Stark realities of harsh life in Kashmir are so manifest that we cannot afford to ignore them and turn a blind eye towards them altogether
The beauty of Kashmir is beyond description. God has been exceptionally benevolent in bestowing His bounties on it and it has rightly been called the God’s land and Paradise on earth. People call it the Switzerland of Asia also.
The beauty of Kashmir is mesmerising and its scenery is bewitching. With the famous Dal lake, the lofty mountains standing guard from all sides with lush green forest cover, evergreen trees of deodar, fir, kaayur, pine etc., to name only a few, spread as far as the eye could see, it is really heaven on earth. The beautiful Mughal gardens, tulip garden, golden meadow called Sonamarg, the abode of beauty and piousness called Amarnath, pure and crystalline waters of Sheshnag acting like a mirror that drive crowds of tourists towards Kashmir round the year, are unparalleled by any standard. Similar is the case with famous tourist resorts of Gulmarg, Yusmarg, Pahalgam, Dodhpathri, Kokernag, Verinag, Lolab and Bungus, being the dream destination of tourists the world over, as also of locals. The abundance of flora and fauna, and the marvellous eco-system, pollution-free atmosphere and clean and pure springs and other water bodies are unique to Kashmir. Kashmir’s art and crafts, its heritage and ancient monuments tell a deep story about the rich cultural treasure and heritage which it possesses. The hospitality of the beautiful people of Kashmir, their simplicity and humane behaviour have a lasting effect on the minds of those visiting Kashmir. In short, it is not only difficult but impossible to depict in full detail and paint a clear image of the beauty of Kashmir.
There is, however, something more about Kashmir than meets the eye. There are many other aspects and dimensions of the image of Kashmir which have to be reflected upon. As there are two sides of a coin and as every statement can have a counter and opposite narrative, similarly Kashmir is no exception. Stark realities of harsh life in Kashmir are so manifest that we cannot afford to ignore them and turn a blind eye towards them altogether.
Kashmir’s topography is such that it makes road connectivity with outside states and within its internal areas also a big challenge. It is not connected with outside rail network also. The only national highway with Jammu is beset with frequent closures due to heavy snow avalanches and landslides, especially during winter months, leaving the people in the lurch when it is most needed. This affects badly the overall economic growth of the people of the valley.
As the only road link to outside valley is through Banihal tunnel, so is the only outlet for the water of the whole valley to exit and outflow through river Jhelum at Khadinyar in Baramulla, making the valley vulnerable to frequent floods, further adding to the woes and miseries of people and ruining the image of Kashmir being a paradise on earth.
We have mainly two seasons in Kashmir. These are the winter season and summer season, of 6 months each. The winter months though are of bewitching beauty due to white snow but at the same time cause untold miseries to the local populace. In fact these are the most trying times for everyone. With bone chilling cold in subzero temperatures, life is totally out of gear. Due to heavy snowfall and landslides, the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway remains closed for several days at a stretch, impacting life and causing acute shortage of essential commodities and supplies to the valley. These hardships compel those who can afford to move out of the valley to escape the harsh winter months in Kashmir and shift to cozy environs and the comforts of warm weather elsewhere in country.
No doubt the snow in winter adds charm to the beauty of Kashmir especially its high mountains and tourist resorts like Gulmarg and Pahalgam but the condition of scantily dressed poor coolies, horse wallas and small tea shop owners, who provide necessary logistic support to the snow revellers, is quite appalling and cannot be overlooked. Kashmir is not a heaven for such poor people in such conditions when there is snow and ice everywhere but still they work for the comfort of others at the cost of their own comfort and health.
Paharis and Gujjar-bakarwal communities bring their herds and flocks down to the foothills from high mountains in winter and live in one-room Kothas and in tents of Tarpaulin, braving the chill of snow and with half-naked small children with them. Many babies die of chilly cold and the mothers give them the warmth of their bodies, moving them and checking them frequently during night whether they are alive in the face of intense cold. How come that Kashmir is a paradise for them at all in such conditions?
Life is even harsher for the Dal dwellers when Dal Lake is frozen in subzero temperature during winter. They have to cut the ice with their hands to make way for their boats to move and ferry people, carry water produce like fishes, vegetables, singharas, nadroos, etc, to sell and earn their livelihood. The boatman of Dal Lake is the main agent and host of visitors who visit Kashmir and are the backbone of its economy. Boat is the main and only property of a boat man who finds it hard to fend his family with his meagre income earned from the boat.
Although Kashmir is full of bounties of nature, yet the life of an ordinary Kashmiri is beset with problems of varied nature. He has to continuously and strenuously struggle hard to get the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing for him.
The Kashmir art and craft is famous world over but the craftsmen are ill paid, ill-treated and face stiff competition in face of technology and industrialisation. Shawls made by them adorn the elite but are themselves ill clothed and shiver with cold, pooh-poohing on the notion of Kashmir being paradise.
The above narrative about the wide gap existing between the haves and have-nots is not with respect to Kashmir only but exists world over. This gap cannot be bridged completely, though with sustained efforts by the powers that be, the present bad conditions can be ameliorated and their impact limited to a great extent. It is heartening to note that efforts are being made by several agencies to provide overall infrastructure for the promotion of tourism in the shape of accommodation, resorts and transport, etc. The real promotion of tourism can be possible only when the lot and destiny of those who handle tourists and are the frontline workers of the tourism industry, like shikarawalas, ponywallas, mazdoors, artisans, porters and other weaker sections of society, is improved and concrete measures are taken for their welfare. These sections come into direct contact with tourists who will have a positive image of Kashmir out of their well being and will appreciate them as they appreciate the gardens, parks tourist resorts, lakes and mountains and other objects of sightseeing. After all, men matter more than material.
—The writer is a retired telecom engineer and author of the book “Footprints in the Sand”. He is a regular columnist of