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Two countries, a sheltering tree and a tourist hotspot

S P Sharma |

The Peepul tree on the International Border (IB) at Suchetgarh in Jammu district is the most photographed landmark as this is the only tree on any border that serves as a pillar demarcating the boundaries of two countries.

The tree was not the dividing line a few years ago as a concrete pyramid shaped pillar number 918 stood there. However, the pillar vanished within the trunk of the tree that broadened with passage of time. The Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers guarding their respective borders did not cut the tree and finally painted it the number 918 on it. The next pillar 919 is made of concrete but the peepul tree has become an attraction for visitors who come from all parts of the country.

With its increasing circumference, half the Peepul tree is now within Indian territory and the other half in Pakistan. In the morning the tree provides shade to Pakistan and in the afternoon to India.

Both sides do not lay claim over the tree on whose front and back are identical concrete platforms of India and Pakistan. Flag-meetings between the BSF and Rangers are held here. The Pakistan Rangers sit on the Indian platform when the meeting is held on the Indian side and the BSF officers cross the border to sit on the platform on the other side of the tree if the meeting is organised by Pakistan.

This part of the IB does not host the colourful beating retreat of BSF and Rangers like in Wagha, Ferozepur or Fazilka in Punjab as it has remained a live border after the Partition of the country with many incidents of exchange of fire.

Prior to the Partition in 1947, Suchetgarh was an important railway station between Jammu and Sialkot (now in Pakistan). This was the last place in the territory of the then rulers of J&K and thereafter the Punjab area began with Sialkot as an important trade hub of that time.

Governor NN Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visited the area recently and ordered the tourism department to promote it as a tourist destination. A cafeteria has been built but it is not being properly maintained.

The UN Observers cross over to either side of the border from this point and the erstwhile octroi post is being used by the BSF as its local office which also houses a museum of pictures.
Another attraction near the border is the Gharana wetland that is these days home to a large number of migratory birds.

About 6000 birds of different species can be seen in the wetland. Most of these birds are migratory and endangered covered under various schedules of the Wildlife Act.
The main attraction of Gharana is the Bar Headed goose which visits the area in large numbers during winter.

As many as 67 species of birds have been spotted in the area by the Wildlife Department. These include, Lesser Whistling Duck, Northern Shoveler, Egyptian Vulture, Long-tailed Shrike, Red-vented Bulbul and Indian Robin.