Travelling to Teetwal


Made famous by a Manto’s short story and later literally living it for a long time, Teetwal in Tanghdar is a changed frontier now. Raashid Andrabi went on the long drive to report a resonating change

Kashmir’s northern Tanghdar township in Kupwara is a place of stark contrasts. Once renowned as a hub of knowledge and commerce, the mountain range has endured relentless conflicts as a literal border town along the Line of Control (LoC). Hugely restricted to commoners for strategic reasons, it is for the first time – perhaps with the exception of the 2005 earthquake when anybody with proper permission can go up to the banks of Kishangaga, the de facto border. Credit goes to the revived ceasefire between the rival armies that have given the region enough peace to rebuild life.

The town’s troubles began with the division of Jammu and Kashmir during the first Kashmir war between India and Pakistan in 1947-48. The war left a legacy of separation and sorrow as families were torn apart, and lives were irreparably changed.

The historic rope bridge of Teetwal that connects the other Kashmir. Image Mahmood Ahmad

Zubaida, 59, lost half of her family during the partition. “My two brothers and one sister reside on the opposite side of the border, while we two sisters live on this side,” she lamented. “It has been over two decades since I last saw my family on the other side.”

In the decades following the divide, Tanghdar witnessed frequent cross-border firing, with both nations accusing each other of violating ceasefires. This picturesque haven became a juxtaposition of natural beauty and ongoing conflict as armed forces patrolled the treacherous mountainous terrain, and the local population lived under the constant threat of shelling and violence.

Zubaida noted that she has heard the sounds of shelling more frequently than the sounds of cars and motorcycles. “We have witnessed conflict looming over us for decades, and many still carry haunting memories of those times. However, the situation has returned to relative calm in recent years,” she said.

Though the shelling exchanges were routine, the region got global attention in October 2005 when vast swathes of land straddling the LoC were buried in a 7.4-scale earthquake killing hundreds. That was the last time when the commoners engaged in the relief affairs were permitted to move in and help the people rebuild their lives in Tangdhar and Uri belts. Then, the rival sides ceased hostilities and even exchanged relief for symbolic reasons. With fewer violations, the ceasefire somehow survived and continues to be so.

The Pass

Nestled between the Pakistan side of the LoC on three sides – Neelum Valley to the north and Leepa to the south, Tanghdar is remote but not isolated. Its only access is from Kupwara through the 10,000 Ft Sadna Pass that overlooks the two sides of the 67 km Kupwara-Teetwal highway.

Perched at an awe-inspiring altitude of 10,200 feet, nestled near Tanghdar and located approximately 134 kilometres away from Srinagar, lies the Nastha Chun Pass.

Its name, Nastha Chun, translates directly to Cut Nose Pass, a name inspired by the relentless and icy winds that sweep through the region year-round, leaving visitors quite literally numb. In the Kashmiri language, it is known as Nathi Chapa Gali, meaning Numb Nose Pass, echoing the same chilling experience. However, this high-altitude pass is more widely recognised as the Sadhna Pass, a name that carries a touch of Bollywood charm and historical significance.

A view of Tangdhar Mountains from Sadhna Pass. KL Image: Raashid Andrabi

Sadhna Shivdasani, popularly known as Sadhna, graced the silver screen during the vibrant era of Hindi cinema in the 1960s and 70s. She garnered acclaim as one of the finest and highest-paid actresses of her time. Fondly remembered as the ‘mystery girl’ for her captivating roles in classics like Woh Kaun Thi, Mera Saaya, and Anita, Sadhana left an indelible mark on the hearts of moviegoers.

The connection between Sadhna and the pass runs deep. After her visit following the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, the people of Kashmir decided to honour her legacy by renaming the pass Sadhna Pass. She must be the only celluloid screen who is part of the Kashmir folklore.

The People

Though only 1901 families with 9904 residents (2011 census) live in the 41 villages of the belt, it is one of the best in education. Its literacy rate is 78.98 per cent, surpassing the entire Jammu and Kashmir. The main source of income for the belt comes more from animal husbandry than agriculture. It has fascinating pasturelands in the mountains surrounding it. Part of the income comes from working for the armed forces as porters and suppliers of certain common basics.

People keen to visit Tanghdar in the Karnah belt, require a formal permit from the Kralpora Police Station in Kupwara. With permission in hand, the first checkpoint awaits at Chowkibal. There, one has to fill in a document containing the vehicle’s details and the visitor’s name.

From shoulders, to the vehicle, to the coffin and then to the grave. Residents of Karnah say it has become a perpetual things with them in absence of a tunnel. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Approximately an hour later, at Sadhna Pass the vehicle and paperwork are subjected to scrutiny. Here, chilling winds attempt to steal one’s breath, and any desire to capture the moment is met with a firm “no photography allowed” policy. It is a hugely strategic spot and requires extreme caution.

Individuals aspiring to venture further, such as Teetwal, have to secure a fresh permit from the Tanghdar Police Station. Those wishing to reach the last village of Seemari, have to obtain permission from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM). This region operates under a permission-based system due to its proximity to the LoC.

The White Line Divide

Approximately 15 kilometres from Tanghdar town, Teetwal village rests as a quaint hamlet in a unique position on the world map. Bisected by the Line of Control (LoC), Teetwal straddles the de facto border between India and Pakistan, serving as a stark reminder of the intricate geopolitics that defines the region.

Teetwal, a place scarcely known beyond its vicinity, found itself thrust into the literary limelight thanks to Saadat Hasan Manto’s iconic short story, Teetwal ka Kutta. A celebrated masterpiece penned against the backdrop of the tumultuous 1947, this literary gem has enamoured readers and scholars alike with its profound exploration of the absurdity of human conflict, the tragedy of partition, and the inherent fragility of the human condition.

The Handshake: Officers from the Indian and Pakistani army sake hands on the rope bridge over the Kishanganga (Neelum) river in Teetwal on July 21, 2021, before exchanging sweets on the occasion of Eid ul Azha. The river is the Line of Control between two halves of Kashmir. Pic: Army

Born in India in 1912, the Kashmir-origin Saadat Hasan Manto was a prolific and controversial writer renowned for his fearless portrayal of the socio-political realities of his time. Teetwal ka Kutta emerged during a period of unprecedented upheaval in the Indian subcontinent, leading to widespread violence and mass migrations.

Manto, a first-hand witness to the horrors of partition, employed his storytelling prowess to cast light upon the devastating aftermath of this historical event. The story first graced the pages of the Urdu literary magazine Adab-i-Latif in 1947, shortly after the partition, and swiftly gained recognition for its poignant narrative and incisive social commentary.

Teetwal ka Kutta revolves around an ostensibly trivial incident. A dog from Teetwal ventures into the no-man’s land amid the chaos of partition. The narrative unfolds through the perspective of this ordinary canine, who unwittingly becomes a silent witness to the madness, violence, and division that engulf the region.

The journey of the dog transforms into a potent metaphor for the senselessness of human conflicts, as it navigates a world torn asunder by religious and political strife. The narrative touches upon themes of displacement, identity, and the futility of division, all through the innocent eyes of the four-legged protagonist.

The Aquatic Border

The Kishanganga River, coursing through Teetwal, forms the LoC between the two sides of erstwhile Kashmir. On one bank resides Teetwal, while just a stone’s throw across the waterway, known as the Neelum River to Pakistanis, lies the village of Chilhana: two names, yet one community, bound together by ties that defy political boundaries.

The Teetwal Bridge, one of the five bridges on LoC that connects the two parts of the erstwhile Kashmir state. The river acts as the Line of Control. KL Image: Raashid Andrabi

Until 2018, a narrow footbridge, the Meetup Point, permitted families separated by the divide to reunite and interact. Nowadays, the bridge stands in silence, its passage obstructed by coils of concertina wires. A white line, etched with stark symbolism, separates two nuclear-armed nations. Visitors and locals alike are allowed to approach the line, but not a step further.

The bridge, constructed in 1931 has borne witness to significant historical events. It stood witness to the harrowing tragedies in 1947 and later. Later in 1965 and 1971, the region experienced further upheavals that eventually changed the erstwhile ceasefire line into the LoC.

The situation dramatically changed in the 1990s. Javid Qureshi, a resident recollects a time when even the faintest glimmer of light in their homes in Teetwal could not be switched on due to the constant risk of shelling. For years, the region witnessed a near-complete halt in business activities, and the road tracing the Kishanganga saw minimal traffic due to recurring clashes.

Visible Change

However, after the most recent ceasefire agreement, a positive transformation has occurred. Tourists have returned to the area, and local entrepreneurs have revived their businesses, opening shops and sending their children to school without fear. The nights have grown quieter, with residents no longer feeling the need to seek refuge in dungeons, the underground bunkers that the government funded for the residents.

“In the wake of the last ceasefire, tourists have come back, and we have been able to expand our businesses, set up shops, send our children to school without fear, and sleep with the lights off without the constant threat of having to take shelter in underground bunkers,” admitted Javid.

A view from the top of Sadhna Pass, 10,000 Ft above sea level in the Kupwara district of North Kashmir. KL Image: Raashid Andrabi

It is worth noting that in November 2003, a ceasefire was established to calm the turbulent waters along the LoC. Initially, it brought some positive developments, including the reopening of buses and trade between the divided sides. However, in the years that followed, it fractured, facing recurrent breaches. However, the deterioration in the bilateral relations has not triggered the shelling exchanges that were a norm earlier.

In 2020, India reported 5,133 ceasefire violations by Pakistan, resulting in 22 civilian and 24 security personnel casualties. Pakistan countered with 3,097 violations by India in the same year, causing 28 civilian deaths and 257 injuries.

Residents were frightened when in February 2019 in wake of Pulwama car bomb explosion, relations deteriorated. The subsequent thaw, however, restored the confidence in people on both sides.

The 160-foot-long wooden suspension bridge, spanning the Kishanganga River (known as Neelum in Pakistan), serves as one of the five key crossing points along the LoC. Formally referred to as the Chilehana Tithwal Crossing Point (CTCP), the bridge is heavily fortified and guarded on both sides.

Emotional Reunions

Undaunted by these constraints, residents have devised ingenious methods to maintain their connections. They gather at the river’s edge, at its narrowest point, and engage in conversations, sharing stories and laughter across the watery divide. In these moments, they become their own bridge, transcending the limitations imposed by politics.

Earlier, residents said the roaring river had a lot of water and communication was very difficult. Now the water level has gone down – probably because part of the water is retained in Gurez for the 390-MW Kishanganga power project and later diverted into Madhumati, and in the later part of the year talking from the banks is possible. Earlier, they also used to write on paper and put a pebble into the piece and throw it to the other side in the presence of the watchful security apparatus.

Before the eruption of the crisis in 1947-48, Teetwal thrived as a vibrant commercial centre. The village’s shops were renowned for their ghee, honey, and nuts, all sourced from the neighbouring Karnah, Leepa, and Neelam valleys. It was a formidable area that had towering leaders who enjoyed a lot of military prowess. However, the mess reshaped the village’s destiny, irrevocably altering its course.

Zubair Saleem, a local teacher who has called Teetwal home for the past decade, reflects on the village’s past glory. “Teetwal was a hub of commerce and prosperity, surpassing many districts in Jammu and Kashmir,” Zubair recalls. “People from Tanghdar visited our village for shopping. Today, Teetwal stands as a shadow of its former self, with only a handful of shops remaining due to the wars and fights.”

Sharada Yatra Temple

Not known to the young generation, Teetwal was the base camp for a visit to Sharda Peeth, an ancient Hindu place of knowledge and temple that is located on the other side of the divide. Sharada Peeth, which thrived between the sixth and twelfth centuries, was renowned for its illustrious library, attracting scholars from diverse backgrounds who travelled great distances to access its precious texts. The temple annually hosted a pilgrimage, drawing devotees eager to seek the blessings of Ma Sharda. In the eleventh century, the Muslim chronicler al-Biruni described it as one of the most revered shrines in the Indian subcontinent.

Sharda Yatra Temple, located at Teetwal, Kupwara. Earlier, this temple was the base camp for Sharda Peeth yatra that is now located on the other side of the LoC. KL Image: Raashid Andrabi

There was a temple in Teetwal where the yatra would start for the site across the river. The temple and an adjoining Gurudwara in Teetwal were devastated during the 1947-48 war, according to its caretakers. The pilgrimage to the temple was a routine till the divide stopped it. For seventy-six long years, Kashmiri devotees were unable to cross the LoC to reach the site, located approximately 130 kilometres from Srinagar and a mere 10 kilometres from the LoC.

In a significant development this year, the Sharda Yatra temple in Teetwal, serving as the base camp for the Sharada Peeth Yatra, has been meticulously reconstructed and is now open to the public.

The temple was inaugurated on March 22, 2023, by Home Minister, Amit Shah. Shah emphasised that Sharada Peeth had played a pivotal role in India’s cultural, religious, and educational history, comparing it to the Kartarpur Corridor. Prior to the recent developments, the opening of this track for the pilgrimage of Kashmiri Hindus was discussed at the highest level between India and Pakistan.

On May 1, 2023, another milestone was reached as the Sikh Gurudwara dedicated to Guru Teg Bahadur was reopened. Both the temple and the Gurudwara were painstakingly reconstructed by the Save Sharda Committee and now stand side by side.

The temple has been erected through the concerted efforts of Kashmir’s Save Sharda Samiti and the Shri Shringeri Math (Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham). The idol was ceremoniously installed in the sanctum sanctorum amidst the chanting of Vedic hymns by renowned scholars and Pandits who had journeyed to Teetwal from Shingeri Math in Karnataka, where the Murti of Goddess was brought.

The land on which this temple now stands was obtained with the support of locals, as it used to house a Dharmshala and a Sikh Gurudwara. Ravinder Pandita, the chairman of the Save Sharda Committee, who oversaw the temple reconstruction and transportation of the idol from a distance of over 6,000 kilometres, now eagerly awaits the resumption of the Yatra on the other side of the LOC.

Aijaz Ahmad, one of the founding members of the Sharda Yatra Temple, reflects on the positive changes witnessed in the region. “Since the ceasefire, it is a very good environment here, there is peace, people are coming and going, travelling, worshipping, and subsequently tourism is increasing,” Ahmad said.

While Teetwal now offers comfortable accommodations in guesthouses for up to 200 people, some still choose to stay in the main town of Kupwara. Ahmad hoped that the tourism department would take some interest in promoting the region and make arrangements for people to stay here comfortably. “We hope they will soon work more on tourism in this area,” Ahmad concludes.


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