Smugglers also threaten valley, burning healthy trees at the root
SRINAGAR: An off-beat hill station of the Pir Panjal Range in district Budgam, 42 km from the capital city of Srinagar, Doodhpathri, or ‘meadow of milk’, is a sloping, grassy landscape that looks like a green carpet in a bowl-shaped valley with silvery, crystal-clear streams of ice-cold water running over the large stones in its bed.
There are several stories to the origin of its name. Some say that the river flowing on the meadows gushes with such force that it looks like milk from a distance. Another interesting story is that a famous saint of Kashmir once prayed for water and pricked the ground with his stick, only to have milk oozing out of it.
Situated at an altitude of 8,957 feet, this alpine valley is surrounded by snow-clad mountains and covered with meadows of sky-high pine, fir and deodar trees. It has no permanent settlement within it and is inaccessible during winter due to heavy snowfall. In summer, shepherds from the plains of district Budgam bring cattle here for grazing and remain at Doodhpathri for about six months.
But the woods which surround the meadows of this pristine valley are under real threat as vested interests have cast an evil eye on the green gold worth millions.
On the way to famous trekking spot Diskhal – a beautiful meadow at the top of a mountain a couple of hours of trek from Doodhpathri’s Shaliganga River and overlooking the Ashtaar glacier – dozens of tress have been razed to the ground, apparently by timber smugglers.
A Srinagar-based trekking club brought the damage to Kashmir Reader’s notice. When this reporter visited the spot, he saw huge, healthy and green pine trees burning at the bottom.
“We were on the way to Diskhal when we noticed many trees were burning at their roots. We were shocked to see the sight. It must have taken hundreds of years for those trees to grow, and how conveniently they manage to loot it. They burn the bottom of the tree and within a day or two the trees fell of their own,” members of Zaberwan Mountaineering and Hiking Club said.
“Dozens of other trees that have met the same fate were lying everywhere just below the Diskhal top. Either it was smugglers or the Bakerwal community that lives in mud huts there with their flocks in summers,” they added.
District Forest Officer (DFO), Budgam, Ghulam Hussain Rafique when contacted by Kashmir Reader refuted that any such incident had happened and accused the reporter of lying.
“There is nothing like that. We don’t have any reports of such incidents and it seems that you are lying,” Rafique said.
But when this reporter argued that the newspaper has proof in the form of photographs and witnesses, the DFO said that “he will verify”.
Since it is a recent inclusion in the Jammu Kashmir tourist map – along with Tosamaidan, a firing range lying to the west of Doodpathri which was earlier used by the army – there is not a full-fledged market or any hotel in the area apart from a few huts of the Doodhpathri Development Authority (DDA).
But from the last few years, the place has become a real hit among the local population, campers and backpackers as well as tourists visiting the Valley. Recently thousands thronged the place in view of the Eid holidays.
Huge traffic jams, road fights, hooliganism, and cases of eve-teasing were reported during these days on the stretch from Rayair to Doodhpathri. Not a single police personnel was present in the whole area, neither was any traffic cop visible to manage the traffic.
People had a tough time getting in and out of the place as vehicles had been wrongly parked by people as per their wishes in the absence of any cops.
“We were struck in the traffic for hours and when we reached the spot of the jam it turned out that some rowdies had parked their vehicles on the roadside and were dancing, attracting huge rush and hampering the traffic movement,” said Rameez Ahmad, a visitor from Srinagar. “It was total chaos, and I regret visiting the place.”
When contacted in this regard, DSP Khan Sahib, Malik Aijaz said that they don’t have any separate police post for Doodhpathri and therefore it is “hard to manage”.
“Since the area stretches over a long distance, our men who are posted at these places cannot cater to the whole area.”
When asked about the reports of eve-teasing and unruly behaviour by some youth, Malik said that no formal complaints had been registered by anyone.
“No one has lodged any formal complaint, otherwise we would have taken action,” Malik said.
The huge crowds who visited the place on the Eid days had littered the whole valley with plastic trash left from wrapping or carrying eatables. Thousands of plastic bottles and wrappers from snacks dotted the otherwise beautiful meadows.
Apart from dustbins at a few places, the meadow lacked arrangements for proper garbage disposal, and people were throwing their trash all over the place, as they felt like.
Ironically, the theme of this year’s World Environment Day was “Beat Plastic Pollution”, and various functions and seminars were organised in different colleges and institutes across the Valley, where the government vowed to take measures to tackle plastic pollution.
District Commissioner, Budgam, Haroon Malik, while talking to Kashmir Reader assured this reporter that all these issues would be looked into “very soon”.
“We have proposed a separate police post for Doodhpathri, at least for the summer season when the area witnesses huge rush. The place is presently under development, and we will try to complete these development works in this year,” Haroon said.