Chatpal, an offbeat gem hidden in Kashmir

“Feel free to stay as long as you can manage without electricity” was the memo. Chatpal was slated to be touted as mini-Pahalgam.

A fully furnished tourist bungalow built by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department would be all ours. A caretaker would be sent with us. The catch – no electricity.

We would be the first tourists to visit Chatpal. The idea of being the”guinea pigs” for such an offbeat destination was enough for us to accept the offer.

A fairy tale – was our first impression of Chatpal.

A wooden cottage. A gushing stream next to it. Air so clean and fresh, it felt almost – unnatural!

A man dressed in firan, the traditional overcoat from Kashmir stands on the rocks by a stream surrounded by a pine forest in Chatpal a virgin region in Kashmir.

It was a cold rainy day in Chatpal. Our first real encounter with cold in the Kashmir summer.

Thankfully, our caretaker had a stash of coal in the kitchen. And a couple of kangris – the traditional heater of Kashmir.

We slept in at least a foot tall layer of blankets and quilts!

A man from Kashmir wears a traditional woolen coat called firan and fires up a charcoal fired handheld cane basket to keep warm.

We had walked through the clouds on our arrival in Chatpal. We had not yet seen the landscape over the horizon.

Around sunset the clouds cleared and it was magic.

Clouds descend on the pine forest surrounded by the sun-lit golden Himalayas with a stream flowing by in the lush greenery.

The people we met in Chatpal seemed to appear out of time travel. We couldn’t picture them living a life in the present day world.

People of the valley: Kashmir The kids of the hills

Like this shepherd we met at a bend around our cottage. He was returning home with his flock, waiting for one mischievous sheep who was still to return from the hills!

An old shepherd man with a beard takes a break and rests with the support of his walking stick on his way home with his flock in Chatpal, Kashmir

The kids, as always, were a delight. Watching them race down a slope with their metal rings was exciting. We spent a long time with them.

They jumped off high rocks. Posed for photos. And reminded us to get the photos the next time we visit, before saying their goodbyes.

Three young boys dressed in torn woolen traditional overcoats called "firan" at Chatpal a virgin region of Kashmir.

The next day it got severely cold. Heavy rains lashed all around.

A leafless pine tree stands tall as dark clouds gather over Chatpal a virgin region of Kashmir.

For better part of the day, we didn’t dare get out of the blankets. Through the window, we saw some local construction workers play cricket in the heavy rains.

When we refused to step out, they teased us saying “Abhi to garmi ka mausam hai” (It’s summertime, time to have fun!). Cold – we suppose, has totally different definitions for someone from the hills than someone from the coast!

Life and sights around Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, India A day trip in Kokernag, South Kashmir, India

It was a great time, having candle lit dinners, then huddling under the layers of blankets with the kangri at our feet. No transferring of photos, no phone calls, no internet updates! Just us and nature.

Short trek in the woods around Chatpal

When the weather got crispy the next day, we decided to get out for a short trek. Shaukat, who we had met at our cottage earlier, agreed to be our guide.

Chatpal is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The mountain trails connect Chatpal to almost the entire Kashmir valley.

An orange bridge supported by stacks of stones on both sides over a stream that flows in Chatpal, a virgin area in Kashmir.

We crossed a quaint little bridge over the stream to enter a village called Thimran. Thimran was a slightly bigger village, situated on a hill slope. There were a few shops and even a primary school in the village. We walked through apple and walnut tree-lined paths. It was still a few weeks for them to ripen.

Soon after Thimran, the forest started. The mountains we had been seeing for the last two days seemed to have come real close.

Clouds in the midst of the sun kissed Himalayas and the dense lush green pine forest that cover the mountain slopes is the stunning landscape of Chatpal, Kashmir.

There were only Gujjar settlements around now. We saw their nomadic mud houses and their flock. When hunger struck, our guide asked one such Gujjar family if they could give us some food.

We met her on a day trek through the forest near Chatpal. We had stepped out without any food and were extremely hungry when we spotted their hut among a huge herd of sheep.She was unwell that day. She and her husband were heading out to the nearest medical center, 10km away. The entire journey both ways would be on foot.She gave us a hot cup of the traditional namkeen chai (salted tea) and apologised for not being able to offer anything more because of their rush!

That’s when she came to our rescue. She was running a fever and had to walk 10 km to get to a doctor. But before that, she heated cups of namkeen chai and apologised for not being able to offer more!

Such hospitality was the biggest gift of our travels in the Himalaya mountains.

Friendly families from our travels in Himalayas

On our way back, in Thimran, we met this affable mother and her daughters. They hadn’t seen people with a big camera walk through their village. They were bold enough to strike up a conversation, and even posed for a family photo.

A woman from Thimran village in rural Kashmir with her daughters peeping through the window of her house displaying henna on her hands.

This short trek in the mountain woods later proved to be of great help when we did the Amarnath yatra.

Amarnath yatra: Trek on a pilgrimage

Later we couldn’t help compare the crowded touristy Pahalgam with the virgin land of Chatpal. We felt it would be unfair to label Chatpal as a mini-Pahalgam.

Chatpal can stand on its own as an offbeat, quiet and peaceful destination in Kashmir.

While the northern part of Kashmir has beautiful valleys like the Lolab valley, the southern part has Chatpal.

Lolab Valley: Kashmir Unexplored

There are no “tourist points” to sit on a horse and see, in Chatpal. There isn’t a list of not-to-be-missed tourist attraction.

What Chatpal has in abundance is an untouched natural beauty. Where you drink water straight from the streams and breathe the pine-scented air.

Getting lost in nature, or within oneself is the star attraction of Chatpal.

Travel tips for getting to Chatpal

  • Chatpal is in the Shangus district, a short trek ahead of Chitergul. The route is mapped as Anantnag-Chitergul road.
  • A “local” shared jeep from Achabal will drop you to Chitergul.
  • Hire a “special” jeep from here for Chatpal. Achabal to Chatpal takes little over an hour.

If organising the transport and accommodation for your travels in Kashmir doesn’t sound like a fun thing to do, you can outsource it to an expert in Kashmir tourism. These are travel companies who will discuss your requirements and arrange a customised tour based on your interests.

Need help planning your trip to Kashmir?

Tell us your requirement.

 

These posts will help you plan your travels to Kashmir

Guide for offbeat travel to Kashmir, India

Yusmarg: Should you stay here on your Kashmir trip?

Tourist attractions around Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir

Lolab valley, unexplored Kashmir

South Kashmir circuit: Non touristy fit for all travelers

Kokernag, a garden outing in Kashmir

Amarnath yatra, trek on a pilgrimage in Kashmir

Or if you are traveling ahead of Kashmir to Ladakh

Journey from Leh to Manali in Ladakh

Tso Moriri, a mystical magical lake in Ladakh

Why visit Drass?

Lamayuru, the moonland of Ladakh

And Zanskar too…

How to reach Zanskar valley

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

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45 thoughts on “Chatpal, an offbeat gem hidden in Kashmir

  1. Afzal Khan

    Hi,

    As i am in my research mode for my next trip to kashmir, came across your post on Chatpal, feel like covering both Lolab Valley & Chatpal. Would it be possible to explore both the places in 8 days. Don’t want to travel to different places, want to explore as much as possible.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Chatpal and Lolab valley in 8 days is possible if you aren’t going to nearby places. There’s Achabal, Daksum, Kokernag and Verinag around Chatpal which you might also like to explore. This is all in South Kashmir near Anantnag. Lolab is on the northern side. If you are going only for 8 days, you can either spend all your time in South Kashmir or just split the time between Chatpal and Lolab. If slow travel is what you are looking for, there isn’t much scope for too much else.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Dev, we have given the exact travel route to get to Chatpal if you are travelling solo using public transport. If Kashmir is safe to travel to in the next summer, Chatpal is perfectly fine. You won’t find a better place in Kashmir.

  2. naveen

    Amazing blog. I just randomly searched hidden beautiful places of jammu and kashmir and your blog came up in the first result. Lovely blog and the pictures are surreal. Great work sandeep, please do continue posting more and more hidden gems of great country india. God bless you.

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  6. Khushnaz

    Came across your website quite by accident, but I love the articles. You guys are living my dream 🙂

    Chatpal sounds like a place I would love to visit. Would it be possible to me more info on how you organised your journey there? I’m desperately looking to go someplace for Christmas, and am wondering if it’s possible to do this on short notice……any help would be really appreciated. Thanks!!

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Khusnaz, thank you for writing to us and your kind comments. A tourism officer of the South Kashmir region had helped us organise our visit to Chatpal. Ypu can head to either Achabal or Kokernag and contact the JK tourism offices there (known as TRC). However, DEcember probably isnt the right time to head to such a cold part of Kashmir. The whole area gets covered in snow, we were told. Spring or summer would be the ideal time.

      1. Khushnaz

        Thank you very much for your quick response. I basically enjoy the cold, and have never seen snow, so I think I would enjoy it! However, getting there might be a problem if roads are snowed in. I’m still looking at options, and will figure something out. Thank you for letting us know of this little gem in the valley!!

  7. Jinit Mehta

    Hi Sandeepa and Chetan..I found ur blog really descriptive and well written…glad to know u guys explored all the unexplored places…I am planning to visit Kashmir (my second visit) in April 2016 to see the Tulip Gardens and explore new places. I have narrowed down the new places to Achabal, Kokernag, Daksum, Sinthan top, Verinag and of course Chatpal. I wanted some hep with regards to the best place to stay among these places and the no of days I should spent there (I am not short on time so the more the better)..I was thinking Kokernag and Chatpal…Also if you could help me with contact details for the Chatpal Guest House it would be much appreciated…Hope to hear from you soon…Thanks 🙂

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Jinit, the places you mention are the garden regions in Kashmir, we are certain you will enjoy visiting all those places. We found Achabal to be the most convenient place to stay and visit Kokernag, Verinag, even Chatpal, Daksum and Sinthan Top. We stayed ta the J&K Tourism department accommodation. You can also visit Mattan and Martand from Achabal. However, we would also recommend staying in Daksum, if you are not short on time. That way you can explore the wildlife sanctuary at leisure, also go for more nature trails in the forest surrounding Daksum. As for Chatpal, the tourism officer at Achabal will be able to guide you best about booking your accommodation. Happy travels to Kashmir!

  8. anukriti

    As already mentioned by so many people, amazing blog indeed! Given your description, even we are planning a trip to south kashmir especially Chatpal. Could you please mail me the details of your caretaker and the tourism officer. Would be really helpful.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Anukriit, we would recommend going to Achabal first, in South KAshmir. Infact, you can even stay there. The tourism officer in charge of Achabal and surrounding places will be able to guide you regarding Chatpal.

  9. Naresh Chavan

    Hi Sandeep….just read your column in Maharashtra Times…just followed your blog….all d best for your future adventure…

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Naresh, thank you so much for writing to us and for your wishes. Hope you enjoy the future stories of our travels. We look forward to hearing from you again.

  10. Preethi Shankar

    Hi sandeep i am planning to travel solo to chatpal. would need some more information about distance from srinagar, mode of transport, any permissions, stay availability etc. can you please help

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      We are still not sure if they have opened the tourist destination of Chatpal to the tourists. What we would suggest is, to travel to Achabal (sumo from Srinagar to Anantnag and connecting sumo from Anantnag to Achabal. Total travel time should be around 1.5 hours max). You can stay in Achabal and also find more information from the tourism officer there. You can also do the Achabal, Kokernag, Daksum, Sinthan top, Verinag, Mattan-Martand circuit of South Kashmir from here.

  11. Arnab Sarkar

    One of the best blogs on kashmir as of now. I almost had a time travel through your pictures and descriptions. Could you please provide me with the contact number of the concerned officer of the tourist department so that i can plan my stay at chatpal?
    Cheers again 🙂

  12. Hemali

    hey guys saw your post on kashmir, it was really nice and the pictures were awesome. So My husband and I are planning a trip to kashmir during the long holi weekend. We plan to spend half a day in srinagar (since we have been to the city before) and we want to go somewhere nearby for saturday and sunday. since you guys have travelled in this area extensively it would be great if you guys could suggest some places which may be worthwhile. We want to do something adventurous and off beat since we are travelling without our son for the first time

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Hemali, Kashmir in spring will be lovely with the snow starting to melt and the flowers starting to bloom (okay, it’s lovely anytime you go :)). We get excited everytime someone says “offbeat” and “Kashmir” together! These are our suggestions for a weekend.
      South Kashmir is beautiful region to explore. Places like Achabal, Kokernag and Verinag have beautiful gardens that aren’t crowded like their counterpart in Srinagar. Daksum, which is further ahead from Kokernag has a wildlife sanctuary, through which you can just walk. Besides it has many nature walks through the streams and forests. JKTDC also has a stay facility here. Have a look at our South Kashmir photos for a better idea.
      Alternatively, there is Yusmarg, with its untouched meadows (you need to check if Yusmarg is open for tourists by Holi). It has day treks all around and the tourism officer there has even made a map of the treks one can do from Yusmarg. Trek to Neelnag or Dragdolan is something you can easily do over a weekend. These photos from Yusmarg will give you a clearer idea.
      Do let us know if you need any more information. Wish you a great trip to Kashmir!

      1. hemali

        Awesome!! I’ll take a look at all your pics and posts and plan the trip accordingly …. Thanks a ton! Just one last thing… Could you let me know whom to get in touch with for the booking and other things…. We met the jk tourism ppl at delhi haat but they weren’t too helpful.
        Look forward to reading about tour travels in future!!

  13. Gaurav Maheshwari

    Hi Sandeepa and Chetan

    Great work here, very helpful to fellow travelers. I am traveling to kashmir from October 11, 2014 until 19 october, 2014. I am accompanied by my wife and 23 months old daughter. I have not yet finalized where all i will visit but I plan to visit offbeat places and seek your help to plan my itinerary. I am game for most of the terrains but worried about my daughter and hence want to talk to fellow travelers to ensure i don’t mess up my trip. Any suggestions would be welcome.

    Look forward to hear from you.
    Gaurav

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Gaurav, great to know of your trip to Kashmir. October should be a good time in Kashmir minus the large crowds. We would recommend you look at the South Kashmir region. Achabal, Kokernag, Daksum, Sinthan top, Verinag is still offbeat without venturing out completely into the unknown. It should be convenient enough to travel here with your little daughter. For something really offbeat, you can also do a day trip to Lolab valley from Srinagar.
      Happy travels!

  14. seema

    Hi Poonam we just got back from a short but very sweet trip of Kashmir.
    Kashmir is really beautiful …..even while driving to any of the popular spots reveals snippets of the earthy life style of people there …you need to pause step out and see it ….Chatpal seems amazing and a definite place to visit in my next visit …we had an amazing driver who knew of these virgin spots amazing shortcuts …Jalal ud din 09906665363 connect with somebody like that and you will have a wonderful trip ….all the best

  15. Poonam

    Hi Sandeepachetan,

    Loved your write up and pics on Chatpal. I’m planning to visit Kashmir from Aug 16-23, 2014. Any suggestions? I know that this is not the usual tourist season. But thought it would be fun to experience Kashmir in the monsoons.

    Poonam

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Poonam, Thank you for your compliments on the Chatpal piece. The good thing about visiting Kashmir in August will be the non crowded places. There won’t be much snow, but you can explore Kashmir at your own pace. Have a look at our Kashmir stories. http://sandeepachetan.com/destinations/ should provide inspiration and ideas for your Kashmir trip. Do get back to us if you have any questions.
      Happy planning and wish you a great trip to Kashmir.

  16. Sid - The Wanderer

    Your posts are always so magical…lovely pictures – people as well as landscapes! Fantastic…

  17. Santosh Banerjee

    Am planning a trip to Kashmir in August. Was thinking of going to gurez valley. But getting permission to enter the valley seems a bit difficult. Your story on chatpal is very interesting and I’m thinking of going there as an alternative. Can you please help me with it.

    P.S. first visit to your blog. Liked it a lot.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Santosh, thank you so much for your comments and also for subscribing to our blog. Chatpal and the rest of South Kashmir: Achabal, Kokernag, Daksum, Sinthan Top, Verinag are all very good (and safe) not so touristy places to visit in Kashmir. J&K tourism board (not the same as JKTDC) has very good stay arrangements at a lot of these places. We had stationed ourselves at Achabal from where we visited all of these places. Except Chatpal, where we stayed for 3 nights. We have written about the travel route for Chatpal in the story above. The J&K tourist department has a 2 bedroom hut there, perfect place to stay and soak in the beauty of Chatpal.
      Let us know what information you need and we shall try to help you out.
      Happy planning and happy travels!

      1. Saleem Khan

        Hi Sandeepa and Chetan. A great blog, I must say. The stories as well as the photos are terrific and bring out the human touch and your love for nature. Though I have explored a lot of Kashmir over the years, Lolab, Chatpal and Sinthan Top are still not covered. Please tell me how one gets to book the accommodation at Chatpal?

        1. sandeepachetan

          Hello Saleem, thank you so much for your compliments. There is so much to discover in Kashmir! We can connect you with the Jammu and Kashmir tourism officer who had suggested Chatpal to us. He can help you with the accommodation arrangements in Chatpal and other offbeat places in Kashmir.

          1. Deepasha

            Hi Sandeepa and Chetan. Totally inspiring, these snippets of your travel…
            We are actually thinking of visiting Chatpal next month and would love the number of the officer you mentioned in the post above. Thanks again for inspiring us to explore more!

          2. sandeepachetan

            Hello Deepasha, thank you for your comments. Chatpal is awesome, we wish you a great trip to Kashmir. We will email you the number of the tourism officer shortly. Happy travels.

  18. Nisha Raje

    Beautiful place. I loved all pictures. If I had known this place 10years earlier, I would have visited this place.

  19. Lynn Esposito

    Chatpal is new to me, Sandeepa and Cheetan. I’ve never heard of it, and wasn’t there.
    But maybe…. I met a Gujjar woman.
    How exciting for you to be the first “tourists” in this outstandingly beautiful terrain and village.
    One thing I love about your travel tales…….they are, of course, about the incredible land you are touring….but, also so much about the people. That’s not being a tourist. That’s being a traveler. And you become a citizen of the world.
    So nice to know you did just that.
    Very happy to hear that and love your tales of people encounters.

    Interesting to hear you describe Pahalgam as crowded and touristy.
    It was literally a one road (dirt) town when I was there. A few restaurants, mostly Sikh, except for one. My first intro to….oh boy, help me out. Southern India cuisine, like a French crepe, slightly crusty thin pancake….with Indian food filling. Yummy. Dhosa???
    I had actually gone to Pahalgam to recover from getting ill in Shrinigar.
    I jumped in the lake one hot day, swallowed some water, came up and thought…….”I’m dead”.
    Didn’t die.
    Went to Pahalgam, found a small “lodge” outside the town up on a hill.
    And every day looked down the valley that led to Amarnath.
    Had some very interesting adventures in Pahalgam, got all better, and one day decided “I’m going to do that trek”
    But, it was hardly a crowded touristy town.
    In fact, I’m not sure it even had electricity at that time.

    Photos are, as always, beautiful. Love the one of the children. And your story of the woman who was herself ill, and offered you tea. I’ve got a few of those stories too.

    I came back from my travels really convinced we all just want to get along, and get to know each other.
    I still believe that’s true for the common folk.

    Nice chatting with you.
    Namaste, Lynn

  20. deepak khale

    Nice to read about your exploration of this virgin land. Hope the place remains as beautiful forever.