The Mughal road to Srinagar

Muzaffar Bhat takes us along the route that Jahangir would have followed on his sojourns to his beloved destination, Kashmir

The Mughal road to Srinagar
A Mughal army under the command of Qasim Shah annexed Kashmir in 1586. This was the time when Akbar ruled the Empire. According to local historians of Kashmir, in November 1586, the last independent king of Kashmir was defeated by the Mughals in a fierce battle that took place around the Shopian area of South Kashmir. The Mughals did not rule Kashmir directly from Delhi, as it was part of the Kabul province until Shah Jahan became the ruler. During the reign of Shah Jahan, Kashmir became a separate province of the Mughal Empire, administered by a Governor.

Emperor Akbar visited the Kashmir valley for the first time during the summer of 1589 AD. Like so many others before and after him, he was mesmerised by the scenic beauty of the region. Successive Mughal emperors constructed many gardens around Srinagar and South Kashmir. The Shalimar and Nishat Bagh are but a few examples.

Aliabad Sarai

When Jahangir became Mughal emperor after the death of his father Akbar in 1605, he visited Kashmir several times. Kashmir became his favourite destination and almost every year during the summers he used to visit Kashmir along with his whole durbar and beloved Empress Noor Jahan. Jahangir, in fact, died in Kashmir while he was returning to Lahore from Srinagar. Jahangir is believed to have been a great lover of nature and the outdoors and during the summer months, Kashmir virtually became capital of his Mughal realm.

This precedent was, centuries later, followed by the Dogra rulers of Jammu, right from Gulab Singh to Hari Singh (1846 - 1947). Gulab Singh was Commander in Chief of the army of the Sikh kingdom of Punjab until 1846, when he sided with the British during the Anglo-Sikh war. It was in the same year that the British sold all Kashmir from Srinagar to Gilgit, Jammu, Aksai Chin and Ladakh to Gulab Singh for 75 lakhs of rupees (7.5 million). The Dogra rulers made Srinagar their capital city in summer (May to October) and Jammu in winter (November to April).

To this day, Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir has two capital cities. The Civil Secretariat operates from Srinagar and Jammu in the summer and winter months respectively.
There is a beautiful waterfall located adjacent to village Behramgala: Empress Noor Jahan used to bathe under the gushing waters here, and so they came to be known as Noori Chamb

Precedents live on in Kashmir, clearly!

The journey of Mughal rulers on their way to Kashmir used to start from Lahore – which was a regional headquarters of the Empire. The road through which Mughals traveled to Kashmir is still called the ‘Mughal road’. This is now a well-established road link which connects Srinagar with Poonch and Rajouri districts via Shopian. After begining their journey the entire Mughal caravan would pass through Gujrat (Punjab) , Kotla Arab Ali Khan, Bhimber, Jhangar, Nowshehra, Chingus, Rajouri, Thanamandi, Surankot, Bafliaz, Noori Chamb, Chandimarh, Poshana, Pir ki Gali, Shopian, Khampora Sarai and Srinagar.

After crossing Bhimber, Nowhshehra, the imperial caravan would stay at Chingus sarai. There used to be almost 3 dozen such sarais en-route Delhi, Lahore and Srinagar. When Jahangir died in Kashmir, while traveling back to Lahore, his intestines were removed and buried inside Chingus sarai on the advice of the royal Hakeem. This was done to prevent the body from getting decomposed. The dead-body was then embalmed and placed upon his elephant to ride into Delhi, creating the illusion that he was still alive – a subterfuge that helped prevent disorder during the transition to a new ruler. Noor Jahan herself accompanied the dead body.

From Rajouri and Thana Mandi Sarai onwards, the road is quite a zigzag affair and turns down to Surankot, which is a tehsil headquarters of the Poonch district. After 1947, Poonch was divided into two parts: one is under Indian administration and another one including Rawlakot, Mirpur is part of Azad Kashmir. After passing Surankot, the Mughal caravan used to cross via Bafliaz village, which is located on the banks of Poonch river. Surankot and Bafliaz are located under the foothills of the Pir Panchal mountains.

Before entering the Kashmir valley at the Pir Panchal pass, which is popularly called Pir ki Gali on the Mughal route, there is a beautiful waterfall located adjacent to village Behramgala. Empress Noor Jahan used to bathe under the gushing waters here, and so it came to be known as Noori Chamb. This waterfall is located about 45 km from Poonch city at an elevation of 3,480 meters. The mountain peaks around the Noori Chamb waterfall remain covered with snow throughout the year. There are beautiful forests of fir and deodars to be found in this area. The Poonch River also originates from the Pir Panchal mountains. The Lucksar and Kolsar alpine lakes are the main sources feeding the Noori Chamb waterfall. These high-altitude lakes are located at an elevation of around 3,900 meters above sea level.

According to the Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri when the Mughal caravan lead by Emperor Jahangir passed through various villages en-route to Srinagar, the local population used to celebrate this as an annual event. People would beat huge drums and raise slogans in favour of the Mughal ruler. This would even happen when some other top official from the Mughal empire would pass through this route. The Mughal caravan would be accompanied by local people under the command of Jagirdars of the area. Emperor Jahangir used to stay at an elevated place called Baradari, which was constructed at Chandimarh –located 2 km ahead of Noori Chamb on the way to Srinagar. After crossing Chandimarh, there is a beautiful village called Poshana. The Mughals had constructed a Sarai in this village, too. Due to its high-altitude location, people from Poshana live here during the summer months only: the entire area receives more than 8 feet of snow during winters. After the onset of winter, the people of Poshana migrate to Rajouri .

From Poshana, the imperial caravan used to cross the Pir Panchal pass (Pir ki Gali). There is a beautiful Mughal Sarai, the Aliabad Sarai, located just across Pir ki Gali. The ruins of the Sarai can still be found at Aliabad and people from Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir throng to this area for an outing during the summers. From Aliabad Sarai, it would take the Mughal caravan a day or two to reach Srinagar. Between the Aliabad Sarai and Srinagar, there is one more Sarai, located at Khampora village. The village itself is known as Khampora Sarai and is located around 16 km south of Srinagar. During Sikh the rule in Kashmir (1819 - 1846) this Sarai was used by the Sikh Army too. A Gurdwara was established in this village, which falls in central Kashmir’s Budgam district bordering the Pulwama and Shopian districts. There are many Sikh families who live in Khampora Sarai even today.

Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Srinagar based columnist and Social Activist