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- 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.

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.’