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

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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.

The Avenue- the exploration of a long distance trek through Break O’Day

 

 

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Cocky me on the 5th September I proposed the following adventure on my Facebook Page
“A must do adventure has been on my mind for 25 years and hopefully I will start later the week. It is a cross country trek through forests bordering our farm.——–
I have been a proponent of walking trails for many years and to date by enthusiasm seems to fall on deaf ears. So I figure the best way is to just do it.
Potentially there is so much that could be done to improve the activities available in our municipality. I had hoped to do a long distance walk to Launceston via Ben Lomond but time does not permit me to do so right now. The Ben Lomond path via Storeys Creek offers lots of possible ventures to extend this trip. One of my objectives of this trip will be to stay off roads as much as possible. This trip starts at Eureka Farm and goes to Upper Scamander where it essentially follows the Avenue River to its source and thence to Evercreech and Mathinna.—-” 

the rucksack feels heavy- but too bad as I must get going.

Goodbye, goodbye. Not sure Ann expected to see me again

 

Well it took a few days before I actually started this trip. The main reason was the weather on the few days before was iffish and not much better was promised. When I woke up Sunday,11th – it looked like a great day so I just decided to go.

To make sure of authenticity meaning that I started from Eureka Farm I decided to ride my racing bike on the fire trail behind the house. This would allow me to get to the pipes more quickly. However the reality was quite different as the these fire trails were in bad condition and not at all suitable for a bike with slim tires. I actually walked quite a bit of the way until I came to McIntyre creek where the bridge had been burnt out after the 2006 bushfire. The is just after the turnoff to Schiers track. As I was due to meet Ann at the pipes I decided to go back along Schiers track and then get to my rendezvous via Upper Scamander Road.

Even though this part of Upper Scamander Road was gravel it made for very enjoyable riding and from then on I  made good progress to the Pipes.

Ann had brought me some lunch. So we sat next to the river ate our lunch and then said goodbye.

 

The purpose of this story is to outline what I saw for others who might want to follow. The Avenue River met all my requirements in that it provided me with an instant adventure to places unknown and unfrequented by the Masses. Whilst there is no track the river is not for most of the time difficult to walk along. A word of warning though this is not a river you would want to be on after heavy rains. Flood debris was evident many metres up the side of the river from the June floods and movement along the river would have been impossible and dangerous then.

One last thing is maps. I had some digital maps on my PC downloaded from Maps Tasmania. Printing such maps didn’t lead to high enough resolution. this may have been due to my inexperience. I also had a KMZ format which theoretically you can load into Google maps. However the file size was too big and thus didn’t work. You can load them into Google Earth but still some problems printing. I did manage to save a Google map file of my trek but there terrain resolution is poor compared with Tasmaps 1:25000 topographic maps. One thing that was excellent is that once you have a downloaded map of your proposed trek you can get GPS everywhere even when there is no mobile reception. This feature is most reassuring when you are in narrow valleys with no visuals to outside landmarks.

Finally I would recommend that trekkers download PDF Maps app which has full free access to all TasMaps topographic. The resolution is very clear even better than the printed map if you are getting old and eyesight is not what it used to be. It also has GPS connectivity.  There are a number of other features in this app such as keeping a route map of your trek. One precaution you might like to think of is having a battery backup so that you can recharge your smart phone enroute.

 

Starting at the Pipes  the Avenue River had plenty of water in it. There was much evidence of the June floods along the banks too. You certainly wouldn’t want to be walking in the creek during that time. It did make me a little apprehensive too as the weather wasn’t as stable as I would have liked and when the sun disappeared it could be decidedly cold.

The side of the river had a pebbly cobblestone banks along which a four wheel drive car had apparently gone before me. It seemed like the best way to go and it wasn’t long before I was crossing back and forth across the large pools as I made my way upstream . There was no way I was going to keep my shoes dry and for that matter my shorts too. My unease settled down as I emerge from one pool to the next as I trudged up a rather straight section of the river. Where the tire tracks were going I don’t know as they disappeared presumably as the water holes got deeper. At the end of a relatively straight section the river turns to the right and goes around a long u bend. I knew this and prepared to cut across the U bend rejoining the river where Catos Creek  flows in. The where tp leave part was the difficult choice as there was no indication that a track existed, In front of me though was a large pool which went from bank to steep bank and this looked like a good place to leave the river. This I did.

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a small hideaway- nestled along the Catos River and looking over a small cleared paddock. A haven indeed

My old legs were getting cramps. probably a combination of my foray into bike riding and followed by long immersion in cold water. Whatever the reason they weren’t working as they should do. The bush along side the creek was also formidable. More water in this region led to mulga scrub , broken and dead undergrowth and flood debris. Persevering you soon get to a less formidable region and reaching the crest one finds himself back in dry sclerophyll forest. And believe it or not there is a track which leads to the one sign of habitation on the river.

Yes it was getting cold now and as I sat there I thought for a moment that this would be a good place to camp for the night. It did feel secure but come on man don’t be a wimp. Kicking myself a few times I set out again for the lower paddock and the river I had left. In trekking along this river I made a mental note of the bends. The river runs approximately in a westerly direction but the U bends are at right angles in either direction. I anticipated 3 more U bends before reaching my camping spot for that night.

  • The Avenue displays its treasures
    Magic Rocks in Crystal Clear Pools

Lots of waterholes ; some deep too so that not much below the waist remains dry. The water though is very clear but I can’t see any fish in it . ( maybe it is too cold and they have all gone elsewhere). Not much animal life either as vegetation away from the river doesn’t look like it would support much. As the river sweeps around to he north I know I am approaching another U bend. I have to leave the creek too as the pool incloses the entire creek and the sides are steep. But getting out of the river is not so easy especially for me as I am becoming severely cramped.

I drag myself up and the bush levels out but is heavily scrubbed. I more or less know which direction I must go but just in case I make a check with my ancient Silva compass. Scrub and ferns all the way. With cramping and rotting trees no one would find me if I came to grief here.

I break through to the Avenue again and with relief. Cold and wet as you trudge along the river it hasn’t been a bad day with reasonable times when the sun blessed me. I come to a more interesting section of roughlty carved rocks and small rapids. Not so easy now to travel in the creek and I make several forays over rocky obstacles joining the creek only when it seems passable.

I am looking for Long Gully Creek but didn’t really note a creek flowing although I did think that there should have been a creek in the valley to the north. Kept going and after another straight section come to the junction of two creeks Big Hop Creek and Little Hop Creek. Just where they should be and confirmed on my iphone. Nice creeks with clear water flowing but no camp sites at this junction and looking around the corner a number of large pools.

However I did notice a sandy embankment 50 metres back which will be my camp for this night. Frozen as I am I don’t stop for fear that I might seize up. I get the fire going with some driftwood lying on the pebble  sides to the creek and put my tent up and get my gear out. Alls dry in my rucksack but anything in my shorts is beyond redemption.

Shoes off, no others to wear but fire providing some well earned warmth and rehabilitation. Surprisedly I am not hungry just thirsty. I have found that lack of liquid is a major cause of cramps. So I make a billy of soup and some coffee and sit beside the fire and watch the last rays of sunlight. By about 7:30pm I am ready for bed. I was worried about cramps occurring in the sleeping bag. That can be a real nuisance trying to get mobile when locked in a bag.

But no this didn’t happen. It has only been one day ( really much less as I didn’t leave Eureka Farm  until 10:30am) but what a day. So many visuals and body but to heavy work. I go to bed contented and drowse off thinking what a great life I am having.

  • 1:A good sleepiing bag - and don't I look the worse for wear
  • 2:looking down the Avenue, my cosy U.S tent has served me well. ( not sure how well it would be in rain - but fortunately it wasn't tested on this occasion)
  • 3:
  • 4: food looks good for Breakfast. A long cold night but beautifully clear and I lost count of the stars.
  • 5: my poor little footsies
  • 6:

The cold seeps in and eventually I add my other clothes which are few to improve my warmth. I wake up before dawn – opening the tent door I can see the stars above. All is peaceful except the gurgling of the river . No animals to be seen – a little drizzle at night but the better weather still holding out.

I start the fire to cook up some fresh mince so that it doesn’t go off. Warm my bare feet , more coffee and muesli. Actually very similar to my normal Eureka Farm breakfast. The trees and undergrowth lighten up and the sun appears down the valley. It never reaches me as clouds come over too. I thank my lucky stars for the good campsite – one of a very few that exist along the river, pack up and am on my way by 8:00am.

Soon as I round the bend and pass Little Hop Creek a large pool awaits me.

  • 1: Just after Little Hog Creek more ponds. Every bend offers a different vista.
  • 2: Black Hole- a deep section on one of the U bends- greenish hues
  • 3: looking down the river at Black Hole
  • 4: still going well, body in good shape today
  • 5: before Ballyhoo Flat: Here is the fire trail- the only intersection with the outside world until I get to the upper reaches of Durham Creek
  • 6: now heading for Durham Creek

Such a change from farm work. Muscles are in good shape today. All is looking positive. Rucksack hasn’t changed much in weight but feels comfortable. It is over 30 years old and has been a regular companion of so many of my trips. Shoes are not much fun putting on as they are cold and wet but that won’t matter as they will soon be immersed in the Avenue.

Black cockatoos screeching as I trudge up the river. Is this an omen that rain is coming?  Some pools are very long and I wish my camera was more ready and that the GPS had been turned on. But I was worried they might get wet and so had the camera tucked in my rucksack. Every corner seems to want me to photograph it.

Eventually I come to the first firetrail which helps notify me exactly where I am. My iphone is still working but google maps is not so definitive and I had not at this stage switched over to pdf maps.

I had hoped the track going up the creek would take me further up the creek but no it quickly reversed direction and joined the firetrail heading uphill. Still I followed it as the pool above the trail was quite deep. Open country once you get out of the creek and some signs of clearing of the bush. It looked easy to cut back to the creek which I did. There is a big U bend and when I looked down on the creek it had disappeared. How could I have lost the Avenue River in such a short distance?  I scrambled down to the creek  as it happened I had to go down in the gully as there were cliffs just beneath me from that observation point. When I reach the bed it can be seen that the creek flows underground coming from a south east direction. This is an area known as Ballyhoo Flat. Nice country with what probably at one time was grazing country but now overrun with wattles. Possible campsite in this area.

The creek here has quite a bit of flood damage making it difficult walking along the banks loaded with debris. Walking through some deep pools still seems to me to be the best way and I accept being wet hopefully from the waist down as part of the deal.  Soon after a big pool the Avenue swings off to the right and Durham creek  is to your left. The beginning of Durham creek is wide and readily accessable.  I had a choice of Durham Creek or Barnes Creek. I choose Durham as it looked to be the bigger of the two with pools showing on my map  but in hind sight it would have been more expedient to take Barnes Creek,

  • 1: ca massive pool just after the intersection with the fire trail
  • 2: the Avenue River disappears under gravel- for a moment perched above I wonder where I am
  • 3: flood damage on Durham Creek is still visible and the rock pools can be deep
  • 4: this is one where I had a little trouble and nearly fell in - overcast and looking llike rain
  • 5: what's next????
  • 6: durham Creek eventually joins a second fire trail - which will eventually take me to Barnes Road and the Creech.
  • 7: the Climb out of Durham Creek is not fun and it is repeated at Barnes Creek
  • 8: the path down to Barnes Creek looks very similar to the one I took coming up from Durham Creek. I can't image a 4 wheel drive vehicle would have enough traction on this trail.
  • 9: leaving Barnes Creek when I reach the crest the soil looks rich - lots of she-oaks and grass for the Roos.

A little drizzle accompanies me as I move up the river. In the lower reaches there are some good sized pools but eventually the creek gets smaller. A nice surprise for me is to find a wombat trudging along the river on the opposite side. He (or she) is obviously some distance from safety and I guess didn’t expect to see me. No other company to report and eventually I make it to the second fire trail which marks my exit from Durham creek. I am quite tired and decide to take my lunch break here. It is good to sit down for a while but the trail out of the creek looks very steep and can’t really imagine vehicles being able to travel on it. But obviously they do as fallen trees have been recently cut away from the trail. The trail takes me to the crest and then back down to Barnes creek. Such a waste of energy and then another climb out of Barnes creek  to reach Sugarloaf Road which runs along the pine plantations to the east of the Creech.

Even when I make it to Sugarloaf Road it is a long traverse to the Creech. Finding the right roads is not so easy either and that was where PDF Maps came into their own. I make a few doglegs and eventually get to Barnes Road. Feet killing me and evening is fast approaching. No traffic and a strong possibility that I will have to camp. It has started to drizzle and campsites in the plantation look forlorn. But I am in luck as two forestry logging vehicles come by and are obliging to pick this old bugger up and deliver him to the Creech.

All the comforts await you at the Creech. I would highly recommend Justin and Jill for their hospitality.

All the comforts await you at the Creech. I would highly recommend Justin and Jill for their hospitality.

Not many people walk into the Creech and certainly not in the drab state that I looked. But fortunately Jill beleived my story  and made me more than welcome. The Shearer’s quarters have got all the comforts, the showers are hot and finishing the day in the crib room with an open fire is a great ending to this section of the trek. My hosts were forewarned about my arrival and groups would be acceptable with prior notice.

 

I hope to revise the end part of the trek perhaps to cut across  to the South Esk from Barnes Road and avoid the radiata plantations. More on that later hope my readers will be inspired.

To finsih up my remble I noted an article in the Age (OCTOBER 1 2016) by Katherine Johnson which supports my philosophy:

  • Wild Medicine: there are greater truths in nature than our brains can comprehend

 “Wilderness as salvation” is a relatively new concept in Western thought. And remnants of the old definitions – of wilderness as dangerous after-lands that challenge individuals and societies with their savagery and lack of rules – still linger. They rear their heads when our defences are down. When we are tired and stressed, heading off somewhere remote, particularly with children in tow, can seem too difficult, even crazy. But perhaps—— that’s just what we need to snap ourselves out of our Wi-Fi-induced comas and busy routines, the constant blah-blah of a 24-hour news cycle and the impulse to “check mail”. Perhaps launching ourselves into unknown, untamed spaces is, in fact, the sanest thing we can do.

Nature might make you slow down. it might make you strip off and jump into a cold mountain lake for the fun of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roads or Tourists for Tassie’s East Coast

Elections coming up and the pollies are promising us everything. I hear recently that Mr. Gutwein , the State treasurer has promised $7 million to upgrade roads on the East Coast the so-called Great Eastern Drive.

The platitudes quoted is that it will give tourists a more wholesome experience.

Yes it is true that roads need maintenance and upgrades do become necessary. But to equate that with a better tourist experience is misleading. I came to Tasmania 25 years ago and have lived on the East Coast ever since. We run a largely tourism oriented business at Eureka Farm and thus pay a lot of attention listening to what the tourists value most where possible make changes to our operation to reflect on those comments that apply to our business.

I think Politicians could do with a bit more of that listening experience. The visitors we see love our roads. They love the calmness that prevails, the lack of traffic, the absence of traffic lights and so on. Whether they come from the mainland or overseas these types of comments prevail. I should add that is the reason I love this place too.

The general consensus I get from Tourists visiting us is that they want to stay on and explore the area. What they do crave is things to do- icons to see. The east coast abounds with beautiful places to see. The weather is usually much better than the rest of the state but it is true that like so much of Tasmania it depends on fair weather for activities.

In my community however the problem is making these places obvious to visitors. Sure there are magnificent beaches, rocky headlands and an extended backdrop of state forests. Hardly anything overdeveloped and to my mind very much like the east coast of New South Wales and Victoria was fifty years ago. But there are few walking trails along the coast and its hinterland and the same applies for bicycles. Sure bicycles can go on the roads but that is a risky business and no one which parents are likely to support for their children. Many of our reserves and parks are also somewhat inaccessible. We have Winifred Curtis reserve nearby and it has some magnificent walks inside its boundaries but access to the public is not so easy from nearby communities.

What we need is coastal walks perhaps dual purpose in some places so that bikes can use them too. The coastal walks would connect to these parks and have regular entry points. The users would be able to spend a much larger time in the one area this way and I would imagine would more likely find interest with all members of the family. The entry points would enable small businesses to cater for guests in the way of accommodation and/or food. All thus activities would inevitably promote business activity. Living in the best place in the world I want this, I need this and I don’t think such changes would be difficult to implement.

This type of rationale is not original. Our counter parts in New Zealand and elsewhere have been doing this for years and successfully. We must be aware that experiences are what our visitors want to take home. If we don’t supply it they will go elsewhere. On a much smaller scale in our backyard we have seen what the mountain bike trails have done to Derby and as a result how Dorset Municipalities have extended their scope of activities.

The concept of spending your holidays driving everywhere is no longer what many people are seeking. The desire to do something is a growing need for many who often lead somewhat sedentary lives in their home lives. This need is in all of us all the time and doesn’t really matter whether we are on holidays here or live here. Tasmania’s east coast is the perfect venue for coastal walks and/or bike-rides.

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.

Our Chilean Mountaineer , Diego has moved on

Diego is our first employee from South America and in his case from Chile. Diego has now left Eureka Farm after being here three months. Diego came to us with quite a few practical talents including a love of the outdoors (mountaineering) and cooking. Many of our guest workers struggle with a lack of English but not Diego. OK there was the odd time when the words got confusing but for the most part he understood. This gave him and of course me the advantage that I could use him on the farm for more practical work such as repairing rotten posts and modifying the fences to keep out the wild life.

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All of our workers have worked as a team this year resulting in a very harmonious farm life. Diego’s enthusiasm and easy going nature however was a much-needed tonic when things got busy.

We have become very involved with the Helpx organisation and have sourced some very nice people this year. Most are young and seeking second year visas and often come from a city background and sometimes found working on a farm daunting.

We have developed a roster and have had up to six kids here at a time. Generally we like not  too many of them to come from the same country as then they get a better chance of improving their English and getting to know people from other cultures.

In our roster we divide up the duties. One of the main duties is the preparation of dinner. After a long days work eating the evening meal seems to be treated with a great deal of enthusiasm followed by a good dessert. Some of our kids have never cooked before and thus often spend time researching what they are planning to cook when their time comes. Of course the better meals receive the most accolades but by an large all meals have been pretty good.

Lunch is a more simple affair. Leftovers from the evening or sandwiches. Breakfast has been muesli and fruit. Lots of fruit gets consumed and I am sure all of our pickers now love fruit even if they haven’t had much before coming here.

Feeding the chickens, putting out the garbage, washing up etc are other shared duties. I would have to say I have had no disgruntled employees and everyone seems to have the right amount of gusto and approach to their jobs. Lastly they have learnt a feature of farm life which is up at Sunrise and to be soon after dinner. No one seems to want to party and the only thing that might delay them is a last look at their Facebook page.

 

 

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.’

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.