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.’

to the real Srinagar

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After GuHyun left it was time to visit Musood who lives in Soura, an eastern suburb of Srinagar. 13th July however turns out to be Martyr’s Day . So the town was in a shut down stage with nearly all businesses closed down and many streets barricaded. The army and police were everywhere and looked a little tense. It was into this foray that I had to get through if I was to stay at Musood’s that night. So I hired a tuk tuk (auto- rickshaw) after dropping off GuHyun at the bus depot and away we went.

Customer Support [Tanya R.] The driver was still only half enthusiastic after we agree on a price of 300 rupees which is 50% more than it would have been otherwise. However it wasn’t long before we had our options reduced. To get to Soura you have to go normally through the old city. According to the driver that wouldn’t have worked so he chose a longer route but never the  less we ran into road block with barb wire across the road thus effectively stopping us.  The military were adamant that we should go back but by this time I had decided that I would try to circumvent their decisions. I indicated to the controlling officer that I was going to the main hospital SKIMs which I new was convenient being located near Musood’s place. This and perhaps the fact that I was a foreigner seem to work and we went on. However we came to another blockage and this time they told me to get out and walk the rest of the way. No way was I going to do that as empty streets, barb wire and a heavy military presence was giving me a creepy feeling. More explanations to the officers were given and finally permission was given to allow us to proceed to the hospital. Thank goodness I didn’t walk though as it was a very long way.

Soura is a relatively new suburb with many large dwellings in some cases of almost castle like proportions. Concrete is the new median of construction and you won’t see the traditional wooden building anywhere here. Perhaps the only similarity with the older traditional wooden buildings is the high pitch roofs often looking like they are flimsily attached to the top floor of the building. In former times and perhaps still in some places in Soura they are still used for storage of fodder crops etc to be fed to their animals in winter. Lots of construction, roads in a constant state of repair and very hazardous road rules, high and unusable footpaths which are so ridiculous no one uses them and nearly every house has a high wall and a large gate I suppose to protect its occupants.

 

 

 

 

For me at times it was easy to lapse into a mindframe that you were at home in Australia. For much of the time I  might not notice the differences and complacency would set in. But things are different some more subtle than others. I am trying to give you some understanding of that picture.

 

 

Perhaps the main difference between life here and Australia is the strong relationship people have to their faith. In Kashmir generally and in Srinagar particularly the overwhelming majority of people are Muslem. Their faith in these parts is not a passive thing worn behind close doors it is out there everywhere. For myself it is such a new sensation and for someone who has never been particularly religious it could sometimes be daunting. To hear the Mullahs calling people to prayer many times a day and especially during Ramadan we would probably find this intrusive in Australia and not tolerate it.

I return to one of the most beautiful valleys in Kashmir

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It took me a while to make my way back to the Marwah Valley. In order to get you guys interested in this story as much happens I am breaking it up into segments. In this note I am telling you a little about how one gets to the Marwah valley and why it took me so long to return .
One of my reasons  that I may have hesitated a  little is that I wasn’t that sure that by returning to what was a wonderful place last year might in fact turn out to be  something of a disappointment seeing it again. However I can state  straight away that this wasn’t the case. The Marwah Valley seems to me to be even more beautiful this year!
The main reason for the delay in getting to this trek was because after my trek with Gu Hyun from Aru to Sumbar (on the main road to Sonamarg)  I was a wreck. After finishing my toes had turned completely blue from punching in the ends of the shoes, toenails weren’t much good and soles of feet were very sore. That much I can still remember.

 

Our horseman leaves us- and then it is just down,down,down—–

You see Ali our horseman was only able to take us to the top of the saddle. I had hoped he would go further but it didn’t take us long to realise that horses couldn’t go where we were heading. There he left us to return to Aru leaving us with very full rucksacks which had every thing we had brought to India. Far too much to carry even though we were descending. And descending is certainly an understatement.

the only way now is down,down,down

Gu Hyun was a great travel companion. He had been working at Eureka Farm for 4 months and left for India about the same time as me. It turned out to be purely accidental that we were both going to India at this time. This was to be his last major adventure before returning to Korea and for me it has become somewhat an annual pilgrimage to see more of these Himalayas. So we agreed to meet in Amritsar and then travelled by bus and jeep to Aru where we did this very long walk in a very short time. I believe Gu Hyun hasn’t had that much experience doing this sort of thing but my observation is that he enjoyed himself very much.

Hopefully we will meet again- but thanks again for your company.

 

 

exhausted but we make it

Down, down, down only reaching the main road which would return us to Srinagar at dusk. A bus picks us up full of people returning from Yatra but we felt glad to be returning to civilisation and frankly still alive. Not much room on the bus though being actually very similar to my last year’s bus trip  return from Baital. But to sit down even if it is on an old rucksack was a relief to my body and I did make sure I didn’t lose my camera.

 

Sheik Palace on Dal Lake is eventually reached late that night. In spite of there being more tourists this year the older houseboat has room for us. A quick snack and Gu Hyun and myself get some very necessary sleep. It is the next morning that the full impact of yesterday’s effort becomes obvious to me. I could hardly walk!
Being on a houseboat in Dal Lake must be one of the great medicines that I know for recovery. It is one of the few places that you can escape the huzzle and buzzle of this big city and yet still be so close to all. After a couple of days Gu Hyun and I parted – he for Laddakh and me for Dr. Musood Shah’s place. And all of this happens when the old town is shut down for a curfew as it was Memorial day for the many innocent civilians gunned down by the Indian army some 20 years ago I think. These sort of days the army and police are out in great numbers and look to be very trigger happy.
I remained tender for days. The Aru 2 day walk finished on the 10th. However the walk to Marwah Valley didn’t start until the 21st. Admittedly the time in between was well occupied helping my friend Musood develop Uplift Kashmir , a society which is setting out to provide medical facilities to some parts of Kashmir which are at present either under provided or not provided at all with certain medical facilities. But normally I would have been up and away earlier than this. And maybe the aches and pains from the Aru trip made me aware that perhaps my age was catching up with me. However as we approached this starting date I began to realise that I had better get my act together,  ignore any impending age crisis and go.
more to come—-

lets change kashmir

 

a letter to the English Kasmeri papers in Srinagar submitted 31/7/2012:

Isn’t it time Kashmir changed its approach to confrontation……

 

looking down on the Merau River from Yordu

I am writing this short article as an independent traveler from Australia who has fallen in love with the beautiful Himalayas that form a backdrop to much of Kashmir. For the last 5 years I have been coming to India in what is our winter time namely late June and July.  I come from a similarly beautiful part of the world namely Tasmania which is located in the southern most part of Australia and enjoys a similar climate to Kashmir although not as cold in winter and being in the southern hemisphere a 6 months time difference.

Being summer in India it didn’t take me long to realise that the best places to visit at this time of year was in the Himalayas and especially in those regions that were not two affected by the monsoons which predominate in the easterly regions of this country. So gradually I spent quite a bit of time exploring Himachal Pradesh , Laddakh and then finally Kashmir. For many years I avoided my wandering too much into Kashmir because of the emergency contingencies which waxed and waned from year to year. But all of that has changed for me these last two years when I realised that although risks did still exist from parties in armed conflict with each other that perhaps to a person such as myself they were no more dangerous than say crossing a road in Lal Chowk Srinagar.

Last year I traveled from Kishwar to Baital mainly by walking up the Merau River and passing through the towns of Sonder, Hanzal Yordu Inshen Sukhnoi before crossing the mountain range to Shesnag and falling in with the Yatra procession to Amarnath and finally finishing up in Baltal in a much exhausted but elated state. Somehow in the last couple of hours I mislaid my camera and that was my only disappointment with this trek. During the intervening year I resolved to go back to some of these places I had been through and meet some of those persons who had befriended me last year and of course take as many photos as possible. To that extent that objective has just been completed.

What I want to talk about now is how I feel about these people and how their lives have been restricted by this Contingency for so many years by all in control and not just the forces in the field such as the army, the J&K police but by the politicians and their bureaucrats.

approaching Yordu

the Mawrah Valley

It is really India’s Shangri-La by which I mean it is really a precious hidden valley which has probably escaped too much attention because it was shut down to tourists for perhaps more than 20 years because of the Contingency.

I often think to myself where would I like to be  if I served in the police or army. Of all the places in India this would be one of the best places to be stationed. Why then would one want an emergency situation to disappear? During my visit last week I have been told by the Army that there are 6 terrorists operating in the area. ( the police said 4 terrorists or maybe it was the other way around). The villagers however seem to hold a different viewpoint and say there have been no problems for several years. To be honest I sort of lean to their viewpoint.

Annapurna’s Beckoning

View of Pokhara from the Stupa

. The Annapurna’s Beckons – the beginning

Fishing on Lake Fewa

It took a day to get to Pokhara. I decided to hire a taxi as we had quite a bit of medical equipment for Rob. Bruce my son wasn’t due to arrive before 12:30 am so in the meantime the taxi driver Surya and myself went to get our park certificate and a tim card. Quite a money earner for Nepal at  R3300 per person. Paperwork for this and that can be quite a time consuming exercise. For example I have used 2 passport photos and a copy of my passport just to get the Annapurna park paperwork done. Another annoying feature of this park business is that they are single entry. If you leave for example after finishing one trek in one section and then go to another section then you need another entrance certificate and hence another fee has to be paid. As far as I can tell it is also not possible to get to all parts of the part without leaving and entering. Even more annoying is that not all parks are treated the same. Some parks are located in what they term restricted areas and here fees can be enormous. For example Upper Mustang Area which borders the Annapurna Conservation area and is often reached from the same town of Jonsom has an entrance fee of $500 and lots of other potential charges and conditions. This naturally restricts access to the few that can afford it. In the wet season for me this area would be attractive as it is much drier that those areas south of the Annapurna peaks which are now copping the monsoons. We picked up Bruce at the airport and immediately jumped into the taxi skirting the sprawling and dusty city then heading west to Pokhara. Suyla was a good driver and host so with little ado other than the occasional pit stop we ended up at the tourist mecca of whats called Lakeside in Pokhara at about 6pm.

Arriving at the Mandap Hotel - Lakeside

Rob obviously knew his way around and recommended the Mandap Hotel which we soon found. Subrana the hotel manager made us feel very welcome. It wasn’t very long before we were unpacked, showered and sitting down to a Nepalese standard of dal bhat with some of the whisky that Bruce had brought with him. The next day was a prep day and decision day for both of us deciding what treks we could manage. A lot of our baggage would stay at the hotel as we intended to travel light and stay in ‘hotels’. I use the word loosely as they certainly were not like the comforts we had been enjoying at the Mandap. After a tentative plan was determined over breakfast on the terrace outside our room we made a visit to Manapore Hospital.This is a great hospital and seems to be well run.I am sure my impression was strongly influenced by the help we got from the Patient  Care  co-ordinator Mrs Sulochana Dhakel who moved us through the maze of services effortlessly. I was still working on my teeth problems and Bruce had his back checked after an injury suffered from an overzealous massage in Thailand. Some items necessary for our trek were also were purchased in the Lakeside area which is well endowed with trekking shops an gear for all sorts of adventures. The day was completed with a climb to the stupa

Kathmandu at last-finding my way

 After the overnight flight to Hong Kong with Cathay Paciific where I had a window seat and sat with re-emerging aching tooth. Whilst I was squirming in my seat from pain my next door neighbour must have wondered what was wrong with her adjacent passenger. Kristen’, Pete’s brother met me in Hong Kong at the airport. I am sure that I wasn’t in the greatest shape but foggedly I sort of got thru the day before boarding my final outgoing flight to Kathmandu via Dacca. Fortunately my contact was there to meet me and take me to Deutsche Hotel where II have been ever since.
The title of this entry is truly appropriate as the Thamel area where I am staying is a maze of narrow streets alive with people and vehicles of all types during the day and well into the evenings. If you want peacefulness this is not the place to get it. But although tourists are well and truly represented the communities of mums, dads and children are behind every wall. I don’t think you can really know the area well because these little back streets have no names and weird narrow and maybe many storied buildings take up all the available space. Old stupas and gnarled walled in trees and other religious treasures seemed to be sprinkled everyone leading one to belive that in bygone years this might hve been opens spaces.
I am still getting used to my new lifestyle. After leaving Tasmania’s weather which was getting cold topped off by particularly cold weather in Sydney last weekend I have now arrived what two days later in Kahmandu where I hardly need to wear clothes. Last night I decided to spruce myself up a bit and not only did I shower but washed a few of the shirts that I have been wearing too long. The irony of the situation is that they don’t want to dry. There is no breeze at all and whilst it isn’t raining one feels that the wet season is not far away.
There is a good restaurant next door called the New Orleans

the eating hole= New Orleans

well frequented by tourists but not really offering local foods. So i have en searching for other places to eat- so far without much success. Yes there are lots of eateries many of them advertising that they will be viewing the Eurocup2012. Hamburgers,mexican, italian but not a lot flogging nepalese food. I suppose that is a function of the tourist demand but it is frightening how quickly the culture that everyone comes to see disappears.

the start of my 2012 venture to Nepal then India

The start of my  2012 trip to Nepal and then India

Posted on June 12, 2012 by Denis Buchanan

 

I am now at Sydney  airport now writing my first note (using Evernote on my Acer notebook which I have decided to take this year).

I have just taken the train from my Mum’s place in Chatswood. Everyone on the train coming down from Epping seemed to be either listening to music or on their mobiles. Kind of looks like everyone has lost the ability to communicate.

I had quite a load 38.5kg in fact including an audiometer and a hearing analyser. But Cathay Pacific had given me permission to take extra baggage to Rob’s dis ability centre in Nepal.

Thank goodness they are loaded now as baggage and I am down to a small carry sack.