Ramban From past to present

K.D. Maini
Ramban district was carved out from district Doda on administrative grounds in April 2007. This district shares its boundaries with district Reasi, Udhampur, Anantnag and Kulgam. District Ramban  comprises of two tehsils Ramban and Banihal. The total area of the district is 1527.65 Sq Kms and the district is divided into 127 villages and 124 Panchayats. There are three important towns namely Ramban, Banihal and Ramsu.
As per censes 2001, the  total population of the district was 2.83 lakh souls out of which 2.70 lakh population was residing in the rural areas and 0.13 lakhs in urban areas. Literacy rate was 56.90%.  The terrain of the district is hilly, rough and mountainous. Pogal, Parstan are the inaccessible areas. The climate varies according to altitude.  The temperature arises as high as 420 in summer season in low lying areas like Ramban town and drops below zero in higher areas. The main attraction of the district is national highway which connects Jammu with Srinagar. 95 Kms national highway passes through the district.
As per C.E. Bats, the author of ‘The Gazetteer of Kashmir’, before the formation of the J&K State in 1846, there was a small village consisting of 15 houses on the right bank of Chaneb river.This cluster was known as Nashband (closed nose) and was having neither importance nor any attraction. On 16th March 1846 when Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu became the Maharaja of J&K State, he adopted Jammu, Udhampur, Banihal route to reach Srinagar for the movement of royal carvans. In this process, Nashband village got the status of  halting station for the royal Carvans. The Dogras constructed a pacca building near present Ramban and a wooden bridge for the crossing of Chenab River. After Gulab Singh, his son Ranbir Singh became the Maharaja of J&K in 1858 A.D. Once when he was halting at Nashband while going to Kashmir he changed the name of Nashband to Ramban and also started constructions for the movement of Dogra Carvans at this place. With the conversion of this village into a halting station the local traders of nearby areas and outsider started establishing their ventures in this village. The labour class of surrounding areas also settled at this place in search of employment.Therefore, the original village of 15 houses got importance and became the center of hustle and bustle. With the passage of time the name Ramban changed to Ramban.  C.E. Bats further writes that around 1860 Ramban was an important halting station between Batote and Banihal on the route leading towards Srinagar. The village with its fields and orchards is situated little above the river bank. The habitants were mostly Hindus with one or two Muslim families residing below the village. On the bank of river, there was a temple, a Baradari and substantial double storeyed bricks buildings.
Sukhdev Singh Chadak writes in his book ‘Maharaja Ranbir Singh’ that Maharaja passed order for a cart road from Jammu to Srinagar via Banihal and a suspension bridge over Chenab River at Ramban. This bridge was constructed by local engineers and used  the steel in its construction which was brought from the mines of Reasi areas and funds were provided for widening and repair of cart road. This route remains ‘Private road’ for long period and special permission of Maharaja was needed by travelers’ who desire to travel by this road. The bridge at Ramban on Jammu -Srinagar road was improved in 1879 to enable the loaded camels to cross the bridge. Nursing Dass Nargis writes in ‘Tehrik-e-Dogra  Desh’ that as per the Roze Namcha of Dewan Arjun Mal Gundyl,  in the last month of 1876, Maharaja Ranbir Singh had passed orders to Babu Campaswal for construction of Jammu Srinagar road. Immediately work was started with an estimated cost of one lakh rupees. Accordingly Tehsildar Badarwah Toder Mal was entrusted the work of construction of road from Batote to Ramban while Tehsildar Mean Indru was directed to construct the road from Ramban to Ramsu. From Ramsu onwards tehsildar Khawaja Mohd Joo was appointed incharge  of the road.  This  95 Kms long track was completed in 20000 rupees. Next year resident Sahib traveled via this road and reported to Maharaja Ranbir Singh that the road is fit for plying of carts. Maharaja was pleased on the construction of this road. During the rule of Maharaja Partap  Singh this road was maintained and improved while Maharaja Hari Singh converted this road for plying of light vehicles. After independence this road became national highway and now it is being converted into four lanes. With the development of this road, the halting station Ramban also developed a lot and now it has got the status of district headquarters.
In Ramban district, on the opposite side of Chanderkote across the river Chenab there is an important fort known as Gajpat Fort in Saraj area constructed by local Rajputs on the top of mountain to govern the whole mountainous range. There is a temple of Mahakali in Gajpat fort which is the center of devotion for the natives of Ramban. This temple has recently been renovated. It is said that once Sheikh Mohd Abdullah was kept imprisoned in this fort for few days. In 1825, Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu had  imprisoned Raja Sultan Khan of Bimbar in this fort. Sultan Khan died there and was buried at Chanderkote. It is said that a Hindu Shopkeeper who was a friend of Raja Sultan Khan had tried to construct a pacca tomb on the grave of Raja Sultan Khan. When Raja Gulab Singh came to know about this, he immediately directed the shopkeeper either to stop the work or he will be banished from this State. Therefore, the construction of memorial could not taken place. In 1858 Mean Hathu Singh, the Governor of Rajouri and a closed relatives of Maharaja had revolted against State Government and tried to kill Maharaja Ranbir Singh. Mean Hathu was arrested and shifted to Gajpat fort.
Raghunath temple of Ramban is one of the important religious places for Hindus while the Hindu population in almost every village of Ramban has to own Devta known as Kul Devta. Once in a year a yatra to the shrine of Raja Sankh Pal near Sardhar opposite Chenab on the east of Battote takes place in the month of July where there is a shrine of Sankhpal. In this Yatra, the devotees from the villages of Ramban took the procession of their Devtas up to the Shrine of Raja Sankhpal. It is believed that these Devtas from the various villages meet at the Shrine and bless the devotees.
Battote is a changed name of Batwat i.e. the place of Pandits. There are two important temples at Bettote constructed by Maharaja Partap Singh. After 1947 the Sikh refugee families had migrated to Bettote mostly from Poonch and Muzaffarabad. Two important Gurdwaras i.e. Gurdwara Singh Sabha and Gurdwara Bhai Rocha Singh have been constructed by the Sikhs in Bettote town. Gojri, Dogri, Pogli, Saraji, Prastani and Kashmiri is spoken by the habitants of the Ramban district, while Sikh families of Bettote are speaking Phari and Punjabi. Renowned political personality D.D Thakur  hailed from Pogal area of Ramban district.