kishtwar to Sinthan Top when a torrential rainfall took place. It caused landslides. To eschew any sort of risk, the vehicle carrying the groom and the bride returned to Kishtwar. But still, the other vehicles couldn’t make it as they were stuck – the road is a little wider than a single lane. Until late in the night, the stranded tried to contact the authorities to make the road passable, but because of low connectivity, they couldn’t. They spent the night under an imminent threat of about to be crushed under the falling stones. It was in the wee hours that they pulled off in accomplishing the task manually and afterwards left to their destinations.
Anyways, we spent a couple of hours here. At the cliff, Umar Khurshid hit a few numbers on his guitar. The tones bonded us with nature. It was hard to disconnect. But we had to. Before leaving, we clicked a lot of photos to capture the memory.
The place is totally natural. You find the least human interventions. For many kilometres, moving down the serpentine road, there are two or three small tea stalls. It was 4:00 pm and we were yet to have our lunch. The question was where to have it. The scenery all around is so beautiful that you can’t choose. Finally, we decided a place nestled between the mountains on either side. It was a carpet of green; a white bubbling stream flowing adjacent to it. The birds chirping in different genres, the peculiar crow species turning nasty for free food and the sun sneaking glances through the alpine trees gave us a company. We rested for a few hours here. Everything enamours you here. Like a beloved. From whom you are reluctant to depart. With averse, we left at 7:00 pm in the evening.
There were anticipations how beautiful the mornings would be here. Many of us expressed a desire to own a place in these meadows.
But the truth is until you keep the nature pure, it doesn’t mess with you, and gives you what you are bereft of in the outer world. Peace.