Completing an unfinished trek after 33 years

Prof. Lalit Magotra
In the year 1987, on 4th January, a team of Dogri writers, including stalwarts like Prof. Ram Nath Shastri and Ved Paul ‘Deep’ embarked on a trekking expedition starting from Nadd on Samba-Mansar road to Mohr Garh – a fortification about 9-10 kms away. Others who were part of this trek included Sham Lal Raina, Balwant Singh Jamoria, Prof. Baldev Singh, Dhyan Singh, myself and few others. I have very fond memories of this venture. We trekked through sandy soil along a narrow stream crossing patches of shallow water and then in the end along a steep hilly ascent terminating at the Gate or huge ‘Darwaja’ of the fortification. The majestic Darwaja on the edge of hill, which is visible from far off and the thick stone wall of the fortification enclosing an area of 3200 acres must have been an imposing structure in the distant past. However, the structure had been reduced to ruins by vagaries of times and human vandalism except the tall ‘Darwaza.’The ‘Darwaza’ appeared like a lone warrior standing proudly in a lost battle. We kept wondering at the mystical past and the history associated with this structure which was new shrouded in the mist of time. I remember to have looked with curiosity towards the high hills in the north, on the other side of which is situated the beautiful Mansar Lake. When I asked about the distance to Mansar, somebody told that the trek to Mansar was merely 7.5 kms but was quite tough as most of it comprised steep climb on the hills. I looked at the hills and wished that may be one day I would go to Mansar via this trek.
And that ‘one day’ came after 33 years of my wish.The opportunity presented itself in the form of a phone call in the end of October, 2020 from Ram Khajuria, President of Tawi Trekkers. He sought my assent to accompany a trek from Mohr Garh to Mansar in the end of November – a trek specially organized for veteran members of Tawi-Trekkers, in which some youngsters would also be participating. I was reminded of my 33 years old visit to Mohr Garh and the wish I had made then and promptly said ‘yes’ to this ‘God-sent’ opportunity to complete the unfinished trek.
On the morning of 26th November, 2020, our vehicles branched off from Samba-Mansar road, to a 17km road upto Mohr Garh. The first stretch of ‘Kucha-Pacca’ road uptoSarna, also called Chilla-Danga, left much to be desired. It was full of ditches, furrows and bumps. I was wondering that rather than attracting visitors and tourists to this heritage site, this road was sufficient to completely put them off.
Our innards having been thoroughly shaken, we then took the onwards 5 kms. road upto Mohr Garh.Though the road was quite narrow but was properly mettled and smooth to drive on. Relieved from the torture of the first stretch of journey, we started enjoying the beautiful landscape of the hilly area. After reaching Mohr Garh, we parked our vehicles near the ‘Darwaza’ and decided to have a quick visit of this grand structure. The panoramic view of the lower hills extending right up to the horizon,as seen from Darwaza, was breath taking. Unfortunately, the condition of the structure, in comparison to what it was during my previous visit, had gone from bad to worse. There is thick overgrowth of wild grass and clumps of shrubs on and around the Darwaza. The portions of Parapets and some rooms have fallen apart. The masonry artistic jaali, which we had appreciated in our last visit, was missing and so were some of the Arabic inscriptions on the walls. However ‘Allah’ inscribed on a wall was still discernible. A small room under stairs leading to the parapet, seemed to have become abode of stray cattle. The chunk of surrounding stone wall were seen lying in the compounds of some houses of the village – perhaps to be used in the new construction of houses.I have no doubt that any visitor who comes here and looks at the remnants of the huge structure will wonder at the history and past of this fortification.
Pt. Kedar Nath Shastri, an eminent Archaeologist of national repute, who incidentally belonged to Jammu, has conjectured that the structure of the Gate, the design of the nearby talab and the Arabic inscriptions on the walls of Darwaja point to Pathan pattern of architecture. He has estimated that Mohr Garh fortification could date back to 15th century and most probably could be associated with the ‘Sur’ dynasty. As a matter of fact there are two more such fortifications on the hills in the near vicinity, namely ‘Bhavnergarh’ and ‘Dhergarh.’ All these fortifications appears to be waiting for a curious minded and scholarly historian or archaeologist who would unveil their past.
After driving through the Mohr Garh village, where festivities of some marriage ‘Dhaam’ were going on, we parked our vehicles near the crumblingBack Gate or ‘PichhlaDarwaja’ of the fortification. This gate is in most precarious condition and any day soon may turn into heap of stones. Packing the refreshments and water bottles provided by Tawi Trekkers in our individual haversacks we started on our trek. The first part of the trek of 3 kms or so was like a song. The serpentine path passed through dark green dwarf pine trees, the patches of thick grass and the clusters of shrubs on a gentle ascent. As we rose in height the view became more panoramic, the air fresher and laced with the scent of pine trees and the colour of sky turned azure blue. Then for a long stretch we had the company of a herd of sheep and goats. Later our path passed near some hamlets comprising couple of houses, separated by long distances. We discussed the beautiful view and the wonderful surroundings with which the inhabitants of this area are endowed but were also conscious of the difficult and tough life that these people have to lead. We hardly met anybody on the way. However at one stage, when we were toiling to negotiate a particular tough patch of very steep ascent, one elderly looking person came from behind and passed us with quite an ease. Ram Khajuria asked him in Dogri, ‘We heard that there are leopards in this area. Is it true?’ He stopped and said, ‘Of course’ Khajuria asked ‘Is there a danger ?’ He assured, ‘No,It is day time and you are so many.’In the very next breath Khajuria inquired, ‘Is there Corona in this area?’ The fellow thought for a moment and said, ‘No, we have not seen any.But of course there are plenty of wild boars.’ We maintained our serious expressions and continued on the journey.
The next stretch of 3 kms.was the real test of our endurance and stamina. Ram Khajuria and myself having completed 72 years and 76 years of ourlives respectively, fell behind the group but continued trudging along on step by step basis. As we kept climbing the hill, the only sounds audible to us were the soft whisper of cool mountain air and that of our heavy breathing. As my mind, time and again, started to think of the toughness of the ascent,I stopped for a few minutes and diverted my attention to the excellent view of surroundings and that was a real treat.
At last, mercifully, this difficult stretch came to an end and we were welcomed by an easy trail descending through thick vegetation, all the way up to Mansar. After a sharp bend, suddenly the lake appeared infront of us. The view of the turquoise and calm water surrounded by the greenery on all sides, was one of the best views I ever had of this lake. The feeling of exhaustion caused by the tough climb instantly evaporated and I felt that it was one of my most rewarding treks. The sheer beauty of the view, filled our minds with love for our land. I was reminded of the beautiful lines from a poem of legendary Dogri poet Dinu Bhai Pant – Mere desai da chhal aipa meria khin kanne dikh (If you want to feel how beautiful is my land, then see it through my eyes).