گر فردوس روئے زمیں است
ہمیں است و ہمیں است و ہمیں است
[If there is a heaven on earth – It’s here, it’s here, it’s here]
Out of all the places I have been to in my trekking and outdoor life, If I have quoted above verse for any place it is Minimarg. A heaven on earth it definitely is specially during the season when flowers are on full blossom. Minimarg is the remote valley bordering Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, this is a restricted area because of its sensitivity and close proximity to LOC and cannot be ventured without specially military permission.
The only road access to Minimarg is via 4000 meters high Burzil Pass. This area remains disconnected from rest of the world for 7-8 months because of the snowfall. All army or any emergency civil transportation is done through helicopters. From Astore, the jeep road can take 4-5 hours via Chilam and Burzil top. Burzil pass used to be the old caravan route between Gilgit and Kashmir till the independence of Pakistan.
Best season to visit this area is July and August. The whole area is heavily forested and lush green. Locals are friendly and speak Shina language. Their houses are built completely from wood. Minimarg is the headquarter for one of Pakistan’s military brigade and this area remained pretty active during the Indo-Pak Kargil war.
Domel and Chota Deosai
Domel is a small village at approximately 10 kilometers from Minimarg accessible through a jeep road. A small trek that can be done from Domel is that to Chota Deosai. Although there is a jeepable road that goes up to Chota Deosai and onwards to Gultari, it has been damaged due to land slide and is no more in use. At the place of landslide, a difficult patch has to be crossed through careful steps. Chota Deosai is the gateway to main Deosai from this side and one can go further towards Sheosar lake and Barapani.
Trek to Neelum Valley
From Astore valley, there are three options to enter into the beautiful Neelum valley which are Kalapani Pass, Shounter Pass and the Kamri Pass. Out of these three, Kalapani and shounter passes are open while Kamri pass is restricted because of the army presence and close proximity of LOC. The trek starts from Dudgai village which is at 2-3 hours drive from Minimarg along with the Kamri river. Dudgai is the last village at the border and is the place where Kamri river enters into the Guraiz valley in Indian occupied Kashmir where it becomes Kishinganga before entering back in Azad Kashmir at Taobutt adopting the name Neelum. From dudgai, the trek starts along wit the Kamri stream and ascends steeply for 3-4 hours up to the pass at 3650 meters altitude where an army post is also located. From this top, the trek descends and passes through one of the thicket and untouched forests in Kashmir. The total travel time from Kamri pass to Taobutt village is 8-9 hours therefore a camp is recommended.