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-IX
In the last episode I mentioned about trekking in Kishtwar. It was in early seventies that I participated in a trek to famous Wardwan Valley organised by the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club. It was a very memorable and exciting trek through what is probably the most beautiful valley in the entire state? We were a group of six members of the Club. These were Anwar Ashai, Peerzada Mumtaz, Munir Bhat, Sharif Khan, Khurshid Malik, and I. Before this trek we had already trekked to Gangabal Lake which is the most enchanting trek in Kashmir valley and passes through almost a dozen high altitude Lakes. It starts from Sonamarg and ends in Naranag. After getting our equipment and provisions, we took a bus to Matihund and thence to Lehinwan, which used to be the last village connected by road. The road goes ahead of Kokarnag and before Daksum turns left to the village of Larno. This village is named after Sir Walter Lawrence who did the land settlement of Kashmir Valley. The road was rough and after getting down at Lehinwan we stayed for the night in the Forest department Rest house. In earlier days, the Forest department used to have rest houses and huts in some of the most ideal and fascinating locations. Lehinwan is at the foot of the Margan Pass, the entry to Wardwan Valley from Kashmir side. Wardwan Valley is actually in Kishtwar district and the route goes via Marwa and Dachin. That route is quite long and the nearest approach is through Margan Pass. Recently a bus service has been started over the pass to the Wardwan Valley. However, we had to go on foot. We engaged some ponies for our tents and provisions and started very early next morning for the pass. Initially, it was a trek through a long forest and then the trail climbed the pass steeply. The pass itself is a long plateau with mountain peaks on two sides. There was lot of wind in the pass. We had seen on the map some lakes on the left side of the pass. It was decided to camp for the night on the top of the pass. Next morning we got up early and left for the Lakes. In the meantime, we asked the horsemen to wind up the camp and move towards the Wardwan valley. We would join them subsequently. After an hours climb we reached the first Lake. It was quite large but seemed somewhat shallow. A little distance away was another Lake, much smaller but deeper. It was like a well. On its sides we saw rows of naturally growing flowers. These were in some sort of flower beds as if laid by a gardener. It was a rewarding experience to have visited these Lakes.
Immediately after visiting the Lakes we started our descent towards Wardwan valley. The first trail went down gradually along the bare mountains. Later on it entered a dense forest and also became steeper. As we neared the base of the valley, we could see the Wardwan River and the village of Inshan across the River. As we had decided to stay in the forest hut so we did not go across but stayed on the Margan side of the River. Deep in the forest was this nice hut tucked among tall pines. We stayed for the night in the two room hut and had the first mysterious experience of the Kishtwar of good old days. There was no light except the candles and the torches we carried. There was total darkness. After dinner we immediately went to sleep in our sleeping bags on the wooden floor of the hut. There were no modern sanitary bath rooms and one had to go out to answer the call of nature. The two horsemen after freeing their horses for grazing slept in the verandah of the hut. In the middle of the night I felt an urge to ease my self. I went out on the verandah over the sleeping horsemen and standing there eased my self. In the clearing in front of the hut I saw shadow of a moving animal which appeared like a stray dog. I came back and again went to sleep. Hardly after ten minutes we heard banging on the door and name of Anwar Ashai being called repeatedly in a strange trembling voice. It went like, “Anwar… Anwarrr…Anwaar…” and so on. We all got scared and started telling Anwar that it must be some witch or a jungle woman. Sharif Khan did not agree and said something may be wrong with the horsemen. He loaded his double barrel and we all switched on our torches and opened the door. Suddenly the two profusely sweating and trembling horsemen fell over us. They were terribly shaking. They said that a leopard had just passed by the hut. It had first come when I had gone out to ease myself. After I went in and closed the door, it came again and tried to pull at the sacks under which the horsemen were sleeping. But their banging the door made it run away. They had a narrow escape. I had just virtually urinated over the leopard! It was a chilling experience. A bit from the Kishtwar of the yore!
We got up early in the morning as we planned to trek to the other end of the Wardwan valley to the village of Sokhnis. After breakfast we packed our sleeping bags and loaded the horses. Luckily the leopard had spared these! We descended to the River and crossed it by a wooden bridge to reach the village of Inshan. It is a small village of wooden houses cluttered together. The houses were purely of wood. The walls, the doors and windows and even the roofs were of wooden planks. The villagers had no nails in the wooden construction. They had used tongue and groove joints. The houses were surrounded by wooden fences of long staves tied with branches. They had absolutely no modern building materials. The people were the purest Kashmiris of the good old days. Abjectly poor and primitive. They spoke unadulterated Kashmiri language. The features, the dress, and all other implements were of old times. It was like a museum of the ancient life of Kashmir. People were working in the fields with primitive style of implements and we saw a number of water-mills. We kept on trekking through the valley for the entire day and only stopped a couple of times for some lunch and tea. The trip through the valley was enjoyable which I will describe in the next episode.