Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"There is no other spot in Asia where the three cultural worlds of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam meet," so said Alexander Drew in 1877

Rauf profiles Garry Weare, a well known travel writer and explorer who spent best times of his life in Kashmir

(Mr. Rauf Tramboo, 50, was born and raised in Srinagar. He completed his school education at the Islamia High School located at Rajori Kadal, and his college degrees - B.Com. and LLB (Hons.) - from Islamia College of Science and Commerce located at Hawal. He is an Adventure Travel Consultant and an Adventure Tour Operator. His personal interests are reading, photography ane environmental advocacy.)

Travels with Garry Sahib, my Guru and friend

In the year 2004 I had a privilege of being the part of a long trekking expedition, traversing about 2500 Kms of Himalayan range from Gangotri (Uttrakhand) to Gangabal (Kashmir) with my Guru and a long time friend Garry Weare a well known travel writer and explorer who spent best times of his life in Kashmir which includes his thirty years living and trekking in the Himalayas.

Garry known as Garry Sahib among the tourism fraternity of Kashmir, He is also very well known in western Himalaya and in the Himalayan community in Australia as Guru and Raja Weare. Garry who is enigmatic and some times also funny has an enormous conscience with unconditional support and unlimited love of Kashmir. Garry is also the author of lonely planets comprehensive trekking guide book “Trekking in Indian Himalaya”, and brings into the story of his 2004 Himalayan traverse in a book titled “A Long walk in the Himalaya” which is a succession of vignettes about people’s lives that he meets along the way, with relevant history, natural observations with his inimitable sense of humor. In his book Garry by his own confession tells us of his six month long trek across some of the world’s most beautiful and rugged terrain, and his deep love and empathy for its culture and people and the warmth of his relationship with his Kashmiri friends and various other people from the trekking fraternity that adds a wonderful dimension to this journeyman’s tale.

Garry, who has a credit of exploring and pioneering some of the beautiful and classic treks in Kashmir and Ladakh in early seventies narrates his story when he and his fellow group members treaded into the territory of Ladakh without permission and were confined to the limits of a police station which he says was not the most auspicious start to his trekking career.

Garry writes:

"It is sometimes said that it is best to get the disasters over early in your life. I can appreciate that. In 1973, as a young man of twenty five, I arranged my first Himalayan trek to Kashmir in northern India. I had already trekked extensively in Kashmir and Nepal, but after spending two years teaching English in colleges in Yorkshire I had become increasingly restless to return. This would be my first venture into the heady world of adventure travel. Advertising in the personal columns of the Times I sought six hardy souls to share costs and undertake a trek from Kashmir to the Buddhist region of Ladakh. Rumor had it that the Indian government was about to de-restrict Ladakh, on the politically sensitive borderlands of Tibet, and permit foreigners to travel there for the first time since 1947. Since trekking in Kashmir in 1970 I had read as much a possible about Ladakh. From all accounts its culture and history were similar to that of Tibet, a land at the time completely off bounds to foreigner travelers. Ladakh also referred to as little Tibet would be a great alternative. I had little problem convincing a group of trekkers to join me.

Five months later we were all in jail. After traveling overland from London to Kashmir and spending a week trekking through the mountain valleys, we traversed a remote glacial pass and took our first steps into Ladakh. At first all went to plan. Reaching the first village the local police sergeant welcomed us. He assumed we had all the relevant documentation. The following day we wandered up a ridge and met a yak train of Buddhist trader’s intent on reaching the markets of Kargil, the largest town some 60 kilometers down the valley. On our return the sergeant was waiting for us. Sir, You are not allowed here, you must go back to Kashmir or come to Kargil. After considering the alternatives we decided on the Kargil option, Fair enough we thought, from there we might even be allowed to get a bus and visit Leh, the ancient capital of Ladakh. The following day after several hours march, we caught a ramshackle bus that five hours and one breakdown later trundled into the Kargil bazaar. This was where our luck ran out.

Arriving at the police station, we found the policeman brushing the dusty courtyard as if their lives depended on it. Our arrival coincided with the annual visit to Kargil by the Inspector General of Police for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. At 4 pm that afternoon a convoy of jeeps sped through the main bazaar to the station. A line of policemen stood attention as a kindly gentlemen, with twinkling eyes and a well-trimmed silver moustache stepped out of the first jeep, hushed voices informed him of our presence and, after a cursory inspection of his men, he approached us."

In 1995 while trekking in Gharwal Himalaya Garry got an idea of undertaking a long trek from Gangotri which is the sacred source of Ganges to Gangabal Kashmir and the following year, Garry discussed the plan with me when we met in Kathmandu and this was the time when I requested him to consider me a part of this prestigious expedition which he gladly accepted. Garry narrates, “It was during one of my treks in 1995 that I first toyed with the idea of undertaking an extended trek. I was within a day or so of the sacred source of the Ganges. It was a spectacular one week trek but for me it was far too short. I was only too aware that no sooner had I put on my boots than I was repacking my kitbag ad heading back home. I felt I needed a change. Why not, I thought, take a few months off and combine a series of treks into one big one? Before I knew it I was jotting down a list of the treks that I needed to research for the next edition of my guidebook. I then devised a route that would take me from the source of the Ganges to the Trans – Himalayan region of Ladakh, But why stop there, I mused? Why not continue and trek all the way to Kashmir? At first the prospect was daunting. How could I take five or six months off? How cold I say goodbye to m teenage daughter and my friends? Would I be fit enough? After all I was no longer in the prime of my youth. How would I organize the logistics? How much would it all cost? There were many good reasons to let my dream slip away. But it didn’t. I was determined to trek from Gaumukh, the sacred source of the Ganges to Gangabal Lake in Kashmir, one of the sacred sources of the Indus. It would provide a superb opportunity to re – discover a vast and varied mountainscape, from subtropical forests and verdant alpine meadows carpeted with wildflowers to an almost lunar geography north of the Himalayan divide. The trek would also enable me to explore three distinct cultural worlds."

"As Alexander Drew, at the time in the ‘service’ of the Maharajah of Kashmir, wrote in 1877 in his The Northern Barrier of India, there is no other spot in Asia where the three cultural worlds of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam meet. That observation still holds true today. On the initial stages of my trek I would share trails with Hindu pilgrims and villagers before reaching the Buddhist land of Ladakh with its ancient monasteries perched on Sugarloaf Mountains and tiny whitewashed settlements nestled I the deepest gorges. A rugged region close to the borderlands of Tibet from where I would cross a further series of high passes to Kashmir – a fabled land of mosques and minarets – and my houseboat on Dal Lake.”

Garry’s narration of his long walk misses hardly any page in his book where one can not find the mention of Kashmir and its people. It defines his deep love and gratitude to the place he started his adventure career and bringing all the way the sacred waters of Ganges into a small container to empty it into the waters of sacred Gangabal lake shows his commitment of sorts to the six months long adventure he undertook. Once reaching the destination at Gangabal Lake, Garry writes, “It was late afternoon. I retrieved from my rucksack the plastic container of Sacred water that I had taken from the source of the Ganges when setting on my trek in May 2003. Heading around the shore of Nundkol, I ascended the grassy slope to Gangabal. The sun dipped below a mountain ridge, the silver waters of the lake rippled in the light breeze. I knelt alongside the stream where the waters flowed down to Nundkol and expressed silent thanks before pouring the milky water out of my container. In an instant it had swirled and merged with the swift current that would flow into the Kashmir valley and finally into the Indus.”

This book is a delightful read and a great inspiration to those who believe in adventure from a thorough gentleman and a kind hearted person I know and worked with.

No comments: