A vale behind the veil

Nagendra Singh Jamwal
Little do we know and still little do we recognize that guarded by Trikuta mountain in the east and low hills in the west is a idyllic valley endowed with pristine beauty at the confluence of river Chenab and Tau- a small rivulet joining it from the right bank in the eastern part of the Akhnoor Tehsil bordering Reasi district.
The flood plain of the Chenab and Tau includes villages of Kathar and Pail and is a vast camping ground, virgin and still unspoiled by ravages of human activity. Lush green paddy fields sooth the eyes, during the monsoons and landscape turns from green to pale yellow as the summer makes way for the autumn.
The Tau stream is a small rivulet whose catchment area includes Pouni Bharkh in Reasi and hilly areas of Akhnoor Tehsil. Surprisingly the water of the Tau is warm as compared to freezing cold waters of Chenab which proves that water of the stream is a collection of hundreds of brooks which dot the hilly landscape of its upper reaches. The crystal clear water of Tau interspersed with shallow pools invites the visitor to splash and frolick in the water. Occasionally fish can be seen in the clear water. The existence of such streams attracts fish from Chenab to spawn and then return. The gently flowing water offers perfect refuge to fish fries and fingerlings before they grow themselves to face the turbulent waters of the mighty Chenab.
The existence of sandy beach and river bed full of pebbles gives a nice massage to the weary feet. A causeway built over river Tau at Jehdi (Jheri) connects Akhnoor to Reasi road which crosses Chenab at Baradari. The existence of sandy bars add beauty to the banks of Tau. If properly developed and advertised the place can certainly give Chajjar Kotli a run for its money.
Kathar valley is a part of Kathar Patwar having ten revenue villages -Kah, Dhara, Ardhan, Pail, Manoh, Manoha, Gheur, Khakhyal, Adgan and Kathar. The construction of lift irrigation projects at Manoha, Kathar and Pail have led to assured irrigation facilities and has added lush greenery to the landscape.
Old timers vividly remember that this valley was once a part of the old route to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage. Pilgrims hailing from Manawar, Chamb, Jourian and Akhnoor travelled via Gharattal, Dhara and Pail to reach Dhar Vaishno Devi. Chenab was crossed using a boat called Bhedi in Dogri to reach Pabbar on the other side of the river. From Pabbar pilgrims travelled to Simbal Choa and then reached Reasi-Katra route. Some dare-devils used Snah- a floating skin made of goat-hide and filled with air to cross the turbulent river. Little wonder that the state under Dogra rulers had promulgated a law to control the use of floating skins to prevent illegal movement of men and material across the rivers!
Those with some interest in geology would be pleasantly surprised by the existence of two wooded islands in the Chenab. During winters when the water level of Chenab is low, the same can be reached.
Just a few kilometers from Kathar valley as one starts downhill journey from the Akhnoor side, one is awestruck by the panoramic view afforded at yet to be developed view point at Gosan – Gharattal. From this spot one can view the whole of flood plain with Chenab dividing itself into distributaries and flowing around the river islands. The spot affords a breathtaking view of Trikuta mountain, Dera Baba Nanak, Talwara, Jyotipuram and Reasi town.
A road under construction from Reasi to Bomagh area beyond Trikuta mountain is also visible during a clear day especially after a shower. A visitor with keen eyesight can also spot Bhimgarh fort prominently guarding and watching over the Reasi town. At night lights illuminating Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Darbar, Sanjichatt and Bhairon Ghati can be clearly seen from Kathar-Pail valley and appear as if a celestial city has descended upon the earth.
The valley and its adjoining hills are home to peacocks, barking deer, porcupine, wild boar and leopard. It is also a major migration route of turtle doves during the months of April and May owing to availability of rich feeding grounds. Both Tau and Chenab have the potential to attract angling enthusiasts. The existence of Masheer a much sought after prize fish by anglers in waters of Chenab can add a new dimension to eco tourism. The Chenab abounds in Masheer owing to stocking of the river upstream by a fish hatchery established by J&K Fisheries department on Anji nullah- a tributary of Chenab in Reasi district.
The lower Chenab valley offers great potential for water sports like Kayaking and rafting. Just as left bank of Chenab at Baradari has been developed as a launching site for white water rafting, this valley is a ideal location for initiating water sports and eco-tourism in the area.
The place offers not only vast camping grounds but also can be developed as a base camp for hiking through the thick hill side forests upto Chowki Choura. For adventurous people there is much to be discovered in nature trails on offer. The period from October to March is ideal for undertaking outdoor activities.
The beautiful valley can be reached by road from Akhnoor town on Jammu – Poonch highway and is just 55 kilometers from Jammu. While many a luxuries of the modern world may not be available at Kathar but the well natured Dogras of the vale with their helping attitude would certainly make the visitors feel comfortable and close to mother nature.
As Eco-tourism is an idea which has little to do with infrastructure, the existence of a PWD guest house, a Primary Health Centre with ambulance service and a tube well provide the basic support for turning the virgin valley into a major hotspot of eco-tourism in Jammu region.
(The author is a KAS Officer)