Apple Cart to Panchal

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The Mughal road may not be officially open yet, but it has already meant a huge deal to people in Kashmir valley, Poonch and Rajouri towns. From apples to cross-cultural marriages and from trade to higher education, the revival of this road is opening up new futures for the people on both sides of the Pir Panchal. Shams Irfan reports.

A light passenger vehicle near Pir Ki Gali pass [Photo: Shams Irfan]

It would be hard to forget the emotional joyous scenes when a caravan of around fifty vehicles carrying delegates and participants, who were part of 33rd Annual Kashmiri Conference, organised by Adbee Markaz Kamraz (AMK), reached Poonch through Mughal Road last week.

All of a sudden Kashmir was not a far away land for Panchali people. The opening of historic Mughal Road reconnected Poonch and Rajouri with Kashmir.

The AMK, a conglomerate of literary and cultural organisations, during its three-day conference at Poonch, in reviving the lost connections among Kashmiri speaking population spread across Pir Ki Gali pass.

The conference hopes to help in providing Kashmiri speaking poets and writers of Poonch a wider audience and acceptance in Kashmir. “It is a historic step. Such interactions will help in blurring the social, political and cultural divides between Poonch and Kashmir,” said an enthusiastic Mohammad Ayub Shabnam, a poet from Poonch, a small town on the banks of the Poonch River which has remained largely cut off from Kashmir.

“Opening of Mughal Road is the single most significant development in my living memory,” said Bagh Hussain Rathore, a Sarpanch from Islamabad, a village in Poonch.

Besides helping to revive the lost links between the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri with Kashmir, Mughal Road is set to boost the economy of the Pir Panjal region. “Earlier we had to travel around 600 kilometres (via Jammu city) to reach Srinagar. Now it is just 130 kilometres,” said Choudhary Azam Khan, a local trader from Haveli tehsil.

In November 2009, after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took Mughal Road to reach Bafliaz town, light vehicular traffic started to ply on the road. Within weeks of Omar’s journey, mini trucks carrying apple produce from Shopian and other areas of Kashmir made their way into Poonch and Rajouri markets.

“For the first time in 62 years we had such good quality apples,” said Ijaz Jan, MLA Haveli Poonch. Earlier good quality apples used to cost somewhere between 120 to 140 rupees a kilogram, but now the same quality of apples which come directly from Shopian through Mughal Road, costs just 20 rupees a kilo.

But it is not just the apples that people of Poonch and Rajouri relished after such a long gap. Prior to opening of Pir Panjal road, every single item would be transported there via Jammu. “Even we had to bring walnuts, almonds, cherry and all other Kashmiri products from Jammu route,” said Showkat Hussain Mir, a local stockist.

“We don’t need to go to Jammu for stocks now. Almost everything is available in Shopian and Srinagar markets. And most importantly it will save time and reduce transportation costs considerably.”

Apart from boosting economy of the region Mughal Road has given people of Poonch and Rajouri an alternative to the humid and overcrowded Jammu city.

Sarfaraz Ahamd, who teaches at Degree College Poonch recently travelled to Srinagar to appear in National Eligibility Test (NET). “It would have taken me at least five days to travel to and fro Jammu. But because of the new road I came back from Srinagar within two days and joined my college on time,” he said.

Since 2009, there has been a considerable increase in number of students from Poonch and Rajouri taking admission in different colleges across Kashmir valley.

On my way back from Poonch I crossed at least two separate sets of decorated vehicles carrying brides from Kashmir. A local in Poonch told me that in last two years almost seven marriages took place between families of Poonch, Rajouri and Kashmir. “People here are desperate to revive their lost connections with Kashmir. And there is no better way to strengthen this bond but through cross cultural marriages,” feels Ahtesham Hussain Bhat, a poet from Poonch.

A large number of people living in the twin towns of Poonch and Rajouri trace their roots to Kashmir. “My ancestors moved to Rajouri some six generations back. But I still feel part of Kashmir,” said Shahbaz Rajourvi, a noted poet and writer from Rajouri. Though the road is not yet officially opened, light vehicles carrying passengers and goods ply on the road unhindered. “With easy access road in place such cross-cultural marriages between families who were till now divided by mighty Pir Panjal mountains will become more common,” feels Rajourvi.

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