Mohammed Tahir Raoof Malik
Tourism around the globe is a major tool of Economic Growth and Development. As for as the Jammu and Kashmir State is concerned tourism is one of the fastest growing and most reliable sectors, as it contributes almost 9 percent to the state grass domestic product (SGDP) and generates 8.7 percent of total employment Famous Pirpanjal, a part of lesser Himalayas is an integral part of twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch.
While inaugurating the Budhkhanari Shakkar Marg trekking track, The former Minister CAPD J&K Govt Ch. Zulafqar Ali said “The area has a great potential for tourism owing to high pasture lands, lush green fields and seven lakes located towards the higher reaches of Pirpanjal”. Dr.Ashiq Raza (A Renowned Scientist & Professor of Botany and Director Eritrae Instituteof technology, Asmara) during his visit to the region said, “It (Pirpanjal) has a huge potential for tourism as compares to other sites and it is the Paradise unexplored”.
As per the brief literature available with the J&K Tourism Department website along with the sites of District Development authorities of Rajouri and Poonch and the information gathered through personal interviews with the local residents and frequent travellers of Pir Panjal area it is found that the PirPanjal region is spread on an area of approx. 900sqkms which contains about 27 big and small lakes locally known as “Sar” and many Meadows known as “Margs”.
A continuous chain of Lakes starts from Nandan Sar in the West to the Simar Sarin the East near Budhal. All the tourist spots including these lakes are above the height of 13000 ft from the sea level. As facilities like electricity, phone connectivity, railways and roads in the region are like a dream come true, therefore travelling on foot becomes mandatory to visit this area. From Pirki Gali walking towards the East, it takes almost 6-8 hrs to reach a very beautiful Nandan Sar lake, which lies in the lap of Nature between the two lofty peaks called Northern and Southern peaks of Nandan Sar. Nandan Sar is the largest, voluminous and the most famous among all other lakes of Pirpanjal range. This lake is almost one km long, oval with blue and fresh water and so far the most known to the travellers and visitors. Toward its north at a stride of 2 hrs comes the Katoria Sar, named after the bowl (Katori in local language). The Lake is very beautiful and remains laden with snow and icebergs till June-July. NandanSar and Katori Sar Lakes lie on either sides of a high mountain called Nandan Sarchot (peak). Another Chandan Sar (considerd Secred for Nomads), almost equal to the size of Nandan Sar lies just at half an hour stride from Nandan Sar. Towards East at a walking distance of one hour comes Kaldichni Sar, which is blackish in colour, horror in looks and oval in shape. In the same row towards North-East at a walking distance of one hour comes the famous Sukh Sar, which is another beautiful medium sized lake located in this region.
Towards the South-East of Sukh Sar, at a stride of half an hour in the lap of nature comes another beautiful and very attractive lake called Neel Sar. As its name indicates, it has crystal clear blue, clean and fresh water. The next destination after Neel Sar towards the North-East on foot for two hrs comes the Handu Sar, which is round in shape and comparatively smaller in size. Finally in this series of seven famous lakes the next one is Gum Sar, which is also a scenic beauty. It is an oval shaped lake near to Nandan Sar. One can reach Gum Sar by crossing the Nandan Pass towards the South of Nandan Sar. The nomads from Budhal, Bakori, Kalakote, Darhal and Thannamandi pass through these series of seven famous lakes to reach the Kashmir Valley during summer every year, in search of food and fodder for the cattle.
Another group of Lakes is Rawiwali Marg group of lakes located toward the West of Katoria Sar. This group consists of four famous lakes which are Kokar Sar, Neel Sar, Bhag Sar and Ding Sar, all above the altitude of 33000ft, could be the one of best camping sites for tourists. Other famous lakes of this 90kms long stretch are Jang Wali Sar and Kagalna Sar lakes towards the North-West at 2 hrs long walk from the famous Shakar Marg. Another very famous lake called SmatSar also known as Richh Bagla Sar, very much known for frequent visits of people and school children of Budhal and Bakori for excursions. It is just at a distance of 4-6 hrs stride towards the North of the Budhal town. It is almost one km long lake with fresh, clean and cold water. Other lakes mostly inaccessible, smaller in size and known to very few are Kala Sar, Chammar Sar (near Chammar Marg), a triangular Akhil Darshani Sar (near Sukh Sar), lamp shaped Diya Sar, and Padyaran Sar I & II (near Kalakote through Ropri pass).
The lush green meadows without presence of the high conifers and other woody trees,with fresh clean and cold air presents a heart throbbing view all around has become a great attraction for visitors. These meadows stretch from Budhal Dhoks (summer destinations for nomads) in the East to the Poonch Dhoks in the West. The famous Meadows (Margs) are Peer Marg near the famous Peer Ki Gali pass, near to it toward North is Doongi Marg. Then comes the famous Shakar Marg, the (Southern) most of all the meadows adjoining to the boundaries of Darhal of district Rajouri. Adjoining to this is Doodh Wali Marg, Khari Marg and Chammar Marg,all the three are towards North of Shakkar Marg almost at half an hour’s walking distance. Rupri Marg and Sheikh Marg adjoining to the Budhal area are also very beautiful meadows of Pir Panjal region. Jaddi Marg and Ravi Wali Margre two famous meadows under the jurisdiction of Poonch District. Other tourist spots worth visiting are Phanjari Marg, Goray Battay, Tegyar Choti (peak), Kgora, Namnad, Byadh, Khunali, Kagganali, Chapar Nalo, Kuthgal, Banj, Kundaan Dher, Kafarkatha, Gordiyan, Shaitani Paida, Girjan, Badjori Marg, Sari Mastaan, Marguri, Rupri Gali, Seti, Che Sari, Bela Marg and Sarota Marg(valley of flowers). All these places are either Dhoks for keeping cattle during summer, or the sites for summer camping and tours.
However for those who are fond of trekking and having an interest in adventure sports, can take either Darhal or Budhal or Thannamandi as base for reaching to these tourist sites. Taking Budhal as base one can travel through Saveri Marg, Khodra, Simar Sar Lake, Bella Marg, Katoria Sar Lake, Dhakyar peak towards Kashmir. While taking Darhal as a base point one can go through Budhkhanari. Thamal, Shakar Marg, Che Sari, Doodhwali Marg, Chammar, Handu pass, Bagh Sar, Sarota valley, Neel Sar, Girjan, to Noori Chamb, Behram Gala and back to Rajouri, which is one of the most appropriate and extensive area covering route for visitors. Taking Thannamandi as base one has to go through Dera Ki Gali, Girjan, Panjtari, Khuha Gum Sar, Nandan pass, Nandan Sar Lake, Aliabad, Hirpur to Kashmir.
(The author is Research Scholar Economics, BGSB University Rajouri).
Mohammed Tahir Raoof Malik