In the north Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, across the long serrated ridge line of the Pir Panjal range lies a valley of exquisite beauty. This irregular oblong shaped vast valley is enclosed by a rim of high snow clad mountain ranges, entwined with dense forests, turquoise colored lakes and meandering rivers. This is the Vale of Kashmir. In the northwestern extremity of the vale, lies tucked in another small valley of equally enticing beauty. Enclosed by a ring of lofty mountains and basking in sylvan splendor in the long shadow of the Himalaya, this is the Lolab valley. Beset like an emerald studded in a string of pearls, it is truly a paradise within the paradise!
Lolab Valley or as the locals call it, Wadi-e-Lolab, lies in the frontier district of Kupwara, in North Kashmir. It is one of the eight geographical divisions and one of the five assembly constituencies of Kupwara District. It is located east of Kupwara town, which is 90 km up north from Srinagar. Kupwara District is spread over an area of 2379 square km, almost 65% of which is forested. The district which has an average elevation of 5300 m, has within its folds numerous, beautiful valleys, principal among they being Lolab.
The Gazetteer of Kashmir1 describes the Lolab Valley as follows.
A pargana comprising a beautiful and very fertile valley, situated on the north-east side of Kashmir: the tehsil station is at Lalpur. The valley is oval in shape, and its surface is elevated and undulating: it stretches about 15 miles north-west and south-east, varying in breadth from a few hundred yards to about 3 miles. It is traversed by a considerable stream called the Lahwal, and is intersected in all directions by its numerous tributaries, which flow down from the surrounding hills, which are clothed by dense forests of deodar.
As you drive into Lolab along the Lolab Kol, the valley opens up at Khumrial. There is a cool mountain breeze and the scent of dense pine along the stunning landscape, interspersed with well spread Kashmiri villages. As the men and women folks go around their daily chores, the youngsters loose no opportunity of playing cricket, with highly improvised pitches, bats and balls.
Sir Francis Younghusband2, who visited Lolab in 1887 described the valley thus:
The Lolab is the western end of the vale of Kashmir, and is remarkable rather for the homely picturesqueness of its woodland and village beauty than for the grandeur of its scenery.
The hill-sides are entirely clothed with thick forests of deodar and pine. In the valley bottom are beautiful stretches of soft green turf. Dotted over it are villages buried in park-like clumps of walnut, apple, and pear trees; and numerous streams ripple through on every side. For forest and village scenery it is nowhere excelled. It is like a series of English woodland glades, with the additional beauty of snowy peaks in the background.
It is strongly believed that Lolab valley was once a lake, which formed part of a bigger lake, called Satisar or Satisaras, the waters of which covered the present Kashmir valley. Satisar was the ‘Lake of Sati’ (Durga or the consort of Lord Shiva). Early European travellers noticed that ‘Kashmir was in comparatively late geological times, wholly or in part occupied by a vast lake’3. Lacustrine deposits in the valley were confirmed by Mr F. Drew and Colonel Godwin Austin. Vigne too, observed raised calcareous deposits. In all probability, these were raised to their present position by upheaval of volcanic masses from the ocean floor and below. Even today, the general aspect and lay of the land in Lolab, is akin to a basin enclosed by high mountains.
Presently there are thirteen small lakes in Lolab, having an average depth of three to four feet. Covered with weeds, they afford great shelter to the migratory water fowl which breeds here. Lolab is drained by the the Lolab Kol, which is formed after the confluence of Manchhar nadi, Khumarial and other nars, which carry water from the perennial high mountain streams. Lolab Kol ultimately flows into the Pohru river at Kupwara.
Lolab valley is 20 km long and five km wide and lies from northwest to southeast. The valley has three principal valleys namely Kalaroos or Kalaruch, North and South Lolab. There is an interesting story about the mythical Raja Lov, the founder of Lolab.4
It is said that after the destruction of Pandvas Sindmat Nagar (Vulur) and death of Sunder Sain, there remained disturbances for some period. After that the learned people selected a man, named Lov for handling the throne. This man as per Stein, was from the dynasty of Rajas of Malwa and had migrated to Kashmir.
The Pandav Rajas respected him and with their assistance he had become the Jagirdar of Lolab area. He organized a stong military force to defeat his enemies. He constructed 84 lac grand buildings to establish the city of Lalore (Lolab). He was a brave and undaunted Raja, free from vices. After his death, his son Kush occupied the throne. He was also a brave leader. The name of Lolab in Sanskrit books is “Lolo”. Aini Akbari writes it as “Lolaha”. Lok Prakssh names it “Laloke” and Sahib Ram “Lolo”.
Vigne5, the British explorer who travelled in Lolab in 1835 observed
There is in the middle a large flat and circular space, a valley within the valley, the snuggest and most retired looking region imaginable. This part of Lolab is about 5 and a half miles in diameter, and a morass, that appears to have been formerly a lake occupies the centre: the sides are verdant, and more or less covered with jungle.
He further records
I noticed a curious fact connected with the natural history of this part of the country, which would go far to prove that this singular punch-bowl is the most sheltered district in Kashmir. As evening drew nigh it was astonishing to observe the number of birds of the corvus genus who came to pass the night on its plain; ravens, crown and jackdaws were seen in almost every direction, excepting the north, whither they do not repair, the country being comparatively barren. They appeared in the air above the mountain tops, all moving towards Lolab as a centre, and then suddenly, as they came in sight of their resting place, darted downwards with surprising velocity, crossing each other in their zigzag, irregular flight, as if they had been influenced by terror or the fury of a driving hurricane, As they neared the ground, they gradually slackened their speed, circled over its surface for a moment, and then alighted in such countless numbers, that the ground in some places was literally blackened with them.
The valley of Lolab is hemmed by a ring of high mountains. While to the west, the valley is enclosed by the Menganwar and Bodbal ridge line, to the northwest lies Nawan Bal with the Zamindar Khan Gali, which gives accesses to Machhal. To the south and southeast is the Harwan Bal with Kowut, which separates Lolab from Sopore. To the east lies Bandipura and to the south east lies the Wular lake or Mahapadmsar, the largest fresh water lake in Asia. To the north, northwest of Lolab lies the mighty Shamshabari range. The Gazetteer of Kashmir6 records the range as under.
SHAMSHABARI - Survey Station - Lat. 34° 21’. Long. 73° 59’. Elev. 14, 351 feet. The name of the lofty range of rocky mountains forming the boundary of the Karnao valley on its east side, between the Nattishannar and Tutmari Gallis. The Shamshabari stream drains the northern portion of the valley, and unites with the Kazi Nag below the village of Chamkot.
The little known Shamshabari is the northern most mountain range of Kashmir, spanning the entire north of the valley, like a crown capping the head. It is an offshoot of the Great Himalayan Range, which breaks off from the east of Kaobal Gali, near Zoji La. Moving westwards, the Shamshabari forms the western and the northern boundary of Kashmir. Shamshabari range runs to the north of Lolab, towering above this small valley. This snow clad range which is approximately 220 km long, with a varying elevation between 11,000 to 14,500 feet, finally terminates in the west at Kalapahar.
The Shamshabari range directly impacts the life of the people living in Lolab. The older generation of Kashmiris living in the shadow of the Shamshabari believes that blind and deaf fairies who live high on the mountain, kill people in winter. The range receives considerable rainfall in its lower reaches in the summer and the monsoon months and heavy snowfall in winters. Shamshabari also has a number of Galis cutting across its spine in north-south and east - west directions. Some of the well known Galis are the Nastachun pass, Razdan Gali, Zamindar Khan Gali, Tootmari Gali, Hunwar Gali, and Pherkiyan Gali, which receive heavy snow in winters. The Shamshabari is thus the great watershed divide between the Kishenganga river flowing through Gurais to the north and the Kazi Nag, which flows to the south, in the Kashmir valley.
As Lolab is an enclosed valley, the area is prone to fluctuations and sudden changes in local weather. The valley floor at an average, receives almost 20 to 25 inches of rainfall during the year. In 2011, because of heavy rains, Lolab Kol was in spate and the valley was almost cut from the rest of Kashmir. July and August are hot months, in which temperatures can soar up to 320 C. Thunderstorms though frequent during summer months, are not very severe. Night frost settles in by mid November, giving way to the cold winter season in Kashmir which is traditionally divided into Chilai Kalan, Chilai Khurd and Chilai Bachh. In winters temperatures can plummet to -10° C. Lolab receives heavy snowfall as a result of which, the upper reaches are prone to avalanches. In 2012, as a result of heavy snowfall, the valley of Lolab was virtually cut off from the rest of Kashmir.
The people of Lolab are a happy lot. Despite leading a hardy life, they maintain a cheerful disposition. Majority of the population is Sunni Muslims, including Pahadis and Gujjars, with a sprinkling of Hindus and Sikhs. Agriculture is the mainstay of the valley. A number of them are small time business entrepreneurs, primarily retailers in Kupwara and Sopore towns. Women, who go about their daily chores in the traditional Pheran, Shilvar and Kameez command respect in the society. Family bonding is strong and guests are looked after with devotion and hospitality. Lolab, was undoubtedly the epitome of ’Kashmiriyat’ and brotherhood, in the whole of Kashmir. Religious tolerance and harmony, propagated amongst all religions by Sufism was best exhibited in Lolab. Regretfully, this was broken in the early nineties as militancy hit the area.
A meadow in upper Lolab valley
A pine forest in Lolab valley
Shali (rice) and maize are the principal crops grown and almost 80% of the population comprises of rice eaters. A few families also sow oil seeds in the winter months, which mature in the month of April. Kadam, Munji Haakh and Haakh, vegetables are an all time favourite of the people. Peas, melon, spinach, brinjal, potatoes, beans and pulses are also grown in abundance. Wild vegetables like Suchal and Hundh, are also consumed in the upper reaches of the valley.
People of Lolab are fond of a good diet and consume beef, mutton and chicken. Lolab Wazwan, along with Gushtav, Yakhni, Rista, Pullaow, Tabak maaz and Pherni are other delicacies of the valley. Tea is served in the tradition Samavar and Dusterkhan is spread on the ground before eating. The salted Sheer Chai, is relished, but sugar tea is hardly consumed. Kahwah Chai is also a favourite drink. While tobacco is consumed by majority of people, very few consume alcohol.
Lolab, which has nearly 35 villages covering the central floor of the valley and its periphery, is located amidst groves of rich fruit trees. Main population centres of Sogam and Lalpura, are rapidly developing. Other villages of prominence are Khumarial, Krusan, Diver, Chandigam, Doruswain and Cheerakut. Sogam, located in South Lolab, roughly five km west of Lalpur is today the Revenue Block Headquarters of the area.
Lolab has some fascinating places. Kalaroos, is a big village on the Kupwara Machhal road. Nearby are Satbarran, the mysterious caves of Kalaroos with seven doors. The locals believe that an underground path from here leads all the way to Russia. The famous Lav Nag spring is also located in the Anderbugh village in South Lolab. It is said that Maharaj Gulab Singh, the Dogra King after his successful conquest of Kashmir, visited this spring with his favourite Pujari Pandit Ganesh Bhatt. Chakrabouine, a famous, old Chinar tree, with four branches is also locatednearby with Gaurishari Nag, dedicated to Goddess Gauri.
Wlliam Moorcroft7, who visited Sogam in 1823 observed
Houses are mostly constructed of small trees coarsely dove-tailed together and coated with rough plaster inside. A flat planking is laid over the top, resting on the walls, and above that a sloping roof, open at the ends, the space being either filled with dry grass or serving to give shelter to the poultry. The interior is divided by partitions of plastered wicker work into there or four small, dark and dirty apartments.
A lake in Lolab valley
A typical village house in Lolab valley
He further observed
Inhabitants were almost in a savage state; the men were in general tall and robust, the women haggard and ill-looking. This village was at one time the capital of the pargana ; even now the houses are very far apart, covering more ground than Lalpur.
Major TG Montgomerie8, observed the following with regard to Lalpur
The chief place tehsil and thana station of the Lolab pargana is situated in a very fruitful district towards the south-east end of that valley. The houses, which are much scattered, number about 60, a large proportion of the inhabitants being Hindus. There are also a few sepoys located in the place. A stream flows through the village, furnishing an abundant supply of water. From Lalpur to Mogulpur, near the junction of Lahwal and Kamil rivers is considered two marches, though on an emergency it may be made in one. There is likewise an excellent path to Alsu, near the margin of the Wular lake; the distance is about 9 miles; other paths cross the same range of hills to the south of Lalpur.
The valley is naturally gifted with a variety of fruit bearing trees, such as chestnut, walnut, apple, cherry, peach, mulberry and pear. Willows and poplars are other trees which grow in Lolab. The flagship tree of Kashmir, the Chinar (Plantanus orientalis) called Bouine by the locals, which came to Kashmir from Central Asia, is also found in Lolab.
The Lolab valley is one of the most thickly forested sub valleys of Kashmir with dense undergrowth. It is not without reason that soldiers of the Indian Army, have christened Lolab as the ’Valley of Shadows’.9 Forests of Lolab are filled with Pine (Pinus longifolia) and the Himalayan Cedar (Deodar). Like elsewhere in Kashmir, the southern slopes of Lolab are thickly forested, while the northern slopes are comparatively bare.
The margs (meadows) of the valley are beautiful and open. Perched on high mountain ridges with verdure, these are surrounded by evergreen forests. Yethu in Kashmir grows to 11000 feet. In winter while the margs are covered with snow, in summers they are the favourite grazing and camping grounds.
Lolab is rich in Himalayan flora, with almost 880 floral species. The area is also rich in medicinal and aromatic plants. The lush, green pristine environment felicitates fecundity and includes many angiosperms, gymnosperms and pteridophytes. Many species of the rose, ranging from compact to climber variety, in varying colours, naturally thrive in the valley. Charas, made from the popular cannabis buds grows wild in the upper reaches of Lolab. Cannabis farming is not only a lucrative proposition, but provides an important source of income to inhabitants of the valley.
Lolab is home to a number of species of birds and mammals. The thick forest of this valley is a natural habitat and home to the woodpecker, the Himalayan magpie, Laitraz, and the Kashmiri nuthatch, amongst a host of other species. The Steppe eagle (Aquila bifasciate) along with the laemmergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) is also seen. Pheasants such as the monal (Lophophorus refulgens) and the tragopan (Tragupan melanocephalum) and a variety of pigeons, rails, snipes herons, geese, ducks, vultures, owls, cuckoos, finches, parrots, perching birds, choughs etc can also be found in Lolab.
The dense forests of Lolab also abound with wildlife.10 The leopard or Khar Suh (Felis pardus), is a feared carnivore in Kashmir. Apart from the Leopard, the jackal or Shal (Canis aureus), the jungle cat (Felis chaus), the Kashmiri grey langur (Semnopithecus ajax) the Himalayan langur (Semnopithecus schistaceus) the Bengal monkey or Punz (Macacus rhesus), the Common fox or Loh (Vulpes montana), the Musk Deer or Roose (Moschus moschiferus) and the stag, Bara Singha (Cerrvus) are also found in the forests of Lolab. The latter is the proud Mascot of Kashmir and is known as the Hangul primarily on account of the stags love for horse chestnuts. Today, it is an endangered animal and runs the risk of extinction.
Harmukh (5148 m) as seen from upper Lolab valley, North Kashmir
Out of all the wild animals of Lolab, none is more feared and dreaded than the Bear or the Haput. The Black Bear (Ursus torquatus)11 or the Bambar Haput is more common and formidable than the Brown or Red Bear (Ursus arctus) or the Kainyain or Lal Haput. Stories in Lolab are rife of bear attacks in the fields and of their carrying women into forests. Bear attacks on the Gujjars and Chopans, in the upper reaches are also not uncommon.
Lolab is a paradise for adventure sports enthusiasts, especially for trekkers, for every nook and corner of the valley, is an end by itself. The rim of mountains overlooking Lolab, which have some of the most beautiful meadows of Kashmir provide for picturesque treks. Chandigam, south of Sogam is a favoured tourist destination. The village which is named after Goddess Chandi, has the holy springs of Chandi Nag and Kumraji Nag. A prominent landmark in the village of Chandigam is the PWD Rest House, also known as Indira Hut. It is widely believed that in 1942, after getting married Mrs. Indira Gandhi (and her husband) had visited this place.
Lolab till date has retained much of its original character and flavour, primarily owing to its remote geographical location and the fact that the valley can only be accessed by a single and the only road axis, from Kupawara town. Poor basic infrastructure, coupled with primitive methods of cultivation indicate that life in Lolab for the common man is still behind time. Even today, Lolab can be reached only by foot from other directions. For most of the inhabitants living in the upper and remote reaches of Lolab, it is as if time has come to a standstill. Therefore, not surprisingly even the most developed centers in Lolab, are on the list of Declared Backward Areas of the Kashmir valley.
Lolab valley is today in a state of transition. As the winds of change gain momentum and economic development awareness spreads amongst its awam, especially with aspirations of a young generation clamouring for a better tomorrow, Lolab too in time, will find its rightful place in modern Kashmir. Nevertheless, the extraordinary gift of nature to this remote, petite valley, will ensure that it retains its natural magnificence for times to come.
May god always bless this land of love and beauty!
A perspective of the Lolab Valley of Kashmir.
Nomenclature in Lolab valley
|Kol||-||River/big mountain stream.||Brarkayain||-||Space between ceiling of the top most floor and the roof of the house.||Nar||-||Stream of water||Bal||-||Mountain||Gali||-||A Mountain Pass||Chilai Kalan
|-||The subdivision of winters in Lolab and Kashmir divided in 40,10 and 10 days respectively.||Pheran||-||Loose fitting over garment worn by both men and women.||Shilwar/ Salwar||-||Leg garment like pyjama worn both by men & women with a narrow bottom.||Shali||-||Local rice||Munji Haakh||-||Leafy vegetable with a rounded edible base. The lower swollen edible base is called as Mund or Munji as plural.||Haakh||-||Leafy vegetable.||Sochal & Hundh||-||Leafy vegetable grown wild.||Samavar||-||Traditional pot for preparing and serving tea.||Dusterkhan||-||Spread on ground for eating meals, while sitting.||Kahwah||-||Mughlai tea prepared without milk.||Bouine||-||Chinar tree.||Marg||-||An upland meadow||Yethu||-||Juniper||Shal||-||Jackal||Punz||-||Monkey.||Loh||-||Common Fox||Roose||-||Musk Deer||Haput||-||Bear||Hangul||-||Barasingha||Bambar Haput||-||Black Bear||Kainyan Haput||-||Brown Bear||Wudar||-||High ground/small muddy hill feature||Chopan/Pohal||-||Local Muslims who graze cattle of the villagers in meadows during summers.||Awam||-||General public||Khar Suh||-||Leopard|