SRINAGAR: After being a firing range for Indian army for 50 years, picturesque Tosmaidan in central Kashmir’s Budgam district has received the first batch of trekkers, with the local population determined to invite more tourists in coming days.
With the lease deed between state government and Indian army having ended earlier in April this year, a group of 30 trekkers from here had a trekking expedition at the meadow and its surrounding mountains last week. The group, a part of Zulfikar Youth Iron club, has become the first to explore the territory in five decades.
“The experience was out of this world. We had been fighting hard to get this area free from the army, and now that our struggle has yielded fruits. It feels awesome,” chairman of Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF) Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, who was accompanying the group, told Kashmir Reader.
“All members of the group were so excited that we formed a circle in the middle of Tosmaidan and drenched ourselves in rain for more than two hours,” he said.
A high-altitude meadow close to Doodh Pather, Tosmaidan was given on lease to the army in April 1964 for setting up an artillery firing range. Each summer ever since, the army has been practicing firing of heavy artillery at the range, indirectly causing deaths of at least 63 civilians.
Last year, when the expiry of the lease deed was nearing, the villagers from the district started seeking culmination of the lease and subsequent declaration of the meadow as a tourist destination. And partly agreeing to their demands, the state government verbally announced that the lease will not be extended as was being demanded by the army.
A Chief Secretary-led committee stands constituted to identify the alternate sites that can be used as firing range.
While the government hasn’t yet come up with a formal order declaring Tosmaidan as a tourist spot, the locals ‘threw open’ the area stretched over 11,200 hectare to tourists on June 22. And they received the trekkers’ group on the same day.
Primarily, the purpose of the expedition, Dr Rasool said, was to draw more trekkers towards Tosmaidan.
“I have explored Tosmaidan and it is safe for trekking. Rainwater has drifted the scattered unexploded shells towards the forests, making the trekking stretch absolutely safe. This is what we wanted to convey to everyone,” he said, believing that the meadow has the potential of becoming a famed tourist destination in the coming years.
“Tosmaidan is far bigger than Gulmarg. It has all the resources needed for various adventure sports and activities. It has slopes better than that of Gulmarg, and it is ideal for water-sports due to its lakes and stream,” Dr Rasool said.
“Also, it has a historical relevance. The first mosque in Jammu and Kashmir was built at Tosmaidan,” he added.
Meanwhile, to celebrate ‘departure’ of the army, TBF, which has been spearheading the campaign for converting the firing range into a tourist destination, and its constituent associations are planning to hold a ‘celebration event’ soon at the meadow itself.