J&K opening gradually for tourism: Secy
Srinagar, Sept 29: Secretary Tourism, Sarmad Hafeez, Tuesday reviewed the functioning of Tourism Department in a meeting of officers here.
Addressing the meeting, Sarmad Hafeez asked the department to make all arrangements for the coming seasons as tourism is gradually being opened all across with all COVID protocols and precautions. He said the world has now realized to live with COVID and all activities are being planned accordingly. He said the need has been felt of practising responsible tourism in view of COVID pandemic and efforts should be made in the direction.
The Tourism Secretary asked the department to prepare a calendar of activities for the coming seasons with specific themes and projections. He said Jammu & Kashmir has the uniqueness of one-stop destination that it presents a unique bouquet of activities and destinations to tourists all around the year. This uniqueness, he added, should be properly marketed in the tourism market for which he asked the department to make all efforts.
Sarmad Hafeez said as the tourism stakeholders have suffered hugely due to COVID pandemic and the department appreciates their concerns in this regard. He stressed the need for better and close coordination between the Department and the stakeholders by which the sector would be taken out of this situation.
The Tourism Secretary took a sector-wise review of Registration, Publicity, Recreation, Estates, Works sections and stressed on capacity building of available manpower in the Department and in the tourism sector.
Earlier, Director, Tourism, Kashmir, Nisar Ahmad Wani gave a detailed overview of the activities of the Department during the last two years through a PowerPoint presentation. He said the department is in the process of formulating an activity calendar for the coming seasons. He said the Department so far has disbursed COVID relief among more than 11,000 tourism stakeholders including Shikarawalas, ponywallas, tourist guides, sledgewallas etc. and cases of many more are in pipeline.
Joint Director, Tourism, Kashmir, Tabassum Shafat Kamili and other senior officers of the Department were present in the meeting.
Mahoor’s hiking expeditions connect people to their past
Passion with a purpose
Mahoor Shaw, a jewellery designer and a passionate hiker, curates heritage walks for history buffs and travel enthusiasts.
Twenty-seven-year-old, Mahoor is not just enthusiastic about hiking but has a purpose. She wants to acquaint people with their forgotten past.
“I have been a history lover since my childhood, and it is my passion to visit historical spots that is why I started these heritage walks,” says Mahoor. “First I curated the walks for my family and friends, which later motivated me to start group tours.”
Mahoor says though she started organising heritage walks in 2019 but her tour and travel registration is still pending.
A BBA graduate from the University of Kashmir with two fellowships, the Young India Fellowship and Naropa Fellowship, Mahoor is fulfilling her dream of being a travel lover by making it a small private organisation. This independent organization of hers is drawing in an ever-increasing number of clients due to its fun and historical visits. The clients are both from Kashmir as well as from outside.
She uses social media, particularly Instagram, to publicise these history expeditions and also organises all the arrangements online through her Instagram page, which goes by the name of “The Whirling Zoon”.
“I picked this graceful name since I am a drifter, and in my friend circle, I am known as Zoon (which implies moon in Kashmiri),” she says.
Hailing from downtown Srinagar, Mahoor never thought a lot about society with regard to her enthusiasm and vocation. With full family support, she figured out how to follow her energy.
“My family is always supportive and they never stop me from following my interests. I started cycling when I was a child and used to go freely around the city,” she says.
“I love to trek and travel a lot, eat traditional food; and all that which is related to our culture is of high value to me.”
The Whirling Zoon coordinates hikes and visits to the various historical spots, but each group has a limit of 15 individuals so that each interested person is connected and gets the attention of the organisers. Mahoor does everything by herself, from administration to guiding the trekkers.
The specific rules are followed while taking individuals on hikes and walks. Protocols such as what shoes to wear and what things to carry so that trekking is hassle-free are strictly followed.
So far, Mahoor has organised trips to Buddhist Monastery Harwan, and mountain treks to Srinagar outskirts, besides various craft visits, where it was a unique learning experience about weaving and weavers for the visitors.
The first nature walk was open to all. About 40 individuals joined the group where the oldest one was 56 years old and the youngest one was 14.
“People from different areas and backgrounds show their interest to join our walks. They want to explore more. They want to be part of such trips,” she says.
“I make it a point to familiarize all the trekkers with our traditional food that is generally served in earthenware.”
The word about ‘The Whirling Zoon’ expeditions has reached quite far. Mahoor even had some clients from Bangalore, who wanted a curated tour of Mughal Gardens.
The upcoming heritage walks would be in South Kashmir, which would be informed through ‘The Whirling Zoon’ Instagram handle. Besides, the visit to various craft centres to make them meet craftsmen, are also in pipeline.
“People get to know one another and share numerous contemplations about anything and everything. It is actually an incredible experience to meet and interact with people coming from different cultures and interests,” says Mahoor.
“Young ladies are cheerfully being a part of it and their folks are likewise permitting them, after posing me few enquiries about the visit and hikes,” she adds.
Mahoor charges a nominal fee from the trekkers so that she could manage the affairs.
“Initially, there were no charges. However, presently, we charge some fees so that we could manage the operations. However, for the students, the fee is minimum,” she says.
Mahoor is also a professional jewellery designer. She manages her business of Jewellery on the online platform, Instagram, by the name ‘Imroz Kashmir’.
“I balance both my passion and profession,” says Mahoor.
The hikes she organises are about knowing the society and culture of Kashmir. Mahoor was planning for an overnight shift as well but, it has not been possible as yet for “The Whirling Zoon”.
“I maintain that people should know their own region, Kashmir has many historical spots, reach out to the local community and know about their lives, we ought to accomplish something which is really great for local people and furthermore, which does not hurt environment too,” she says.
People should follow their enthusiasm and attempt to make something out of it. She encourages all the young explorers, particularly females, to follow their passion and dreams.
“I maintain that an ever-increasing number of people should follow their passion and should not be bothered about negativity,” says Mahoor.
“Live your life, regardless of assuming that you won’t succeed, keep attempting till you reach your goals,” with this advice to her peers, Mahoor signs off.
Welcome to J&K
Increasing tourist inflow promise for economic revival
That more than 72 lakh tourists have visited Jammu and Kashmir since September 2021, according to the Union Tourism Ministry figures, offers a good sign of revival of the UT’s tourism sector which has seen a lot of turbulence in the past. Of these 72 lakh tourists, at least 1.45 lakh have visited the Union Territory in December 2021 alone. This good inflow of visitors comes at a time when the J&K UT, like other parts of the country, has seen recurring waves of the Covid19 pandemic which, among other sectors, badly hit the tourism sector which is considered to be an important area vis-à-vis economy of the UT.
There is no denying the fact that the tourism sector holds a great promise for uplifting the UT’s economy. But that’s only if all stakeholders get serious to realise this goal. It is important that all the stakeholders—government, local tourism players, tourism department, and other concerned members of the civil society—put their heads together and contribute to realizing this goal in a mission mode.
The Central government as well as the UT administration has already underlined its focus on the revival of tourism in Jammu and Kashmir. The government last year announced what it called a “stimulus package” which included an economic package related to the travel and tourism sectors with the larger goal of giving a boost to the UT’s economy. The said stimulus package offers small loans of Rs 10 lakh to travel and tourism stakeholders and Rs 1 lakh each to registered tourism guides for the next five years to undertake their respective activities under the scheme whose validity has been extended till the March of next year. Such a package can certainly help boost the small-time tourism stakeholders who have borne the maximum brunt of the pandemic as well as other turbulences in the Valley including the devastating floods of 2014.
There is no denying the fact that the tourism sector holds a great promise for uplifting J&K’s economy. But that’s only if all stakeholders get serious to realise this goal. It is important that all the stakeholders – government, local tourism players, tourism department, and other concerned members of the civil society – put their heads together and contribute to realizing this goal in a mission mode.
Local tourism players, as well as the UT’s Tourism Department, have a great role to play in ensuring fair practices for a lasting impression among the visitors to different parts of the UT. Even a small bad incident of fleecing of tourists will cause a dent to the tourism sector and its image.
Indeed, peace and tranquillity are important for the tourism sector to flourish in any place in the world, but it won’t be an exaggeration to say that unless and until all tourism stakeholders join hands with a sense of great seriousness, merely citing the tourist inflow figures won’t help in achieving the larger goal of turning the tourism sector to drive the UT’s economic transformation. Local tourism players, as well as the UT’s Tourism Department, have a great role to play in ensuring fair practices for a lasting impression among the visitors to different parts of the UT. Even a small bad incident of fleecing of tourists will cause a dent to the tourism sector and its image.
Moreover, there must also be a great focus of the government to not only explore new tourist destinations in areas of adventure, pilgrimage, destination and sightseeing tourism arenas but also develop the present tourism destinations on modern lines for high-end tourists as per the international hospitality standards. Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other tourism destinations are in great need of revival on several fronts. Unplanned and haphazard constructions taking place in these beautiful tourist places can not only contribute to their ugly looks, it would also cause lots of problems in future vis-à-vis their planning, development and expansion. In this context, it is important for Tourism Development Authorities to step up their vigil of the tourism destinations under their jurisdiction to check these unplanned constructions for the sake of the future of tourism stakeholders in the UT.
Regulating the inflow of vehicles into green spaces in tourist places must also be a priority for the concerned authorities, especially in famed places like Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam—as well as important tourism destinations in the Jammu province—to secure these places in all respects in line with the requirements of their environmental settings.
All stakeholders are duty-bound to contribute to strengthening and developing the tourism sector for it to flourish and progress in a planned and futuristic manner.
Mohu Valley: The unexplored paradise
Surrounded by a chain of mountains studded with lofty glacial peaks, scenic Mohu Valley is spread across several kilometres in the Pir Panjal range of the Jammu division. The mountain range between Sondir Top and Huen Heng separates Mohu valley from Kashmir. Syed Aamir Sharief Qadri takes us on the tour of this unexplored valley, which has tremendous potential for tourism
Text and Photos By Syed Aamir Sharief Qadri
Last year, an expedition was conducted to conquer two virgin peaks of south Kashmir: Huen Heng and Sondir Top or Pari Top in Noorabad tehsil of Kulgam district. A group of 10 trekkers belonging to different districts of Kashmir took part in the event organised by the hiking and trekking club, Glacial Trails.
The trip was planned in such a way that it was already decided how and when things will happen. The itinerary of the trip was: To spend the first night at Posh Pathri, a fine-looking and serene place near Dandward, Noorabad. The next day, the team was instructed to summit the two peaks in a day-long hike. Then at Badi Behek, the camp was set up to spend the second night there. The first half of the third day passed by playing few games like Cricket, Frisbee, Cards, etc. After preparing the meal for lunch at the river end, we put off our clothes to jump into the water. The ice-cold water of the river helped us to get some relief from heatwaves.
After lunch, departure was due. We just packed up and left for home. That is how the whole event got a concrete shape. As mountaineering being the primary activity, the GTians successfully summit the two nearby mountain peaks. While reaching the top of one such mountain, to our surprise, we had glimpses of a beautiful valley at the bottom on the other side of the mountain range. The scenic beauty was luring us towards itself, but the tired legs do not allow us to move forward. The team was not in a position to climb huge mountains and proceed further and visit this valley after a heavy trekking day. So, we decided to retreat but vowed to come back again next summer.
Back to Base Camp
All the way, while descending from the peak, we were thinking about this place. We were not sure about the nature and environment of this place. As of now, we only know that it looked beautiful from the top of the mountain and nothing else. Neither we knew the name of this place nor its geographical location. We heard some locals gossiping and whispering about the place called Mohu. We didn’t pay heed to their talks, and neither tried to enquire about the place. By then, the team was completely exhausted and not in a mood to initiate new dialogue. We were in a hurry to reach the campsite as soon as possible.
When the trip was over, and we all reached home safely, the first thing I did was put my phone on charging mode, and then I took a bath and changed my clothes. Silently I moved to my room with a cup of refreshing tea and put it next to the phone on my desk. The word Mohu that I heard from the people whom we met while coming back from the mountain was still making rounds in my mind.
After unlocking my cell, I directly went to open the Google app on my phone and typed a single word, Mohu. Without checking any other apps to know whether there might be some important calls, texts or emails that need immediate attention as I was out of the network area for several days. Whatever, I was least concerned about these things. The first thing I wanted to do was relax my brain by searching for answers to the questions that it raised to make me uncomfortable while roaming for days in the upper reaches of the Pir Panjal range.
I spend quite a good time surfing the internet to know the whereabouts of the place. Finally, I came to the conclusion, that the people were talking about the famous Mohu Valley. Former CM of J&K, Ghulam Nabi Azad, promised to bring this place under the tourism map, perhaps in 2014. He also compared the Mohu Valley with Gulmarg. To what extent Ghulam Nabi Azad, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was right about his claims. I just wanted to check it out. I opened my diary, in which I mention the trekking expeditions. Those, I have completed in the past years, as well as, the ones, I plan to undertake in future. Initially, I put this place at No. 10 in the long list of future expeditions, but shortly I changed my mind and put it at No. 1. Just wait, I will tell you why?
The House of Sufis
The reason being, I was feeling emotional about it, as this place is much discussed in our house. Let me tell you, I belong to a family of Sufis. My ancestors were ardent followers of Qadri Silsilah. They had adopted some traditions associated with the Rishi sect – simple food and dress, wandering from place to place to spread the spiritual light of Islam. For spiritual wellbeing, they meditated in caves for a long time. In this way, they became famous by the name of ‘Gofi Pir’ (Cave Dwellers). They were well versed in Arabic and Persian languages. Many of their manuscripts are preserved to this day.
One of my ancestors Syed Hussain Qadri is known for building mosques in Mohu and adjoining areas, such as Komla, Baidjahalan, etc. It is said that a century ago, he build a Mosque at Mohu, and attached a Hamam to it, the first of its kind in the area. There is a shrine at a place near Mohu called Bawa, where one of my ancestors is buried. People often go there to offer nazar-o-niyaz and tie ritualistic threads, locally called Dachi. In fact, the whole region from Nachlana (Banihal) to Mohu valley, consisting of about fifty villages, was their spiritual territory. They played a key role in the socio-religious transformation of the region. Well, this is another important reason for my interest in the region.
This year at the beginning of the spring season, the team GT visited several new treks and continues so as per the calendar. The Mohu Valley trek was among the unfinished tasks, which was successfully completed. Let us talk about this tour in detail.
Tour De Mohu Valley
It has been four years now when I first planned to visit the land that belongs to my ancestors. I was happy and a little bit worried, as this was going to happen in an unplanned way. Instead of the club, my father was going to accompany me, as it was at his call that I agreed to go along.
A day before, my dad received a phone call from one of his Murids (disciples) named Mohammad Ishaq from Ahama, a village near Khari tehsil in the Ramban district. The conversation was short and ended up with some promising message. When he hung up the phone, I just started inquiring about things. I raised my eyebrows and surprisingly looked at his face to which he responded: ‘His condition is deteriorating day by day and was hospitalized many times. He has been ill for a long time and wants to see me urgently.’ He cut it short and repeated one single word many a time- ‘I have to go, have to go…’
‘Who? What happened? Is everything ok, Dad?’ Surprisingly in a single sentence, I asked him many questions. This time he answered furiously in a loud angry voice- ‘Gafar Kak chu Bemar’. Hearing this name, I felt flat and stopped annoying my father anymore. Gafar Kak is not an ordinary disciple of my father. He is murid-e-khass, more than a murid a dearest friend.
The next day we left home early morning, crossed a new road tunnel that has been opened on a trial basis and reached Banihal at noon. There he was, Shakeel Ahmad, standing and waiting to welcome us since morning. Shakeel was directed from home to receive Pir Sahab in a proper way. So he did the same by offering us tea with snacks in a nearby tea stall. In this way, he got some time to book a cab for us. After having some refreshment, we got into the cab and left towards our destination. The driver drove his vehicle fast on NH44 and covered a distance of 11 km to reach a place called Nachlana. At this point, the driver took a right turn crossed a bridge to join a link road. The Mohu valley is about 30 km away from this place.
The narrow road with potholes limited the speed of the vehicle. Moving at a snail’s pace, we got a chance to enjoy the surrounding beauty that fuelled my exhausted soul as we moved on and on. Amid lofty green mountains, parallel to a gushing river, passing by a zigzag road, we left behind some villages to reach a small town called Khari, which is a tehsil headquarter. We were about to reach the place from where my dad had received the telephone call about Gafar Kaka’s illness. Ahama is just two and a half km away from Khari.
As soon as we came out of the cab and set foot on the road, people surrounded us from all sides. Warmly welcomed with proper greetings, people waited for their turn to shake hands with Pir Sahab. With the exchange of hugs and smiles, we found a small gap to move down the lane, as we had to cover a distance of about fifty meters to reach the right place.
Finally, we reached the door that was waiting for Pir Sahib’s arrival for many years. On bent knees, while untying my shoelaces, I saw a long white-bearded person struggling to get out of a comforter with the support of a wall in a room on the left side of the corridor. With shaky legs, he was walking towards us. I just moved forward to give support to his frail body. To my surprise, he was Gafar Kak, who used to come to our home frequently in the heydays of his life. Oh God, this man is completely different Gafar Kak from the one I know. As he approached to hug me, I opened my arms to give him a chance to win the moment. With moist eyes, he moved one more step to embrace my father. That emotional moment — when hearts speak to mute lips — made me understand what a true relationship between a Pir and a Murid is like.
Then we interacted with other family members too. The family hosted us for two days and two nights, during which I got a chance to know much about their culture, tradition, folklore, etc.
The next morning, I took a shower, had breakfast and was ready to start my journey as a solo trekker. I decided to convey my decision to the host family. When I tried to move my lips, Shakeel felt the pulse and interrupted: ‘I won’t let you visit the area alone, I will accompany you.’ Without saying anything, I simply gave in. As I too wanted that someone should give me company, and function as a trekking guide for me to explore more and more meadows and valleys.
The bright sunshine and slanting rays of the sun welcomed the duo as we left home. We walked more than a mile to reach a place called Kawna, where we picked up a sumo taxi to reach the Mohu valley. Yesterday we covered two-third of the distance, and the remaining one-third of about 12 km took us one hour more to reach there. The real adventure began here as the forest cover got denser and denser. We were moving up gradually when close to our last stop. Finally, we were at the famous Mohu valley.
The Famous Mohu Valley
Geographically Mohu is a sub valley and forms a part of the Pir Panjal mountain range. A portion of the Jammu division, Mohu valley is situated in Khari tehsil of Ramban district. It is accessible through a motorable road at a distance of about 40 km and 80 km from Banihal and Ramban, respectively.
Mohu valley also shares its border with the Kulgam district of Kashmir valley. The mountain range between Sondir Top and Huen Heng separates Mohu valley from Kashmir valley. The Mohu is a small valley surrounded by a chain of mountains studded with lofty glacial peaks. The green patch of land in between mountains is spread across several kilometres. In this stretch, one can find numerous meadows such as Trajbal, Dubdalow, Gudberan, Achan, and Rattan. The three important peaks that can be reached from Mohu include- Angrez Thumb peak, Huen Heng peak and Sondir Top peak. Mohu valley is an ideal place for camping, trekking and mountaineering.
The Vale under Keen Observation
My primary aim was to explore the Mohu valley to see whether this place is fit for adventure activities. That is why I was keenly observing what comes my way. Be it houses, marketplaces, people, etc. I didn’t miss anything. As we were walking side by side in the narrow lanes to buy some eatables, my eyes got stuck to one thing- the similarity in shops that were made of wood, stones and mud. Such shops were a common sight in rural Kashmir before the 90s. I was listening calmly, while Shakeel was briefing me about this place and its people, known for their hospitality.
Meanwhile, Shakeel took me inside one such shop and ordered tea for us. There are no signboards outside the shops to give you an idea, where you are. Within five minutes the waiter served us my favourite ‘Chai with Samosa’. A person sitting next to me on my right side spoke ‘Kyasa heor cha khaseun’. I didn’t answer his question, instead looked straight into his eyes! The second question he asked ‘Poech kati rozaan’. Again I didn’t respond. But Shakeel being my voice answered all his questions.
Later I came to know the people of Mohu speak pure Kashmiri as their contacts are strong with the people of the Kashmir valley. The village was recently connected with the world through a motorable road. The people in this region basically speak the Pahari language. They also have a good command of other languages spoken in their neighbourhood such as Pogli, Kashmiri, Urdu, etc.
Explore the Unexplored
With a shimmering sun above us, we crossed a small stream and started our uphill trek. We traversed a treeline and entered a long green meadow called Trajbal. My friend cum guide moved his index finger towards a field in the middle of the meadow and said ‘Here is the famous cricket stadium of Mohu valley’. The journey gave us a chance to know one another in a better way and helped us to speak our hearts out by sharing interesting stories about our personal lives. We ascended around 800 ft to be greeted with a beautiful view of Mohu valley from a meadow called Dubdalow. At the top, we stopped, settled down and unzipped our bags. We ate snacks along with cold drinks and got going.
Up to now, we had gained much elevation, now descending towards Achan, a place where you can find a beautiful natural cascade. After quenching our thirst with the icy water, we filled our empty bottles for future use. We also found some glaciers still intact but melting very fast as the temperature was soaring, day by day. Again, through the woods and green trails, I increased my pace to catch up with my leader, who was walking fast to reach the last meadow of this place. At the close of the day, we reached the green pastures of Rattan that surprised us with their mesmerizing beauty. By following a different route that runs parallel to the river, we reached back to the same place and same tea stall from where we had started the journey in the morning. In this way, the daylong trek ended.
At last, Shakeel asked me a question. Aamir Bhai, Aap itna kaise chal sakhte ho?
To which I replied- ‘Don’t underestimate the power of a common man.’ Then we burst out laughing and the sound was absorbed by the surrounding mountains to witness our friendship.
Usually, I fell in love with a place that is abundant in scenic beauty, full of streams, springs and rivers, meadows and pastures, cascades and waterfalls, lush green mountains with glacial peaks, a thick forest cover with a unique fragrance of wild plants, flowers and trees. In fact, I found all these things here at Mohu valley. After visiting this place from two different routes I came to the conclusion, that Ghulam Nabi Azad was partially correct in his claim when he compared Mohu with Gulmarg. Though there are many similarities between the two, but the abundance of water resources at Mohu give it an edge over the other. The Mohu fits well in between Gulmarg and Pahalgam – though closer to later.
For the convenience of trekkers, let me introduce some important trekking routes that lie between Khari tehsil and Mohu valley.
- Khari- Kawna- Buzla- Pathalan- Reloyd*- Angrez Thamb (peak)
- Mohu- Dubdalow*- Pathalan- Reloyd*- Nawan*- Angrez Thamb- Aramnakh- Damantrag- Sarketha Top- Bolna Top
- Khari- Seran- Lablootha- Bolna Top*- Sheeshi*- Sarketha Top*- Damantrag*
- Mohu- Mangith*- Banihal
- Khari- Ahama- Aramnakh*- Damantrag*
- Mohu- Huen Heng- Nuss Pather*- Hum Pather* (Kulgam)
- Gool Gulabgad*- Angrez Thamb- Mohu- Reloyd
- Mohu- Sondir Top- Yadi Pather*- Badi Behek*- Posh Pather* (Kulgam)
* Represents beautiful places, meadows and campsites
Syed Aamir Sharief Qadri is the founder of the trekking and hiking club, Glacial Trails. The club conducts round the year trekking, hiking and mountaineering expeditions in Kashmir valley. For more than thirteen years, through extensive tours and travels, he has also discovered a few alpine lakes and meadows in Kashmir. And regularly, through his write-ups published in different newspapers, penned down each and everything about these places. Every year the club explores a number of trekking routes that lead to unveiling the hidden places of Kashmir.
A poet and writer, the author has done his MA in History from the University of Kashmir and MPhil from Punjabi University Patiala. Presently, he is a freelance columnist with a number of leading publications of J&K. You can contact him at email@example.com
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