The Mughal Road project is the restoration of an ancient road that could revive native interest in history and provide a new vista for tourists. An editorial in the Kashmir Images, followed by related articles in the daily
The Mughal Road that connects Kashmir valley with Poonch is a prestigious project not only because it has a historical importance but also because it will enrich the surface communication of the state. Kashmir valley has only one link, surface-wise, with the rest of the world and that is 300-KM long stretch of Srinagar-Jammu highway. However with the opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, one more link has been established but given the restricted travel and business on this route, Srinagar-Jammu remains the only tangible surface link.
In this backdrop, the construction of Mughal Road that connects Shopian in south Kashmir with Poonch would be opening fresh travel prospects for Kashmir on one hand and on the other, it would help people of Poonch and Rajouri to have choice of markets – Srinagar or Jammu. Like the other side of the Line of Control (LoC), Kashmiris living in the valley have relations in Poonch and Rajouri and for meeting them have to travel all the way to Jammu and from there to Poonch or Rajouri.
The Mughal Road, when ready for travel, would shrink the distances and thus help people to visit their relatives more frequently. Besides the opening of the road would give flip to the economies of both Kashmir as well as Rajouri-Poonch as most of the people of these districts would prefer to establish business links with Kashmir. Need is to ensure that the work on this road is done on better pace. It is heartening that the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah has decided to travel on the road in coming to personally have a on the spot feel of the pace of the work.
This historic road is surrounded by a wealth of cultural heritage which has remained unattended till date. There are scores of historical monuments dotting the road from Shopian to Poonch but these monuments are lying in pathetic conditions. Though some of these monuments are supposed to be protected by Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the protection is seen just on the papers of the said organization as the present condition of these monuments is enough to tell the tale. Nobody has ever cared to look towards these monuments are there are no care takers and thus the natural calamities, weather vagaries and human greed has left these monuments in a shambles.
Now that the road is being laid down and the work on it is going on, one would expect the ASI and state’s own Department of Archaeology and Architecture to pull up their socks and move ahead to protect and preserve these monuments. If the heritage sites along the road are properly maintained, the road will undoubtedly become a tourist attraction. Heritage lovers all over the world be attracted to the wealth of heritage sites that lie scattered along this road that saw Mughal king Akbar entering the valley and thus making it part of broader Hindustan. Let the construction of the road be completed on priority basis and it be thrown open for heritage tourism.
Mughal route had inns at every 10 miles for travelers
Even though the Mughal route connecting Kashmir Valley with the outside world through Pir Panchal pass existed much before the arrival of Mughals, however, until the Mughal caravans started using it, the route had no political or strategic importance.
Mughal administrators showed a great interest in renovating this route earlier known as the ‘Salt-route’. They renovated the route and built inns and residential accommodations along this route to facilitate easy travel of their caravans.
There is archeological evidence suggesting that inns were constructed at a distance of every 10 miles all long this route and each of these inns was spacious enough to accommodate huge caravans.
The total length of this route from Srinagar to Gujarat (now in Pakistan) measured around 300 miles. At Gujarat it was connected with the Lahore highway.
Traveling on this route one could still find the ruins of Mughal structure at various destinations. Several of the constructions have preserved their courtyards and other ornamentations while a few have lost their structural form and are now visible only as ruins.
Moving from Srinagar along this route, one could see the stray ruins of Kakapoura inn, for instance, even though the actual Mughal structure has totally disappeared here. Historic literature also has reference of the Mughal era inn at Kakapoura, which is also substantiated on ground by stray finds of Mughal style bricks, which the villagers often come across while digging their lands. From Kakapoura the Mughal route takes one via Pulwama and Shopian to the historical village of Hurapura.
Hurapura, now famous for its potato cultivations, even to this day carries in its laps the next Mughal inn. Although the inn is poorly maintained, it provides a picture of Mughal style of inn construction.
Proceeding forward on the route one comes across another inn at Dubigen meadow. This inn which has somehow retained its structural form is locally known as ‘Suka Sarai’. The history of this inn reminds one of Afghan period as well as it was renovated by the Afghans when they ruled Kashmir who superimposed their own structure over it. This inn is in open meadow and presents a glorious look reminiscent of its erstwhile grandeur.
After crossing the long Dubigan meadow, one could see the last Mughal construction in the Kashmir valley side. This is a larger inn, called “Aliabad Sarai’ located at an important place.
This inn is believed to have accommodated and served the largest caravans. Caravans from Valley and opposite direction used to halt for the night in this inn.
Caravans starting from Srinagar early in the morning would reach Aliabad at sunset. This inn consisted of several open rooms and had a capacity of accommodating hundreds of travellers.
Aliabad inn has also preserved its four walls and even to this day is being used as a temporary shelter by the troops stationed in the area. Walking beyond the Aliabad, Mughal route winds up on to the top ridge of Pir Panchal called Peergali.
From here, one could see the area of Poonch on other side of the Pir Panchal range.
Peergali serves as an entrance gate. The shrine of Sheikh Karam Sahib (RA) is located here. About Sheikh Karam Sahib (RA), a Sufi saint, it is said that he was born Hindu and later embraced Islam at the hands of a Sayyed.
The annual Urs at this shrine is celebrated every year during the harvest season and participants include the people of far-flung areas of Poonch district. From Peergali, Mughal route takes slopes down the Pir Panchal range and leads towards the Panj Sarai area of Poonch district.
From Hurapura to Panch Sarai, it is a queue column with no permanent human settlements visible anywhere. However, during summers, nomadic shepherds – the Bhakerwals and Gujiars could be are seen moving on the route along with their herds of livestock who stay here in temporary settlements for some time.
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot – and Akbar crossed Pir Panchal riding Gulfam
The first Mughal emperor who was invited to Kashmir was Jalal-ud-Din Mohammad Akbar, and he was also the first Mughal king who followed the Pir Panchal route now known as Mughal route.
It was the month of Rajab, 996 AH, when Jalal-ud-Din Akbar, then camping at Lahore, decided to visit Kashmir about which he had heard many things. Yousuf Khan, history has it, was the first governor of the newly annexed province (Kashmir) of the Mughal Empire. He was intimated about the royal caravan’s journey. Qasim Khan, another Mughal official was subsequently summoned to Lahore, where he was entrusted the job of clearance and repairing of the Pir Panchal pass, which later later came to be known as ‘Mughal Shehra’ because maximum Mughal royal caravans entered valley through this way.
Qasim Khan after following the directions engaged thousands of sculptors and cleared the route up to Harpura (Shopian), where a grand gateway was laid and decorated for the entry of the royal caravan.
At Harpura elaborate arrangements were made to receive the Mughal caravan and people from all walks of life, who had heard of the proposed visit of the Mughal caravan gathered at Harpura to witness the royal spectacle.
The historical accounts reveal after all the preparations were done, the royal caravan of the Mughals reached the first camping ground of ‘Pan Sarai’ (Poonch) to the south of Pir Panjal. Pan Sarai is nowadays represented by few villages of Chandimund, Bahrqmgalla, Pooshana.
The Pan Sarai was named so as the Mughals had built several inns there. The ruins of those inns are even today visible in Chandimud area. From here the caravan is recorded to have proceeded towards Pir Panjal to reach the top of Panjal called Ratanpir on the very next day.
The Caravan was guided to the Valley by their famous swift footed horse fleet called Gulfam. Even though it was not an easy journey but the sheer enthusiasm of seeing the Kashmir Valley made things easy for them.
The caravan was given a splendid welcome at the Harpura. Besides, the Kashmir’s Mughal governor, nobles, poets, writers, intellectuals and musicians who had already gathered at Harpura with a variety of gifts welcomed the royal caravan.
The next day, the caravan is said to have reached Srinagar.
It was 25th of Rajab, 996 AH when Akbar arrived at Srinagar. A big congregation was held at Bagh-e-Hussain (the present-day Khanqah-e-Naqshbandia). Akbar was accompanied by Mughal nobles and soldiers as he gave his first speech in Kashmir, addressing the people of the Valley at Bagh-e-Hussain.
In his address to Kashmiris, he directed his forces not to enter or neither stay in any Kashmiri house. Akbar later visited Shahab-ud-Din Pura.
In Kashmir, he is said to have granted high posts and Jagirs to many Kashmiris.
From Srinagar, Akbar went to Pampore and then to Bijbehara, from where he left for Nandmarg to enjoy the scenic splendour of the nature. Nandmarg is situated below the Kounsarnag to the southwest of Kashmir.
Akbar is said to have spent about a month in Kashmir and then Qasim Khan was again directed to clear the way back to Lahore.
Only few of the scores of inns along the route are now visible
From Peer Gali at the top of the Pir Panchal, the Mughal road slopes down towards Panj-Sarai zone and Chandi Murh which represents its own cultural and social life.
The people of this zone speak Pahari language and are continue with their old traditions and customs.
Noori-Chamb, a health resort is situated is this area. It comprises a grand waterfall, where Noor Jahan, the wife of Emperor Janghir had build a ‘Sheesh-Mahal’ for herself. The impressions of mirror on a rock near the waterfall are still visible.
Panj Sarai comprises of several villages including Poshana, Digrian, Behram Gali, Peteni, Parkote Manza, Bagala, Akroth Pathri etc. In this area, Mughals had built not only the inns but also some residential houses. Today one can see only the remains of these Mughal constructions.
From district Poonch, the Mughal road leads to district Rajouri via Dera Gali Pass and first inn of the district Rajouri is situated at Thanamandi. This inn is in good condition and is nowadays occupied by the Muslim Education Trust. From Thanamandi the next inn is situated at Fatehpur Rajouri. But this ‘Sarai’ is in ruins.
After the Fethpur Sarai there comes one more Sarai at Chengus. Chengus is a place of much historical importance as it was here that Emperor Jehangir died while leaving from the Kashmir valley. His body was then shifted from this place to Lahore for last rites.
The sequence of such inns continues all the way up to Lahore, although only a few of these inns are visible now while the rest have fallen to the vagaries of weather and human vandalism over the years.
So far as the Mughal reign is concerned, it has been a constructive period for Kashmir as a whole. Mughal emperors not only produced a composite culture in the region but also restored the traditional arts and cultural heritage of the region. Kashmir was, for instance, beautified with superb constructions and magnificent gardens.
Mughals invaded Kashmir in the time of Sultan Yousuf Shah Chak and conquered it very easily. No doubt that politically it was an attack on the integrity and sovereignty of Kashmir, but economically and socially it was a new era for Kashmir history.
The superb Mughal architecture – mosques, forts, tombs and gardens, are yielding dividends for the tourism sector even today.
The ‘Sarais’ or inns which they constructed on Mughal road form a uniform architectural pattern. There inns were kept square in shape, consisting of many indoor rooms and with large gateways. The material used in their construction comprises of bricks and red-lime.
Nothing is more interesting in these inns than their form, strength and grandeur.
After the Mughals, the Mughal road continued to the serve the Afghan caravans as well. Afghans who followed Mughals, all arrived in Kashmir through this route only.
They were in turn followed by the Sikhs, who also adopted the Mughal route. During this long period, Mughal road served as a backbone for the Kashmir economy. Kashmir carried its trade with Punjab through this route.
During winters Kashmiris used to earn their livelihood in the regions of Punjab and this route provided them the shortest journey to those regions. Mughal road was of great importance until the Sikh period. Sikh administrators made sure that this road, given its strategic and economic importance was kept well maintained through regular repair and renovations.
But as soon as the Dogras emerged on the political screen of Kashmir, the Moghal road started to face neglect. No attention was paid to reconstruct it on modern lines. Instead, the Dogra rulers adopted Baneihall pass and constructed a modern road through this route to connect Srinagar with Jammu.
Although time and again, the successive regimes have talked about restoring the Mughal road, however, for political reasons such promises very never kept.
Once Rs 70 crores were allocated for the construction of this route and a separate engineering wing known as Moghal Road Construction Division was created, but still the major portion of the route remains untouched.
Several times work on the route was suspended without government or its agencies citing any specific reason.
Of late, from the Valley side, the Mughal route has been made motarable up to Harpura and from the other side up to Chandimud. However from Harpura to Chandimud, which is one day’s foot journey, the pace of work has been fairly slow much to everybody’s dismay.
Exploring the Mughal Road
Although the map and geography of the Mughal route stands already established, certain local paths followed by Mughal caravans to different directions of Kashmir are also being rediscovered.
As history will corroborate, Mughals strictly followed the earlier ‘Salt route’ (now known as Mughal road) while entering the Valley. It was in 996 AH that Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, who was then at Lahore decided to visit Kashmir and dispatched a group of officials under the guidance of Qasim Khan for the clearance and construction of this route through Harpur (in Shopian). Hurpur was a famous town at that time.
The group besides identifying the possible passage undertook the construction of ‘Sarais’ (inns) for the convenience of the Mughal caravans. The ruins of those Mughal constructions are still visible on the highway at several places.
Harpur, the gateway of Kashmir welcomed almost all the Mughal caravans right form Akbar’s period to the later Mughals. The place served as the entry point into Kashmir even to Durrani and Sikh invaders.
From Harpur, the Mughal caravans had a choice of several local routes leading to different parts of south and northern Kashmir. Historical records which are now being confirmed by archaeological and numismatic finds reveal that Mughal caravans branched out to interiors of the Valley through various other routes in addition to Shopian-Shadimarg-Srinagar highway. These paths went to Nila Nag (Verinag), Anantnag and Bijbehara.
There are also numismatic and archeological finds corroborating this. The numismatic findings comprising few Mughal coins at village Chikoo and Harman were reportedly followed by the unearthing of traces of the debris of some Mughal structure at Mughal Maidan Hajan in the recent past.
These findings have provided ample evidence to establish that this path was being used by Mughal caravans to travel to south-eastern parts of the Valley, the experts believe. What lends further credence to the belief is that these routes are not only nearer to each other but even located in the single direction.
While providing the details, Iqbal Ahmad, a senior Archeologist said that Mughal Maidan was basically a rising plateau on the bank of a stream. “As the plateau was ideally located, it is most probable that Mughals might have constructed some rest-houses on it for the convenience of caravans,” he said.
He further said the site was not investigated by anybody despite the fact that plateau was named after the Mughals. Besides a hoard of copper coins of Mughal era were found at village Chikoo near the Mughal Maidan, he said.
It is believed the emperor Akbar took the Jamal Nagri route to visit northern part of Kashmir when he visited Kashmir in 1001 AH. Today it is recognized by the name of Jama Nagar. The village is located to the west of Mughal Maidan at a distance of 20 km.
The places are situated in a single direction. There are enough reason to believe that some Mughal caravans had used this way to visit Achabal and Verinag, says Iqbal Ahmad.
The road is macadamized today and connects Shopian with Anantang via Kaddar. The people living in the area even today remember the route by its earlier name of ‘Mughal Shehra’.
However, a systematic archaeological survey is required to gather more evidences to establish it properly and to develop it as a historical route, Iqbal Ahmad says.