It's No Longer The Road Less Traveled In Kashmir

It's No Longer The Road Less Traveled In Kashmir

24 June 2013
Times of India
Chittaranjan Tembhekar

Srinagar: Until five years ago, 38-year-old farmer Shamim Ahmed Bhat of Hirpora village in Shopian in Jammu & Kashmir had never thought of marrying Shazia, who lived 510 km away, via the old Jammu route, in Poonch along the India-Pakistan border. But when Shamim saw contractors sawing off the edges of surrounding glaciers that separated their townships and lay the shortest possible road, it brought about a change of heart. The foothills of these terrains were until then used only by the 15th century Mughal emperors to reach Srinagar from Lahore. After partition, a shorter route connecting these districts, especially Poonch and Rajouri with Srinagar, went to Pakistan, virtually closing the scope of reaching either side and preventing people from getting closer - whether it be trade or relationships. However, the new 84km Mughal road, built over the last five years, between Shopian and Bufliaz village of Poonch district has today brought the people in different districts of J&K closer by over 170 km, thereby eliminating a nearly 367 km long detour. Not only Shamim, the road has bridged hearts of hundreds of youths in the Valley and districts like Rajouri and Poonch. 'Now we can visit Shazia's house any day and come back,' said a beaming Shamim. A J&K government's public works department project, the Rs 700 crore scheme was completed by Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) in October 2012 after overcoming several hurdles. 'For many of my friends, not only marriages but also better medical treatment in Srinagar has got easier. Quality education, too, is no longer a dream as the Valley has come closer,' said Zaoor Masoodi, a Baramula resident closely associated with the road project. According to HCC project manager Mathew Marcus, apples were being sold at Rs 50 kg in Rajouri and Poonch but after Mughal road's construction the cost came down to Rs 15 per kg, boosting the economy of this otherwise militant-dominated area. 'For the Army, moving men and machinery quickly is now easier,' he added. 'Earlier, marriages were impossible because of a 15-16 hour route via Jammu, and that too through tough terrain. Shamim's is probably one of the first marriages between the families from Hirpora in Shopian and Bafliaz in Poonch facilitated by the road project. Now families are developing relationships across villages and districts,' said Masoodi. The freshly laid road has a historic 'pavement' below, which was used by salt traders on horses before 15th century and later by Mughal emperors to reach Srinagar. After announcement of the two-lane Mughal road project by Prime Minister I K Gujral in 1996, the contract was awarded to HCC in 2006. 'The work began in 2008 after a PIL was cleared by Supreme Court in 2006 and the eco-clearance was granted. Snowfall, minus 15 degree temperature, lose soil conditions, and tough topography made rock excavation a big challenge. Local people helped us in showing ways to take heavy machinery to peak points such as Pir Ki Galli. We managed to start single lane in December 2008,' said Marcus. 'Security constraints slowed down blasting process. In all, 800 men worked against all odds to reduce the distance between Poonch and Srinagar by 67%. It will reduce long travel and save fuel and energy besides time and money,' Marcus added. Not only travel, but also the cost of commodities has reduced due to the new road, he said.