Srinagar: The site of a much-loved annual mela, Pir Baba Ziyarat, on the Nowgam side of the Line of Control, is almost 65 kilometres from Handwara main town. This small place belonged to Pakistan after 1947 until it was captured by the Indian army during the Indo-Pak war in 1965.
The mela is a hit among locals in Handwara area, but few outsiders know about this place. It is opened by the army for the public for only about 10 days in a year, to allow people to visit the shrine of the Pir during the fair. This year, most locals believe the mela will not be held, just like the last two years.
As tensions on the Indo-Pak border continue to escalate, the army might prefer to cancel it once again. The Pir Baba Mela was held for the first time in the summer of 2006.
According to reports, the place has a small army hospital, constructed during the first posting of General Parvez Musharraf — as a second lieutenant in the Pakistan army’s artillery regiment near the Indo-Pak border.
When this Kashmir Reader reporter tried to travel to the shrine, as some reports suggested that it had been opened for visitors, the military police at Nowgam TMG brigade camp said that he could not visit yet, but might perhaps in a few days. Any future visit could only happen if this reporter had verification from his police station, the military police said.
A local youth said that he had visited the place many times in his work as an army porter, a job he had held for the last two years. “If you want to visit the shrine when it is open, you can contact any Sumo taxi driver of Lawoosa Sumo stand at Handwara and give him the photocopy of your Aadhaar card. Rest he will manage everything himself,” he said.
I asked him for his phone number while leaving; he said that army porters were not allowed to keep phones: “No mobile phones, cameras or any electronic devices are allowed while travelling here, not even a mobile chip or pen drive.”
While I was inquiring about the Pir Baba shrine with the army porter, a Sumo driver standing next to us introduced himself as Khan Boye. He said the shrine would open on July 27. “I can take you there. You have to just provide an Aadhaar card copy and nothing else,” he said. When I asked if I could take my own car there, he said it was inadvisable as “the road is very dangerous: it has 56 blind turns.”
According to one of the shopkeepers at Lawoosa Sumo stand, Mohammad Ashraf, the Pir Baba Mela is very popular among locals, and it might start in a few days. “It opens for a week mostly. I have visited the place a few times in the past. There is a Pir Baba Ziyarat and a Pakistan army hospital occupied by the Indian army. When we reach there, we can see the Pakistan village clearly,” he said.
Haji Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, 65, who has been a Muqdam of the Lawoosa village of Handwara for the past two decades, told Kashmir Reader that he didn’t think the army was going to open the shrine this year for the Pir Baba Mela as there is continuous shelling on the border. When asked if he had personally felt any ill effect of the Indo-Pak border tension, he said he had not.
“I have visited the Pir Baba Ziyarat many times. The name of the Pir buried there is Mang Sahib. The place belonged once to Pakistan, but was occupied after the 1965 war, which is how the Nougam brigade camp came into existence on our land,” he explained.