If one has to go from Chamba to Bhaderwah then the modern day route is Chamba-Pathankot-Jammu-Bhatote-Doda Pul-Bhaderwah (400 KM). However, 25 years ago the same journey could be done by traveling 135 Kilometers only. Technology has made an impact on human life, certainly for terrorists to say the least.
Chamba-Bhaderwah road was closed for vehicular traffic long ago because of terrorism activities in the valley.
Today, there are two major roads that lead from Chamba to the state of Jammu. One is the treacherous Pangi-Killar-Sach road. The other one is from Khairi across the Sewa River, which originates in Jammu and flows through Himachal before becoming one with the Ravi.
However, not known to many, there is another road that connects Chamba to Jammu. Terrorism along with our govt’s fascination with seditionists resulted in abandonment of this road. It was discarded long ago because of terrorism in the valley. This road is by far the best and shortest road connecting Chamba to Jammu. And surprisingly, I am sure you too will be surprised, this road actually happens to be a State Highway (SH-35). The highway branches off at Bathri on the Pathankot-Chamba highway (SH-33) and goes all the way to Bhaderwah in Jammu.
The SH runs along the Ravi basin for 35 kilometers before disappearing in the wilderness. Overall length of this SH is 135 Kilometers and those who have seen the other side claim that the road there is almost similar to the Srinagar-Leh Highway.
Too bold a claim, I must say.
All said and done, one doesn’t go from Chamba to Bhaderwah just by thinking. Special permission from the SDM/Police Station is required. If you want to cross on foot, which is not advisable, you need permission from the nearest Police Station, which happens to be at the Kihar Village (30Km before the post). Those who want to move across on a vehicle need permission from SDM Office at Chamba.
This place is somewhat similar to the Banjar – Tirthan Valley in Kullu. River Siul flows close by and the lush green valley invites you to pitch tent beneath the snow laden Pir-Panjals.
According to a folk song, Chamba is a valley spread between two rivers, one of which is Ravi. I inquired around because I wanted to know about the second river mentioned in the song. Someone told me that the other river is Siul River (which is not factually correct because Siul too becomes one with Ravi). I had assumed that the other river in question was Chenab, which flows across the Pangi Valley. Probably, the other river is ‘Sal River’ but we will talk about it in some other post. [Song featured in Tere Mere Phere Movie]
Siul River originates in the Jammu state and flows through Himachal. The ‘Udgam-Sthal’ aka origin source is known as ‘Padhri-Gali Pass’ located at an approximate height of 3000 meters. En route Leh, on the Leh-Manali Highway, Deepak Taal appears out of nowhere and same goes true for the Siul River. When you come out of the woods; ready to hit the highway, Siul River appears; silently flowing to meet Mother Ravi. It is then joined by several ‘Nalahs’ downhill before it finally merges with Ravi.
Langera – The Border Village
Langera is last village of Himachal Pradesh. The Police Post is located at ‘Khundi-Maral’ at a distance of 10km from Langera. Majority of Muslim population of Himachal belongs to Chamba and large chunk of that population is found here around Langera.
I heard many disturbing stories there about distrust in the community. However, those could be rumors and its better not to discuss rumors. Although, we can make an exception and talk about this particular story, which is actually funny.
A “Hindu Guy” walked from Chamba to Jammu few years ago. He was all alone, loaded with money and modern age gadgets (mobiles, cameras etc.) . As soon as he crossed ‘Padhri-Galli’, he heard weird noises coming from the jungle. He ignored those voices and started moving fast. But how fast one can move in a jungle? That too on a lone stretch of 30 kilometers.
Soon he was surrounded by ‘bakwarwals’, the shepherd ‘muslim’ community in J&K. And before he knew it, he was kidnapped.
They took him hostage and made him do all the household work for weeks. They took his money, mobile phone, watch, and even his shoes. He would cook food for them, graze their cattle, fetch water for them, and a lot more.
Weeks later they allowed him to go back and threatened him not to come back ever.
Ever heard of a kidnapping case like this?
It is not advised to travel alone in that region especially during the night. I was accompanied by Dr. Arvind, who works at the Salooni Village told me many interesting stories about this region. Community is divided along the lines of religion and we all know what that means. These borders were guarded by ITBP until 2012 but then the Defense Ministry decided to call back the ITBP citing financial reasons. Now Himachal Police guards these borders.
The grasslands in the valley are leased out to the Chamba Gujjars’ and last year when Police wanted to construct another safe-hut at the border, the Gujjars’ got a stay order from the court. This is how our borders are being guarded. Despite all this, efforts of the Reserve Battalion are commendable. 2500 meters above the sea level, in the middle of the jungle in hostile conditions they certainly need a pat on the back, and better infrastructure too, if I may add.
These guys have shoot at sight orders (under suspicion). I pray that they do not have to shoot ever.
There are 4-5 high altitudes post in that region and the patrol parties keep patrolling incessantly. Patroling starts from Garhmata Peak (3000+ meters) to Seepa-Cholli (3000 meters) to Langera (2600 meters) to Satrundi (Sach Pass-4000 meters), in continuation.
I was told that there lies a safe-zone in the forests where all the terrorists escaping from Kishtwar-Doda find solace and shelter. Long ago, ITBP was asked to carry out an operation to wipe out the safe-zone. ITBP demanded 1200 troops and 2 choppers. The demand was never met and the operation never materialized. Police Officials told me that nobody (Indian Authorities) has ever stepped feet in that zone as yet because even if a stray animal gets in there, it finds itself inside the tandoor.
Another interesting story they told me was about the ‘Bhoot Baba Temple’. Once an ITBP soldier was coming from Chamba to Langera and it started to snow unexpectedly. It was getting dark and the soldier was still far behind the post and he had to take shelter in the temple. He covered himself with flags tied by pilgrims at the temple. He survived that night while it was 6 feet snow outside. Since then it is a tradition to stop at the temple to pay tribute to the ‘Bhoot-Baba’.
Padhri Gali Pass opens in the month of May-June and it would be good to be there this summer. Pilgrims from Bhaderwah cross this pass every year during the Manimahesh Kailash Yatra and that is the best time to cross this pass.
If you are fond of traveling solo, try winters.
Garhmata Peak is another approach to reach Jammu but not much is known about it. A fair is celebrated at the top of the peak in the monsoon season, which is attended by the Hindu Community of Jammu as well.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, gives me hope! 🙂
P.S.Thank you Dr. Arvind for your amazing hospitality.