Banihal is a notified area committee and a town in the Ramban district of Jammu & Kashmir. The meaning of ‘Banihal’ in Kashmirilanguage is “blizzard” which is because of the heavy snow storm and snowfall in Banihal during the winters. At this time Banihal is detached from the rest of the state.
Banihal is located at a distance of 35 kilometers from Qazigund in the Anantnag district on the National Highway 1A. The average elevation of the town is 5466 feet(or 1666 m). The train distance between Qazigund and Banihal is just 18 kilometers which is lesser than the road distance.
History of BanihalAccording to a chronicle known as “Rajatarangini”, Banihal was earlier famous as “Vishalta” during the eleventh century. It used to be a slim mountain valley which was used by the rebelling Chieftains, Princes and plotters from Kashmir as a route to abscond. There was also a small fort in the eleventh century named “Bansalla” beneath the old Banihal Pass.The owner of the Bansalla Fort was “Khasa Lord Bhagika” who was the emperor of Vishalta during the eleventh century. Khasa was also the son-in-law of Lord of the “BuddhalTikka”.
Rajatarangini was written in Sanskrit language by “Kalhan” who was a Kashmiri Historian. Rajatarangini is a chronology which includes the series of political events and inheritance of the numerous Kashmiri kingdoms till 12th century.
During the winters Banihal becomes inaccessible due to heavy snowfall and since it connects the Kashmir area with Jammu it became extremely necessary to find another entry into the town. Moreover, Banihal drops down to -10 degrees along with snow storms during winters due to which navigation becomes next to impossible. The only mode of transport during the winter season is to fly from Jammu over Qazigund and Banihal and then land at Kashmir.
In order to resolve this problem in the year 2011 in October a tunnel was built and the construction of this tunnel started in the year 2005 in November. Around 1500 labors dug this tunnel through the Pir Panjal range. This rail tunnel which is known as the “Banihal-Qazigund tunnel” is the longest railway tunnel in India the length of which is 11 km and it takes just 7 min to reach the Kashmir region from Jammu region. The tunnel connects the south of Banihal to the north of Qazigund.
From the 15th century Banihal was governed by the Mughal emperors. During that period Banihal was a part of Kashmir.Thereafter in the late 1400s Kashmir was ruled by General Mirza Mohd. Haidar Dughlat.
General Mirza Haider was also a historical writer who wrote an autobiography of Central Asian history which is known as “Tarekhi Rashidi”. The names of the other rulers who ruled Kasmhir are Sultan Said Khan (Kashgar), Humayan and Sultan Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin.
Geography of Banihal
According to the census of 2001 the population of Banihal was 2729. The female population is 43 percent of the total population and the male population is 57 percent.
Population of Banihal
Climate of BanihalThe climate of Banihal is same as the other towns in Jammu and Kashmir. In summers the minimum temperature remains around 18-19 degree Celsius and the maximum temperature goes up to 30 degree Celsius and in winters the minimum temperature drops down to -10 degree Celsius and the maximum temperature is about 8 degree Celsius. March to October is the best time to visit Banihal. During this time tourists can take pleasure in the sight of both the Pir Pinjal Rail Tunnel and the Jawahar Road tunnel which are encircled by lush green fields of rice.
Physical Features of BanihalBanihal encompasses highland pockets and small valleys that are mentioned below:
- Paristan or Peeristan- It is a rocky mountain which means the dwelling of a devout person with unbelievable powers. It is ahead of Pogal and comprises the hilly area of Neel.
- Ramban- Earlier it was known as “Kamban” which means the site which is full of “Kam”trees. In 1819, this spot was entitled “Ramban” by an emperor Gulab Singh. At present, this place is famous for the 630 Megawatt hydroelectric project of “Baglihar”. Ramban is also an important station on the NH 1A.
- Pogal- It is a craggy hilly region which is drained by the Bichlari River’s tributary “Pogal”. The major occupation of this region is cattle-rearing and the staple crop which is produced here is Maize.
- Batote- It is a hill station with lush green and thick conifer forests.
- Mahu-Mangal- It is also a hilly area which lies in the west direction of Banihal. This region is drained by the tributary of the Bichlari River.
The Banihal Pass connects the town of Banihal with Qazigund. This pass is at an elevation of 2832 meters on the Pir Pinjal Mountain and Qazigund lies on the other side of the Pir Pinjal. The Pir Pinjal range detaches the Kashmir valley from outer Himalaya and the plains to south. During the partition of India in the year 1947, the Muree Muzaffarabad Srinagar road was closed. After that the Banihal pass was the only passageway to travel from Jammu to Srinagar till 1956. Later the Jawahar Road tunnel was constructed. The Banihal Pass remains open in summers while in winters it cannot be accessed because of heavy snow.
Banihal attracts a plethora of tourists with its natural splendor. Following are the places in Banihal that are worth mentioning:
Places to Visit in BanihalBanihal is famous as the Gateway from Jammu to Kashmir and in this regard the Banihal-Qazigund Rail tunnel and Jawahar Road tunnel are worth mentioning. Moreover these two tunnels are the main tourist places to visit in Banihal:
Jawahar Road Tunnel
History of Jawahar Road Tunnel-The Jawahar Road Tunnel tunnel was built between the years 1954-1960 by German Engineers named C. Barsel and Alfred Kunz. In the year 1956, on 22nd December this road tunnel was launched and started its operation. The length of this tunnel is 2.5 kms and it is located between the Banihal town and Qazigund in Pir Pinjal range. This tunnel makes the road connectivity easier from Jammu to Kashmir throughout the year. The travel distance between Banihal and Qazigund has diminished from 35 kms to 11 kms after the launch of this road tunnel. In the year 1960, this tunnel was refurbished by Border Road Organization. At present around 7000 vehicles run on this road tunnel daily. At the time of renovation some important features were added to the tunnel such as- temperature and pollution sensors, a 2 way ventilation system and a topnotch lighting system.
The Jawahar Road tunnel was constructed for the road transport and it lies at an elevation of approximately 7000 ft. This is Asia’s longest tunnel and it remains under the tight security of military for 24 hours. Videography and photography both are not allowed inside the tunnel or neighboring areas of the tunnel. Once a person enters this tunnel with his vehicle, he must maintain the same speed all the way through the tunnel and also he can’t stop anywhere inside the tunnel. For constant monitoring CCTVs are installed inside the tunnel. The CRPF or Central Reserve Police Force keeps an eye on the tunnel with the help of CCTVs because this tunnel is quite essential for Kashmir. The CRPF also maintains the safety and security of the tunnel. In addition, it is the job of the BRO or Border Road Organization to keep up the Jawahar Road Tunnel.
It is advised not to visit the Jawahar Road tunnel during the beginning of December month and end of the January month because this time the tunnel may get blocked owing to heavy blizzard.
How to reach- One can easily reach the road tunnel by taking a private taxi or the Jammu & Kashmir state run buses that are easily available in Banihal.
Banihal-Qazigund Rail Tunnel
The Banihal-Qazigund Rail tunnel is also known as the Pir Pinjal Rail Tunnel. This tunnel is 11.215 kilometers long and is positioned in the Pir Painjal Range of the middle Himalayas in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in the north of Banihal. The south portal of the Banihal Rail tunnel is at 33.463203°N 75.193992°E and the north portal is at 33.5617942°N 75.1988626°E.
The average elevation of the Banihal Rail tunnel is approximately 5770 feet or 1760 meters or roughly 1440 feet or 440 meters beneath the Jawahar Road tunnel. This rail tunnel is 7.39 meters high and 8.40 meters wide. This rail tunnel is the longest rail tunnel of India and the 3rd longest rail tunnel of Asia.
The train takes about 9 min and 30 sec to cross this tunnel from its one end to the other. The Banihal Rail tunnel started running commercially from 27th June in the year 2013. This rail tunnel cuts down the distance between Banihal and Quazigund by 17 kilometers which is about 17.5 kilometers by train and approximately 35 kilometers by road.
This rail tunnel makes the transportation easy in the winters when the stormy weather shuts down the Jawahar Road tunnel and also the Srinagar-Jammu Highway.
Places to Visit Near BanihalSome of the important places located nearby Banihal are- Baramulla (161 kms), Anantnag (49.7 kms), Srinagar (106 kms), Bandipur (159 kms), Jammu (185 kms), Poonch(201 kms), Udhampur(125 kms) and Hiranagar ( 207 kms).
Banihal Railway Station
The Banihal railway station is located in a familiar region of Banihal in the Ramban district of jammu & Kashmir. This station is positioned at an elevation of 5584 feet or 1702 meters above the mean sea level. Banihal railway station started its operation on 26th June in the year 2013. The station was launched by the ex-Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh on 26th June itself. All the passenger trains ply between Banihal and Qazigund. Now the railway network in the Kashmir region from Banihal to the city of Baramulla is approximately 137 kilometers. There are 5 trains which run from Banihal to Baramulla daily.
This station has been constructed as a part of the mega project on Kashmir Railway, the main purpose of which is to connect Kashmir valley with Jammu Tawi as well as the rest of the railway network of India.
The Banihal railway station highlights the wooden architecture of Kashmir. Moreover, the station has been given an ambience of a majestic court which is planned to match the local environs to the rail station. The signage of the Banihjal railway station is mostly in English, Urdu and Hindi languages.
Transport in BanihalThe following are the various modes of transport by which one can reach the Banihal town:
By RailBanihal is linked by means of railway in India’s longest railway tunnel. The railway stations located near Banihal are the Qazigund station (located 40 kilometers away from Banihal on the north) and Udhampur station (located 110 kilometers away from Banihal on south). Jammu and Srinagar are linked with the rest of India through Delhi, Kolkata, Udhampur, Chandigarh and Mumbai.
By AirThe Srinagar airport is the nearest airport to the town which is located at a distance of 110 kilometers from Banihal. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach Banihal from Srinagar airport. At the Srinagar airport frequent connecting flights to the rest of India can be availed. There are regular flights that ply between Jammu, Mumbai, Srinagar and Delhi. At the Srinagar airport one can hire the State buses, shared taxis or prepaid taxis to reach Banihal. The taxi charges from Srinagar airport to Banihal are between 2000-3000 rupees, which may vary with the season.
The tourists can avail the private as well as State-run buses which run on the NH 1A during the summers. In the winters the national highway may not be accessible owing to heavy snowfall in this region.
Culture of BanihalThe town of Banihal is majorly populated by “Kashmiris” and therefore it depicts the culture of Jammu and Kashmir. The residents of Banihal mainly speak Urdu language however Hindi and English are also spoken by some people.
Music and Dance in BanihalThere are many kinds of dances that are popular in Banihal which are Bacha Nagma, Wuegi Nachun, Rouf and Hafiza. Bacha Nagma is a dance performed by young boys dressed up as girls during the harvest. Wuegi Nachun is performed by Kashmiri women at the newly wedded bride’s abode after she is sent out to her husband’s place. Rouff is another conventional folk dance which is exclusively performed by women on festivals like Eid and Ramzan or at the time of harvest. This is more of a group dance where people from different social classes participate with great enthusiasm. Hafiza is a traditional Kashmiri dance form which is generally performed during marriage ceremonies.
Sufiana music is quite popular in Banihal. Nagara, Santoor, Sitar and Dukra are some of the musical instruments that are played in this region. Rabab is also a very famous folk music of Banihal and the other parts of Kashmir. On festive occasions and rural marriages another famous Kashmiri music “Geetru” is also performed.
Festivals in BanihalLohri, Navaratri and Baisakhi are the main festivals that are celebrated in Banihal. During Navaratri the tourism department of Jammu & Kashmir organizes many cultural programs. Dramas and singing and wrestling competitions are held throughout the Navaratri. Apart from these programs like Kavi Sammelan, Bhagwat Katha and Hasya Vyang also take place during the Navaratri festival.
Handicrafts in Banihal
Banihal which has an affluent Kashmiri culture boasts of well-known handicrafts like woolen shawls, carpets, Pashmina shawls, “Namdas”, silks, silverware, brassware and copperware, crewel work, carved wooden furniture, basketry, pottery, embroidered kurtas and pherans.
- Carpets- The origin of the carpet weaving art of Kashmir was in Persia. These Kashmiri carpets are either woven or knotted. The materials used to make these carpets are silk or wool. The price and sturdiness of the carpets depend upon the number of knots in the carpets, the greater the number of knots the more durable the carpets would be. These carpets have a huge demand worldwide owing to its vibrant colors which make them stand out from the crowd.
- Namdas- Namdas are cheaper than the Kashmiri carpets. These are basically area mats which are made of cotton and wool and have embroidery with cotton and woolen threads on them.
- Shawls- Kashmiri shawls which are popular worldwide are made from Pashmina, wool and Shahtoosh and have Motifs and Sozni embroidery on them.
- Wood Carving- The carved wooden furniture of Kashmir is quite famous globally and has a high export value. Apart from furniture the wood carving is also done on small decorative things like photo frames, jewelry cases, caskets, fruit bowls and vases.
Accommodation at BanihalJammu (180 kilometers from Banihal) or Udhampur(100 kilometers from Banihal) are the nearby places from Banihal where one can find nice accommodation. Both Jammu and Udhampur are well connected via road on the NH 1A. Tourists can find numerous budget hotels as well as luxury hotels at Jammu and Udhampur. The JKTDC hotel and Alpine hotel are the two hotels in Banihal run by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism where tourists can have a comfortable stay.
Tourists are recommended to book their hotels in advance if they are planning to visit Banihal between the months of June and August. Because during this time tourists headed for Amarnath Yatra flock Banihal and therefore the hotels may be over-booked.
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