Picturesque Bani Sarthal Beckons

Dr. Bharat Bhushan
The beautiful valley of Bani and Sarthal has been attracting large number of tourists, trekkers and adventure lovers over the years . The tourists from far off places like Delhi, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Gujrat and other places have been envincing keen interest to visit and explore the beauty of these virgin spots.
Bani- the beautiful village is situated at a distance of 165 Kms from Lakhanpur and is just four & a half hours journey from Kathua in Jammu & Kashmir. The tourists visiting Bani, Sarthal from Himachal Pradesh take two routes-one is via Banikhet- Kheri Dam & the other one is Dunera-Basohli. It takes just 90 Minutes from Dalhousie to reach Bani. Tourists taking Dunera-Basohli route make it a point to stop at Atal Setu Bridge, Basohli which has become another attraction for visitors because of its beautiful location and unique design.
The cool breeze on the Atal Setu bridge invigorates the visitors who also visit nearby tourism spot “Purthu” a plateau on the banks of Ranjit Sagar Lake. Also called as Mini Goa, the visitors here take motor boat ride over Lake and enjoy eatables at makeshift shops. The tourists can take boat ride to Satwain where Lakhanpur Sarthal Tourism Development Authority has constructed “Holiday Home” ( a residential facility) where one can stay and enjoy the beauty of Ranjit Sagar Lake in the midest of forests.
The nearby fishing cage of the Fisheries Department is also worth visiting. This cage is used by the Department to rear and feed fishes and the visiting children enjoy watching Baby fishes (also called as fry or hatchlings) of varied colours who are later introduced in Ranjit Sagar Lake. The fishing in this lake has been a source of livlihood to a large number of fishermen of the area.
Enroute one can stop for tea at Basohli – the historical town known for miniature paintings and Pashmina shawls or wayside at Sheetal Nagar, Kot or at Kardoh. From Kardoh, the panoramic view of the valley below is worth watching during sunrise or at evening hours.
On reaching Bani, the visitors are moved by its beauty. The simplicity, warmth and hospitality of Bani people is worth experiencing. The Sewa river flows in the midest of Bani & divides the town into two beautiful parts. While the Shakti Mata Shrine, Main Bazar, SDM office, Forest Rest House and famous Shinj Mela Ground lies on the right side of the river, the left side has Hospital and TRC of Tourism Deptt.,and PWD Dak Banglow. From left side of Bani,a road connects to beautiful villages of Panyalag, Surjan-Chalog and Dhagger. These villages especially Dhagger has been experiencing a large number of tourists and trekkers since last few years .At Dhaggar, the tourists have a TRC and few camping sites. Bani area’s strength lies embedded in strong bonds of communal harmony.
The weather remains pleasant throughout the year. Winters experience mild snowfall at Bani and heavy snow fall at Sarthal. The road connecting Bani with Bhaderwah remains closed during winters because of heavy snowfall. The visitors visit Bani – Sarthal from mid April to September/October when the weather is very pleasant and the roads are open.
The main attraction for the people of Bani and tourists is three days Annual Shinj Mela which is celebrated every year in last week of June. This year, it is being celebrated with pomp and show from 25th to 27th June. Dr. Surinder Anand- a member of Bani Shinj Mela Celebration Committee told that this year’s celebration is being held after a gap of two years. The Celebration could not be conducted in 2020 & 2021 due to Covid pandemic.
Weather gives respite from scorching heat and many local festivals are celebrated in and around Bani. This is the period of the year when local walnut, Apple, Appricot and variety of vegetables are abundantly available and relished by locals and visitors alike. The local organic produce of the area is much in demand in markets of the plains.
Bani shinj Mela has history of over 100 years when it was started by local goldsmith family of Hem Raj Shah. For many years, Billa Shah of the family and locals used to organize the event. Now, the Shinj Mela Celebration Committee comprising of prominent villagers of Bani and local artists have been carrying out the legacy of successfully celebrating the Mela year after year.
In the three days Shinj Mela , wrestlers from far off places of North India and local wrestlers take part. The three day event is witnessed by more than 50,000 people drawn from Bani, Chamba, Basohli, Lohai Malhar, Billawar, Bhaderwah, Jammu, Kathua and other places. During the event, Bani bears festive look and all make a beeline to Shinj Mela Ground to witness the Dangal and relish local Jalebi-Meshu-. Bani people do brisk shopping during the Mela Period.
This year local administration led by SDM Bani, Joginder Singh Jasrotia in collabration with Shinj Mela Celebration Committee and local Sarpanch Sh. Uttam Chand has made all necessary arrangements for smooth conduct of three days event. A good number of hotels and homestays are available besides government accommodation. Special events showcasing culture and heritage of Bani are organized by the Committee. The folk artists from Himachal Pradesh have also been invited especially for the event. The organizers and artists on the occasion remember the contibution of Hem Raj Shah family and artists who enriched and made Bani Shinj Mela popular during their lifetime. Artists especially remember Late Mohd. Sharief Girdawar-former Revenue official and celebrated Radio and folk artist of the area who along with his troupe of local Pahari Artists used to mesmerize the audience during the Shinj Mela with his performances .
Bani’s beauty is incomplete without mention of beautiful meadows of Sarthal Valley. In fact Bani and Sarthal complement each other with adorable beauty, snow capped peaks, dense forests and beautiful streams. About 24 kms from Bani, beautiful Sarthal Valley is connected by a Motorable road. One can visit Sarthal from Bhaderwah also by covering a distance of 45 kms.
The captivating green meadows of Sarthal, murmuring streams ,ice cold waters of Kharkal Nallah and 7 falls of Kharkal mesmerize the tourists with invigorating environs. Sarthal is summer resting place for hundreds of our Gujjar families who flock to the valley alongwith their cattle. The pure milk and Burfi of Sarthal is relished by the visitors. The Lakhanpur Sarthal Development Authority and Tourism Deptt. has two TRCs for visitors. Some hotels have also come up. The visitors must take woolens also while visiting Sarthal as the area experiences cold nights and cooler evenings even in summer months. Bani and Sarthal Valleys has many trekking routes and has rich flora and fauna. The higher reaches of Sarthal and Bani are home to many precious herbs and shrubs which has medicinal value.
The Bani and Sarthal Valleys are receiving tremendous tourist footfall year after year. Augmenting facilities for tourists and publicity of these virgin locations can be a boon for locals and visitors as well.
(The writer- a JKAS officer is presently serving as Chief Executive Officer, IWMP.)