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Sunday Special » People

Posted at: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM; last updated: Dec 3, 2017, 12:38 PM (IST)

Bhaderwah beauty minified by unrest, blotched by apathy

Sumit Hakhoo in Jammu
Bhaderwah beauty minified by unrest, blotched by apathy
Surrounded by the snow-clad Pir Panjal hills, Bhaderwah in Doda district is yet to find enough space on the tourism map of the state. Tribune photo
Ever been to Bhaderwah – the land of splendours and surprises, some 200 km from Jammu? The small town’s scenic beauty rivals Kashmir valley nestled as it is in the majestic Himalayan ranges. Yet Bhaderwah faces government neglect: the J&K tourism department has chosen to ignore the place in Doda district, described in the Rajtarangini — a treatise by Kalhan written in Sanskrit — as Naag-Bhoomi (the land of snakes).

The Bhaderwah Development Authority (BDA), formed in 2005 by then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who belongs to the area, has so far lent itself to inaction. It is evident all around: Bhaderwah has poor roads and remains out of the radar of the state planners. Stakeholders associated with the tourism sector want government to stop calling Bhaderwah as ‘mini Kashmir’ because tourists perceive Bhaderwah as a part of the militancy-affected Valley — an impression that keeps off the visitors. The fact is nearly two lakh tourists, mainly pilgrims, visit Bhaderwah every year. 

Demands to delink

There have been demands that government freed the erstwhile Doda region, comprising three districts — Kishtwar, Ramban and Doda — from the jinxed Kashmir word. “The mini Kashmir tag is dragging us behind. The unrest in Kashmir gives the place a bad publicity. Local residents want the government to promote a separate identity of the region keeping in view the local traditions,” says Pervez Ahmed Sheikh, president, Anjuman Islamia (Bhaderwah), who also writes on travel and tourism.

“Road connectivity and publicity are the two areas which need top priority. This area has the potential to develop not only as a natural tourist destination but also a magnet for hikers and mountaineers, lovers of nature and bird watchers,” says Tariq Choudhary, president of the Travel and Trade Association. Government sources say several projects started between 2005-08 to beautify and upgrade the infrastructure facilities have been abandoned.

The topography

Surrounded by the snow-clad Pir Panjal hills, the town is ringed by dense coniferous forests. There are several significant religious and historical places belonging to Hindus and Muslims. The meadows of Sarthal, Seoj, Kanthi, Jai Ghati, Chinta valley, Dev Chatar, Padri, Bal Padri and Nagni have remained hidden from explorers because since 1947, the focus has remained on Kashmir or religious places in Jammu. 

Skiing facilities have ceased to exist at one of the finest slopes at Sonbain glacier (Ashapati, at of 7000-8000 ft). Similarly, river rafting. The tourism department brochures don’t have details about the Neeru and Dondi streams, which crisscross the area. 

Some hope

BDA chief executive officer Ravinder Khajuria says a detailed plan is being worked out to develop the area as an independent tourist destination. “We have a major promotion campaign coming up next year. It will showcase the local traditions and spots. The government is working on repairing roads to ensure connectivity with Jammu and Himanchal Pradesh,” says Khajuria. 

The government has so far failed to come up with a dedicated plan to divert pilgrims visiting the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine and the Shrine of Shri Amaranth towards ancient religious sites such as Machail, Kailash Kund and Mani Mahesh, high up in the mountains. All these sites are without basic facilities. “For decades we have been hearing about plans and project reports. The fact is most staff hired by the tourism department is not being paid regularly,” says Sunil Thakur, a resident of Bhaderwah town.

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