Commodore D S Sodhi
Majestic indeed, Pir Panjal is a cluster of mountains in the inner Himalayan region that runs from east -southeast to west-northwest across the State of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. Flying from Jammu to Srinagar one gets a glance of this beautiful and magnificent creation of Nature.
The Range stretches from Muree in Pakistan to Rohtang in Himachal. Ancient trade routes through Pir Panjal were connected by passes locally termed as Galis. Mysterious and spectacular sculptures of soldiers on horseback are found at various places in this Range (like at the Ghora Gali site near Gool Village). The State Directorate of Archives, Archaeology and Museums, listed this as a protected site in 1986. In fact, three of these horsemen sculptures have been put on display at Shri Pratap Singh Museum in Srinagar. The beauty and the grandeur of this range are unmatched. Aharbal, Gulmarg and Toshmaidan are well known places located in Pir Panjal. The Range has numerous places of religious importance of all faiths and the peak of Manimahesh Kailash regarded as one of the mythical abodes of Shiva is one of them. Pir Panjal boasts of a number of passes (Banihal , Sinthan, Pir Ki Gali, Rohtang, Haji pir , Ratanpir pass, Behram Gala pass and Gulabgarh pass), peaks (Deo Tibba, Indrasan etc) , and tunnels (Jawahar tunnel, Rohtang tunnel etc). The famous route that was used by the Mughals to invade and capture Kashmir and passes through Pir Panjal is a picturesque travel and a delight for the people who love nature. Pir Panjal has seen so many invasions into Kashmir but has also stood firm and tall in safeguarding the valley of Kashmir. Any breach of security of this range directly threatens the valley. Before 1947, a road connecting Uri and Poonch passed through Haji Pir pass which now falls in PoK. This pass captured by Indian forces during 1965 war, was however returned and Pakistan was asked to withdraw from Chhamb sector, may be since it would not have been advisable to let Pakistan point a dagger at Akhnoor and thereafter threaten Jammu.
The Sikhs have a very important and relevant connect with Pir Panjal. Bhai Pheru Singh set up his headquarters in Rajoieay, Hazara district of Pakistan to preach Sikhism. He travelled extensively to Peshawar, Kandahar, Balkh, Chach, Hazara, Pakhli, Attock, Poonch Muzaffarabad and Kashmir. He then handed over this duty to Bhai Punjab Singh in the year 1711 AD. Bhai Punjab Singh shifted the headquarters from Rajoieay to Chattar Kalas (Now in PoK) and subsequently handed over the seat and duty to Bhai Rocha Singh (who had been baptized by Guru Gobind Singh Ji at Sabo Talvandi). Bhai Rocha Singh shifted headquarters from Chattar Kalas to Rawalakot and later handed over the seat and duty to Bhai Mela Singh in the year 1803 AD. Bhai Mela Singh shifted the headquarters from Rawalakot to Nangali Sahib in Poonch. Presently Mahant Manjit Singh is associated with the seat and the duty. Similarly Guru Hargobind Sahib travelled through the famous Mughal route that passes through Pir Panjal. Magnificent Gurdwaras stand tall in the memory commemorating the travel of the Sixth Guru on this route. Sardar Banda Singh Bahadur also spent few years in the foot hills of Pir Panjal on the banks of river Chenab at Reasi. Maharaja Ranjit Singh desired to extend his rule to a larger territory and he used the Pir Panjal route and passes to conquer and rule Kashmir. Fateh Khan (Minister of Shah Muhammad) was not happy with the role played by Ata Muhammad during the struggle for throne of Kabul between Shah Shuja and Shah Mahammud and he decided to punish the Governors of Attock and Kashmir. Fateh Khan had the inclination that he would not be able to conquer Kashmir without the help of Ranjit Singh and he approached him for help. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had his interest in the release of Shah Shuja who was imprisoned in Kashmir. His Wafa Begum who had taken shelter in Lahore had made a request to the Maharaja to save her husband and in turn she had agreed to give him the Kohinoor. Ranjit Singh agreed to help Fateh Khan with 12,000 troops under Diwan Mohkam Chand and to facilitate an Afghan march through Rajouri over Pir Panjal range. In December 1812, Sikh forces under the overall command of Diwan Mokham Chand commenced their move towards Kashmir. The forces had to face heavy snowfall on Pir Panjal range and their advance was accordingly hindered. Diwan succeeded in entering the valley with a handful of soldiers under the command of Jodh Singh and Nihal Singh Attari. After initial resistance, Ata Muhammad surrendered and the Sikh and Afghan forces, occupied the Hari Parbat fort and Shah Shuja was released.
The Sikh forces returned to Lahore thereafter. Later in October 1813 Ranjit Singh supported by his allies, attempted invasion of Kashmir with the aim to annexe it. Though some of the local Rajas, under the leadership of Raja Agar Khan of Rajouri joined him, he met his first stiff resistance at Behram Galla Pass by Ruhullah Khan. Ranjit Singh by passed him and Raja Agar Khan led the Khalsa forces to the rear of Ruhullah Khan through a different route. However, due to heavy snow and rain Ranjit Singh could not cross the Pir Panjal Pass and on 26th December returned to Lahore.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was determined to conquer Kashmir and he accordingly made preparations for a massive operation. The Sikh Army first assembled at Sialkot and from there they reached Rajouri on 11 June 1814. The Sikh forces made two divisions whereas, the first one was headed by Diwan Ram Dayal (with Sardar Dal Singh, Ghaus Khan, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa and Sardar Mit Singh Padhania), the second division under the command of Maharaja Ranjit Singh took a different route for valley and reached Poonch suffering immense hardships. Diwan Ram Dayal along with his contingents conquered Behram gala and establishing a Thana there he crossed the Pir Panjal. At Shopian he was confronted by the forces of Azim Khan and a fierce battle was fought between the two on 24 June 1814. The rains added to the misery of the Sikh forces and Jiwan Mal and Mit Singh Padhania died fighting there. Diwan Ram Dayal decided to fall back. Maharaja Ranjit Singh with his forces rushed to Toshmaidan through Mandi. He found the forces of Azim Khan well established there. On hearing about the distress of Diwan Ram Dayal, Maharaja sent additional forces under Bhai Ram Singh, along with Diwan Devi Das and Qutab-ud-Din Khan to support Diwan Ram Dayal. It has been brought out by Amarnath that Bhai Ram Singh avoided fighting and informed the Maharaja that the enemy had an upper hand over the Sikh forces of which many had been killed and it was in the interest of the Lahore Durbar to recall the forces from Kashmir. He returned to Rajouri without waiting for a reply from the Maharaja. Bhai Ram Singh was not only suspended for this act but was also fined. Maharaja Ranjit Singh understanding the complete situation returned from Toshmaidan to Lahore in August 1814 via Poonch, Kotli and Mirpur. Diwan Ram Dayal who was left to his own with huge constraints of manpower and supplies stood fast and Azim Khan was not able to drive him out. With his sheer determination, and after series of disasters which had befallen the expedition, Diwan Ram Dayal retrieved matters as much as was possible and compelled Azim Khan to come to terms for a safe passage and even admitting in written document the supremacy of Lahore. Diwan Ram Dayal finally returned to Lahore safe and sound.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh wanted to consolidate his power and authority over a larger extended empire and his interest in the Kashmir valley was very obvious. Having conquered Multan, Maharaja Ranjit Singh made plans to conquer Kashmir. A huge army got together at Wazirabad in May 1819 and it was divided into three contingents. The first contingent was placed under the combined command of Misr Diwan Chand, Sham Singh Attari, Sardar Hari Singh, Jagat Singh Attari, Jawala Singh and Rattan Singh. The Second contingent was placed under Kanwar Kharak Singh and the third under the command of Ranjit Singh stayed back at Wazirabad as reserve. The Sikh forces commenced their march towards Kashmir through different routes. Misr Diwan Chand on reaching Bhimber left heavy artillery there and carried only light guns. On 23 June Misr Diwan Chand attacked Rajouri and Poonch Rajas in their position at Dhaki Deo and Maja Passes thus securing to himself a road over the Pir Panjal.
By end June Misr Diwan Chand had occupied all hills and passes south of the Pir Panjal range. Kharak Singh advanced to Surdee Thanna (Now Thannamandi) and Ranjit Singh stayed at Bhimbher. Misr Diwan Chand crossing the mountains descended into the valley and the Sikh force of 12,000 took up position at Sarai Ali on the road to Shopian. Here the Sikh forces fought with the Afghan forces led by Jabbar Khan. The Afghans fought well and were able to attack Diwan Chand’s contingent and captured three cannons from him. Akali Phoola Singh saw Diwan Chand backing up and the Afghans charging him. He advanced his Jatha and had a quick sword to sword fight. Though Jabbar Khan fought bravely the Afghan army could not bear the Akali attack and ran away. Jabbar Khan who was seriously wounded first fled to Srinagar and later to Peshawar. The Sikh forces advanced to Srinagar city and took it under occupation. Kashmir was finally under the Sikh Rule. Cunningham in his book “A History of the Sikhs” has written that it was almost a bloodless victory. The Sikh Rule established in Kashmir in July 1819 lasted for twenty seven years till March 1846.
The author last served as Deputy Assistant Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (HQIDS)
Commodore D S Sodhi