Mughal Road has opened lanes of benefit to varied sectors of society. Javaid Naikoo reports on how this road lures some to love, and some to legacy.
The opening of the historic Mughal Road has lifted the curtains from the once obscure Mughal locations. It has opened the natural habitat of wild animals to the general public. It has also triggered development in remote areas. And it is an alternative to the Srinagar-Jammu highway. But additionally, this road has led to something that could perhaps be an unintended consequence—connecting hearts.
18-year-old Rahida is from Chandimarh, Rajouri. She never thought she would get married into a family that lives in the Zawoora Wudura region of Shopian. But the road to her destiny was still unexplored. Azam, who is now Rahida’s husband, would visit Chandimarh several times because his sister Shahzana was married there. In the process, Azam met Rahida, fell and love, and they finally got married on August 14, 2009. Apparently, both Azam and Rahid were related ancestrally, and Azam’s sister Shahzana was married within that same ancestral circle.
“Although it was love marriage, our parents were eagerly waiting for my sister Shahzana’s marriage to take place, and for mine to take place as well,” says Azam. “It’s because the marriages would give new life to the ancestral circle of relations of people living in Rajouri and those on Rajouri’s outskirts.”
Theirs is not the only case. Naseema, also from the Chandimarh area of Rajouri, refused three marriage proposals from the same region. She dreamed of getting married in Kashmir, and perhaps her prayers echoed through the Pir Panjalmountains back in 2005, when the government took the initiative to construct a road that would follow the footsteps of the Mughal emperor.
Today, Naseema is married into a family that lives in Chukk-Amshipora, Shopian – .
Naseema says people of Kashmir are economically sound as compared to people living at her birthplace of Parodi. She states that she is a warmhearted individual and suited for the pleasant atmosphere of Kashmir. “This ultimate reality always made me think to myself that I could get married in Kashmir itself,” she says.
“After the Mughal Road opening, Naseema and seven other girls got married in Chukk-Amshipora and Keller areas of Shopian through me,” says Mohammad KasimKohli, a marriage facilitator from the same area of Shopian. “Now more Gujjar families ask me to find matches for their sons and daughters from Rajouri,” he adds.
Earlier this month, on October 2, Rajouri’s Tasleem Arif, an MBA degree holder, tied the knot with Anjum Mehraj of Rajbagh, Srinagar. Their marriage, in addition to several others, is testimony to the fact that Mughal Road is not just connecting hearts of people, but also challenging minds. These marriages are breaking old stereotypes, and inherently proving that marriages across cultures and traditions can also be possibilities.
“There are wrong notions that prevail among people of the valley about people living in areas like Rajouri—about their culture and customs,” says Anjum Mehraj. “No doubt Rajouri is a bit backward as compared to Srinagar, but there is no such thing as it not being livable, if one can compromise with the conditions.”
The 81 kilometer winding road between Bafliaz and Shopian is still under construction, yet it has already done a lot for the people of Kashmir. For the Gujjar community, it has turned out to be a bridge connecting the almost broken ancestral relations; to the trader fraternity it has initiated a booming era, to nature enthusiasts it is a spell-binding confluence of the bounties of nature, historical monuments and legacy.
The journey on Mughal Road begins from the apple town, Shopian. From here, one can pick up a backpack and set out for the journey. Within no time, one would reach the wildlife sanctuary at Heerpora. Any nature-loving person would love to pass through this area as leisurely as possible. This sanctuary is reportedly the last abode of a wild goat known as Markhore.
Centuries ago, Mughal emperors who actually conquered this route left behind many memorable assets. The historical Mughal Inn at Alliabad Sarai supports the fact that Mughals encouraged art and architecture in Kashmir. This Mughal Inn is now in a dilapidated condition, yet it gives one the sense of the luxurious life that the Mughal emperors would have had ages ago, even in the densest of forests. The road is still uneven at many places, and the labor and machinery work regularly to make this road even and smooth.
An additional plus point of this road, according to businessmen, is that it has strengthened their resolve. Mohammad Arif, an animal dealer from Thanamandi, Rajouri says, “After the Mughal Road opening, I feel more secure and I feel I have more choices for my business. I can now hire a truck to carry the animals from Rajouri to Shopian and other districts of Kashmir. At the same time I now have the option to employ someone who can carry my animals along the road by foot as well.” Arif says he regrets the days when he faced losses while carrying animals from Rajouri to Shopian. “There was no available means of transportation and communication on the way.”
Other businessmen from the main town of Shopian share Arif’s enthusiasm about the future prospects of this road.
“My work has increased from 50 to 100 percent, and now I am planning to construct another story for my hotel, and if needed, another complex in the coming year Inshallah,” says Mohammad Altaf, owner of Hotel TabishShopian.
Those in the fruit business industry give credit to Mughal Road for opening a new market for B and C grade apples. However, they claim that because there is no proper place for marketing fruits in Rajouri, opening Mughal Road can perhaps not boost the fruit industry of Kashmir much.
As for the transporters, Mughal Road is not only an alternative to the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, it is also a safer road to drive on.
“This road is less tiresome and more secure as compared to the Srinagar-Jammu highway because of less chances of soil erosion and because of no dangerous points like Panthal, Shetaan Nala and KhooniNala,” says Talib Hussain, a transporter.
The road has not yet been officially opened for the public, neither is there a government-issued rate list for passengers. Nevertheless, transporters say they are earning a good amount on this road.
“I earn double what I used to earn on the Rajouri to Jammu road. Now my monthly income is approximately Rs. 30,000 a month,” says Showkat, a driver from Darhal, Rajouri.