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.
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.
For some reason I always feel uneasy when surrounded by people with machine guns. Especially in my own encounter last week when fully armed army and police personnel came into my room at mid-night countermanning a previous order which had allowed me to be there and then escorting me back over a full days walk as their so-called guest.
.Over reactions such as these must be so numerous and the hapless individual really can’t exercise any rights in this situation and most wouldn’t even get the opportunity to speak up as I am doing now.
So what do we achieve by this protection? Who are the powers that are weighing up the benefits or otherwise? Isn’t there anything we can do now to Normalise the situation? To all of these questions and more I think the time has come to do some things. After all Srinagar itself has had more disturbances than most places in Kashmir but still we allow people to visit and the normal functions of society such as the freedom to move about, newspaper coverage internet and other media operate normally.
There is a double edged sword operating in the Marwah valley. Sure ample protection is provided but at the same time amongst other things there are no mobile connections, no internet, no local newspapers, no public electricity grid, no clean water supply and a lack of high quality educational and health facilities. However it is true that they are constructing a road from Inshan down the valley.
But this road is being built in what is truly a magnificent setting in a very ruthless manner. Basically it is being built with an excavator and no other equipment. No crushers for gravel are available for top dressing the road and thus making it an all weather road. No culverts are being installed to divert runoff under the road. No bridges for the many side streams and the one main bridge crossing the Mewau river are in place. Yet meanwhile these excavators are trumbling down the valley and from the top end have reached Nopanchi.
It would seem to me that a moratorium should be put in place on further road extensions as the lower valley is much narrower and the beauty of the valley & more would be destroyed. Whilst it is understandable that the people of the valley might appreciate better outside connections the tourist value of this area is enormous. The lower parts of the valley to Hanzel and beyond to Sonder are beautiful places to walk and I think should be left untouched. A moratorium puts this question up for further discussion and meanwhile the persons responsible for the existing half completed work on road construction can go about their job of tiding up and finishing it to a standard upon which ordinary vehicles would be able to travel.
The isolation and restrictions on the people would probably be aleviated by default once this road was completed. But an intentional decision from the powers to be to open up this area would allow the appropriate planning and implementation to start on these other areas so that the best features of the valley are preserved and that the people of the valley then have the opportunity to become involved in their future.
The people of the Marwah Valley are so nice and have made me very welcome. In Australia we have an expression ‘give them a fair go’ which basically and simply means treat them as your brothers. I put this to you now lets give these people a new deal.Denis Buchanan Bsc., M. Eng.Sc. Eureka Products Box 259, Scamander 7215 Tasmania, Australia