Dr M. Ashaq Raza
Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with immense natural beauty. There are numerous sites to explore and acknowledge nature’s work from a close range and realise why this part is called paradise on Earth. Amongst them is a small, beautiful and remote hamlet called Katemar located on a plateau between Darhal and Thanamandi in north of District Rajouri. The name Katemar came into existence from a historic incident, as said, when a tiger/leopard killed a young buffalo (locally called kata) and left him hanging on the branches of a giant oak tree. Many people believe, there was a city during ancient times at this place, however, an archaeological authentication can only ascertain this. In the recent past, this place attracted nomadic, tribal and other folks from nearby places as it provided a good shelter, space and fodder for their livestock and gradually they settled here.
Surrounded by Oak forest, hilly terrains and meadows in lap of nearby towering peaks of Saab and Noon-Bagla (Noon-Pal), this beautiful plateau is one of highest villages in Rajouri. It exhibits a small agricultural land and serves as Dhok for many especially in summer.A small mosque in the centre and grave of peer-baba on the top make this small village even more lively and beautiful.
Only a small population of about 600-700 people in about 40 – 45 randomly scattered houses could make a permanent living in this hamlet. Of which 70 per cent migrate to other places during harsh winters. All of them belong to Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes comprising Khatana, Gorsiand Kalis. Hakim Bibi, 85, is the oldest person, who is living outside Katemar in this winter. Pastoralism and agriculture/ farming are their main professions. They raise sheep, goats, horses, buffalos, cows, and poultry for their livelihood. Maize and wheat are two crops that are successful on this high altitude sloppy and loamy soil fields. They have tried to grow apple, peach and apricot but due to lack of technical support could not yield good results. “We grafted even apple but failed due to proper guidance and education”, says Sher Mohammad, an elderly person from this village. There are about two dozen employees serving in different departments mainly in Indian Army who are bringing prosperity to this village. Late Alam Din the famous Gojri singer belongs to Katemar. Besides, the eastern part of hamlet harbours seasonal migration in summer from Pahari community but none stays more than few months there.
It is home to a rich biodiversity, and some exotic plants. Leopard, hare, jungle fowl, fox, Jackal, besides many others make the animal biodiversity. The coniferous forests and scenic peaks of Hisaab and Noon-Pal are not very far from here. However, over exploitation of oak and other plant species has led the invasion of bushes and invasive species especially in eastern part of Katemar. Due to clay/loamy soil and lack of plants and construction of unorganized/ unmaintained roads and tracks, the small hamlet is facing excessive soil erosion.
Although, Katemar officially falls in Tehsil Thanamandi but Darhal is comparatively approachablefrom here. However, being located on the boundary (middle) of two Tehsils, it remains no one’s baby – perhaps the last and remotest village to reach from any side by any government. The road from Darhal to Thanamandi is one of oldest roads in Jammu and Kashmir but unfortunately it loses its connectivity before reaching Katemar from either side.It is between 10-15kms to go Thannamandi or Darhal from Katemar. As a consequence, people especially aged, women and children have to travel miles on foot for marketing, bringing basic commodities, for education and health care.The road which could connect not only the Katemar with rest of world but also provide shortest route between Budhal, Darhal and Thanamandi, and importantly link to Mughal road(highway) is looking forward for the mercy of some Government officials to complete it after 60 years of its construction. If road connectivity is provided, this highland hamlet could be one of finest tourist destinations in Pirpanjal.
No ration depot, no health clinic, no water supply and only aprimary school in Katemar narrates manifold stories of helplessness of this village. They have to bring cooking gas form far distance. One reason of neglect could be a small number of vote bank, just about 200, which cannot influence the victory or defeat of any candidate. People have to walk down miles to village Laa to bring ration as there is no ration depot in Katemar. There is no health clinic. Electricity and water supply have been provided but there is no water in supply lines. People have to walk miles to fetch drinking water and water table has already gone down due to climate change. They harvest water as a good practice but it does not fulfil their water needs.
Education is foundation of every society but there is only one Primary school with 10 students and 2 teachers in Katemar. Children who want to attend middle or high School, have to either travel miles to continue their education or stop studies after 5th class. “There are only 3 graduates (all males) from this hamlet”, says Zaheer, a labourer who is pursuing his B.A degree through distance education. When asked how could several youths join Army despite least educational facility, optimistic Zaheer says, as we walk miles on foot on daily basis, hence nobody can defeat us in race and physical fitness, so are they in Army. The interest for education among parents and children is high, they send children even to private schools in Darhal for better education but little children have to cover long distance and miss schools in adverse weather conditions. They remain quite vulnerable to attack of wild animals. At least a school up to middle level, a health clinic, ration depot, proper supply of water and electricity and above all the road connectivity could make this small hamlet, an ideal tourist destination and no doubt part of the Paradise. Yet to make that happen, we need to reach the unreached so that nobody is left behind including inhabitants of this beautiful hamlet-Katemar.
(The author is Asstt. Prof of Botany at Govt. PG College Rajouri, J&K)
Dr M. Ashaq Raza