Plains to Mountains (Jammu to Kishtwar): Part 2
The scenario on the other side of the Chenani-Nashri tunnel was quite different as if we had entered a new world. Fully bathed roads, fragrant soil, milky-white cumulus clouds hovering over the high mountains, dense vegetation, and clean roads with beautiful margins of Cedrus (cedars) were the main attractions. The dense forests of Batote have different varieties of trees mainly dominated by Cedrus and Pinus (pines). Tribal people were seen along with their obstinate buffaloes at many places. I took out my cell phone and started listening to music. I deeply appreciate the creativity of the composers whenever I read or listen to something in which words are used in a beautiful and magical way.
Gradually we felt that our cab was moving on a highly elevated region with high mountains on the opposite side and a deep gorge below. In this deep gorge flows a major river of Jammu and Kashmir, the Chenab, known as Asikini (dark) in the Rigveda. It is a perennial river formed after the confluence of two head rivers Chandra and Bhaga (both of which originate near Baralacha La pass) at Tandi (then called Chandrabhaga), near Lahaul and Spiti of Himachal Pradesh. During winter, the colour of this river is greenish; however, it may have slight changes all the year round. At some places, it appears yellowish or fawn coloured on account of the heavy deposition of silt. This is an extremely accident-prone area and without a doubt, this river can be called a dangerous river as it has engulfed many lives. Now the cab was moving over narrow roads cut through the giant mountains. Suddenly, I caught on to the phrase, “Uske sab nishaan hain” (Whatever you see in this world is His sign) from the song “Hasbi Rabbi” sung by Sami Yusuf in a live concert held in New Delhi in 2019, which was playing on my mobile phone. Indeed, whatever we see around, especially the mountains, rivers and vegetation, strongly remind us of their Creator!
With a sense of gratefulness, we were smoothly heading towards our destination when a small village named Assar situated at the bank of Chenab caught our attention. Assar, a highly fertile region famous for gypsum mines, is one of the tehsils of district Doda. Gypsum is used as a fertiliser, in paper, in Plaster of Paris, in tiles, etc. Here, harvested wheat was piled on the beautifully aligned land terraces. While travelling through this area, the plants of Narcissus (Nargis) and Digitalis (Foxglove) were observed on the lower side of the road.
At a bridge in Doda, one road goes towards Bhaderwah, a tehsil in district Doda also considered as “Mini Kashmir”, while the other leads to Kishtwar. Bhaderwah is a place with which I am deeply connected to as I have worked at the Govt Degree College Bhaderwah for the academic year 2018-19 as a lecturer. During this time, apart from my first teaching experience, I learned many aspects from the staff as well as from the students. I feel highly thankful to the Almighty for having met nice people, for the interaction with the students, and working with satisfaction out there. The main Doda city is situated at an altitude of 1524 masl on a small plateau. It has been named after Papaver somniferum (Poppy) which once was frequently grown in the area.
At 11:45 am, we reached Thathri, another tehsil of district Doda. As this was a time when positive cases of Covid-19, as well as deaths, were increasing in Jammu and Kashmir, many hindrances were laid down on the highway for the testing of individuals and containment of the disease. Here, a camp had been organised by the army and healthcare workers where every passenger was being tested for the presence of novel coronavirus through Rapid Antigen Test (RAP) kit. Although the reliability of the kit is questionable, yet it may act as a preliminary decision-making tool to go for RT-PCR (Real time-Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing. Logically, it is acceptable to have type-II error (a person lacking coronavirus shows the presence of it) in comparison to type-I error (a person with coronavirus being tested negative for it). However, it affects the psychological behaviour of a person who tests positive. Ammi and Rabia were initially scared of the testing procedure as the swab is taken after putting a sterile loop deep inside the nostril. I assured them that it’s not very painful. Everyone of us went through the testing protocol. The authorities asked us to wait for a few minutes to get the result. Meanwhile, Ammi and Rabia captured some photographs and pushed me also into their frame. Ultimately, I received the reports in which all of us tested negative, thank God!
As the cab was moving gradually through the mountains, the water level of Chenab reduced. Looking at the plants of the Rosaceae family and the changing levels of Chenab, I felt sleepy and took a short nap of 15-20 minutes. When I opened my eyes, we were at Shalimar. This is a beautiful place occupied by army base camps situated at the foothill of the mountains. From here, a zigzag road is carved through the mountain, at the top of which lies the beautiful valley of Kishtwar. This is the place where I have lived my childhood days, started my education, developed my thinking capabilities, and enjoyed every moment with family and friends. Everything looks familiar and I like the people, places, climate, and whatever happens here.
This area is also called as “Land of Sapphire and Saffron”. It is enveloped with lush green meadows and crowned with the Naginshiru (mountain) in the north. District Kishtwar is situated at a distance of 235 km from Jammu city. It was carved out of the erstwhile Doda district in 2007, and now works as an autonomous administrative unit. In the heart of the town lies a big green-carpeted ground called “Chowgaan” covering an area of about 65 hectares. In the evening, people are seen playing, walking, and relaxing here, especially during the summer season. Two famous shrines, of Shah Asrar-ud-Din (RA) and of Shah Farid-ud-Din Baghdadi (RA), tombs of the respective saints, are situated in the main town. Every year, urs of these famous saints are celebrated with fervour in the valley. About 6 km from the main town lies a small beautiful village named “Puchhal” which is famous for saffron cultivation. The variety of saffron cultivated here is considered more precious than the one cultivated in Pampore (Kashmir). Jamia Masjid, Gori Shankar temple, Neel Kanth Mahadev temple, and Qilla are some other important places of interest.
It was raining when we entered the main town of Kishtwar at 2:00 pm. I couldn’t resist the cool rain that was pinching us on the skin and took out a shrug from my bag and wore it. Amid the corona curfew, the whole of the market except for two medical shops was closed. The calmness in the valley was of such extent that it looked entirely uninhabited. There was no sign of transport. We had to arrange another cab to reach the village. We stayed at one of my relatives’ residence by the time a new cab was arranged, which led us to the final destination. After an hour, we headed towards our hometown (Passerkoot) which is situated on the Kishtwar-Sinthan road (National Highway 244). From the main town, our cab started moving through the curvy roads with scenic beauty all around. The road between the dense Cedrus and Pinus trees, plain green lush meadows, and large mountains of Pir Panjal were mesmerising. A large tree of Platanus (Chinar) could be seen at a corner in Bindraban, which looks more enthralling in autumn when the flame-red chinar leaves are spread all around.
After a while, we were moving over the most dangerous, narrow, and zigzag roads carved around a giant mountain at the height of about 1600 masl, below which flows the river Chenab. The road through this mountain has witnessed numerous accidents, although the frequency has now decreased a little. This place is called Bhandarkoot which means “store rooms”. Here, an old fort on a hillock (with only ruminants left) is thought to have been used in ancient times to store food grains during peace time. At the foot of this mountain, a prominent shrine of Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali is located. People from all over the valley, irrespective of their religion, believe in this sacred place. An engrossing confluence of river Chenab with its right bank tributary “Marusudar” can be seen here. Marusudar flows from the Marwah area of district Kishtwar, hence its name. A large army base camp is being established here which also acts as an important checkpoint on this road. A small village “Kurya” is situated 1-2 km away from Bhandarkoot at the bank of Chenab. Here, flocks of sheep blocked the road for a few minutes. This is the time when tribal people all across the state move towards the mountainous regions to feed their livestock. I wonder how people migrate to such long distances for their livelihood without proper shelter.
Travelling through the narrow roads alongside the river Chenab, we reached “Dadpeth”, a place which attracts by its plain meadows, and low-level, wide and clean river. Whenever I travel through this road, I stay here for at least a few minutes to watch the hypnotic landscape. The fields on the opposite side of the river attract me the most. This time, both ripened and harvested wheat could be seen on different beds.
Around 4:00 pm, we crossed a small tehsil “Mughalmaidaan” where a famous hatchery has been developed for rearing Scoliodon (trout fish). It is a famous picnic spot. I remember when I was in college, we went here for picnic twice. Hovering clouds were now with us, making us feel like in a completely different atmosphere when we reached “Chattroo”, one of the beautiful tehsils in district Kishtwar situated along the riverside, in between two hills. From here, a rough road runs through the jungle and gets bifurcated at a place named “Dellar”. The straight one leads to Kashmir valley via Sinthan Pass on the Pir Panjal range, also famous as a beautiful picnic spot. The other road leads towards my hometown, a small but beautiful village, Passerkoot. A few years back, an approximately 5-km road tunnel officially named as Singpora-Vailoo tunnel was demarcated at “Singpora”, a place about 10 km from Passerkoot, to connect the area with Vailoo (Kashmir). This tunnel was expected to reduce the time and improve the connectivity with Kashmir valley in comparison to that of Sinthan road. Unfortunately, so far no improvement has been observed in this regard.
Whenever I reach this junction, the excitement of meeting everyone increases. While crossing the mountain from where I could spot my village on the opposite side, a rejuvenating smile appeared on my face, the strength of which could easily be witnessed in my eyes. Green terraces usually developed for paddy plantation were laden with wheat during the season, mostly unripened, here. Passerkoot is situated at the top of a mountain, flanked on either side with rivers. It is said that the area was once the Qilla (koot) of an emperor named Passer, hence its name. It is a peaceful place covered with high mountains all around, dense coniferous trees in the east, west, and north, but scarce vegetation in the south. This area is rich in apple, pear, peach, and walnut trees. Morchella (Guchi mushroom) is also prevalent in the jungles from where many people collect and sell them.
Once we reached home, a feeling of love was dominant in my mind. I was missing everyone at home, and so were they. My little sister Bazila was missing me the most. She rushed out to the road when we reached. I met everyone individually, asking their well-being in detail, and laughed over minor things. Ammi was tired and took a rest for some time. After a while, I and Bazila went to the garden where different types of fruits and vegetables were in their sprouting stages. Everything around was green, refreshing, and seemed to have bathed in the rain. Old memories were being revived by each and everything as this is the place where I have grown up, learned so many things from my nana ji and dada ji, shown all the heights of my naughtiness and yet been loved by everyone.
The writer is a research scholar at Department of Botany, University of Jammu. [email protected]