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-X
The Wardwan valley is about 25 kilometres long and 2 to 3 kilometres wide at an average altitude of 8,500 feet above sea level. It is almost the altitude of Gulmarg all along the main valley. There are many side valleys also. The Wardwan River flows through the middle of the valley. There are many islands in the River with pines growing on these. It gives a fantastic view totally out of this world. Each small island is an excellent picnic spot. The entire valley is dotted with small villages and hamlets. These in addition to Inshan and Wurwan, include Tsodraman, Rikiniwas, Basmen, and Sokhnis. After leaving Inshan we trekked along the valley by following the track along the Wardwan River. We stopped at most of the villages just to meet people and see their life style. We had carried some medicine, mostly multi-vitamins and pain killers which we gave to the people. There was absolutely no system of healthcare. We were a curious lot. Trudging along in our colourful parkas with haversacks we seemed to local people beings from a different planet. The first question they would ask was whether we had any doctor in the team. We told them that we could give some medicine if they could tell us about their ailments. Mostly we distributed multi-vitamin capsules and tablets. People seemed mal-nourished. There appeared many cases of tuberculosis. We crossed the Wardwan River a couple of times as the track follows the River on both sides. There were locally made wooden bridges for crossing. We stopped at a spot midway for lunch.
In the afternoon when we were nearing Sokhnis we came to a small slopping meadow. There were some Gujar families with their flocks there. They invited us for some salt tea. I remember this stop very vividly because of an anecdote. Among the male members of the nomads was a very elderly person. He had white flowing beard died brown with hena and must have been over 100 years in age. He was very curious about the political situation. He asked us many questions about the political set up etc. While talking about Pakistan he was surprised to know that Mohammad Ali Jinnah was already dead. He felt sorry. He had not known this! What an isolated place to live in.
Towards the evening we reached our next halt Sokhnis. It is a large village at the foot of a mountain. Here the track bifurcates in two branches. One follows the valley which now narrows down almost to a gorge. The other branch steeper than the first one climbs up to a pass with a lake called the Kon Nag at the top. We had seen this track on the survey maps. The local villagers knew this track quite well as they usually took it to reach Pahalgam. However, it was only a foot trail and ponies could not go on this. We went straight to the forest rest house and camped here for the night. As we intended to take the Kon Nag pass, we decided to engage local porters and leave the ponies next morning. A deal was stuck with some locals to provide us a guide and porters to cross the pass. They told us that in the lake there is wreckage of a plane which must have crashed sometime in the past. They said that the tail of the plane was visible above the waters of the lake. After settling the engagement of porters we started cooking on kerosene stoves in the open as the hut did not have a proper kitchen. Almost the whole village came to see how we were cooking without wood. They had not seen a stove working on kerosene. As usual we distributed some medicine and vitamins. Next morning we got up early as we had a steep climb ahead. The porters had given us a time of 7 in the morning for the start but strangely no body turned up till 10 am. We got panicky but could do nothing. All the persons we had spoken to had physically vanished. Fortunately, our pony men were still there. We were forced to opt for a longer route through the gorge. After paying the chowkidar of the hut for our night stay we proceeded ahead. Before leaving I made an interesting entry in the rent register of the hut. I described the treachery of the local people and how they had let us down. I warned the future travellers to be careful. A number of later travellers had seen the entry.
The trek through the gorge was quite exciting. The track climbed up and the Wardwan River remained far below. Both the mountainsides were lush green. In a number of places there were small streams descending into the main River. These appeared like white streaks of flowing milk. Finally we reached Rangmarg at the foot of the Golul Gali. Here the River as well as the track bifurcates. One branch goes to Botkol pass which leads to Panikhar in the Suru valley. The other climbs up the pass to descend to Sheshnag, the famous lake on the Amarnath trail. Ahead of the Rangmarg, the valley comes to an abrupt end with a cirque of high mountains. We stayed here for the night. In the late evening, I again saw a glimpse of a leopard but on the other side of the River leading to Botkol pass.
Next morning we started our ascent of the pass. Initially it was a trail going slowly up in a straight way. However, it soon became quite steep. On the way we saw strange rock formations of reddish colour which resembled the ones shown in the movie Mackena’s Gold. On the top of the pass was a long snowfield. We did glissading on the other side. We reached Sheshnag in the afternoon and stayed in a room in the rest house. It was quite cold in the night. Next morning we started the descent to Pahalgam along Zajibal and Pissu Ghati but stopped on the way to visit a side valley. This is across the Sheshnag nallah somewhat up in the mountains. There is another small beautiful lake called Sonsar. This is on the trail which we had earlier intended to take from Sokhnis. It was a short but a rewarding visit. Finally, we reached Pahalgam in the evening and thus our beautiful trek of Wardwan valley came to an end.
In subsequent years, I had the opportunity of flying to Wardwan valley in helicopters and found it as fascinating as ever. Before the eruption of militancy a number of student groups from some US universities visited the valley for studying its flora and fauna as well as the people. However, the turmoil again closed the valley and it remained in isolation till recently when a bus service was started across Margan pass. Since last year another NGO headed by Mr.Rafique Khan from USA is going to the valley to help the poor people. This valley will always remain in my memory as one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen!