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29th August '2009
Jammu Nostalgia-XIII

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-IV

The journeys which were more or less the journeys of discovery were the ones I undertook in Poonch and Rajouri in early nineties after taking over as the Director Tourism, J & K. As I had taken over in October, 1992, I had to shortly move to Jammu with the Durbar Move. The first task I wanted to perform was to conduct a site inspection of various tourism works which had been in progress at that time. I had been informed that my predecessor had taken measures to throw open Rajouri and Poonch for tourism and a number of projects had been started for providing requisite tourism infrastructure. Incidentally, my friend FarooqAhmad had been posted as the Superintendant of Police, Rajouri and he had been insisting that I pay a visit to him. As I had not been to this area at all, I decided to take a trip. In the first visit I went alone via Katra, and Reasi. It was more or less a flying visit. I stayed with Farooq Sahib for one night and returned to Jammu. The main journey of discovery I undertook with Chowdhary Wazir Hussain, who was posted as the Assistant Director Tourism there. As Wazir Hussain comes from the same area, he knew all the places and routes very well. This time we took the normal route through Akhnoor. After crossing Akhnoor the road goes straight up to the base of Kalidhar Range and then winds up to the top of the range to cross over to the other side. The descent is through a beautiful forest with fantastic views of the valley below and the distant mountains of the Pir Panjal Range. The first important town we came across is Sunderbani. We stopped here for a cup of tea. The road at Siot Mode about 25 kilometres short of Nowshera bifurcates and one branch goes to Kalakote and the other to Rajouri. The traditional Mughal route proceeds to Jhangar from Nowshera. From there it goes to Kotli, Mirpur, Jhelum, and finally to Lahore. We took the road to Rajouri which goes along River Tawi. On the way we saw the ruins of the Mughal Sarai at Nadpur. The first important Mughal period site is at Chingus. The famous Mughal King Jehangir on his return from Kashmir had died en route but his queen Noor Jehan did not declare his death. She wanted to first reach Lahore. She hid the fact and in order to preserve his body, the King’s entrails were buried at Chingus. There is a dilapidated Sarai here. The Tourism Department had constructed three barrack like huts on the hillside. Probably they expected a large number of tourists to visit the historical spot and stay here. The huts were not really in the style of tourism establishment but just like typical government accommodation to house offices or staff. It was sheer waste of money. Ultimately the huts were taken over by the Revenue and Police Departments. The amount spent on the construction of these huts by the Tourism department could have been gainfully utilised for restoring the Sarai and its surroundings.

From here we drove straight to Rajouri. Wazir Hussain had taken on hire a small house on a hill in the locality called Kheora. It had good views of the surroundings. Rajouri hillsides were greener than what I had seen in other parts of Jammu. The most conspicuous landmark of Rajouri is the fort on top of the hill. Rajouri also has a small air strip on which small aircraft can land. This is under the control of the Army. In late eighties, the State had motivated Vayudoot Company to start a service. A small pre-fabricated terminal was constructed for the civilians. The service was operated for about six months and then suddenly discontinued for some unknown reasons. After the posting of Wazir Hussain as the Assistant Director Tourism, Rajouri, the Tourist Office was housed in the said terminal building which had been constructed from the funds provided by Tourism Department. Those days Rajouri was totally peaceful without any militant activity anywhere. It was really enjoyable to move through various green areas without any fear compared to the situation in the valley where we had not been able to visit various resorts like Kokernag, Yusmarg, etc for years. Next day we drove to Shadra Sharief to pay our respects at the shrine of Baba Ghulam Shah. The Muslim saint belonged to village Kaslain in Rawalpindi district of Pakistan. He comes from the Sayed lineage and was directed by his mentor to go to Kashmir. He first came to Poonch and then selected this spot known as Shadra Sharief as his abode and finally passed away here itself where now his shrine stands. In local dialect Shadra is supposed to be a derivative from a word which means a narrow valley of the leopards. Many miracles are associated with the saint. The shrine is visited by thousands of Pilgrims from within and outside the state.

The road from Rajouri goes to Bufliaz in Poonch over the pass called the “Dera ki Gali” or DKG. At the foot of the pass is the famous stop on the erstwhile Mughal Route known as Thana Mandi. There is a beautiful Mughal Sarai (Inn) of old times here. The Sarai had been occupied by the security forces. The road to Shadra Sharief takes off from here on the left side. The road those days was not in a very good shape and it was being repaired. It is a distance of about 5 to 6 kilometres. Just after a couple of kilometres, the Tourism Department on the lower side of the road had started construction of a Pilgrim Sarai. The structure had been built but it had remained unfinished. The shrine itself is situated on a hillside. There is a good length of steps with in between landings to reach the main shrine. The management have built some rooms for people to stay overnight. There is a free vegetarian langar going on round the clock. The shrine receives lot of offerings in cash and kind. They have system of selling some of the offerings to the public. One can buy chickens against payment. The shrine is very well managed.

After paying our respects at the shrine we left for Dera ki Gali. It is a steep climb to the top. From the top one can have beautiful views of the Pir Panjal Mountains on one side and of distant Rajouri area on the other. The Border Roads Organisation has built a viewing point at the top. Just short of the pass a few hundred meters down the road the Tourism Department had built three huts. The construction of these wooden huts has been an absolute loss. Firstly, the area is without any proper approach and one has to walk down. Secondly, the huts are built in a congested fashion very close to each other in the middle of terraced maize fields. It is difficult to understand how the concerned authorities selected the site? The construction too was of a very poor quality. They could have chosen a better spot even on the other side of the pass and built the huts next to the road. After spending another day in Rajouri, we returned to Jammu. Following this journey of discovery I got very much enamoured of both Rajouri and Poonch and made quite a number of trips which I will describe in next few episodes.!

(To be continued….)

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