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-VII
To reach Poonch one has to cross the River Swaran. Here, the road bifurcates in two. One branch goes across the River Sawaran to Poonch and the other goes along the River to Pakistan Administered Kashmir. This is the route going to Chikan da Bagh through which these days cross LOC travel and trade is conducted. Poonch seemed cooler than Rajouri and is definitely greener than any place I have seen. Especially the hillsides while driving along the Swaran River are extra-ordinarily green! On the second day of our arrival in Poonch we called on the Deputy Commissioner Aslam Quereshi. He was staying in a Haveli forming part of the Poonch Fort. It is like a heritage house. During the day we had a round of Poonch town and visited its famous bazaar. We also went to see the airstrip which was then in disuse. Poonch is surrounded on three sides by LOC. Pakistanis have often shelled the town from across and the mortars have been hitting the civilian population also. Poonch is actually part of Haveli District and almost half of it is in Pakistan Administered Kashmir. The easiest access to Kashmir valley is through Haji Pir Pass leading to Uri which is next to Poonch but in Pakistan Administered Kashmir. This road is open throughout the year. In 1965, the Indian forces had captured this pass but after ceasefire, it was restored to Pakistanis. In the afternoon, Aslam Quereshi took us to Loran, the historic place of Poonch. The route goes through Mandi. On the way one passes the well known temple of Budda Amarnath. It is supposed to be connected to the main Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir and at the time of the pilgrimage to the Cave Shrine in Kashmir, a pilgrimage to this temple is also performed by many. It is a Shiva Temple with a massive Shiva Lingam. The tourism department had started construction of a pilgrim sarai here which has now been completed and commissioned.
Loran forms an important landmark in the ancient history of Kashmir. There used to be the forts of Lohar-Kot here. The route through Loran which reaches Tosamaidan on the other side is the shortest access to Kashmir valley. This was supposed to be the most vulnerable route. There was a strong garrison here which always guarded this approach to the valley. Ancient Kashmir according to Kalhana used to have an official position of Davara Pati. This was something like a Chief of the Passes. All the passes giving access to the valley were guarded by local barons who were given lordship over these areas. They had very strong forts guarded by contingents of soldiers and were fully provisioned to stand any siege by enemies for long periods. The forts of Lohar-Kot at present day Loran are frequently mentioned in Raj Tarangni. I could not find any ruins of these. Mehmud of Gazni is also supposed to have laid siege of these forts to enter Kashmir. However, the forts proved quite tough and ultimately he had to leave because of heavy snowfall. Alberuni who accompanied him compiled his account of Kashmir by sitting here and gathering information from locals and visitors from Kashmir. It is said that even Alexander’s army had tried to over power the guardians of the pass living in these forts but failed. Thus Loran has a great historic significance for Kashmir.
We found present day Loran like any other part in the valley of Kashmir. Something close to a valley in Pahalgam or Sonamarg. The locals are Kashmiri speaking and the village resembles a typical Kashmiri village. We saw a Kashmiri girl working in the fields. She was thrilled to see us. She had been married to someone from Uri. She wanted us to have tea at their home. However, as it was getting late, we decided to return. At the end of the valley is a shrine visited by many pilgrims. The Tourism Department had constructed an Alpine Hut in Loran at the start of the valley, which was with the Army. It is now reported to have been vacated by them. We learnt that there is a lake up in the mountains and there is also a waterfall. The trip from Loran to the valley takes just a day of trekking. On the return trip we stopped in another village in the house of the Nambardar. He had invited the Deputy Commissioner Aslam Quereshi over a cup of tea. We were treated to salt tea, with maize sattu and rotis. We also tasted roast chicken. However, the maize was exceptionally sweet. I had never eaten so sweet maize and got hooked to it. Subsequently, I have been every year bringing maize flour from this place. Rotis made from this flour with butter or ghee are the sweetest ever. After the first visit, Loran became my favourite spot and I visited the place a number of times.
Next morning, Aslam Quereshi took us to his pet project, the City Forest of Poonch. This park had been laid on a hill across the River. It has beautiful walkways and view points. A walk through the forest affords panoramic views of Poonch. After spending some time in the Park, we left for Jammu. On way we stopped at famous Gurdwara Nangali Sahib. This is a historic Sikh Shrine situated on Batiyar Nallah. We visited the Gurdwara and descended right up to the nallah through a staircase built by the management. Tourism Department has constructed a hut here. A large number of pilgrims visit the Shrine which is considered one of the most revered among Sikhs.
I will close my travels in Poonch with another trip made to Loran in the company of a Godly person Manzoor Sahib of Swarankot. I had met Manzoor Sahib in Rajouri during my first trip to this area. Later on we always called on him during our travels in Rajouri and Poonch. During one of these trips he told us that he will show us some resting places of great spiritualists of earlier times in Mandi and Loran. After staying for the night in Poonch Dak Bungalow, we came in the morning to Swarankot to pick him up. When we met him he said that there was smoke everywhere and he could smell it. But we did not see any smoke! However, as soon as we reached Mandi, our car started emitting clouds of smoke from its bonnet. We at once stopped and discovered the wiring on fire. We quickly extinguished it. The car needed immediate repairs and we left it in Mandi and travelled in a wagonnette which was accompanying us. In Mandi above the market he showed us the tomb of a spiritual person who had died here in 1947. Then we proceeded to Loran where Manzoor Sahib again showed us another tomb of a great spiritual person. It was sheltered completely by a walnut tree. This trip is etched in my memory because of the premonition of smoke which he had seen in the morning and which actually came true!