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Taobat – A nature lovers’ paradise

By Farooq Ahmed/Aftab Zahoor
MUZAFFARABAD, Jan 7 (APP):Nature has bestowed Pakistan with countless bounties figuring mesmerizing views, tall pines, snow covered peaks, gushing brooks and rivers, green plains and hilly terrains.
These matchless gifts of Nature from coasts of Karachi to towering peaks of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan amalgamate to present glamorous and enthralling views for visitors.
Standing tall among them is Taobat – a unique destination with its picturesque and captivating scenic beauty, nestled on the banks of River Neelum, in Gurez Valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Neelum valley, one of three regions of Gurez valley and the last station in Pakistani controlled AJK along Line of Control is some 200 kilometers from Muzaffarabad and 39 kilometers from Kel valley.
Having the history of centuries, this land was also explained as “one of the most beautiful scenes in Kashmir” by a British author Sir Roper Walter Lawrence who visited the region in 1895.
“It is the most beautiful scenes in all of Kashmir, where the tourmaline waters of the Kishenganga River are framed by mountain scarps of indescribable grandeur,” Walter Lawrence had written in his book ‘The Valley of Kashmir.’ Even after a vast time span of 13 decades, this place is as beautiful today as it was at the time of Walter Lawrence’s visit.
Drive from Kel to Taobat is surely a mesmerizing journey leaving tourists in awe when they pass through beautiful villages of Machhal, Phulwai, Halmat, Janawai, Sardari and Makroon falling on way from Dawarian to Taobat.
Wooden cottages, enchanting waterfalls, flower-covered meadows, heavily forested mountains and a roaring river – all join together to present the look of ‘Heaven on Earth,’ for tourists travelling to Taobat on a road snaking through these small localities.
Sharda is the most picturesque spot on way to Taobat with its captivating landscape, springs and tree-covered hillsides and the houses built on steep slopes having their roofs partly stuck into mountain.
Being an ancient seat of knowledge and wisdom, the ruins of an old Buddhist University can still be found in Sharda.
“Visiting here is a real pleasure. Once you move towards Neelum valley, your eyes remain stuck to beautiful views,” said Rashid Mahmood, a tourist from Islamabad. “Travelling on bumpy roads is really thrilling. It is Nature all around on way to Taobat. This heavenly beauty leaves indelible prints on your mind.”
As the tourists had to travel by jeeps from Kel to Taobat, they enjoy a thrilling journey and captivating views. Men grazing cattle and farming next to their wood houses and women strolling around wearing long black velvet gowns to arrange food and wood stock for winter, present a real primitive look.
At Taobat, Krishanganga enters into Pakistani side Kashmir becoming the Neelum river and making the region awe inspiring where tourists even forget to wink their eyes. Taobat receives heavy snowfall during its six months long winter season from October to April.
“We face harsh winter. Snow engulfs our houses and pavements from December to March,” remarked Nasir Ali, a resident of the area. “Our people have to gather ration and wood during summers and lock inside their houses during peak winter season.”
Nasir informed that majority of local people work at corn, beans, potato and vegetable farms to earn their living. “People here commonly survive on farming and income from tourists with some opting for other professions.”
Being in far flung region, the area lacks some most essential amenities like well equipped hospitals, paved roads, gas and higher education institutes.
“Although 60% tourists coming to Kashmir visit Taobat, yet the area still lacks basic amenities,” Nasir said. “Even for communication, the tourists have to purchase special Scom SIMs as other networks do not operate here.”
As Taobat becomes a key focus of tourists, the AJK government has also taken measures like forming a tourist police patrolling for visitors security besides providing them pamphlets carrying travelling and residential information.
“We have two government staying facilities – one lodge of the forest department and a hut of local government,” informed Khawaja Raees, Publicity Officer in Tourism Department. “Some 20 private guest houses are also available for tourists to stay.”
Raees, who also hails from Neelum valley said eight kilometer road from Kel onward has recently been constructed while 25 kilometer jeep track needs repair. “Despite weather constraints, we fully try to promote eco-tourism in this pollution free region where people enjoy organic food and captivating views.”
Long majestic bridge with Neelum river flowing with full might underneath is a spotlight of Taobat, connecting unpaved road to onwards meadows. It is last destination to travel by jeeps, from there on, tourists had to trek to explore meadows and feel murmuring tranquil breeze.
Dense forests, chirping birds, blooming flowers, babbling rivers and streams and above all the simple people narrate stories of awesome Nature all around.
As white daisies remind nature lovers of ‘the golden daffodils’ of William Wordsworth, the thick shady trees remind of William Shakespeare’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ where everybody desire to wander around lonely as a cloud.
Tourists say that anybody affording to travel must visit this place to feel the soothing affection of Nature and its bounties bestowed on mankind.

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