MUZAFFARABAD: The tourism and archaeology department of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has renovated a disused historic underground passageway of a main artery near here as a fascinating tourist spot to be opened for the public later this month.
About 250-foot-long tunnel and its surroundings near Ambore, about five kilometres south of here, will offer a wonderful view and atmosphere to the visitors heading towards or returning from state capital Muzaffarabad via Kohala, officials said.
“I think it’s the best utilisation of this archaeological site,” said Rashid Hanif, head of the tourism and archaeology department, of the tunnel carved through a mountain during the construction of [initially unmetalled] road from Rawalpindi to Srinagar in the late 19th century.
The road was initially used by bullock and horse carts while cars and buses started plying through it much later, presumably in the second decade of the 20th century.
Tunnel was carved through a mountain during construction of road from Rawalpindi to Srinagar in late 19th century, says official
A small bridge over a stream merging into the nearby Jhelum River would take the traffic to the mouth of the tunnel from its northern side where the AJK capital is situated.
According to Engr Tariq Mahmood Shola, a former AJK secretary for communication and works (C&W), the roof of the tunnel was chiselled out in 1973 to add clear height for vehicles while an alternate track was carved on its outer side in 1975 to pave way for two-way traffic.
In 2003, the alternate route was widened and connected with a new big bridge and entire traffic from both sides was diverted to it, rendering the tunnel and the small bridge unused. Ironically, in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, the abandoned tunnel and the space on its northern side, including the small bridge, were grabbed by some locals by setting up a ‘block factory’ thereon.
They were, however, evicted in June 2014 through a grand operation during the PPP government with the personal interest and involvement of the then finance minister Chaudhry Latif Akbar.
Mr Hanif told Dawn that the idea to conserve and develop the archaeological site into a tourist spot was conceived by his department about three years ago.
Execution of the project started in January 2020 at a cost of Rs10.42 million and is likely to be completed by the end of the current month, he said.
He said the tunnel had not only been concreted from inside but also equipped with lighting. Both the open space and small bridge were tiled and fenced and two kiosks have been erected thereon, he added.
He said a sculpture of a horse driven carriage, locally known as tonga, was placed in the middle of the tiled space as a reminder of this long-abandoned mode of transport.
The tourism department would invite bids from the private sector to open a bistro at this spot to offer quality refreshments to the visitors, Mr Hanif said, adding the department was also planning to develop a small pond at the stream.
Mansoor Qadir Dar, who was transferred from the post of secretary tourism last week, told Dawn that several recreational and tourist spots along the main arteries in different areas were being developed to amuse and facilitate the visitors from across the country.
A recreational spot along a waterfall in Nauseri, en route to Neelum valley, was ready for inauguration while the area around the Chamb waterfall of Jhelum Valley district had also been developed for the convenience of tourists, he said.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2022