‘Legend Riders’ of Bandipora: On a trip to revamp the Gateway of Central Asia

They began as bike enthusiasts before making a resolve to revive their hometown’s bygone glory. Besides fighting for green spaces and welfare of the downtrodden, the Bandipora bikers are working to improve the tourist footfall in their backyard.

When a dreamy-eyed teenager drove his Yezdi motorcycle on rugged terrains of his homeland known for three As—Alim (Knowledge), Adab (Discipline) and Aab (Water)—the township was gripped with wonder. It was 1984 — an epoch when everything seemed hunky-dory, with countrified romantics taking turns to have a glimpse of the bike in sheer delight.

35 years later, the biker’s son and his two-wheeler tribe have grown to become a new riding sensation in town.

“I reckon it’s all in DNA,” smiles Faheem Altaf, a peppy youngster sporting swanky looks. “My father was the first one to own a Yezdi motorcycle in Bandipora. His passion for bikes was simply catching.”

Growing up in a family whose headman would be mostly in to bikes, Faheem found himself drawn to two-wheelers. Like his father, the boy was fascinated by hilly roads of his birthplace.

He terms the rocky terrains, twists and turns of Bandipora as breathtaking, perfect for an off-road experience. “The green forest gives hope and clouds come down to hug you, as you move towards Gurez valley in Bandipora,” he says.

Making his dream rides across the scenic belt, he soon realized that his childhood passion can help his hometown to reclaim its lost aura.

With his buddies and fellow bikers—Sheikh Waseem and Suhail Rather—Faheem became a part of the initiative aimed at flipping the tourist image of Bandipora. The trio banked on the local business community’s support, to fuel their welfare trip.

The idea, he says, is to put Bandipora—the Gateway of Central Asia and a home to Asia’s largest Fresh Water Lake—back on the tourism map.

Through the Silk Route, an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and the West, Bandipora would serve as a connecting link between North India and Central Asia. The Forest Check Post located here would once serve as the Custom and Immigration Department.

But now, the region has almost become a No-Tourist-Zone.

With nothing substantial happening on grounds, the efforts of these bikers is seen as a ray of hope.

“Earlier,” Faheem says, “Wular would attract swarms of birdwatchers and nature lovers to Bandipora. These sightseers and travelers would explore other tourist destinations in the area and help the tourism of the place.”

After it was lost in transition, the trio embarked on their first journey from Bandipora to Razdan Top in February 2018. The recreational cum promotional trip was made under the banner of Legend Riders of Bandipora.

“Reaching Razdan on bikes in the frozen February day was something that no one had done before,” Faheem says. “It’s a record that we created.” The team is gearing up for more such trips.

What is equally helping their cause is Bandipora’s topography.

Among the three divisions of Jammu and Kashmir, the district has the highest number of trekking routes. “Bandipora has 54 trekking routes, including the shortest route to Mount Harmuk,” Faheem says. “It’s the best for cycling, off-road experiences as well as trekking.”

The bikers group was the first to reach Kaman Post, Uri and Zaina Lank, an island in the middle of Wular Lake, now in shambles.

Apart from making promotional bike rides, they work towards the region’s ‘Clean and Green’ environment.

“In Zaina Lank,” Faheem says, “we found heaps of garbage. Most of it was polythene. We collected it and cleaned the space. The experience was satisfying. It brought a feeling of belongingness for that place in us.”

The group also aims at engaging more bikers across the state.

“If outsiders can travel hundreds of kilometres to explore our valley, we should also avail the opportunity,” believes Faheem. “Kashmiris have an advantage of being born in the Valley. They can explore its beauty whenever they feel like.”

The group also wants to do charitable works for people living in far-flung areas. They’re planning to help school dropouts in these areas, besides taking care of their needs.

“Our expeditions have taught us how difficult life can be in areas like Tulail and Gurez,” he says. “So in future, we aim at helping these people and children in the best possible manner.”

Three months after conquering snowbound Razdan, Faheem’s tribe is growing. Eight more bikers have joined, and many more are expected to join the two-wheeler caravan.

The very feeling that they’re playing their part in restoring some order and glory of their hometown makes the Bandipora Bikers a bunch of happy souls, whose journey has just begun.


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