Save the Marwah Valley for all to see


By an occasional correspondent:

Denis Buchan BSc. MEngSc, past member Institional Engineers Australia

1) P1040432.JPG
2) Some of the guys forming a protest committee located in Marwah Valley


Section 1. The fabulous Marwah Valley- entrance way to Kishtwar National Park

Many of you may be wondering why a foreigner would pick this place the Marwah Valley to write about. Well the fact of the matter is I have been to this valley many times over the last 8 or so years. Before the problems in Kashmir erupted this valley was considered one of the treasured walks linking Kishtwar in Jammu to as far north as Sonamarg or even into Zanskar.

P1040404.JPG The valley is lined with deodar, chinar and walnut trees, wild strawberries, mushrooms and much more. My first visit stunned me as the Marwah river was so beautiful then with no roads and self sufficient villages along the way which still welcomes the few trekkers who venture this way. The government also recognized that the beauty of this area had to be preserved and made the largest national park in J&K Kishtwar National Park.

Perhaps the Indian Government thinks that these people are backward, maybe what one would call an indigenous people. But this is far from the truth. The kids all attend schools and want to learn. They also know how to entertain themselves. We talked about these things many times in my early visits. Yes they definitely needed better facilities for communication. Yes they needed a proper hospital and yes facilities for their schools. To some extent the people overcome these disadvantages as the non farming population spent the colder months in Kishtwar or Jammu.

These disadvantages have existed for a long time and the Government (State as well) should be embarrassed about how little help they have given these people. Strangely enough more money was spent on the Army and Police Force than help with these basic needs. Right up to the present minimum consultation with the people has not occurred. Good communication is a principle of good governance. I talk about these things not because I wish to cast blame but to highlight the ongoing problem leading to protests and more owing to the continuing lack of dialogue over the proposed flooding of the valley under this new proposed hydro-electric scheme.

P1040320.JPG Perhaps now is the time to describe how the combination of the Pakel, Burser dams Hydroelectric scheme is meant to work. There will be two dams built; the one near Akali called the Pakel Dul Dams the one connected to the Power Plant via tunnels. This earth filled dam is quoted as 167 metres high and its headwaters go back as far as Lopara with some of the lower village and prosperous rice paddies thereabouts all being flooded. The other dam is the Burser Dam whose primary function is to maintain a water flow to the Pakel dam when the rivers stopped flowing with the onset of winter. The contact for the Pakel Dam has been awarded to the Chenab Valley Power Project. This is a consortium. The water from the Pakel Dul Dam is delivered through two 7.2 diameter tunnels about 10km long to an underground power station near the village Dul where there are 4 by 250mw turbines to produce the design requirement of 1000mw.

The position of the Burser dam has a mighty impact on the Marwah Valley. The planners have obviously chosen this position because of the large amount of water that will be available. I suspect they didn’t even visit the area with all assessments being done by something like Google maps. It would seem to be the position chosen based on convenience rather than any considerations of what areas are populated.

Umassi La- we make it to the Pass.

a good night’s sleep and ready to tackle the pass


19th July 2014

Today we expect to go over Umassi la. It has been a great trip and I hope I am up to it. This is to be a momentous day for me.

From our rock shelter you can see a waterfall entering a depression. We head towards it. There are two ways over the waterfall which we must cross. Sheep generally go over it by climbing the moraine on our right side and following it up to the top. The other way is the frontal assault. We go that way. Not too bad but I am puffing already and I know there are more difficult times ahead.

Umassi La is somewhere in the Distance. but first the Glacier

Now I can see the moraines ahead with what looks like two moraines meeting.

not the best dressed climber but it will have to do. Just at the base of our first moraine. Not easy going and difficult to find the right path.

Up we go

Lots of debris , boulders and hard blue ice underneath. We climb and soon are walking on top of the glacier. Rocks sitting on ice pedestals – a moonscape then clean ice. Time for my sunglasses. I had thankfully found mine but the arms had been broken in my rucksack. Never mine they still work.

We are now on our first glacier. Lots of moraine rocks perched on ice stumps and ice is easy to walk on as there is plenty of grit.

Where was the Umassi La? The hard ice  on top of this glacier was easy to travel except where soft snow lay. I am lagging behind now and sort of confused as we walked up the valley. My memory of my simple map doesn’t really explain which way we should be going. Massive show covered peaks on all sides and morainal scree slopes on the left.

amazing views. We are entering God’s country. Fortunately the weather is still good.

Ahead of us was a choice of valleys all with the fronts of glaciers staring down at us. Some of them looked like they might collapse.  Avalache country and every now and then we could hear the thunder as pieces fell away and crashed onto the valley floor.

Can’t imagine where we go now. Thank goodness I decided a guide would be good. No evidence of trails on the Glacier. Well what did I expect!

I can’t keep up. Lack of oxygen and condition I guess. My guides are way ahead. I just wonder which is the right pass. And do I have the stamina to get over it.

My guides are waiting for me. The next hurdle I discover is the ridge next to the ice wall. At the base is a possible camping ground. Thank goodness we didn’t stay here as it is terribly exposed to the weather and much colder t

at the head of two glaciers. This is a camping site too. But very exposed and glad we didn’t make this our destination.

Rurah is the name of this place. Our guides at one time suggested we might camp here. Not very inviting-just a couple of exposed campsites on to of that dividing moraine. Rurah is spot where we climb to the next higher up hanging glacier. It is a very step scree slope which we have to climb. The first part is particularly horrible. Sometimes a small pile of rocks can be seen as a marker but this is not much of a track with lots of loose rock and man it is steep. (or is this the lack of oxygen that is hurting me)

Umassi La – the Ascent

In Machail I was determined to find some nice accommodation. The lack of sleep was getting to me and I needed to get things shipshape before the climb.

I actually wasn’t too sure how to go about this so just asked at the various houses around the temple area and In particular the ones that I thought looked most attractive. I found a very nice house painted pink but still of a traditional rock and deodar construction. It was very clean and I was shown a front room overlooking the river. Being upstairs it was quite private and not at all dusty. The family seemed very reserved and I think maybe a little unsure what to make of me. I desperately needed some rest and I couldn’t have found a better place to rest and clean up.

Tarath Sangh Rathore the owner of the house had a good workshop downstairs adjacent to the laundry and shower area. Actually he was in the process of making a toilet block next to his house. The existing scheme for toilet obligations was simply to go to the edge of the escarpment and do it there or walk up to the toilet blocks located over a very well built concrete water channel. He seemed to be a good craftsman seeing as he could make windows and doorframes with just a few simple tools. No electrics in this part of the world.

I had arrived in the morning having left Hamori without breakfast. So after tidying myself with a good washup,body and clothes I went in search of something to eat. I think maybe there were two restaurant choices

Machail’s best restaurant

in town and after finding one I topped up with some food. Food choices is really an exaggeration and it would seem you take what is going. I saw no meat dishes and veggies were in short supply. But the local restaurant did have onions and potatoes presumably brought in as the local crops were not ready to be harvested.

After this and a walk around the village and temple area I headed back to my room. I put my iphone on charge and started reading my Kindle. Next thing I knew I had fallen into a deep sleep and was woken by the Tarath saying dinner was ready. I hardly knew where I was – maybe old age had taken over or was it the onset of dementia? I was very pleased to be offered something to eat again though although I still hadn’t been invited into where the family ate.

(the next day 14th July:)It wasn’t long and I hit the sack again. After a good nine hours sleep I wake up in good form. For me I had decided to make this day a lay day, rest up and visit the local Buddhist monastery. Whilst Machail is a sacred Hindu site the surrounding villages are now increasingly Buddhist. These areas have very cold winters with a very short summer season and hence are not so attractive for agriculture. My legs still feel stiff and this day’s walking on relatively flat areas is a joy.

The call to Prayer- it takes practice

I walk to the Buddhist village which is in the same direction as I came from yesterday and then beyond the village I come to the Buddhist temple. The monastery appeared to be below a moraine but I didn’t explore the valley any further. As I walked up to the doors of the monastery the guys I could see in what appeared to be an empty school below caught up with me and opened up the gompa and we went inside. Such a peaceful place and we discussed some things but still I miss out on the details. Where are the school kids? Are the Buddhists and Hindus happy living together or are there tensions. What opportunities do the people see for themselves and so on. The monk and his friend were both young but appeared to be comfortable in their choice of living. We tried blowing the trumpet and sat for a while inside just soaking up the ambience before going back to the monk’s home for a cup of tea.

Umassi La- the climb begins

I am now almost at Atholi. Atholi is one of my favourite villages which I have been wanting to return to for some time. I am hungry, hot and thirsty as I approach Atholi on the Kishtwar road. The men I meet seem sullen too and perhaps that is the effect of Ramadan. Children pass me on there way home from school shy but curious. Who is this old man traipsing along the road. Most of them have head scarves but not birkars.

enjoying good company and some food at Atholi

The main road skirts Atholi and that is one of the things that attracted me to the village. A bypass road skirts the lower corn fields and runs under the eaves of the adjoining mountainside. Some small bridges cross mountain streams until the road climbs up to the village on a crest overlooking the main road and the river along which it runs close to.

I walk through the village and come to the town centre which like last time seems slightly abandoned and unkept. I walk towards the eastern end of the town near where I stayed in the forest guest house some years ago and find the same shop opened  that I ate at before. The people here are very friendly and there is a mixture of eaters and non-eaters. Not necessarily I expect along religious lines but just along the individuals will which is the way it should be.

Refreshed both in food and company I then set off for Gulab Garth where the trail is supposed to start. Gulab Garth isn’t too far away and can be seen across the river much lower down than Atholi. It isn’t nearly as attractive as Atholi but is a very busy dusty trucking town supplying many of the villages in the surrounding valleys. There are also more road connections the main one being the extension to Killar and thence to Laddakh or Manali.

To get to Gulab Garth last time you took a lovely footpath down the ridge to the bridge in the cusp of the valley and thence swung to the left to a large flat and rocky plain where Gulab Garth was settled. Unfortunately not much was left off the old path  down to the highway as the excavator was demolishing it in front of my eyes as I descended. Preserving charm is not a highlight in India’s progress. One of the reasons Gulab Garth is growing too is that it has a large buddhist population and probably Hindu. So it is a melting pot of religions.

As I walked into Gulab Garth my immediate need was to get some advice on how to get to this trail and just where did it start and for that matter how far how the road been built. There are lots of activity in Gulab Garth not only because it is a trucking rendevue and bus terminus b. I stopped at one of the first shops for a drink and check out the possibility of leaving my bag there whilst I looked around. But it soon turned out that I had found all I would need from a young police constable  Sanjeev Singe  who was going home for the weekend to be with his wife and family.

at the beginning

Sanjeev the policeman on the left with the Kumar boys

He offered to take me with him. In return I bought some chicken which we drove down to the other end of town to pick up. But I baulked at buying whisky as I felt this might not be the right thing to do. But maybe that cautiousness has infiltrated my thinking after being with Muslim families for so long. We set off in his small low hung car eventually dodging potholes along the way. the road didn’t seem to go very far before we reached the end and where blasting was going on. We found a spot to leave the car and were soon joined up with four young guys who were returning from a pilgrimage. They all had the surnames Kumar but they didn’t look to be related. Apparently they had been camping at another Pilgrimage site somewhere towards  Killar and were in very good spirits for what had obviously been a successful adventure for them.

Floods in Kashmir

from my friend Chris Zandee ‘It is madness but it looks you are nice and busy.
We have distributed food and will help with pumping water.
business has been paused as the whole valley has been paused and stopped for now 2 weeks.
It will take months and some years to recover. Financial loss is high.
Agricultural loss is also huge to trees animals and harvest.’

bridge washed away

the Jhelam River in flood – near Srinagar

It is so hard to visualise how quickly your life can change. When I was there in July everything looked good with crops growing well and not nearly as dry as previous years. Now so much has been lost and the setbacks will take years to recover from.

the Marwah Valley near Nowpachi. Water mill for grinding flour seen in upper section destroyed by rubble and mud carried down by the floods photo by Nasir Lone

Morainal river valleys upheaved by floods- photo by Nasir Lone

Chris Zandee
Himalayan Products
Langanbal, Pahalgam, J&K.

Getting to Umassi La


Last year I went to Padum, in the Zanskar valley with the intention of traversing Umassi La into Jammu. This is a relatively high walk described as demanding with the top of the pass being 5340m. As it happened I think I had a re-occurrence of Ross River Virus and after some struggles getting to Padum just wasn’t up to the challenge.

This year however I felt it was necessary to make a real effort to conquer this pass for being almost 68 years old I felt if I waited time was running out. A couple of things are different this year. The main thing is that I was feeling fit. And It looked like Gulzar Hussein a chap I also met last year in Padum would also join me. I don’t often find people when I am ready to go on these adventures and a likeable and proven companion would have been fun. It was just fortuitous that we met up whilst walking down the street in opposite directions in Lal Chowk Srinagar. So we talked about it a bit and also with a friend of his in a local coffee shop and they indicated that they would like to do it from the Jammu side.

However as it turned out Gulzar was unable to come as his studies at Kashmir Uni wouldn’t permit a break of this length of time. So once again I would go it alone. There are advantages and disadvantages in this approach. The advantage is that sometimes travelling is easier especially if you are hitch hiking as drivers will often pick up one person. More than one person and they might not have the space or be afraid of what might happen to them. The disadvantage is that you are on your own and often might feel lonely and even at odds with those you meet.

tit for tat

Tit for Tat-or can freedom ever exist?- this is a copy of the letter I am submitting to the Kashmiri newspapers.

Padam, Ladakh 21st July, 2013- a ghost town

Why is the world so cruel? I cannot believe what happened on my recent visit to Padam.

Padam is located in the Zanskar region of Ladakh and administered by Kargil. Ladakh itself has until recently been predominantly Buddhist. However in the Zanskar valley more and more peoples of the Muslim religion have moved over the so-called dividing line Ringdom Gompa from the Kargil region. In some ways this movement has been favoured by the administration which has tended to give positions of responsibility to those of the Muslim religion and this tendency also applies to the police force.

My position in this matter is one of strict neutrality. I love both Kashmir and Ladakh and as an Australian tourist I have been visiting these regions for many years both for trekking and to help develop a non-government organization called Uplift Kashmir with doctors and other professionals based in Srinagar. I have friends of both religious persuasions and I guess this year I have been trying to come to grips with the great dilemma of Kashmir – which is how they will find their freedom and is their some greater wellbeing once they get to this point. Ask any Kashmiri what they want and the answer is freedom. But ask any Kashmiri how to they get there without unleashing a greater terror and you are met with fewer answers.

My purpose here though is to outline to your Kashmiri readers what I observed in Padam. On the 21st July as the bus approached Sani we were told a curfew had been applied. Maybe some of your readers already know the reason for this. Apparently a few days before a young Buddhist girl had run off with a Muslim boy. In my country that would hardly be an issue. We all know at that young age love and emotions run strong. But in both religions there are strong objections to mixed religious relationships. Again as I understood it the girl would have been forced to change her religion.

This is the crux of what made the local Buddhist population angry. They could see their ties with their land and peoples being eroded. The problem seems to be growing and started last year. 4 or 5 years ago when I was there on another trek these were happy communities.

the police force were heavy handed once again

the police force were heavy handed once again

As a result of this situation the Buddhist people in Padam started a protest march up what is the only really main street in the town when the police came out to meet them. Stones were thrown at the police and they retreated. No damage to anyone though and soon this part of the story was over. Please note that I am not condoning the behavior of the Buddhists at all. They may have been angry and they may have frightened the police.

Whether the police were angry over their loss of face in the initial handling of this confrontation or for other accumulated reasons they were revengeful when they returned to the streets. They started at one end of the town firing guns into the air and smashing windows of all accessible Buddhist buildings down the street. They entered all the Buddhist hotels and guest houses breaking whatever they could get to. They stole money and equipment. They bashed the women folk wherever they were unfortunate enough to be trapped. One of their policemen was shot in the foot by another policeman

The Dental Camp

Yesterday Dr. Masood Shah invited  me to join him on a Dental Camp. The purpose of this session was to assess the dental problems associated with the orphans at the Raahat Manzil. These assessments was ostensibly run by the Dental Association of India but in reality were volunteers from the Srinagar sub-branch.

Raahat Manzil  was set up by volunteers to look after children who had lost their father..( in Kashmir an orphan is described as a child who has lost his father- the mother can still be alive) In past times natural disasters such as floods,earthquakes and famine might have created conditions where the family were unable to support their children.. 1-DSCF6208The need for this orphanage increased dramatically in the 1990 when the conflict between the Army (or police) was intense and many men especially were being killed. Since that time the orphanage has expanded to meet these new needs and even when I visited yesterday several large building were under construction. the children come to the orphanage if their father dies as the woman in these societies has little opportunities to find ways  to earn enough to support her kids herself. However the kids seem happy and apparently maintain strong connections with their families and their villages. The mothers can also come to the society and be involved on whatever basis suits them.

I had a brief tour and met the Chairman Mr. S.A. Bukhari as well. The children have dormitory type accommodation not at all like what you might expect to see in the West. Each child has a tin trunk in which to keep his personal belongings in his room. Like many Kashmiris accommodation is reasonably simple as the children sleep on the floor.

In attendance were 6 to seven Dentists all from both private practices and government run facilities in Srinagar,  Support was also provided by Abbot Healthcare. Somehow during the preliminaries it was suggested that maybe the assessment process could be enhanced if each dentist could become personally involved by treating a few of the children. This was enthusiastically embraced by everyone and as I understand it after everyone was examined those with the greatest needs were selected for treatment. Amazingly though each dentist chose much more than had been agreed on. For those with more simple requirements 24 patients were selected. I would think as a result of this initiative over 100 of the children examined will have treatment in the next few weeks.

All of this is happening as a result of the goodwill of these doctors. No paperwork which can be debilitating just getting the job done. The association of Doctor and patient will be also be something to look at when we meet again. I am sure these kids need such personal contacts and will respond to this initiative in a positive way.

  • this is the brochure used by the Dental association

Yordu and Bilal’s family

Bilal’s family live in Yordu. In order for one  to get to Yordu it is necessary to cross the Mawau River either via the old bridge or via the newer suspension bridge which takes a larger load. Then a short walk up the hill to a sort of commons where some shops are located on one side and a Forest Rest House just to the right of the track.

basic shops on what I call the common

basic shops on what I call the common

There are no roads here and as far as I know no plans for one yet. This is what makes Yordu so beautiful.

The valley narrows as you cross the river at a very nice suspension bridge at Kolihal. As one walks down the river and nears Yordu then the valley starts to widen and opens out further as one heads in the direction of Hanzel. On the Yordu side there is another river called the Rin Nai which is substantial and joins the Marau River just a little downstream from Yordu. On the opposite side of the river their are a few towns including Nawaan ub thus broad valley until it ends in a morrainal scree slope.

Bilal’s family home is a traditional building made like a log cabin of interlocking deodar trees.

These are gradually becoming less common as people change to concrete homes. I love the feel of these homes, they smell nice and the wood inside is pleasant to look at. The living quarters start on the first floor with the animals kept downstairs. There is an outside toilet but inside is a room with hot water for showering. Wood fires are still used for cooking.

Bilal and myself

Conked out with Bilal in his room

I had no idea when I arrived who would be there. As it turned out I was welcomed by  Zubaida  ; Bilals mother.

It only took a few minutes and I felt at home back in Bilal’s room.  Bilal turned up later followed by his dad GH Rasool  and later his sister Nisha. Ulfat who was my guide last year didn’t come as he now has a job in Kishtwar. I was sorry not to see him as I really appreciated his companionship last year.

As Ramadan was in full force I believe I was offered food and drink but naturally everyone else abstained. After a rest we then decided to go for a swim as it was a particularly hot day. All the kids joined up and I the Pied Piper headed with them to the river. When we got there we had to be careful where we jumped in as the waters were particularly cold and fast moving. Everyone seemed reluctant mainly because none of them were experienced swimmers and they new better than anyone that the waters were very cold. Never the less I had to be a little more macho and jumped in . I must admit three strokes later I had to get out as it was so cold. I realised too that it wasn’t such a good place to play in the water as it was so cold. So then we went down to almost the junction of the Mawau River with Rin Nai where a small tributary had a number of waterholes which were much safer to swim in.

A perfect day to spend in Yordu and a lovely family. Later I walked around the town and saw some stunning views of the bridges across the river.

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basic shops on what I call the common2012-07-22-11-53-322012-07-22-11-54-46Bilal's mother on the rightBilal and myself2012-07-22-14-19-392012-07-22-15-23-172012-07-22-15-46-002012-07-22-15-48-232012-07-22-16-12-172012-07-22-18-04-582012-07-22-18-07-172012-07-22-18-09-582012-07-22-18-11-542012-07-22-18-42-082012-07-22-18-48-432012-07-22-18-52-542012-07-22-18-53-302012-07-22-18-54-202012-07-22-18-55-482012-07-22-19-01-542012-07-22-19-03-032012-07-22-19-05-122012-07-22-19-30-042012-07-22-20-06-132012-07-22-18-53-30_02012-07-22-18-54-20_02012-07-22-18-55-48_02012-07-22-19-01-54_02012-07-22-19-03-03_02012-07-22-19-05-12_02012-07-22-19-30-04_02012-07-22-20-06-13_0

Not wanting to overstay my welcome I decided to trek up the river Rin Nai to the hot springs just after Anyar and then go on to Metwan. . I knew I could get to Laddakh from the village but wasn’t exactly sure as my map only went to Chilung La. I wasn’t particularly worried though as I new someone would turn up somewhere with the necessary info to get me to the other side. Little did I know that is exactly what happened but not in the way I expected.

The Marwah Valley – FINALLY

Last year I was fortunate enough to visit the Marwah Valley as part of my trek from Sonder to Baital . This was a great adventure but the need to return even if only to see parts of it again seemed important to me. I was especially upset when my camera disappeared in the final hours probably stolen on the bus I took from Baital to Waya at the very end of this long walk.

On this trek I was hosted by many families as paid accommodation doesn’t seem to exist although it has been written up in older documents that Forestry provide rest houses. I did see a few of these on route but they looked as if they hadn’t been used for some time. Rather than try to make do in such a lonely place I naturally succumbed very quickly to the hospitality that was offered.

But I am digressing. The purpose of this article is now to take you to Yordu and to Bilal’s family home. Bilal’s family hosted me last year and his brother Umfat was my guide and porter for several days last  year. So I was looking forward to meeting them again and perhaps getting to know them more. Contact however and prearrangement’s are very difficult to make as there is no communication channels to these people. Whether the reason for this is due to the terrain or the army’s viewpoint that the region is dangerous for terrorists I was unable to determine. So as I walked down the valley I really had no idea who would be at home.

But my hosts had an inkling that I would turn up as we are able to communicate in the winter months when they move from the valley to stay in Kishtwar which has full facilities and remains open all year.

So when I woke up that morning  after a hectic night with the J&K police in the shared jeep I was keen to be on my way. The horse-camp is really at the end of the traffic able road from Inshan. It is the 22nd of July and Ramadan is in full swing. Prayers are 8 times a day and fasting commences from daylight to dusk. And fasting is not only for food but liquids as well. The people seem very adept in their acceptance and their doesn’t seem to be many sneaking an odd snack. However however difficult it may be for them they seem to instinctively accept that I am not of their ilk and I am constantly offered tea or food whenever it is available. The pony men seem to be an exception to the rule. They don’t eat but they might have some water. So after some tea, rice and sweet biscuits I am ready to depart. Of course everyone wants me to take a photo of our group for what reason I don’t know as they will probably never get to see them.

A excavator is desecrating the existing track but the old footbridge still effectively divides the old world from the rest of the world. What a beautiful day I was full of mounting enthusiasm. As I noted in my diary ‘that the road is smashing its way down the valley with the help of this excavator which does its deed in the few months of summer. I am calling it a road but it is more like a destructive serpent. It has already destroyed the layout of the old path with its carefully laid flagstones and pleasant little footbridges which cross the many side streams. Even since last year the extent of the damage has multiplied with the excavator already beyond Yordu having crossed the river in the winter months when the flows stop and what remains of the river probably ices over.’