Friday, December 15, 2017




                                           ( Banihaal Railway Track below the Pass )
                                       ( Banihaal Railway track below the Pass )

                                             ( Towards Mughal Road or Pir Panjal Pass )
                                                        ( Mughal Serai near Chingus   )

                                                       ( Simthen Pass Kishtwar )
                                                       ( View from Simthen Top )
                                                               ( Simthen Top )

( Photo Avtar Mota )
Before the construction of two major motorable roads ( Jhelum Valley Cart Road and Banihal Cart Road ) in the north and the south directions of the Srinagar city , the mountain walls which surrounded the Kashmir valley were pierced by outsiders through various passes or openings . For the Kashmiris , these high altitude openings or passes were the only contact routes with the outside world .And for outsiders , these were the only entry routes to the valley .
I may only discuss such passes as had some strategic or commercial utility . In this category I find the Banihaal Pass, Sidau or Budil Pass ,Pir Panjal Pass,Tossa Maidan Pass,Simthen Pass, Zoji La Pass and Kishen -ganga valley passes . There are some other passes like Margan Pass (11,500 ft) into the Wardwan valley and then into Kishtwar, Hoksar Pass (height 13,315 feet) into the Chenab valley and Marbal Pass (height 11.500 feet) into the Ravi valley.
It lies on the eastern extremity of Pir Panjal range and is about 9300 feet in altitude . The pass used to remain closed for about 5 months due to heavy snowfall. On account of its small altitude, this pass was widely used for going to various settlements along the Chenab river and other hilly kingdoms of the present-day Jammu province . This pass linked many hilly kingdoms like Chenani , Babour( Manwal) etc. across the Chenab ( up to Jammu ) with the Kashmir valley . Presently a rail line and an extremely busy all weather vehicular road passes through this pass.The pass has become the life line for the Kashmir valley. The new Banihaal tunnel , the longest tunnel in India, with a length of 8.45 km has now reduced the distance between Srinagar and Jammu by 16 km. It also reduces travel time from 2 hours to 15 minutes. The new tunnel was thrown open to traffic in 2021.
This pass is approached from Shopian side of the Kashmir valley and Sidau is the name of a village or last village on Kashmir side of this pass. This is the shortest foot route to Akhnoor via Shopian. From Akhnoor people used to go to Jammu and Sialkot using this route . Using this route , Jammu is just 129 miles from Kashmir. As a matter of fact, there was a Kashmiri settlement in Akhnoor town and at present also the locality is named as Kashmiri Mohalla . Presently no Kashmiri speaking person resides in that locality . The highest point on Sidau pass is 14000 feet in altitude . The pass used to remain snowbound for six months . Before 1947, this pass was a route used by Kashmiris to enter Punjab .
This pass was used by the Kashmiris to travel to Rajauri and Poonch . The highest point in this pass is about 11500 feet in altitude . One could enter the Central and the Western Punjab ( as it used to be before 1947 ) also via this pass. The last village on the Kashmir side of this pass is Hirapur and Bhimber was the last village from Punjab side . This path was patronized by Sultans of Kashmir . Later Akbar also built the Imperial road through this pass which came to be known as the Mughal Road . It was through this route that Qasim Khan , the commander of Akbar’s infantry entered the Kashmir valley. Presently a motorable ( Mughal Road ) road passes through this pass . This road passes through Peer ki Gali, Chita Pani, Aliabad Sarai, Hirapur and Shopian. During the Pathan rule In Kashmir, Birbal Dhar used this route to reach Lahore Darbar and seek Maharaja Ranjit Singh's help to end the suppression unleashed by the Afghan rule in the Kashmir valley .He crossed the pass entering via Devsar, Kulgam.
It is believed that the delegation of 500 Kashmiri Pandits headed by Pandit Kirpa Ram of Mattan went by this route to Punjab to meet Guru Tegh Bahadur seeking his help to end their sufferings. These Pandits first visited Amritsar wherefrom they travelled to Anandpur Sahib.
Due to frequent floods, famines and droughts, the Kashmiri artisans, labourers, Shawl traders and weavers moved to settle in Amritsar, Lahore, Ludhiana and other places in the undivided Punjab using this route for their journey. Sadat Hassan Manto, Saif Ud Din Kichloo, Gama Pahalwan, Nawaz Sheriff (Prime Minister of Pakistan), poet Sufi Tabassum, poet Meeraji, and more names belong to Punjab's migrant population of the Kashmiri ancestry. Using this route, Kashmiri Pandits too moved out from the Kashmir valley to settle in the plains of India owing to suppression during the rule of Aurangzeb and more specifically during the dark days of the Afghan rule in Kashmir . To escape suppression and conversion, the Saprus , Nehrus , Mushrans,Wattals , Katjoos ,Dhars , Tankhahs ,Handoos, Atals , Tikoos, ,Kauls , Bhans , Mattoos and many more clans of Kashmiri Pandits have moved through this route to arrive in Amritsar ,Sialkot, Lahore, Delhi, Faizabad, Allahabad, Kanpur, Agra , Jaipur , Jodhpur and many other cities and towns of the country during the dark rule of Afghans in the Kashmir valley. Jonaraja informs us that the trickle of Kashmiri Pandit moving out had started from the 14th century . The Kashmiri Pandits also arrived and settled in Poonch, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah and hilly kingdoms of Himachal Pradesh crossing other passes. Walter Lawrence informs us that Aurangzeb visited Kashmir via this route and 30000 porters were employed to carry the luggage of the camp from Bhimber to Kashmir. 
This pass was used for travelling to Poonch from the Kashmir valley .Tossa –Maidan is a beautiful green pasture surrounded by dense forests. It is situated about 10 km from Khag ( Budgam district close to Beerwah village in Kashmir) . The highest point on this pass is known as Basmai Gali . Basmai Gali is about 13,000 ft in altitude . After Crossing Basmai Gali , the travellers used to cross another pass –called Poonch Gali to enter Poonch and later to that portion of Punjab which lay between the Jhelum and Indus rivers . Hiuen Tsang and Mahmood of Ghazni used this route to reach the Kashmir valley . Mahmood of Ghazni made an attempt only .After the construction of the Jhelum Valley Cart Road , this pass became less travelled . The pass remained snowbound for 6 months . Loran, Sultan Pathri, Nurpur Gali and Kundlan villages fall on this route. Acharya Vinoba Bhave ( the well known Gandhian ) entered the Kashmir valley through this pass but he took a turn near Ferozepur Pass and trekked via Kantar Nag to reach Gulmarg. Vinoba Ji left on foot via Banihal Pass. 
One of the major entry passes to the Kashmir valley from Kishtwar side is Simthen pass. The pass is about 3748 meters in altitude. After crossing this pass , one can straightway come to Kokernag area of Kashmir. Simthen pass is about 8 km from Chhatroo and 72 km from Anantnag. It used to be a fair weather pass that was closed for six months. To reach Kishtwar from Kashmir , a traveller had to cross Wadvan and Chenab rivers . Presently there is a motorable road that connects Kashmir with Kishtwar through this pass.When Zulqadar Khan (Dulcha), the Tatar chief invaded and plundered Kashmir,helpless Simha Deva (the then king) ran away to Kishtwar through this Pass.
To escape starvation deaths during frequent floods, droughts and famines in the Kashmir valley, many poor inhabitants moved to Kishtwar, Doda, Bhalesa , Bhaderwah, Banni, Basholi and Gandoh areas of Jammu province through this pass . They settled permanently in these places . Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad's ancestors also came from the Kashmir valley to Bhalesa through this route. Similarly , the ancestors of Abdul Gani Goni, Darvesh Ishaq Sahib, poet cum singer Ghulam Nabi Doolwal, poet Rasa Javidani and many more have come from the Kashmir valley to the these areas of the Jammu province through Smithen Pass only. 
Kashmiri artisans trekked through this route to introduce shawl weaving in hilly kingdoms of Basholi, Nurpur, Kangra, Haripur, Mandi and Chamba. Kashmiri Pandit artists ( mainly from Raina and Razdan clan) trekked through this route to join various hilly kingdoms as court Painters. They revolutionised Pahari Art in the hills. Shiv Raina,Nainsukh, Manaku and many more ( who are known as great masters of Pahari miniature art) were Kashmiri Pandits who arrived in the hilly kingdoms via Simthen pass. This art was later spread in other hllly kingdoms by Ranjha and Nikka who were talented sons of Nainsukh Raina In fact Nain Sukh had four sons Ranjha , Kamu ,Gourhu and Nikka and all of them were master artists .
Zoji La pass is 11300 feet in altitude . It connects Kashmir with Ladakh , Tibet , China and the Central Asia. It has been a widely used route for trade with Tibet, Central Asia and China by the Kashmiris . It was through this route that Buddhist scholars and savants from Kashmir went to spread Buddhism in Tibet, China and other places in Central Asia . It was through this route that Rinchana entered Kashmir and Mirza Haider Dughlat first invaded Kashmir . The pass remains snow bound for about five months at present as well even when a motorable road passes through it . The proposed Zoji La tunnel is likely to create an all-weather link of Ladakh with the Kashmir valley .
As per Rajtarangini, illustrious King Lalitaditya of Kashmir travelled through this pass on his expeditions to Central Asian countries.
As per the Sikh history, Guru Nanak Ji went to Kailash Mansarovar and then visited Tibet. From Tibet, he came down to Ladakh and finally entered the Kashmir Valley through Zoji La pass. There is a Gurudwara dedicated to his visit on the ‘Magnetic Hill’ near Leh.
Another important traveller to use this route is Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani . He entered the Kashmir valley in the fourteenth century through this pass along with many Syeds from Hamadan. Shrines built in his honour at Khaplu(Gilgit Baltistan) , Leh and Doderhama ( Ganderbal )confirm his entry and journey route to Kashmir from Central Asia. Held in high esteem and known as Shah e Hamdan in Kashmir, he played major role in the spread of Islam in the Kashmir valley. 
North west and North Kashmir has also some smaller passes that had lesser utility for trade and commerce . These passes had lesser strategic importance . Razdhan pass ( 11700 feet in altitude ) is one important pass that leads to the area of Darads in the upper Kishen-Ganga valley via Bandipora . At Razdhan top one can catch a glimpse of the Harmukh peak, one of the highest mountain peaks located in the Kashmir valley. This pass remains closed for about 5 months during the winter due to heavy snowfall in the area. From Gurez one could cross Burzil pass ( 13500 feet In altitude ) to reach Astor and Gilgit and Skardu .Carrying heavy loads on their shoulders, the Begar labourers trekked these tough passes to reach Bonji, Gilgit, Astor and other places. They carried rations and other supplies for the harsh winters. 
Sadhna Pass (3000 metres) , previously called as Nasti-tshheun( cut nose) pass, connects Karnah Tehsil of Kupwara district with the rest of the Kashmir valley. It is located in the vast Shams Bri mountainous range of Himalayas . To reach Sadhna pass one has to go via Kupwara . This was a very important pass before 1947 . It is the route to Teetwal , Keran and the Neelam valley. Before 1947, Kashmiri Pandits used this route to enter the Neelam valley and go for the pilgrimage to the Sharda shrine. This route was also used to go to Muzaffarabad from Kashmir . The pass remains snowbound for about 4 months .The construction of the Sadhna Pass tunnel will provide Karnah, a far-flung area near the Line of Control (LOC) in Kupwara district, all-weather connectivity with the rest of the country.
In his book 'Thirty years in Kashmir' Dr Arthur Neve makes a fascinating mention of his journey to Astor and Skardu from Kashmir via Burzil Pass. The Chak rulers crossed Razdhan pass to arrive in the Kashmir Valley. 
(Avtar Mota )

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