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.’
Not far along the trail I met Parik; a wiry slightly rotund man with a orange beard. He is apparently with the Tourism Department in Yordu although I can’t imagine what he has to do as I would be one of the few tourists to visit this area. But I am pleased to already be recognised as well to be welcomed back. My enthusiasm leaps up a few more knots. This sort of thing was to continue with people remembering me from my very short visit last year. It’s seemed amazing but I suppose it isn’t really when as I have already stated the place gets so few visitors.
Its about 2 hours of fast walking to get to Yordu. Quite a few horseman and their entourage of horses on the way returning to pick up more stuff. As you approach Yordu a spectacular view of the valley awaits you with a backdrop of mountains. to get to Yordu you have to cross the river.
But there is houses on both sides of the river and quite a few shops on my side of the river. Just before you get ready to cross the river the largest mosque in the valley is there. There are two bridges which cross over to Yordu – the old and the new one. the older one is traditional and only able to carry light loads. It is a cantilever arrangement with each additional beam reaching out a bit further so that each side approaches its counter part on the other side. Finally a top beam bridges the gap. A bit rickety as you cross but I just love them and hope they don’t disappear.
I am still on the opposite side of the river as our track/road approaches the Yordu bridge. There is a small village the name which I never found out and a large wooden mosque very near the above bridge. This would be the biggest mosque in the whole valley.
Its not long an I have crossed the old bridge and then climb the ridge t reach the first buildings which belong toYordu. On my left are the familiar shops which I remember from last year. I don’t stop as I know my way to Bilal’s home and want to get there soon. The shopping area if that’s what you call it is in an open area sort of like a sloping sports ground. Unfortunately there is quite a bit of rubbish around and it is one of the things I want to get people to address in my next visit. Something like Cleanup Australia which was so effective in the 80’s in Sydney first and later all over Australia.
It is not long and I arrive at Bilal’s home and introduce myself once again. Bilal’s mother greets me and I am soon relaxing in Bilal’s room and other members of the family soon arrive having heard that I am here on the grapevine. Unfortunately Umfat my guide from last year isn’t in Yordu this summer as he has found employment in Kishtwar.
I am going to post this now but will introduce you to Bilal’s family and some of the beauty of this place in the coming days.