Picturesque Pir Panchal Pass

K D Maini
Pir Panchal Pass is an attractive natural resort located at 11400 feet above the sea level exactly on the boundary of Poonch and Shopian districts in between 33° 38′ latitude and 74° 34′ longitude. The marvellous Pir Marg (meadow) surrounded with slow clad peaks, and cool breeze starts from Pir Gali which is known as the crown of 240 kms long Pir Panchal range and pride of this mountainous series.
The 6 kms long lush green Pir Marg is decorated with yellow, pink and red small flowers of Sanjeevni, Khand Barya and Neelraj. The Merg (Meadow) starts from Pir Gali and goes up to Alia Aabad Sarai which is properly known as Badashi Sarai, constructed during Mughal period. The 84 kms long Mughal road passes through the heart of Pir Panchal via Pir Gali which is 43 kms away from Buffliaz Poonch and 41kms from Shopian. With the opening of Mughal Road great hustle bustle started at Pir Gali and simultaneously the surrounding natural resorts and beautiful Dhoks like valley of seven lakes, Panjtarni meadow, Girjan Dhoke, Tata Kutti peak (15486), Chatta Pani Glacier have come into lime light which are ideal for scenic and adventure tourism.
Presently light vehicles cross Pir Panchal Pass from Poonch as well as Kashmir side. Visitors and tourists show great desire to stay in this paradise. However there is no accommodation facility available at Pir Pass. Therefore the visitors enjoy the beauty of Pir Marg and have the view of Pir Gali only by crossing the Meadow and Pir Pass. The vehicles stop for some time here and the visitors come out from the vehicles and move towards lush green turf to, enjoy the beauty of snow clad peaks of mighty Pir Panchal. Then they move towards the western edge of Pir Gali from where the overlooking view of mountainous series, sub series, forest, streams, and habitations of Poonch, Rajouri, Bhimbar and Kotli upto Jhelum River is exposed. After that the visitors enter the shrine complex of Sheikh Ahmed Krem located exactly at Pir Gali, offer prayers, have a cup of tea with Sattu from Langar of the shrine and then again start their journey.
Apart from routine visit of tourists and visitors, on every Sunday the nature lovers of Poonch, Rajouri and Kashmir valley throng Pir Pass and Pir Marg for picnic purpose and convert this resort into a Mela.
Mr. G.T. Vegne in his travelogue Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu describes that two rounded hills, many hunderd feet higher than the pass rise on the right and left of it. The decent towards Kashmir which is very gentle commence immediately.
There are many references about Pir Panchal under the name of ‘Panchal’ in Mahabarta and other pre-historic books. However as per M.A. Stein, the commentator of Rajtrangni by Kalhana, the first reference about Pir Panchal or Panchala is available in the historic book ‘Sanayamatrika’ of Ksemendra, the ancient historian of Kashmir who named Pir Gali (Pass) as Panchal Dhara Matha. Stien identifies Panchal Dhara Matha with present Pir Gali (Pass) from where this mountainous series got its name. Dhara is equivalent to Pass and Matha means a Hindu religious place. Srivar, the author of Rajtrangni written in 15th century AD narrates in his book relating to the return of Kashmiri refugee by the route of Surapura (Hirpur) in the time of Sultan Hassan Shah (between 1472-84 AD) that he caught the fatal chill on the top of Panchal Deva. It is clear that the name Panchal Deva here corresponds exactly to the modern Pir Panchal or Pir Gali.
As per the legend popular at Pir Gali narrated by Abdhul Star Bhatt the Khidmatghar of the Shrine located there, there was a Hindu Faqir residing at Pir Pass and known for miracles. During his period Hazzrat Shah Hamdan along with his followers reached at Pir Gali while going to Kashmir. Hazarat shah Hamdan was impressed with the intellect of Hindu Faqir and offered him to embrace Islam. Faqir told that in that case he may be made immortal. Therefore the hermit changed his faith with Muslim name as Seikh Ahmed Karim. Hazzrat Shah Hamdan allowed him to live at Pir Pass and was also blessed by Hazart Shah Hamdan that after death, a shrine shall be constructed in his memory. He was also provided an attendant of Shopian. Therefore after death, he was buried at Pir Gali and Shrine was constructed there. Abdhul Satar Bhatt belongs to the family of the attendant who had served Sheikh Ahmed Karem. Presently, apart from Abdhul Satar Bhatt along with the family of Abdhul Quyem Naik of village Poshana are looking after the Shrine turn by turn. A kawah and Sattu langer is run by the committee of the Shrine at Pir Gali and dinner is also provided to those who stay in the Shrine Hut. There remain great hustle bustle during summer season. The revenue of Shrine goes up to Rs. four Lakhs per month after the opening of Mughal road. At present an attractive building of Shrine is under construction.
Pir Pass and Pir Marg was a famous resort and halting station during Mughal period (1586 to 1751 AD). They constructed Badshahi Sarai (Alia Bad Saria) at the end of Pir Marg for the convenience of royal Carvans. Emperor Akber, Jhangir and Shah Jhan had enjoyed the natural beauty of this resort while going to Kashmir or returning from the valley. After Mughals, Afgan captured Kashmir in 1751 and ruled up to 1819. Afgan administration of Kashmir closed Mughal road for defense purposes. Therefore in this period the Mughal road and the monuments constructed around Pir Gali started depleting. During Sikh and Dogra period no attention was paid towards this important route leading towards Kashmir Via Pir Gali.
On 26th November 2009, the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah inaugurated Mughal road and reached Pir Gali with the Carvans of 260 vehicles. In his historic speech Pir Gali he had said that after 400 years, again a ruler reached at Pir Gali. He assured the public that Pir Gali shall be converted into a modern tourist resort and made comfortable for tourist, visitors and this natural spot shall be converted into the carvans of tourist.
With the opening of Mughal road Pir Gali and Pir Marg got great importance from tourism point of view. There are number of natural resorts located around this resort valley of seven lakes like Nandan Sar, Chandan Sar, Bagh Sar, Sukh Sar, Neel Sar, Akal Dachani, Girjan Doke and Panj Tarni Marg on 14000 feet above the sea level are only 6 Kms away located in the south of Pir Gali. These natural resort are sufficient for the attraction of Indian and foreign tourists. The highest Tatta Kutti Peak of Pir Panchal, Ganga Peak, Sedhu Peak, Kag Allana Peak are also situated around Pir Gali which are ideal for trakkers and expeditions. Presently there is no accommodation facility for tourists at Pir Gali or Pir Marg. There is a need of establishment of tented colonies for tourist and trekkers during summer season. Pir Gali can easily be made base camp for expeditions and nature loving tourists provided some guest houses and tourist Sarias come up at Pir Pass and Pir Marg.