The 84 KM Mughal road, which draws its importance from the pages of history, is fast emerging as a potent economic corridor between state’s major regions of Kashmir and Jammu.
The road connects Shopian district of South Kashmir with Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu division. First used by the Mughal rulers, the history of this route goes back to 431 years when in 1586 the Mughal army under the command of Qasim Khan entered the valley through this area.
In modern days, the idea of connecting the twin regions through this route was first tossed in 1978 but was soon abandoned for certain reasons.
After 23 years of huge gap it was in 2005, on the persistent demand of people of either side, the government determined to take up the revival of the project. The reconstruction was taken up under Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan by establishing two Mughal road divisions in Shopian and Bafliaz and the foundation stone was laid at Heerpura in Shopian and at Bafliaz in Poonch by the then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayed. The actual work was however started in Feb, 2006.
After toil of many years and innumerable halts & hiccups, it was only in July 2009 that Mughal road was opened for inspection by a standing committee of J&K legislative council. After incurring a whopping expenditure of Rs 640 crore, the road was finally thrown open for light vehicles in May 2012.
Over the years, the new road has not only enhanced the connectivity between be the two regions, particularly Kashmir valley and Rajouri-Poonch of Pir Panjal, but also ushered a new era of development for both the regions. The employment avenues in tourism industry, transport sector and business have increased manifolds.
To begin with, many roadside outlets including dhabas, tea stalls and hotels have already come up along the road. The business in terms of exchange of goods and services between the two regions has picked up considerably, which can go a long way in improving the economic status of people living across the two regions.
The historic road passes through dense forests of deodar, large stretches of lush green pastures. The highest pass enroute, at an altitude of 11500Ft (3505m) is Peer ki Gali, has a great potential if developed as winter resort like Gulmarg and Pahalgam. The historic sites of Sukh Sarai, Aliabad sarai, Behramgala and Noori Chamb provide apt sites for Heritage Tourism. Similarly Dheera ki Gali, Thana Mandi and Chingus could be developed as important tourist and business centres. In addition, Religious Tourism in the likes of shrine of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah(RA) at Shahdara Sharief and shrine of Hazrat Shiekh Ahmad Aziz (RA) at Peer ki Gali has huge potential for promotion. The area also presents ample opportunities in terms of Adventure Tourism like trekking, mountaineering and rock climbing.
To harness the huge tourism potential of the region, the state government has also recently approved the creation of Aharbal-Dubjian-Peer ki Gali Development Authority. The government looks forward to develop the places en-route, at par with other tourist places in the valley. Things are to be planned and implemented keeping in view the topography of the area, significance in-terms of tourism and trade, and aspirations of people living at the two ends of this historical corridor.
In addition to the huge potential in-terms of Tourism, enhanced trade links between two regions and providing an alternate route, the Mughal road has also for time immemorial served as safe passage for nomads and their livestock. In summer, hundreds of nomadic families are seen travelling from different areas of Rajouri and Poonch along with their livestock towards the high altitude grazing pastures in the valley. The development of mughal road has provided these nomadic families with an opportunity of ferrying their valuable livestock in trucks, thereby minimizing chances of any kind of mishap enroute.
Nonetheless, the road also encompasses different challenges and poses several difficulties for the Govt. The biggest challenge being faced is keeping the road open for the year round. As the road passes through the places witnessing heavy snowfall in the winter months, marked by heightened risk of avalanches and landslides, results in the closure of road for a minimum of 5 months. The stretch of 31 km from Dubjian to Chattapani area sees maximum erosion and loss of vast patches of road. Considerable damage and degradation is caused to the road in the winter months. The repair and maintenance work for the same costs Rs 10 crore besides entailing an expenditure of Rs.70-80 lakh for snow clearance annually.
To deal with various challenges visa –vie round the year connectivity, reducing the travel time, development of tourist places, the state Govt. has come up with several programmes and action plans. The proposed 7KM tunnel from Chattapani to Zazinar is one such way that can realize the twin benefits of reducing travel time along the route and help travelers skip the avalanche prone zones en-route. The proposal for the project has been approved by the Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways and the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDC) has already invited bids for preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the construction of passage way estimated to cost of Rs. 1200 crore.
Slope stabilization, another matter of concern along the route, is also being looked into. A project of Rs 200 crore has been proposed to deal with risk posed by land/mud slides, shooting stones as a result of heavy cutting of rocks along the route. The project would save a lot of yearly maintenance work and the expenditure incurred, which as per the official record is Rs 10 crore.
The author presently works as District Information Officer Rajouri.