We found a true hideaway , an alpine cottage in Kashmir that felt too good to be true. The name of the place is Chatpal. I had contemplated going to Chatpal quite a few times before but always chickened out thinking of the safety aspect of Kashmir given the political situation . This time , as fate would have it, I landed up in Amritsar, sick, at a friend’s place. After I got well in three days, it felt like a shame not to go to Kashmir given that Jammu was only an overnight train away. So we booked tickets ( yes they were available)to Jammu. We soon found out that the safety situation is not so bad for tourists, Kashmiris actually welcome tourists with open arms. I have never seen Awshesh ( my husband) get so many hugs from people while we travelled to different places.
Morning tea at our cottage in Chatpal
From Jammu we took a shared cab to Anantnag and from there we hired a private cab for Rs.1200 for the next 40 KMS as it was already dark.We reached the Tourist cottage around 9 PM. There was complete silence and a moonlit night welcomed us. There was no electricity at that time. The chowkidar of the cottage came out with a lantern to welcome us in. I was mesmerized and scared at the same time- was this happening for real- I thought to myself.
Inside the cottage was a different story. We were quickly given a cottage with two bedrooms with attached baths and ornate dining space in a unit that was newly built. This unit was about 100 meters away from the main unit where the other two rooms, kitchen, reception was located. The new unit was well appointed for such a remote place and had a lot of new blankets. We booked both the bedrooms to have the little house to ourselves. Dinner was served in an hour in our dining room. The next few days we continued to have candle lit dinners, morning tea in our balcony in our little rented house and made many beautiful memories.
A hut of the nomadic Gujjar community
Chatpal is a place to really fall off the face of the earth. Phone connection was spotty, people were warm and the scenery was amazing. In April, there was still some snow on the peaks, there was lush greenery around making it a true paradise. There were huts of the nomadic Gujjar community. They are shepherds by profession and stay in these huts with their families.
At Thimran village – We got invited to a local’s house
Thimran village- One of the prettiest I have seen
We went hiking around to nearby villages like Thimran for the coming days with our guide Bilal who was the son of the caretaker. The locals , specially the women were super friendly. They asked me where I was from and we happily chatted away. It was a really small village and yes, most people asked us what our religion was but knowing it was not the same as theirs didn’t seem to bother them. We were still invited to their homes, fed with local Kashmiri roti, Kahwa ( tea) and walnuts from their trees. The younger generations are especially fun to talk to. The memories of Chatpal are bound to remain as some of the best in our memory.
- How to reach- Fly to Srinagar or Jammu. Jammu is also reachable by train from Delhi, Amritsar etc. From Srinagar/ Jammu get a shared cab to Anantnag. From Jammu it took 7 hours, Rs.800 per seat in a nice vehicle. From Srinagar I think it takes 2 hours. From Anantnag, you can hire a private vehicle to Chatpal ( Rs.1200 in 2016) or take the shared cab to Achabal- another shared cab to Chitirgul and then change again to take a shared cab to Chatpal. Each shared cab from Anantnag onwards should cost between Rs.10 – Rs.50.
- Stay – Stay at the J&K tourism cottage . To book contact Shaukat Ali – 7006823575. They have comfortable rooms with balcony and western toilet. Views from the room and balcony are a killer. Room rent was Rs.700 per room per night.
- Eat – At the tourist bungalow. Order your food well in advance. Do check the bills if you are paying at the end of the stay as there could be errors.
- Do – Relax, take short day hikes around. Visit local village of Thimran. Read a book, get lost in nature.