T h e

K a s h m i r

T  e  l  e  g  r  a  p  h

Third Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

July 2002

I N S I D E


Spotlight    Romeet Watt

Top of Page        B Raman

Special Report Hamid Bashani

Fundamentals Subash Kapila

Economy            B N Kaul

InsideTrack          R Upadhyay

Himalayan Blunder              Romeet Watt

In Black & White B Raman

Statecraft             Romeet Watt

Bottomline           R Upadhyay

 

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A b o u t  U s

F e e d b a c k

D i s c l a i m er

C o p y r i g h t s

 

 THE HIMALAYAN BLUNDER

 

The Lost Valley

Romeet Watt


Fate of beauty is to be fought over,

She is the constant nymph,

At the every wedding beauty’s the bride;

Each victor’s fate is surrender

At Kashmiraa’s toe-shaped pride.

Not enough blood in the world

To taint blood in the world

To taint thy immaculate snow;

A ray of the rising sun

Can touch off a bashful glow.

Krishnalal Shridharani

 

Kashmir was all smiles. The snow-capped peaks were smiling in the sun. Lakes, myriad murmuring springs, emerald green turf, the lattice-work of tall, slender poplars and the haunting grooves of chinars, tall snow-capped mountains led by the Nanga Parbat – make it the playground of the god. It can’t be called a rock-bound prison as the mountains stand guard not to keep Kashmiris in but to keep unwelcome outsiders out. It is a bastion, which opens its gates to friends. For trekkers, Kashmir has been the ultimate paradise. One can disappears in the mountains; enjoy the tranquility and serenity, becoming one with the surroundings in a rare communion with nature. The topography from the Shivalik hills of Jammu to the jagged mountains of Ladakh is a geographer's delight. Nowhere in the world can one see so much change in geography in such a small distance: flora and fauna; Alpine pastures saddled among snow clad peaks with pure oxygenated air. 

It was my last year at the high school in the summer of 1989, first signs of the separatists and secessionist movement becoming evident and gaining momentum in Kashmir; sporadic incidents of bombing and killings were the order of the day. Our school had a long tradition of sending its high school batch on a long summer trek, an event that was keenly awaited.    Little did we know at that time, that the rugged Himalayan adventure amid high mountains, lofty peaks and endless glaciers which we were to explore as teenagers, would a decade later, become the hub of terrorist activities: ‘liberated zones’, as the areas are widely referred to. 

On the fine sunny morning, we set out in a bus from our school in Srinagar to Ducksum in south Kashmir, a journey that took us roughly four hours. Ducksum, known for its scenic beauty is situated at a distance of 40 kilometers from the district head quarters at Anantnag. Along with Kokernag and Achabal, Ducksum has long been the center of attraction for the school children of the valley, to undertake their annual excursions. 

The place was to serve as our base camp for the expedition, the duration of which was put at 14 days. However in the end, primarily due to fine weather, we were able to culminate the trek in less than 11 days. 

Our first major hurdle was to scale the Margan pass situated at 4,430 meter above the sea level, from Mati Guran. The journey was a memorable one and yet frightening due to the thick fog and we made steady progress despite few mishaps: one of our mules fell down a steep slope and rumors went up that it carried all our precious tinned food. We all were devastated! The locals, who were assisting us helped in rescuing the mule along with the entire load. 

We had been hearing a lot of stories about the sensational and breathtaking view that the Wadvan valley presented, but it was nothing compared to what sprawled beneath us. We were all mesmerized, despite having lived in Kashmir, for we had never seen such innocent beauty, the nature presented; everything looked so untouched, serene and calm, a feeling that creeps up within you once in a life time.

Kishtawar in the Doda district of Jammu region comprises four major areas. Wadvan region is one of the remotest villages, situated 3000 meters above the sea level, tucked away in the dense forests, with no roads, telephones or electricity and is one of the poorest parts of the state. It is also a five-day trek from the tehsil head quarters at Kishtawar. (Took us same time to reach from south Kashmir). It spreads from villages Hanzi and Inshan. The Wadvan valley comprises of fourteen villages: Inshan, Virwan, Afti and Mingli were some of the villages we passed through during our trek through the valley. The valley has good spots like   Tuiller, Nopachi, Marwah, Tata Pani, and Dashbal. These   areas are rich in trout fish, having unique rainbow colour.  Marwah river passes just in the center of the valley, which otherwise contains meadows.  

More than a decade later, valley systems of Wadwan and Marwah, which we explored more than a decade ago, have become a safe sanctuary for the militants in Jammu and Kashmir. Dacchan and Paddar valley, to the south, are again unsecured. The terrorist groups that executed the series of communal massacres in Doda since in 1996 as well as carried out attacks on Amarnath pilgrims since the summer of 2000 were all believed to have retreated into the safety of Wadwan. 

We spent one night in the Inshan valley and another night at the Virwan village and had the opportunity to interact with the local villages. We also learnt that there was only one matriculate in the whole valley who had set up a primary school with the aid of the government. The price of the essential commodities in this remote area due to its inaccessibility was five fold.

A known reporter who visited the area 12 years after our expedition writes, “On April 13 2001, the SOG-Rashtriya Rifles team launched its first Wadwan operation and claimed five terrorists at the Wadwan village of Virwan. On the night of May 20, seven more terrorists were killed at Rikkenwas; followed by one more at the Pasar Nullah on June 11. During post-monsoon operations, two terrorists were killed at Inshan in October, and in November another three were killed at Mingli”. Media reports also suggest that terrorism has also put an end to work on the road that was being built from Kokernag to Wadwan in 1988.” 

Our next main hurdle, which requires a special mention, was the scaling of the Giulol pass at 4,410 meters above the sea level. We started the day very early in the morning and by noon we had made very little progress for the climb were very steep and our rucksacks added to our discomfort. Little did we know what lay ahead of us at the top: the weather was freezing cold and we were astounded to find a 12-kilometer long glacier, a distance which we had to cross to facilitate our downward journey towards Sheshnag (one of the base camps for Amarnath yatra). Our blistered feet added to our woes and it took us better part of three hours to cross the freezing snow. 

A columnist writes, “this April, for example, the Army stopped Wadwan horsemen from crossing the Pir Panjal to cater to pilgrims travelling to the Amarnath shrine. The decision was taken after terrorist attacks on pilgrims fuelled fears that the high passes might be used for further strikes.” 

By the time we reached Shesnag, late in the evening, a cold icy storm had picked up and we had no option but to abandon the idea of erecting our own tents. We sought shelter in an abandoned stable to protect ourselves from freezing to death. Brandy and hot tomato soup were in abundant supply throughout the night. 

We made one more night haul at the famous ‘Betab Valley’ (motion picture Betab was shot in that valley, hence the name) near Chandanwari. 

We reached the culmination point of our expedition, three days to spare, giving us enough time to take care of our blistered feet and aching limbs. At the end of the trek, we left Pahalgam for Srinagar, leaving behind the valley tucked in the magnificent Pir Panchal range forever, never to return again. 

The author studied at the prestigious Burn Hall School, Srinagar

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