A gateway to heavenly experience

Nagendra Jamwal
5If the sweltering heat of summers and sultriness of monsoon has made you to cringe and forced you to seek refuge in the cool climes, then Kainth Gali- a mountain pass just thirty two kilometers from Udhampur awaits you to provide the cool and refreshing environs to sooth one’s body and soul.
Kainth Gali is a mountain pass at the altitude of 1630 meters between Ladha Dhar having Natha Top in the North-East and Siroli Dhar in the South West. Why it is known as Kainth Gali is shrouded in mystery as the vegetation around the mountain pass hardly contains Kainth trees (Pyrus Pashia) nowadays. May be in the past the mountain pass had large number of Kainth trees. However, even today the pass has lush greenery dominated by Banj Oak tree. Their shiny silver leaves shimmer in the breeze which is a lovely sight to behold. Thickets of blue Pine and Deodar on the adjoining hill tops interspersed by mountain meadows is a sight to be worth photographed.
Kainth Gali was on a ancient trade route from North India to Kashmir as is mentioned by famous traveller Al-Beruni. Al-Beruni has mentioned about a trade route emanating from Kanauj towards the northwest following the foothills of the Himalayas including Billawar, Ladda i.e. the mountain to the left of the Kainth Gali to the fortress of Rajagiri (modern Rajouri) and marching northward to Kashmir valley. Another route which travellers frequented was from Kainth Gali to Lander and then to Ramban. Thus the mountain pass afforded access from Basholi-Ramkot and Udhampur Docn to Panchari- Moungri, Lander and ultimately to Kashmir valley. The location of early medieval temple complexes at Billawar, Babore (modern Manwal) and Krimchi on this route shows the significance of Kainth Gali.
The Krimchi temple structure are just eight kilometers north of Jammu- Srinagar Highway. The Krimchi temple complex was the major staging ground for travellers to Kainth Gali. As one starts ascent from Krimchi Mansar valley, a thick Pine forest on both sides of the road envelops the view. A fresh aroma emanating from green pines wafts through the air thus refreshing the mind and the body.The greenery contrasts with the brown forest floor strewn with the dry Pine needles which is highly inflammable and a major cause of forest fires. Occasionally the red forest soil wherever exposed adds colour to the surroundings.     After a ascent of just six kilometers, certain viewpoints afford a Panoramic view of the Udhampur town and the doon on a clear day and is a sight to behold. Every metre ascended enroute to Kainth Gali is escape from the clutches of heat and soothing cool environs embrace a visitor.
Once Kainth Gali is reached, a memorable sight of Pir Panjal range with its snow clad peaks in the near distance leaves the visitor awestruck and the view remains etched in one’s memory for lifetime. During monsoon season, the clouds can be seen ascending from the valley and enveloping the mountains pass in it. During winters the snow covered valley and Pir Panjal in the background attract thousands of tourists from Katra especially when connectivity to Patnitop is cut off. However the visit to Kainth Gali would be incomplete without savouring the authentic Kaladi- type of cheese produced in these parts of the Udhampur and a cup of hot steaming tea.
The importance of Kainth Gali also lies in the fact that two roads emanate from there. On the right a road leads to the famous hill resort of Panchari a offshoot of which goes to Lander. On the left a road leads to Moungri and ultimately to Bomagh area of Reasi which is in the backside of Dhar Shri Mata Vaishno Devi. Just a few kilometers from Kainthgali towards Moungari is a thick Banj Oak forest within which grows the Red Rhododendron locally known as Mitaal. The bushes of Red Rhododendron laden with fully blossomed flowers add natural beauty to the forest. Just as Kainth Gali gives passage from Krimchi Mansar to saucer shape Moungari valley, similarly Dubi Gali and Khour Gali give access to Bhamag area. The whole road length witnesses a number of mountain streams out of which irrigation channels called Kuhls have been created which irrigate the terraced-fields carved out of hills. Many a cascades and water mills add beauty to the landscape.
In the recent years, the people of this region have evinced great interest in horticulture. As a result a large number of orchards of apple, pear and walnut have come up beyond Kainth Gali and has improved the living standard of the people. The existence of temperate agro-climatic zone beyond Kainth Gali is going to be a blessing to the farmers and hospitality industry if properly explored. The Moungri – Panchari area and Bhamag beyond Kainth Gali also abounds with great deal of fauna including Red Indian Jungle fowl, pheasants, Pijjad- a type of mountains goat, and occasionally leopard.
The region beyond Kainth Gali has a natural boundary in Chenab river and can be termed as a heavenly abode- an area of serene natural beauty marked by presence of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, Shiv Parvati caves shrine at Moungri, the shrine of Sankri Devta situated on a hillock near Panchari, the shrine of Raja Sunkhpal Devta, Bhangan Devta in Bhomag and Sauntal Devta at Gahliote. There is also a annual pilgrimage to Shri Saroli Kalka Mata. A ancient temple dedicated to Kalika Mata is also present in a sacred Deodar grove in Panchari.
In the month of May annual Shiv Parvati Mela also known as Moungri Mela is celebrated. In the month of August a huge religious congregation is held at Sankri Devta. Similarly huge gathering is witnessed in the shrine of Raja Sankhpal in the month of June and Dusshera. Many peaks of adjoining hills of this region have shrines, devoted to local gods or deities.
However, inspite of its historical, religious and geographical value, the tourist potential of Kainth Gali has not been exploited. It is hoped that department of tourism and Patnitop Development Authority would come up with a elaborate plan including construction of view points, wayside amenities and tourist huts and lodges and other infrastructure to enable largescale visits to tourists to this abode of serenity and piousness.
(The author is a KAS officer)


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