Kishtwar: The land of Sapphire, Shrines and Saffron
Kishtwar was an independent hilly state during the medieval period. Maharaja Gulab Singh, the than Dogra ruler annexed it in 1821 AD and Kishtwar was carved out from the erstwhile district Doda during the year 2007-08 when the chief minister of J & K G.N Azad had taken a historic decision in July 2006 for the creation of this new mountainous district. It has the unique distinction of being the biggest district of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir spread upon 7737sq.kms. The plateau of Kishtwar is 5300 feet above Sea level and lies between 75 – 25° East longitude and 34 – 10° North latitude. It is 234km from Jammu and 280 kms from Kashmir valley.
The entire district is full of mountains, forest and hills. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists all reside here with amity and brotherhood. So Kishtwar represents a true picture of secularism and diversity of relegions. The district has its boundaries touching the valleys of Himachal in the south – east and Doda on south – west. It also shares the boundaries with Anantnag district. The population of the Kishtwar as per the 2011 census is 230,696 (male 120,165 and female 110,531) making it one of the least populous district of J & K UT. Kishtwar is home to people of diverse ethnic origin, ranging from Kashmiris, Paharis, Gujjar, Gaddi and Buddhists thus people here speak diverse languages too including Kashmiri or kashur, urdu, kishtwari, hindi, batli, paddri, phari, and gojjri.
Kishtwar is full of hidden charm, wonderful sites and spots, health resorts, tourist locations, famous historical and religious places, shrines and monuments. Some major valleys and tourist spots of Kishtwar are Sinthan top, Mughalmaidan, Saffron valley, Padder (Sapphire mines), Machail, Kishtwar National park, Dachhan, Marwah and Warwan valley. These are very beautiful places to visit and one can easily fall in love with the natural beauty of Kishtwar.
In the center of the Kishtwar is Chowgan having a big play ground and immense grazing fields known as Chowgan. Its area is about 520 Kanals or 165 Acres and is surrounded by Chinard, Deodar and different kinds of trees. It is the main attraction in the Kishtwar district. On its North there is a big temple called Gori ShankerMandir and around south a Muslim shrine famous as Asrar-Ud-Din- Bagdadi shrine.
Its ancient name is Goverdhansar which was a beautiful lake in the olden days, but with time all of its water drained out. This ground is now developed on modern lines with lights and different types of flowers all around it. All live stock of Kishtwar area depends much on this ground and its surrounding areas. Its herbs and grass is very nutritious and useful for animals. Maximum numbers of people go on their walks here. Around 1500 meters away from the main bus stand of Kishtwar, this place has all sorts of transport facilities and touches Dak Bungalow, Kuleed from its right side and Bun Astan, Matta and Sarkoot on its left.
Qila Top is 1.5Km from Main Bus stand, near the shrine of Shah Faridud Din (RA) on a hillock where a fort and palace exited during the rule of the Raja’s of Kishtwar. As the Sikhs took possession of Kishtwar, it was razed to ground and with the passage of time the Palace and fort became ruins except the throne made of Stone that still hints at the old magnificence of the fort.
The picnic spot of Bharnoin is located in Pochhal village, 3 kilometers away from Kishtwar town and is known for its eye-captivating beauty. The place is situated in a forest area with conifers like deodar and kale trees. People often visit the place and enjoy the natural beauty here and the cool, calm and pollution free ambience here. The whole area is, indeed, full of mesmerizing beauty.
Saffron fields (Pochall) of Kishtwar located mainly in Pochhal, Hatta, Bera-Bhatta, Matta and Berwar villages nearby Kishtwar town are yet another huge attraction here. Saffron flowers are in full blossom in the months of October and November every year and these are the times when it is best to pay a visit here. The view of purple colored Saffron flowers spreads like a blanket over the fields and the fragrance scattered by this blossom in the atmosphere gives a heavenly touch to the environment. Early In the morning, before sun rise, women folk, men and children in their colorful attires go to the saffron fields for plucking flowers and it is a great joy for them.
Bandarkoot is situated at a distance of about 12 Kms from kishtwar town. A big mela is held here on Baisakhi every year. After a dip in the ‘Sangam’, the visitors pay their obeisance to the two most revered religious places, the Astaan of ‘Shah Zain-ud-Din‘ on the left side of Chanderbhaga, and the ancient ‘Neelgangeshwar’ pond and other temples on the right bank of the river. These two places of religious importance attract thousands of pilgrims not only on Baisakhi but around the year.
Mughalmaidan is anotherhuge attraction in the district and is about 24 km from kishtwar on the bank of chatroo river. The place is being developed as tourist spot. Chatroo River is known for rearing ‘Trout’ fish. Therefore the fisheries Department of Jammu and Kashmir had established a ‘Fish-Hatchery’ here and constructed some buildings. Fish trade, if promoted, will raise the economic standard of the people.
From Chingam onwards, we find an ascending road amidst zigzag curves and forest area leading to a beautiful spot which is known as Sinthanmaidan- 60 kms away from kishtwar. The alpine pastures of this place possess matchless natural beauty and the cool and salubrious climate of the place has a refreshing effect on the tourists. 24 kilometers ahead of SinthanMaidan is the Sinthan Top. Here we find unending slopes and plain meadows on the foot of the Sinthan-top. The place is ideal for games like Para-gliding, horse riding, rock climbing and winter games like skiing, skating, ice hockey etc.
Kishtwar high altitude national park is a beautiful place which was majorly founded to protect the Snow Leopards that are now slowly vanishing. This park is situated at a distance of 40 kms from the Town of the Kishtwar.
More for the pilgrimage tourism, just 2 Kms from Main Bus Stand on the South Eastern corner of Chowgan is the famous shrine of Shah Asrarud Din (RA). About him it is said that he was a born Saint (Wali) and began to talk soon after his birth. Besides this, there is shrine of Shah Faridud Din Bagdadi (RA), around 1.5Kms from Main Bus stand. The high spirituality status of Shah sb. and the miracles done by him impressed everyone including Raja Jai Singh during whose rein the saint came here and since his passing away, an annual Urs is celebrated here.
The Jamia Masjid of Kishtwar is the biggest and the towering Masjid in the heart of the town. It is located just near the bus stand. Its foundation was laid by Shah Akhyarud Din (RA) about 110 years ago. This is the biggest masjid of Kishtwar and can accommodate about 5000 people at a time.
Gori Shankar Mandir- an old and historic temple of Shiva and Parvati situated at corner of Chowgan is famous among Hindus. It was originally a heritage place of a great saint Shri Paul on whose memory this place was named as shrikut and now sarkoot. The mandir is base of all prominent pilgrimages and festivals celebrate like Janmashtami, Ramnavami, Machailyatra, Sarthalyatra. There are other places of great significance here including Neel Khanth Mahadev Mandir believed to be built in 1629 AD by Jagat Singh. A rare Lingam was placed in this temple which is said to be the family Idol of Kings of Kishtwar. Its colour resembled Sapphire. Later it was taken to Basohli by the orders of Kings of Basholi.
There are several other picnic spots like HarGaddi, Tel Mochay, GodreshNaag, GaliGaad, on Sarthal road, Dool Dam, Kalamsater, VimalNaag, Singpora and various other fascinating and eye – captivating places in Kishtwar. You can enjoy the real charm of natural beauty here.
The author hails from Kishtwar and can be reached at [email protected]