Jammu & Sialkot: The tale of two cities

By Yash Bhasin. Dated: 11/27/2012 11:54:50 PM

The famous English writer Charles Dicken’s popular novel, ‘The Tale of Two Cities’, which is set in the background of French revolution, also deals at length with close links and inter-relations between the two capital cities of two European countries, London, the capital of United Kingdom and Paris, the capital of France. Going through the novel, one gets the impression that there were no visa restrictions for visiting each other’s country nor there was custom duty on goods traded in exchange between the two countries.
Before partition of the country, in1947, the two cities, Jammu and Sialkot were closely inter-linked and had intimate relationship. The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s call recently for opening Jammu-Sialkot road for trade and travel between India and Pakistan, has generated the hope for the over six decade separation between the two cities getting some thaw and the old relationship getting revived.
The old timers recall with nostalgia the close relationship between Jammu and Sialkot. While Jammu was the winter capital city of princely Indian state of J&K, Pakistan was one of the posh and advanced city of Punjab province of the country. Sports industry was localized in Sialkot, where a large number of workers from villages in RS Pura Tehsil and other adjoining areas were engaged. They would travel to and fro daily by train running between the two cities. The rail fare from Jammu to Sialkot was only 4 annas, equivalent to 25 paisa of today. A special small train comprising one large couch having carrying capacity of 200 passengers, would make few sorties between the two cities. The passengers travelling between R.S Pura and Sialkot had to pay only 1 anna as fare.
A cricket bat manufacturing factory “Kashmir Willows” was setup by the state government, at Miran Sahib, where a large number of skilled workers from Sialkot were engaged. The bats manufactured in the factory were mostly supplied to the sports factories localized at Sialkot. Similarly, a state government owned sugar factory “Karan Sugar Mills” named after the son of Maharaja Hari Singh, was functioning at R.S Pura, where most of the raw material, sugarcane was imported from villages around Sialkot.
During summer months, on Sundays in particular, many groups of people from Sialkot would come to Jammu for picnic at the Ranbir Canal banks where they would have dip in the icy cool water of the canal to beat the heat. Bringing with them buckets of mangoes and milk in the bottles, they would cool these in canal and enjoy consuming the same. Those days there were neither refrigerators in the house holds nor air conditioners and air coolers. Even electric fans were rare.
There were held frequent matches between the hockey teams of Murray College Sialkot and Prince of Wales College, Jammu (presently named G.G.M. Science College). This was the only Degree College in Jammu province those days, while Srinagar city had two colleges, namely S.P College and Amar Singh College. Maharani Mahila College was opened at Jammu exclusively for the girl students few years before partition. The same was taken over by the government later and renamed Government College for Women.
While travel between Jammu and Sialkot was hassle free, the trade between the two cities was very restricted. The goods coming to J&K state from Punjab were subjected to levy of custom duty. Which was enforced very strictly while the Jammu railway station was at the site where lately Kla Kendra has been established. The custom duty check post was at the site near by the site where we have Amar Singh Club today. The passengers coming to Jammu by train were subjected to thorough check up of their luggage, even opening of their suitcases and trunks for check up and imposing of custom duty on even the house hold goods imported. The state revenue sources being very meager, the custom duty was a major source of revenue for the state. Hence this strict checking.
Since Sialkot city was more modern and posh those days than Jammu city, the new movies released would be screened in Sialkot cinema halls much before the same were released in any of the two cinema halls in Jammu, Uttam Takies and Hari takies. The cine lovers from Jammu would frequently go to Sialkot to watch new movies. Even the British Resident appointed by the British government in the princely state of the J&K, would stay put at Sialkot during winter months instead of at Jammu, though during summers he would stay at Srinagar.
The reopening of Jammu-Sialkot road for trade and travel between India and Pakistan will revolutionise the economy of Jammu in particular and the J&K state in general. It will also boost the economy of areas in Pakistani Punjab in the vicinity of Sialkot. After partition of the country, while Jammu city, as winter capital of J&K state has comparatively developed much and its importance has much increase, Sialkot city has lagged behind in development and is hardly in news. The city is believed to have lost its old sheen. The sports industry, localised in Sialkot, after the partition was shifted to Jallandar in Punjab and Meerut in U.P. Most of the Hindu industrial families are presently residing at Meerut.
With opening of Jammu -Sialkot road, the Basmati rice grown in R.S Pura belt will also get good market in Pakistan. Further, as demanded by the business community and other skate holders for up gradation of Suchet Garh border post on the pattern of Wagah Border Post, with ceremonial beating of retreat and holding of parade in the evening will promote tourism in Jammu.
The trade organization of Jammu as well as Jammu based political parties should launch a concerted campaign for opening of Jammu Sialkot road, which will also serve as a major confidence building measure between the two countries.



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