Mughal Road Links People, Economies19 October 2011
Srinagar: After every two days Sajjad Ahmad Dar brings two quintals of apples here in a load carrier from Shopian district of the Valley. He sells one kilogram apple at Rs 20. And people here say paying Rs 20 for famed Kashmiri apples is no big deal. Sajjad sells all apples in two days and returns to the Valley to bring more. “Though apples which we bring here are of low quality, it has takers here and we earn good revenue,” says Sajjad. He says high quality apples will cost around Rs 80 per kg. He says nearly 30 load carriers take Mughal Road route to bring apple to Poonch and Rajouri areas of Jammu division each day, which a year ago was not possible. The Mughal Road has reduced the distance between Bufliaz area of Poonch district in Jammu to Shopian in Kashmir valley to just 84 km. Parveen Kumar is constable with Jammu and Kashmir Police. His eighty-year-old father had taken apple thrice in his life. “I was once posted in Sheeri area of Baramulla district in Kashmir Valley. And whenever I would come home, I will bring apples from the Valley. And I brought only thrice,” he said. Now, he says, his father takes apples every day after traffic started plying on the Mughal Road. “It is not costly and we can afford apples every day,” he said. Before opening of the Mughal Road the residents here would get one kg of apples at Rs 120 to Rs 140 and they were of good quality. “But now we get good quality apples at Rs 20 per kg,” says a journalist based in Rajouri. These days every family serves apples to guests in both Rajouri and Poonch districts. Even though Mughal Road has not been officially opened, the vehicles ply on the road from both sides. The road has reduced distance between Valley and Pirpanchal region to three hours drive. There remains, however, a constant danger of landslides but it doesn’t deter people and traders here who are excited about the travel on the road. They say once the road will be officially thrown open it will bring new economic opportunities. “Even apples which are being brought from Shopian here are not of high quality. We have waited for them 60 years. Whatever their quality they are apples from Kashmir and they are being brought here through Mughal road, what else we need,” says emotionally charged Sabzar Ahmad, president Traders Union Thanamandi. Anticipating that the road will attract large number of tourists, the land prices have already shot up. No one is ready to sell land at Bufliaz. “They know after two to three years when Mughal Road will be officially opened it will bring all those tourists who visit Valley to this place. So why should they sell the land,” says a political leader. He rightly says tourists who visit Valley will be amazed to see the region. Like Kashmir, the Pirpanchal region has beautiful mountains and Valleys and it is also known for Sufi shrines. Thousands of pilgrims from all across the country and from across LoC visit Sufi Shrine of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah at Shahdra Sharief in Thannamandi Rajouri and Dargah Sain Baba Miran Bakhsh Sahab at Kopra Guntrian Moutain in Poonch. Both the shrines have facilities for food and lodging for the pilgrims. At present large number of Kashmiris taking the Mughal Road visit the shrine on Saturday and Sunday. Travel on Mughal road itself is an exotic experience. The road passes through Pirpanchal mountain range, at an altitude of 11,500 ft (3505 m) that is higher than Banihal pass. At Pir Ki Gali a traveller could even touch the clouds. There is a grand Sarai at Thannamandi and a terrace at Noori Chamb waterfalls. It was named after the Noor-Jehan, the queen of Jehangir. A grand Mughal rest house still stands at mountain peak at Chandimarh on the route. On both sides of Pirpanchal pass work is in progress. The revised estimate approved by both central and the State Government for the road is Rs 635 crore. The official say another Rs 500 crore for construction of tunnel would make it an all-weather road and reduce the distance to 15-km from the present 84 km. In early 70s, it was grandfather of the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who mooted the proposal of an alternative route to the Valley to improve the economy of Rajouri and Poonch and reduce traffic load on Srinagar-Jammu highway, right now the only link of Valley to the rest of India. In 2002 after Mufti Muhammad Sayeed took over as Chief Minister, he took up the project and despite several legal hitches got it completed.