I have spent almost half of my life in Jammu right from the very birth, the reason being the durbar move. My late father who served in various capacities in the state government had to move in winter to Jammu. The recollection of the most of the events of those early days has gone blank with my fading memory but there are certain memories of my early days and recent times which I vividly recall and cherish. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!
Memorable Journeys in Jammu-II
One of the journeys which I distinctly recall is to Dhar Mahanpur. In 1995, General Saklani the then Advisor to Governor was very keen to develop a place called Dhar Mahanpur near Basholi. As a young officer in the Indian Army he had served in the area. He wanted to do a favour to the local people by creating a tourist resort here. We travelled to the area almost half a dozen times. The General took along with him almost all the officers of the Tourism Department including the then Commissioner/Secretary Anil Goswami and Khurshid Naquib, the then Director of Golf Courses in the State. The road to Basholi takes off from the National Highway just ahead of Lakhanpur. It used to be a very rough road those days. Moreover, the construction of Ranjit Sagar Dam on Ravi had made the last portion of the road near Basholi very dusty. From Basholi onwards it was purely a dust road, very narrow, and winding uphill towards Dhar Mahanpur which is a village on top of the hill. By the time we reached the place, every thing was covered in thick layers of dust. The General had an escort travelling in an open Gypsy. These people were completely covered in dust and were hardly recognisable. The General stopped in a number of places where the local villagers had gathered to welcome him. Even though we had closed the windows in our car tightly still some fine dust particles had intruded inside and choked our throats. After surveying the area, the General desired that we should explore the possibility of setting up a Golf Course on top of Dhar Mahanpur. Khurshid Naquib was asked to prepare a site plan and then get plans for a Golf Course prepared through some consultants. This entailed a number of trips to this area. No one could tell the General that it was virtually impossible to build a Golf Course on top of the hill and moreover, there would hardly be any golfers adventurous enough to come to this God forsaken place to play the game! The General was quite tough but was also very humane, upright, and dynamic. He wanted things to be done on the military style but the civilian officers were not able to deliver which would make the General lose his temper. I had seen many officers tremble before him. During subsequent trips to the area with Anil Goswami, I had some relief from the choking of the throat. He would carry with him some “Gud” (raw sugar) and we would suck on pieces of the same in the car. According to him, this is the best remedy to avoid a sore throat due to dust. Next year we also celebrated a Dhar Mahanpur festival. It was a very colourful occasion and all the locals had come in colourful dresses and there were traditional local dances and musical events. We had a taste of the local food also. The Dhar Mahanpur Golf course never materialised and the whole project disappeared into thin air after the departure of the General.
In retrospect, I sometimes ponder on the way Tourism projects have been taken up or even now taken up on the fancies and whims of certain people especially the politicians. No one bothers to either assess the potential as well as competitive merits of a place nor does any one take a stand against the waste of precious resources on totally unviable projects. However, talking of this particular area, Basholi as well as Banni have excellent potential for being developed as tourist destinations. The major attraction of Basholi is its miniature paintings forming part of the Pahari School of Paintings. This is a living art and there still exist excellent artists making these paintings. We had some years back organised their field camp in Mansar. There used to be a local school of paintings which seems to have been shifted somewhere else. Reportedly the Tourism Department as part of the plans prepared by the concerned Tourism Development Authority is setting up a School of Miniature Paintings. Other major attraction is the water sports in the Ranjit Sagar Lake. Work is being done in this regard also. Banni itself is like mini Pahalgam and can be developed as a hill resort. Interestingly there are Kashmiri speaking people in the area. The tourist destinations developed in this part can be directly marketed to the people living next door in Punjab and Himachal. The potential visitors do not have to touch Jammu first but can visit the resorts directly.
The other interesting journey I undertook in the vicinity of the area was to Billawar and Machedi. The most important spot in the area is the temple of Sukhrala Devi. It is visited by a large number of devotees. In this area the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism development Corporation had a Sarai. It was in total disuse and being situated on the side of the hill leading to the temple; it had developed a dangerous crack. Reportedly, the Tourism Department has taken back this accommodation and restored it. After visiting the temple, I decided to explore the area. I had been told about this place by Parvez Dewan who used to be Secretary Tourism in 1992-93. He was very fond of the places known as Lohe-Malhar and Machedi. The drive to Machedi is through a dense forest. We drove up from the temple towards the forest and I had assumed it would be a short drive. However, it is a very long drive but a lovely one. After reaching the top it descends on the other side and traverses the mountain for a long distance. Finally there is descent into Machedi valley. It is a vey beautiful spot surrounded by mountains with forests on top. The road those days was very rough rather a fair weather road. It has reportedly been improved now and these areas can be brought on the tourist map. One of the handicaps in such areas for tourism development has been the lack of infrastructure. We have failed to motivate the local people to go in for paying guest type of accommodation. There are very good incentives under Tourism Incentive Rules for setting up such infrastructure. The only people who have been enterprising in this sphere are Ladakhis. They have developed some of the best paying guest houses and have inspired even UNESCO for promoting “Home Stays” on the pattern of Ladakh in many parts of the world. The main deficiency in implementing the scheme has been the ignorance of the local people as well as lack of guidance and support. Our experience shows that the scheme can be implemented if the Tourism Department sets up a special cell for guiding people in implementing the guest house scheme on the ground. This would not only help in setting up suitable infrastructure in these areas but would also maintain local traditions and safeguard the fragile environment. Not many people in the travel trade in Jammu have visited these areas. It would be very useful if some familiarisation tours of the representatives of travel trade are organised to these lovely spots. I always reminiscence about the journeys I have had to these enchanting places.
(…………to be continued)