Though thousands of tourists come to the state of Jammu and Kashmir every year, Rajouri never figures on their itinerary. The reason for it is the geographical isolation. Poonch and Rajouri fall on a completely different road axis than Srinagar. Since the Valley by itself offers enough delights and distractions for a week-long holiday of a summer-weary family, Rajouri always loses out as a result.
Of course, the state of things will change majorly after the Mughal road becomes fully operational, offering an alternative, more comfortable road approach (Jammu-Rajouri-Bafliaz-Srinagar) to the Valley.
Until then, it is only the occasional lost traveler who will reach Dera Ki Gali (DKG), a location of exquisite beauty. DKG is nothing but a pass located on Thanamandi-Bafliaz road, with huge valleys on either side. I am familiar with the place because of my previous association, of lots of fond and some not-so-fond memories. From Rajouri, one has to take the road to Thanamandi. After the crooked 150 Km-long Jammu-Rajouri highway that makes heads spin, this nearly straight road (25 Km) comes as a pleasant surprise.
Thanamandi is a tiny, Muslims-only town in the cusp of plains and mountains. So tiny it is over nearly as soon as it begins! As is typical of mountains, the bed of Thanamandi River takes up more area than the entire place put together!
As you exit Thanamandi, the road immediately begins to climb upwards, offering one enchanting visual of mountain magic after another.
Luckily, it was raining. Though it means a drop in temperature, rains make DKG look more beautiful than always. The sight of shape-changing rain-clouds, punctuated by an angry bolt of lightening, rising up from Bafliaz valley, crossing DKG within touching distance of your outstretched arm and descending into Thanamandi valley is something which is hard to describe and harder to photograph. Of course, the panoramic background view of snow-clad Pir Panjal range disappears behind the clouds but then that is a trade-off. You can always come again when it is not raining!
Right now, there in no accommodation for tourists at DKG and you have to fall back to Rajouri for night stay. But as the situation in J&K improves, the govt is leaving no stone unturned to tap the tourist potential of the place. A complex of holiday huts is under construction and will surely be a big attraction, especially for those enthusiasts who want to look beyond valley.
The pristine white bloom of wild roses all over the rain-soaked mountains.
But white is not the only colour when it comes to the flowers here.
Thanamandi to DKG (10 Km) is also a fabulous route for trekkers. You can either choose to follow the road or discard it for a puffing-panting climb up the hills. As of now, you will probably need to take permission from the local headquarters of army / police for this, given the security scenario.
Would you like to buy a beautiful house here, like one of these in these pictures, and settle down after retirement? Please get lost, Sir. Article 370 makes you a permanent, infidel outsider! You can go back to India, Sir! Khuda Hafiz.
The Sufi shrine of Shahadara Sharief is visible from the edge of Thanamandi town, although the winding road makes you travel 8 Km to reach there. Shahadara Sharief, is as unknown to non-Kashmiri, non-Muslim tourists as DKG. But it can, at least boast of some fame and following among Muslims. I remember having come across a group of Muslim pilgrims from Gujarat once.
As the history goes, this shrine was built by Gulab Singh, a Hindu general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,the Sikh king of Punjab, in 1820 in honour of Baba Ghulam Shah, a Sufi saint.
The road to Shahadara Sharief offers some astounding views. You can not help but stop to drink it all in.
The fairytale-like location of the govt rest house at Shahadara Sharief. I wonder who thought of constructing it here on a small contour with steep fall on three sides. Hats off to the thought!
The precincts of the shrine are very appealing, spread as it is on a steep hillside slope. Towering peaks on all sides give it a secluded look. The authorities have put in commendable effort in landscaping the area with fountains, lush lawns, benches and quaint streetlamps. How I wish to see a display of a similar taste for beauty in Vaishno Devi, Tirupati and other temples, in place of the horrid mindless concretization that seems to be the norm these days!
The work at the shrine proper is however, still in progress.
The old structure will be making way for a new one. Hope they are sensitive enough to preserve artifacts, such as this door, from the old shrine..
Shahadara Sharief now has another claim to fame. Rukhsana Kausar who killed a Paki terrorist after snatching his gun from him, did the brave act in September 2009 inside her house in Mochi Mohalla (Cobbler’s Lane), right behind this shrine. Though she and her family have now moved due to security threats, the shrine attendants proudly – and not without visible amusement – recount the incident to visitors.
A local family’s pilgrimage-cum-holiday at the shrine!
Some Islamic wisdom displayed for visitors. Might as well be a management thought, isn’t it!
The priest who blessed us.
On way back to Thanamandi, we saw this cheerful – not to mention colourful – group of kids headed to their village houses after school.