Sandwiched in the rugged Shamshbari peaks of is a pass that connects Karnah with Kupwara. Almost 65000 people live (2011 census) in about 42 villages (2 uninhabited) that make Karnah, a strategically located place that historically was the gateway to Sharda, the ancient Kashmir University.
Technically, Karnah is an amalgamation of three valleys where Pahari speaking people dwell. Given its strategic location, a formal permission is required from Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara. The road to Tangdar, the main Karnah town, is a National Highway (NH 701). The 78 km road is well mettled and runs through habitations and rice fields till it reached Chokibal where the army lists all entries.
Once the Transit Point (TP) is crossed, the road bifurcates with one part of it leading towards Bungus. The road leads through the Drangyari valley that is drained by Drangyari nullah. This nullah decend as down from the famous Bungus Meadows. The stream acquires the name of Kehmil nullah in the down valley.
The Darnyari slopes are richly clothed with deodar forests. As the road leaves Chokibal, there are meadows and forests en route, the forested slopes of Shamshbari present a picture-perfect look. The altitude increase as road emerges out of the tree line leading towards the pass, surrounded on the south by rugged mountains.
This 3120 meters pass, between Kashmir and Karnah is known as Nasta Chhun (a Kashmiri word that means something that lacks a nose). It is popular by Sadhna Pass, however.
It is said Sadhna the famous Bollywood actress of yesteryears, at the pinnacle of her career was invited to Kupwara post, India Pakistan war of 1971 to enhance the morale of the army. She visited this pass to change its name forever. Usually, the pass closes with the onset of winter. Off late, however, army makes every effort to keep the pass open during the winter. The pass is prone to the harrowing accidents during winter and every year it kills people. The last major accident was on January 5, 2018, when an avalanche swept away 11 people. This is precisely why the locals are seeking a tunnel to bypass the perilous pass.
At the peak of the Pass, an army camp maintains proper record of the travelers and also provides critical help to travelers during winters. This is the most fascinating part of the travel as the scenery from the pass is grand - towards the south with towering Shamshabari ridgeline rising up to an altitude of 4350 mts; towards north lies the Taya ridgeline. The road downhill fallows the Batamaju stream to Tangdar.
During winters, an alternative pass know as Kakua Pass (2987 mts), adjacent to Nasta Chhun pass is used to cross over to Kashmir owing to its lower altitude.
Most of Karnah is located around two principal streams - Batamoji and Kajinag. Batamoji rises from the Sadhna Pass and the Kajinag originates in a mountain range know by the same name and flows through Leepa valley on the other side of the Line to Control and enters Karnah. Both the streams merge into Kishanganga near Teetwal.
Majority of the Karnah population is Pahari speaking and almost 8% are Gujjars. There is only Hajinard village that has Kashmiri speaking people. Surprisingly there are two Sikh villages which speaks volumes of the diversity of the place. Karnah is a separate constituency in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly.
Karnah climate is warm compared to Kashmir. The valley produces the best quality walnuts. Batamaji waters irrigate swathes of rice-fields that is why it is called the “Rice mother”. The area grows special red rice, locally known as Zagg. This variety suits high-altitude areas. It is valued for its texture and aroma.
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