If you hear that the Jammu-Srinagar national highway is not a road but a horror, don’t take this to be an overstatement. Muster up the courage to undertake the journey, provided the highway is open, as it remains closed most of the time.
Built in 1926 by the erstwhile Dogra ruler Hari Singh for transporting him, his family and the royal court between Jammu and Kashmir’s winter and summer capitals, the over 300-km-long road is still one of the most treacherous in the world.
For those who live on the Valley’s side of the Jawahar Tunnel, built in the 1950s across the Pir Panjal Mountains, the highway is the lifeline for over 6.5 million people. All essential supplies, including grains, pulses, vegetables, mutton, poultry, petroleum products and medicines are brought to the landlocked Valley through this road.
The tragedy is that if it rains or snows, the road is closed due to landslides and when it is sunny, shooting stones threaten the lives of travellers.
Driving my own car, it took me 15 hours to my home in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, an arduous wait for my family, which kept calling on my cellphone, anxious about my welfare. On a clear day, the journey would have taken about eight hours.
The highway’s most treacherous portion is the 24-km stretch from Ramban town to Ramsoo village where landslides, shooting stones, slippery conditions and gushing seasonal streams threaten the traveller every inch of the way.
To add to the horror, the stretch has names those produce goose pimples.
The stretch between Ramban and Ramsoo has landslide sectors called “Khooni Nallah” (Stream of Blood), “Sher Bibi (Abode of the lioness), Panthal (Devil’s Overhang) and Magarkoot (Abode of Gorrilas), among others.
“During the last few years the mountain at Panthal used to cave in and slip down taking the road away. This year we have Sher Bibi where shooting stones hit the highway every minute,” an official engaged in maintenance work told IANS, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“You are fortunate to have passed Sher Bibi without a hit. The smaller shooting stone hits break your windshields and the bigger ones take you down the 400-foot deep gorge”, the official added.
This year, a 200-metre stretch of the road vanished at Magarkoot and the Border Roads Organization (BRO) has created a one-way pass on the debris of the half-cleared landslide.
From early 1960s till 1970s, the worst stretch of the road was “Nashri” (Place of Likely Destruction) ahead of Batote town in Doda district. Long stretches would slip down, blocking the highway for days and even months.
Massive afforestation and gentling of the steep slope had taken care of this once most dreaded stretch on this highway for many years.
The bad news is that this year, Nashri is back to its old tricks – the entire mountain side has come down along with all the good work the soil conservation authorities had done there.
Pine trees are today part of the landslide debris that lies on the two sides of the small stretch that has been cleared by the authorities to enable one-way traffic.
After you cross Nashri, 30 feet of road is nowhere to be seen ahead of Chanderkote.
Traffic police are regulating one-way traffic here after an earth mover filled the missing stretch with stones and earth.
“You have to redo the whole thing after 10 to 20 vehicles pass on this earth-filled portion as it sinks under their weight,” said the driver of the earthmover, who has been working for 10 hours without a break on Tuesday so that nearly 500 vehicles could pass.
“Authorities often say they have opened the highway for one-way traffic. The fact is the road remains closed even after the official declaration”, Abdul Rashid Baba, a tormented traveller on the highway, told IANS.
It had taken me 15 arduous hours to reach home. Everyone was thankful the journey had been completed without a mishap. After all, safely crossing Nashri, also referred to as the Devil’s Picnic Spot, was no mean achievement! (IANS)