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The land of eternal spring
As the hot summers scorch and sizzle Jammu region, Basantgarh – the land of eternal spring as the name suggests holds out with pleasant weather. Situated about one hundred kilometers to the north-east of the Udhampur district headquarters, Basantgarh welcomes a visitor with its lush green meadows, thick Pine, oak and Deodar forests. Here and there rhododendrons blossom adding colour and beauty to the region.
A Journey to Basantgarh can either be undertaken from Udhampur town or from historic town of Ramnagar. The majestic Palace Complex of Ramnagar along with the fort can be a perfect starting point to the expedition. As one travels from Ramnagar to Basantgarh a steep ascent marks the initial journey making even the powerful Sports Utility vehicles to grunt and thus puts them to true test against tall claims of their makers. Once the steep ascent is over a traveller is rewarded with the panoramic view of Ramnagar town, Ghordi Barmeen, Dalsar lake and Trikuta mountains in the distance from Tarmayan which has a temple dedicated to Naga cult in thick Pine(Chir) grove. The journey from Kulwanta to Basantgarh is marked by travelling through pine forest flourishing on the strikingly reddish soil!
As one ascends, the thick pine forest gives way to Banj Oak forest on both sides of the road at Kaitha and Keya villages. Even in peak summers, the shaded road is cool and has a soothing effect on the weary traveller. The thick forest full of broadleaf trees is known to be inhabited by leopards. Travelling a little ahead one encounters the first glimpse of the snow clad Seoj Dhar Mountain range in the distant horizon. From there on Basantgarh beckons the travellers to a memorable getaway. During monsoons the hills and valleys upto Basantgarh display myriad colours. While monsoon clouds cast their shadow on one valley, the nearby mountain is lit in sunlight. The contrast between dark green and light green landscape grips one’s imagination.
As one reaches Majouri, one can experience clear cut transition from hot and humid sub tropics to the cool and calming temperate zone. The pleasant change of environs can be best signified by the existence of Demonstration Trails of the Saffron ( Crocus Sativus) being run by the Department of Agriculture. From Majouri onwards starts a steep incline to the Gandh Top. Just prior to the Gandh Top is a hillock marked by a solitary Oak tree and ruins of an ancient temple. The statue of a goddess exquisitely carved in a black stone in Vardahasta Mudra lies on the ground surrounded by chiseled stones and pillars scattared all around the hillock. Some other carved but fragmented stone idols though not as fine as that of goddess are strewn around the mound. The mound needs to be excavated by Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I) so as to unearth the hidden heritage.
For a trekking enthusiast it would be better to trudge the nature’s trail up to Gandh Top which is covered by thick Deodars covering the ridgeline. Once the Top is reached a person is treated to a wonderful panoramic view of the Basantgarh with snow capped Seoj Dhar in the distance. Gandh Top has a ancient Naga Temple enclosed in a beautiful park developed by Patnitop Development Authority. The sun-setting in the west amidst red, orange and white clouds behind the mountains is picture perfect and remains etched in one’s mind for the rest of one’s life. A distinct ‘H’ on the ground marks the landing site for a helicopter which can be exploited for affluent tourists as well as during emergencies. The road from Gandh Top to Basantgarh offers a perfect off-roading experience.
Basantgarh true to its name is a land of eternal spring. The revenue records mention two interesting facts about Basantgarh. One that in local parlance, it was known as (Basar) which literally means (turmeric/yellow) in Dogri. According to another legend it was a small hill principality ruled by a hill raja called Basanta in whose name it was called Basantgarh. It is the headquarter of the Basantgarh Sub-division. Situated at the altitude of 2058 meters it is surrounded by mountains on all sides with thick deodar forests interspersed with meadows. The sun facing slopes have been turned into terraced fields.
Basantgarh has three historical sites of great significance. Just close to the Primary Health Centre is a rock sculpted relief depicting five Pandava brothers and their consort Drapaudi. The second lady depicted on the rock relief is Kunti, the mother of Pandvas. The attire of the ladies has greater similarity to the dresses worn in Chamba and Himachal region. The antiquity and other aspects of the beautifully covered rock relief need to be assessed by archeologists.
The second historical attraction is the fort of Basantgarh. Instead of a full fledged fort it was more of a border outpost of the Dogra rulers. The fort still has a surviving octagonal Bastion which is situated on a hillock. According to the people the earlier border outpost was set up by Bhadwals of Bhaddu and later one was established by Jamwals.
To the east the fort has Mang and Punara, heavily wooded mountains with snow clad Seoj Dhar in the north, Balota and Shiv Gali in the west and Basantgarh Valley consisting of Sia Mehri and Chakal in the south. There is a Kali Temple situated just at the base of the fort. There is a meadow at the base of the fort which is sometimes used as a helipad and affords a 360 degree view of the basantgarh. The hillock having fort is on the banks of a snow fed rivulet Mander which ultimately joins Ujj river. Every village in Basantgarh carries a peculiar name with a history attached to it. The village Rasli Gadheran means a village of nomadic Gaddi tribe. Similarly the village Rasli Thakrai mean land of Thakkars. Then there is a village of Sia Mehri named after two Gujjar women Sia and Mehri. Similarly village Khaned inhabited by kashmiri speaking people according to Wajah Tasmiya in original Record of Rights, ” is named after the presence and mining of coal”. However, villagers are of the view that instead of coal, iron ore was mined.
Another major attraction of Basantgarh is the ancient Naga temple situated on a hillock in a sacred grove of giant Deodars. Except the corrugated sheets on the sloping roof, the rest of the temple is made of wood panels which have been ornately carved with Naga motifs. Another panel shows Narsingha Avtar slaying the demon King. Surprisingly many a motifs match with the stone wall carvings of Jallandhara Devi temple of Laddan Kotli near Udhampur town – a fine example of Nagara style of temple building. A sacred water body at the base of hillock abounds with fish.
Basantgarh is at the confluence of three distinct cultural influences of Dogra culture, the predominantly Naga cult of Bhaderwah and the Kashmiri culture. Mountain passes like Chochru Gala have been facilitating not only influx of Bhaderwahi culture, dresses, basketry and Naga cult but also facilitated migration of Kashmiris whenever Kashmir valley experienced famines. River Ujj after emanating from Kailash Kund, a glacial lake in Seoj Dhar flows through Basantgarh. Interestingly Kailash Kund is considered to be the origin of river Tawi, Ujj and Neeru of Bhaderwah. The Dogras considered the glacial lake as the civilisational equal of Kailash Mansarover from where the mighty rivers Indus, Kali and Brahmaputra are thought to have emerged.
Basantgarh has huge potential in adventure, heritage and eco-tourism which needs to be tapped. As there is only one forest guest house which can cater to tourists, the Department of Tourism and Patnitop Development Authority can start with tented accommodation and encouraging locals to provide boarding and lodging through Home-Stay mode.
(The author is serving as Deputy Excise Commissioner)