Mughal Emperor Jahangir described the beautiful valleys of Kashmir four centuries ago and said, “Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast; hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast.” which means “If there is paradise on earth; it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” Kashmir renowned for its lush green valleys and breathtaking landscapes has often been compared to heaven on earth but in my experience, it’s not just the exquisite scenery that’s alluring, it’s the heart warming people and their welcoming nature that add to its beauty.
The higher Himalayas & the Pir Panjal mountain range surround Kashmir valley from all sides. The most ancient route to the valley is the Salt route, also called the Mughal road after the Mughals occupied the area. Passing through the snow-covered mountains of Pir Panjal range traders have used this route since ancient times to transport salt across the region on horses. Mughal Emperors like Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb travelled in caravans across this route to Kashmir. Emperor Akbar started work on this road in 1587 AD while Emperor Jehangir commissioned an Iranian engineer to build Sarais (rest places), mosques and hamams (bathing pools) on the route for the royalty’s conveyance. The road connected Gujrat & Lahore (now in Pakistan) to Srinagar and had 14 halting stations, some visible even now from the road. Emperor Jehangir is believed to have died on this road near Rajouri. Part of the historic Mughal road from Bafliaz to Shopian, about 84 km passing through stunning alpine snow-covered mountains, lush green valleys and Pir ki Gali, a mountain pass at 11,500 ft and the highest point on the Mughal road, has been renovated and opened to public since 2012.
Mughal road is a more scenic & less crowded route from Jammu to Srinagar than the National highway, even though it’s a bit longer. We wanted to visit the less explored, non-touristy parts of Kashmir, so in the summer of 2015 before we went to Ladakh, we travelled to Kashmir via the historic Mughal road all the way up to Lolab valley. Nine of us, on 4 motorbikes and 1 jeep began our road trip from Delhi to explore the paradise of Kashmir. Map of our route here. (Read more on my Travels to Ladakh.)
Our first night halt was at Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara in Punjab about 315 km from Delhi. We enjoyed the delicious Langar – a community kitchen by the Sikhs where free meals are served to all visitors. The next evening after another 300 km we reached Jammu, from where the Old Mughal road begins. Looking forward to our journey through the historic road the next day, we were to pass through the towns of Akhnoor, Rajouri, Bafliaz, Pir ki Gali pass to Shopian (280 km), I wondered how beautiful these places would be if their names sounded so poetic!