One of the many unique things about Kashmir is its pure and pristine water bodies like rivers and nallas, especially in rural areas, which originate from glaciers and springs in hills and high mountains. These are then joined by more rivers, rivulets, nallas when they flow further on.
Kahmil, situated in Chowkibal area in Kupwara, is one such nalla of prominence which originates from Satkholnag of Kajinag mountain. Besides irrigating lands from Chowkibal to Kupwara, it is a source of drinking water, as almost all the water works schemes in the area are fed from it. It finally joins Pohrunalla near Kupwara. In between, many small irrigation canals sprout from it, providing sustenance and irrigating vast areas of land all along. Dangarwari, Hee Bar, Malik Khul, etc, are some such canals and many more are planned to be drawn from it from time to time.
It flows with great speed with the thunderous roar of a typical denizen of mountains, right from its source in Kanjinag mountain till it reaches the plains in Trehgam. The beauty of this river and of its adjoining areas is unparalleled and mesmerising. That is why it is known for sightseeing, with many picnic spots on its both sides.
It rolls down big stone boulders with gushing speed especially in early summers when the snow in the mountains starts melting. In full spate it carries with it all that it touches, eroding its banks, carrying logs of wood, uprooting trees and denting the scarce bridges and culverts wherever they exist. Devastation caused by it from time to time is still fresh in our minds and anecdotes abound of its flood furies. One such anecdote about river Kahmil pertains to early fifties when it was in full spate during the summer of March-April. The only bridge over it was at Shaloora, constructed by some foreign contractor who had painted it red. That is why it came to be known as Rang kadal, meaning a coloured bridge in Kashmiri. It was an important landmark of the area and provided great relief to the hapless population of the area.
For some years it withstood the onslaught of river Kahmil and defied its waters and stone boulders; kudos to the constructing engineers. But at last it gave in and its foundation came crumbling down with only two wires remaining attached to its two banks, somehow. People would gather on either side of the river across, greeting each other by waving their hands and pooh-poohing on the helplessness of technology before the vagaries of nature. Some bravehearts among them managed to cross the river with the help of the two wires which was the only proof that the bridge once existed there.
One such braveheart was known to us as Noor Kak. He was a well-built person of middle age known for his daredevilry and taking challenges head on. Helping people in odd situations was his usual habit and mission. In fact he seemed to look forward to such occasions and would always be at the forefront to confront any such situation.
One day, Noor Kak joined a group of persons at the bank of the river who were in a fix whether to take the risk and cross the river on the two wires or not. Majority of them were reluctant to do so and wanted to play safe as crossing the river in this way was fraught with danger of drowning. I was then a small boy of 5 or 6 years of age and, joining the group, enjoyed the scene, curiously looking at the people crossing the river with the help of wires over the bone chilling cold water of river Kahmil. My crossing the river in such a way was out of the question.
The ropewalk consisted of two strong wires, wide apart from each other. The person walking over it rested his feet on one wire and held the other with his hands and would then inch forward cautiously maintaining close balance with rhythmic movement of hands and feet. One needed much expertise as a slight mistake would cost one’s life.
Noor Kak came forward, throwing a scornful glance at the timidity of the onlookers and offered not only to embark on the ropewalk himself but took me also on his shoulders. He set out towards the other bank of the river with the wires that were used as bridge. People looked on with bated breath and awestruck, on both sides of the river. Noor Kak placed me on his back with my hands across his neck and told me to keep my eyes shut, lest I become nervous and frightened on seeing the flowing water beneath. He recited some Quranic verses as he was deeply religious with full conviction of faith. The water beneath the wires flowed with thunderous noise as it struck with the mighty stones, creating waves of white foam. Its flow had a moving effect and the surroundings seemed to be moving and carried along by the waves.
The first half of the journey was smooth till we reached the middle of the ropewalk. Here the wires almost touched the water of the river. As ill luck would have it, I opened my eyes, forgetting the instructions of Noor Kak to the contrary. I gave a loud cry and gripped the neck of Noor Kak in panic. This almost choked him. But he managed to maintain his balance and reached the shore.
Bringing me down from his back, he did a few jumps till he regained his breath and his blood circulation in the body became normal again. People jostled forward and embraced Noor Kak, profusely congratulating him on his feat. They clapped their hands on both side of the river and were relieved on seeing us safe. It was no less than a daredevil act of a circus show.
Proceeding further on our onward journey I asked Noor Kak why he had taken such a grave risk and crossed the river with me on his back. His reply was unique and amusing. He told me of having read in the scriptures that on the day of the judgement, the doomsday, people will be made to cross the bridge (Pull-e-Siraat) over the hell fire. The sinners will not be able to cross it and will fall in the hell fire en-masse, while those having done good deeds in this world and earned many virtues will cross it with the speed of lightning. The less virtuous will also pass but with difficulty. Noor Kak continued and said that he thought that if he crossed the ropeway bridge here, he will, God willing, cross the Pull-e-Siraat also on the day of judgement.
I wondered on the firmness of conviction and faith that Noor Kak had and bade him goodbye. May his soul rest in peace!
River Kahmil is still flowing with a rebuilt Rang kadal on it at the same place in Shaloora. It craves for many more such bridges on at suitable locations so that people would no longer require to cross it on ropewalks or makeshift wooden planks used as bridges and risk their lives.
—The writer is a retired telecom engineer