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-VIII
The one area where I have not travelled a lot is the erstwhile Doda district which now comprises of four districts of Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar, and Baderwah. We have had some family connections with Kishtwar. My sister is married to a doctor from Kishtwar and one of my aunts comes from the same area. Some of my college mates were from Doda, Kishtwar, and Baderwah. Kishtwar always fascinated me and I had a mysterious impression about the area. It mainly came from the stories which my grand father used to relate about his travels in the area. He spoke of the dense forests, the wild animals, and above all of the witches and the jungle women for which this place was well known in earlier times. Moreover, Kishtwar also had an important historical context. It was known as the Kingdom of Kashtavatta in ancient Kashmir as related by Kalhana in Raj Tarangni. It had very important relationship with the main Kingdom of Kashmir with Srinagar as its capital. The people of this area were tough fighters and fought with Kashmiris against the foreign invaders. In fact, after the capture of Srinagar by Mughals, Yaqub Shah Chak, the son of the last ruler of sovereign Kashmir, Yusuf Shah Chak took shelter in Kishtwar and fought a guerrilla war against Mughals for over six months. For the British Kishtwar was famous for hunting, and writing. The valleys of Kishtwar are ideally suited for trekking and even very serious type of climbing. Before the eruption of turmoil in 1990, a large number of foreign expeditions especially from Britain visited the area for climbing and trekking. There are over dozen peaks in the range of 6000 to 7000 metres above sea level which are some of the toughest climbs in the world. The world famous British climber Chris Bonnington climbed Brahma’s Peak in Kishtwar before attempting the west face of Everest. Many other mountaineers of repute have climbed and hiked in the area. In early seventies four American climbers had come to Kashmir for some small climbs and treks. One of them was the famous American girl Arlene Blum who subsequently became famous after climbing Everest. After attempting some small peaks in Kashmir valley, they proceeded to Kishtwar. On their return I asked them how they found Kishtwar Mountains. Their answer is the best advertisement for the area. They said that the most famous rock face in USA is known as El Capitan and is situated in California. According to them, they saw in Kishtwar one El Capitan over the other!
My first travel to the area took place in early nineties after the marriage of my sister which took place in Srinagar. I wanted to visit her in her in laws’ home. We started very early in the morning from Srinagar and after crossing Batote and Pull Doda reached Kishtwar in the evening. Drive along the Chenab River was quite exciting. Kishtwar is a plateau surrounded by mountains and the Chenab River touches it on two sides. On one side is the River coming from the Wardwan valley and on the other side is River coming from Padar. However, I did not get the feeling of mystery and awe which I should have had after hearing my grand father’s stories. It is quite developed now. Those days the French were constructing the Dul Hasti power project. Their colony was very modern. I happened to know few of the engineers and paid them a visit. The colony is now occupied by NHPC staff. The first two visits were to the famous shrines of Asrar Sahib and Baba Farid Sahib. My sister’s in laws lived in the vicinity of these shrines. Subsequently, the Tourism Department constructed a pilgrim inn near the shrine of Baba Farid Sahib and I paid a second visit there. The work had been allotted by my predecessor and was undertaken by a local contractor. It took a record time to complete. The inn has now been handed over to auqaf and is used at the time of urs. Incidentally, the contractor was also the legislator from the area. The tourism department also had a complex within Kishtwar near the Chogan ground. In fact, we later on supplied about 30 sets of mountaineering and trekking equipment to this complex and even an officer was posted to oversee the expeditions going into this area. However, after the outbreak of militancy the complex was occupied by paramilitary forces. At present the complex is with Army. The equipment is still there. Some of it has been damaged by rats. Chogan is long open ground which has been sometimes used as an emergency air strip. The said area is also under Army who use it for their air sorties mostly by helicopters. The Airports Authority of India has surveyed the area and there is a proposal to construct a civilian air strip for small aircraft. Having an air connection to Kishtwar would be ideal for trekking and climbing parties.
Because of militancy, Kishtwar, which according to me has tremendous potential for adventure tourism, has remained virgin. This may be a boon for future as people prefer unexplored and virgin areas. However, there is need to formulate a perspective plan for tapping the potential of the area especially the mountaineering, trekking, rafting, kayaking, and even cross country skiing in winter. At the time of establishment of the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering, Kishtwar was one of the choices for its location. Sometime in future, one can easily set up an adventure centre here which would be very popular with foreign tourists. The trails from Kishtwar go to Zanskar through Padar and Umasi La; to Pahalgam after traversing the Wardwan valley and crossing Golul gali to descend at Sheshnag, and to Panikhar through Wardwan valley and Botkol pass. Through Padar one can also go to Himachal. I have undertaken the trek along the Wardwan valley to Pahalgam. This was in early seventies and that trek really gave me the feeling of the Kishtwar of old mysterious stories. I will describe it in the next episode.