Opened last week after almost two decades, the road leading to Shikargah that had become a psychological barrier obliterating it, a breathtakingly beautiful tourist attraction is accessible again. Ikhlaq Qadri reports.
Virgin and undisturbed, Shikargah in the middle of a vast stretch of dense woods was opened for the first time last week after a gap of almost 21 years. One of the most popular places in Kashmir during the reign of Sikhs, Shikargah is situated at the junction of the Wasturwan Mountain and Kherwon surrounding forests and snow-clad peaks.
At an altitude of 2,130m and about 37-Kms from Srinagar, Shikargah resembles Gulmarg but has an added advantage. The night temperatures do not drop too low for it is situated at much lower altitude than Gulmarg. The Aru spring flows down from the Kolahoi glacier beyond Lidderwat while the Sheshnag from glaciers along the great Himalayas. At the union of the streams flowing from the Jehlum is Shikargah – once a popular hunting place for Maharajas of Kashmir.
“The inflow of visitors is huge after the road was thrown open for the public,” said Muhammad Khaleel, Block Forester of the area. Khaleel said Shikargah was never closed for the general public but the main road leading there had been blocked which was opened just a few days ago.
The road which leads to Shikargah was closed in the initial days of the armed rebellion in Kashmir. On the entire stretch of the road were camps of all the security agencies – Army, CRPF, BSF and STF. The headquarters of the 185 Battalion of CRPF was also there. “It was a dreadful period. The road looked like a battle field,” says Ali Muhammad, a resident of the area. Even the interiors of Shikargah got hit by the conflict. The two rest houses built by Maharaja Hari Singh, where he used to stay during his brief visits to this place, were burnt down by unidentified persons. The only trace of those houses is the dilapidated plinth. “Two beautiful rest houses and a guards’ cottage were burnt down. We don’t know who did it,” said an elderly person, Muhammad Sidiq.
Shikargah is being looked after by the state Wildlife Department which controls five National Parks and 13 wildlife sanctuaries across the state. The department, with the help of department of tourism, is in the process of constructing three new rest houses in nearby area of Guer Dar. “Minister Nasir Sahab has given us assurance that soon the work of constructing the rest house will start. He, as the tourism minister will facilitate the process,” said Sidiq. The officials are optimistic that construction will start in near future and soon after the rest houses will be kept open for people coming to visit the place. “Immediately after the completion of these rest houses, we will throw it open for the general public, “said Range officer Muhammad Yusuf.
Earlier the Government of Jammu and Kashmir launched Species Recovery Programme (SRP) for the endangered Hangul (Kashmiri Stag) to prevent it from extinction and Shikargah was marked as a Hangul breeding centre. The project is being funded by the Central Zoo Authority of India, Dehradun under the centrally sponsored scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wild life Habitats’. The project has been approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
“Two breeding centres would be set up. One of them is nearly complete. Started in year 2008 it is on 5.5 hectares of land having the space of around 2700 sq ft. The fencing is done on scientific terms for which soil has been imported from Japan and the source of current is the solar voltaic system,” said Asadullah, who works as casual labourer. The tree trunks near the fencing are covered with steel to prevent the wild animals from climbing on trees. “To prevent any mishaps we have covered tree trunks with steel so that animal can’t reach to the top of tree and attack anybody,” said Khaleel. Shikargah is the headquarters including the beats of Pinglish, Kamla, Gangwan.
The place, according to locals, has a tremendous potential of being one of the best tourist destinations in the valley. After opening up of the road, students from different schools in Tral area are finding Shikargah a preferred place for picnics. The headmaster of one of the schools that visited the area, Jalal-Ud-Din Bhat, said, “The road is open so we are here. This is the only health resort we have in the entire area.”
Although Shikargah is one of the most beautiful places in Kashmir, the facilities to emerge as world class tourist destination are missing. The visitors coming to this place face many problems. Identifying some important areas to be taken care of, a teacher of the visiting school, Nazir Ahmad, says that a washroom should have been here. “Besides transport facility, proper parking space and shops would make this place better suited for tourism.”
The opening of road, though brought Shikargah back on the tourist map of Kashmir, revealed also the woes of the residents living in the Shikargah village and adjoining villages of Koil, Rathsuna, Buchu, Saimu, Kamla, Haerbuchu, Pinglish, Larbal, Chudu and others. These villages are inhabited by more than ten thousand households who have been suffering for the want of basic facilities like ration shops. Asserting that despite their work in the Shikargah area, which is not too easy, the casual labourers are not being paid well. “Casual labourers are made to work round the clock. Our children working in Shikargah itself are without salaries from last many years,” says Mohuiddin. “We had everything available when Mufti Sahab was in chair,” says Mohuiddin. “But we voted for national conference as we love the party,” he discloses in the same breath.”
Besides Shikargah, the locals say, Naegi Baeri (upper Dachigam) is another beautiful place which has the potential to become a tourist spot. If developed properly and connected through a road, the place could become one of the preferred destinations for tourists in the valley.”says Zahoor Ahmad, a resident of Pinglish.