Barri Rakh stands out here like a camel hump with vegetation and woods that are lovely, dark and deep but once a dangerous habitat!
It has a great calming influence on restive minds because of the presence of so many legendary places with the shrine of Pir Chottay Shah standing out.
Below the massive hump is a beautiful Zairat of Sakhi Pir Chottay shah and ahead alongside the river there is a road that moves to Balnoi and far in the distance on the sky line are the mountains which are far away from the LOC.
All in all a lovely scenery, rich in greenery and magnificence with expansive tracts that people use for cultivation through which the meandering River Mendhar flows .
It’s an ideal place for the romantics who can sit and draft out some epic poetry as the poets of the renaissance period in English literature did, because everything can be composed here in form of ballads since sagas of bravery are far too many, odes if you are in a bit melancholic mood and romance if you are in mirthful mood as great Willam Wordsworth used to find himself as he moved along the brooks and streams. Indeed a great place yet to be fully exploited for the people to come and enjoy themselves!
Generally the people who visit this place and in particular those who are permanent residents of the place do say that we tend to think of Barri Rakh landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But these are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places retreating to most often when we are most remote from them are among the most important landscapes we possess. This one indeed is one because it cannot be defined as the words run out! So in one word yet again awesome!
The Rakh in its fold has the Zairat of Sakhi Peer Chotay Shah and the legendary Ram kund temple along with many legends associated with the place. There are also the ruins of Pandava Mahal associated with the epic Mahabharata.
There is a mysterious aura about the place also and the locals do say that if you are alone you will invariably lose yourself since the vegetation is so thick and if you are a buddy pair then better move close to each other. People have had the experience of that.
There is a creepy feeling you get as you walk towards this Barri Rakh. I have noticed in traveling how lonely this place is and it changes its expressions, as you come nearer to it and then move inside the jungles, pass them, and finally leave it. An encounter with a wild animal cannot be ruled out and long back in seventies of the last century, after the Indo-Pak war people specially from Poonch used to come here for hunting and the locals used to feel very excited about it. But then came the outrage of terrorists and everything got devastated and thus no one came here.
I. A safe home for terrorists:
The place if you analyze is forested and thickly vegetated and thus is a safe place for making hideouts or transit points and hiding caches of arms.
The militants used it for the same for a considerable amount of time till the Indian Army got a sniff of the same.
They entered these thick forests and began annihilating the terror mongers. Many encounters took place here and I do not have to tell as to who was the winner.
With terrorism ending the place is now solemn and calm but the locals do say that wild animals have ventured it and made the place their own and hence about freely as they are born free!
In addition of thick forests undulating features the feature has small villages and two of the most revered place in Mendhar they are as follows:
Ziarat Chotay Shah Sahib: Ziyarat Chotay Shah Sahib is located in the village Sakhi Maidan of Mendhar tehsil. A few hundred yards away lie the ruins of ancient architecture popularly believed to be of the Pandavas.
Ram Kund: Ram Kund is the oldest temple in Poonch region. It is located in the village of Chajjla, 6 Km from Mendhar. This temple was built by Lalitaditya. In the courtyard of the temple, there are three sacred ponds, known as Ramkund, Lakshmankund and Sitakund. A water spring also emerges from Ramkund. Ramkund is 8–19 km from Mendhar bus stand. Pilgrims visit during the month of March in Chaitra chawdish.
The Pandava Mahal: Near the Shrine of Pir Chottay Shah and Pir Sakhi Server, the ruins of Pandava Mehal exist. The natives believe that this monument was constructed by the Pandavas during the exile period. The Pandav complex was also supported with a proper water channel which was brought from the village Kalaban area. Historically, it is said that this monument was constructed by a Greek king Manindra of Punjab who had a religious discourse with a Buddhist monk and embraced Buddhism at this place. With the name of King Manindra, the whole valley came to be known as Manindra and with the passage of time the name Manindra changed to Mendhar. It is possible that originally there was a Pandavas Mehal which later on might have been converted into a Buddhist monument after the discussion of King Manindra and Buddhist monk.
With the times going by all these places have been developed for the devotees and pilgrims during various important days and festivals. The great tradition is that the people from all the religions come here, pray and enjoy the fairs that are organized.
II. Something more about the shrine of the great man:
The famous Shrine of Hazrat Pir Chotay Shah is located in the village Sakhi Maidan near the Zairat of Pir Sakhi Sarvar.
Presently there is a Khanqah of Pir Chotay Shah, Mazar Of his sister and an old tree. It is said that this tree came up miraculously from the grave of this spiritual saint after his burial.
A large number of devotees visit the shrine every day to pay obeisance but on every Thursday the number of visitors increases and there remains more hustle and bustle in the Shrine. The pilgrims come from every nook and corner of the country and abroad.
When the Poonch-Rawalakot road was opened, the pilgrims from the other parts of Kashmir had also started visiting this Shrine after about 68 years.
III. The Story:
There is a local legend that says, about 350 years back a Sayed family resided in a hamlet Saagi Daab of the village Chajlla. The head of this family was a religious and spiritual personality who always remained busy in meditation. His only possession was a small piece of land and his three children, two sons namely Sayed Nazir Hussaian Shah and Sayed Masoom Shah and a daughter. Sayed Nazir Hussaian Shah was also inclined towards spiritualism and meditation right from his childhood and had become popular amongst the locals as Pir Chotay Shah because the people believed in him and sought blessings from him.
As children are children always and the Chotay Pir as he used to be called had every right to do as to what the others were doing. Once during childhood when his friends and young relatives were grazing cattle in the pastures and riding buffalos to amuse themselves, Pir Chotay Shah, his brother and sister were watching them. The urge was there to do the same as the friends were but could not have as they had no buffaloes to ride. The story goes on to say that as one fine day when the other children were grazing the cattle and doing their routine antics, Pir Chotay Shah, his sister and brother plucked wild pomegranates (Anars) from nearby forest, incidentally Barri rakh has plenty of them in its vegetation and started playing with them presuming that these wild fruits were their buffaloes. We all do some or the other things like this. As a normal routine the other children took their buffaloes for the evening bath in saagi daab (pond) . The children enjoyed themselves by sitting on the backs of the buffaloes. The sight was as usual great but a legend was about to be born here.
Syed Nazir Hussein Shah began praying, he had the spiritual power for the converting the fruits that he along with his siblings had gathered into the form of cattle. The idea behind it was as and when they get converted into animals, they could also go and play as the others were. Thus Nazir and his two siblings hurled their wild fruits into the pond and within a flash of a magical stroke these wild fruits got converted into buffaloes and they too began swimming on the surface of the pond like the others in the pond. No one had seen such a kind of phenomenon before as it was out of the world.
It was a stunner for all who witnessed it. Soon the message of what had happened spread and reached his father too who in turn fumed in anger as his son had revealed the power of angelic spirits to everyone. Furious as he was, he reached the pond and saw his two sons and daughter riding on the back of the buffaloes. He tried to get hold of them with words such as, ‘you revealed the powers which I had managed to get after strong penances and meditation’.
Seeing their father in all sound and fury Nazir and his sister ran for cover and reached where the present Ziarat is. His other brother Masoom Shah escaped to his house in Chajlla. The father was on the hot chase, scared to bits both prayed to God for shelter because they were not in no position to confront their father. It is said that at that very time a part of earth split in the shape of a grave and the brother and sister buried themselves inside it. Then the father realized the spiritual power of his son and thereon he went on to construct a small shed at that place in memory of his son Pir Chotay Shah and daughter. With the passage of time this place took the shape of a shrine and turned into a center of religious tourism. Sakhi Maidan village where the Shrine of Pir Chotay Shah is located is also known for the baithak of Pir Sakhi Sarvar who had come from Multan and stayed at this place for preaching of Islamic thoughts. In his remembrance the village is known as Sakhi Maidan. Every year on the 13th day of the moon in the month of July a fair is organized near the baithak in memory of Pir Sakhi Sarver.
With so many historical places hemmed in, Barri Rakh is indeed a special place but it needs to be developed further. An ideal trek with places such as mentioned above and the view ahead simply lavish this can be a great tourist spot. It can be a wildlife and natural photographer’s delight. But that can only happen if some innovative ideas are put forward and we have a brigade of young administrators who can do it!
So all I can say is Barri Rakh is the cradle of my heart along with so many who stay here. The hills are interlocked at their feet as if in eternal friendship. They are bright in the light and calming upon the days of rain, ever present, ever beautiful. They rise as if to blow kisses to the sky. Absolutely majestic is the view but I will still say with a mysterious touch! God’s creations are always special and this one really is!