Some wonders on the down slopes of Pir Panjals towards Shopian do stand and call for attention but who cares! This one has been screaming ever since the Mughal Road project became a reality!
-‘The love affair of Mughals with the verdure of Kashmir, an idyllic life in the Himalayas that thus began with Emperor Akbar, continued till the late 17th century. But even as emperor after emperor made their way into Kashmir, each leaving indelible impressions in the culture of this land, none were more dedicated than Emperor Jahangir either to the valley or to the road leading to it’. Legends and folklore are a testimony to that.
-‘The great Mughal Emperor Akbar was illiterate; he could neither read nor write. However, that had not stopped him from cultivating the acquaintance of the most learned and cultured poets, authors, musicians, and architects of the time – relying solely on his remarkable memory during conversations with them. He was the man who spread the empire the expanse of which reached Kashmir and was the first one in the lineage of the empire to travel on the Imperial Mughal route.’
-‘ But it was his son, Shekhu, Jehangir who made this route famous because of his famous visits along with his queen Noor Jehan accompanied by his massive entourage of his soldiers. It was this lover of beauty who went on to develop this route and also died on one of his trips somwhere between Behrahm Gala and Bafliaz. Aliabad Sarai’ was one of the 14 Paravas (halting stations) on the 246 long route between Lahore to Srinagar. Another patriarch of beauty Emperor Shah Jehan got it constructed in the last leg of the 16th century. He had ordered an Iranian engineer Ali Mardan Khan for its construction’!
-‘ Abul Fazl wrote about the Mughal system of sub-continental communication developed during the reign of Akbar as reflected in the Ain-i-Akbari. It was during this period of rapid road-building activity by Akbar that Kashmir was annexed by the Mughal Empire in 1586, and of the four roads (Namak Road, Pakhli Road, Poonch Route and Kishtwar Route) that connected Kashmir to India of the total of twenty-six total roads noted by Abul Fazl linking Kashmir the rest of the world, the Namak Road connecting Kashmir to Lahore went on to receive maximum royal attention for infrastructural reinforcement, leading it to emerge as the most prominent of the few contemporary roads connecting the otherwise isolated, landlocked valley of Kashmir to India, known as the Mughal Imperial Road and on this lies this Sarai a structure of beauty but now a monument that does need serious attention but no one gives the same’.
-‘Be there and spend a couple of nights and have the feel of the whispers, the careless ones which the walls of this legendary halting station in the middle of the flushing meadows have to say. I have had it thrice at least readers try it once! Everything has that magnetic aura which draws into the mysterious world of romance with nature, into a dreamland that is haunting, enchanting and mesmerizing. Once you are into it, you simply do not one to come out! I have experienced, why not you all also do so!
The story is old and extremely fascinating. The Mughal army under the command of Qasim Shah annexed Kashmir in 1586. This was the time when Akbar ruled the Empire. 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. Thereafter started the romance of the emperors with the beauty of Kashmir and so came up all the beautiful places which people from all over the world love. But all that we see did not come up in a day. From Akbar to Aurangzeb the imprints of the great Mughals can be found everywhere in the valley and one such big legend is this Sarai with the name Aliabad prefixed to it. 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.
It was always a summer affair and Quite an elaborate one. After beginning their journey the entire Mughal caravan would pass through Gujarat (Punjab) , Kotla Arab Ali Khan, Bhimber, Jhangar, Nowshera, Chingus, Rajouri, Thanamandi, Surankote, 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. From Rajouri and Thana Mandi Sarai onwards, the road is quite a zigzag affair and turns down to Surankote, which is a tehsil headquarters of the Poonch district. After passing Surankote, the Mughal caravan used to cross via Bafliaz village, which is located on the banks of Poonch river. The Mughal foot cavalcade 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. From Poshana, the imperial caravan used to cross the Pir Panchal pass (Pir ki Gali). There is this 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.
I The route was loved by the Mughals and they laid the plans for the infrastructure:
Most frequently traversed during the Mughal rule and infrastructure was developed to strengthen it and thereby to support it, this road navigated the Pir Panjal mountain range through the Rattan Pir Pass and Peer ki Gali, connecting Lahore to Kashmir via the halting stations of Gujarat, Dowlath Nagar, Kotla Arab Ali Khan, Bhimber, Saidabad, Nowshera, Chingus, Rajouri, Thanamandi, Behramgala, Poshiana, Aliabad, Hirpur, Shopian and Ramu.
While Jahangir had accompanied Akbar to Kashmir several times in his youth, typically during fall, it was after his coronation and towards the latter half of his reign that travelling to Kashmir, usually with Noor Jehan in spring, became a matter of annual court tradition.
In 1620, 1622, 1624, 1625, 1626, and 1627, Jahangir kept returning to Kashmir, leaving Lahore in March or April in order to reach Kashmir by May, each time travelling deeper into the valley.
Even as parallel activities such as documenting the highland biodiversity with court painters and planning elaborate pleasure gardens accentuating the beauty of the valley were undertaken by the emperor, the central idea of basking in the bounties of nature that Jahangir initiated in Kashmir established a precedent that still renders the Kashmir as a romanticized getaway.
These were the places where the romance between Jehangir the emperor who loved to live in his own dreamy world and the empress Noor Jehan blossomed in the exquisite waterfalls, banks of the rivers, extravagant meadows and lavish resting places.
II. The Aliabad Sarai:
The records suggest that earlier the sarai was built here by Mughal emperor Jalal ud Din Mohammad Akbar. He had built it for the conveyance of the travelers who used to travel on this route. However records further suggest that the Sarai was later on restored by another king Shahjahan who named it after his faithful governor Ali Mardan Khan, as such the sarai came to be known as Aliabad sarai.
The sarai follows the Mughal architecture and is square in plan. It faces south. The sarai is built of rubble stone and small baked bricks which are raised in red lime mortar. Sarai has internally several cells and rooms which are believed to have been used by the travelers as their shelter. The roof is laid of earthen layers on which has grown the thick green vegetation.
The travelers who have been to this site in the earlier times have recorded that the sarai of Aliabad has been the most glorious site of this hilly track. It has provided comforts not only to royal Mughal caravans but to everyone who happened to travel on this road.
III. The layout:
If you have an aerial view of the structure it looks like a perfect square all covered with vegetation which looks like velvet. Simply an amazing creation as far as architecture goes.
Aliabad sarai is situated on the left bank of Nallah Panchal below the feet of Ratinpeer mountain about 32km from the Shopian.
A perfect square, with two out-grown domes, on the front and the back side. Very similar to the Chingus Sarai yet unique and smaller in dimensions. The stones used are the local sedimentary rocks bound together with Choona-surkhi; thousand times stronger than the concrete used today.
The cover of the front dome has been hollowed; rest of the ceiling is still intact. A roundel over the roof is in dilapidated condition of the royal resting place.
A royal aperture with smooth slabs, perhaps from Awantipora, lining it in a beautiful manner, but the door is missing along with a few slabs. There are two small rooms, on each side of the gate, for the gatekeepers (Darbaans in those days).
Opposite to the entry area, is a set of three interlinked royal rooms, maybe, for the emperor and his queen. Then there are 26 other rooms, with the rhombus like corner rooms, interconnected all for the other royals who moved along with this massive foot cavalcade.
The left and right of the Sarai are divided into seven equal compartments; while the front and the rear in nine compartments, including the entry area. And over the door of each compartment, is an arched lattice carved out of stone, left partially in one or two. They have been broken or stolen too. If maintained the place could be a major tourist attraction and economy booster but it’s not to be.
On the right side of the Mughal Sarai, is a graveyard, with about 60 identifiable graves.
Aliabad is not any village or town , it is simply a meadow.
There are no permanent settlers found anywhere in the Aliabad stretch , but as records say there was once a hamlet of about 15 Muslim Syed families who permanently lived at the site .
The remains of an old graveyard are still found at the site. These days one can see few nomadic families living seasonally in their small muddy Kothas, these are mostly bakerwals and shepherds who come from the hot plains of Rajouri and Poonch areas.
IV. Stories and folklore:
Obviously the old route meant plenty of stories carrying on down the eras. Not surprisingly the route has plenty of folklores that do tend to raise the goose pimples for a while.
The legend of Lal Ghulam: The story carried by the annals tells that Lal Gulam was a man- eater. He would seize upon the passengers, hurl them down to devour them at leisure in his den in the declivity. It was the brave Ali Mardan Khan, Shah Jehan’s Governor in Kashmir, who on repairing the road for his master’s royal caravan was given a report about this monster. He came himself in full armor to this spot, went down alone to the den. Lal Gulam was out, but his son was in. The fearless Khan killed the beast. Since then the road was safe.
The suggestion of an astrologer: An astrologer had suggested a diamond and a coin to be placed on a piece of rock of the declivity wherefrom the projection upward to the path ought to be built. Thus the path was repaired for the royal caravan. It was a very difficult task but it was made. When Governor Ali Mardan Khan came to take a look, accompanied by soldiers and workers, he asked whether anybody knew where the diamond on the pathway made was placed. A worker answered his call that yes, he knew where it was. The Khan lost no time to behead the worker Lal Gulam whose corpse was thrown down into the pit of the mountain. Khan’s brutal act was because of the apprehension that this slave/worker/Lal Ghulam could someday take away the diamond making the pathway made give in to natural calamities. The safety of the road demanded the death of Lal Gulam. The spot henceforth came to be known as Lal Gulam. It continued to live in the memory of the people as Lal Gulam. It still does. Myth born in the past out of such a wonderful feat of engineering is obvious enough when communication was very scant, in fact next to nothing. The fact might be that Lal Gulam was the dexterous slave engineer of the Mughal time ( may be a Kashmiri) who had built the difficult pathway, a sort of projection, in those days especially made for royal elephants. Today there is a wide tarred road at this place for making the modern times massive trucks, busses and lorries move.
These are only two but there are far too many that the historians have accumulated and have been carrying on since generations.
Kashmir was always beautiful since Nature had bestowed its entire bouquet of beauty on the place but it were the Mughals who ensured that the natural extravagance could be enhanced to be enjoyed by the posterity and we are doing so. But there are places that need to be restored so that they too become major attractions on the tourist itinerary. One such place calling for attention in the middle of the lavish flushing meadow is Aliabad Sarai. Hopefully the administration will check it out now! Because it needs to be!