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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Life Changing Experience

Aamir Bin Masood recalls how he fine-tuned his personal skills by a visit to the Dachigam National Park

In Nature’s Lap: The Best of Times

Being close to nature is an experience worth remembering. I was the
luckiest among my batch mates in the Environmental Science department
of Kashmir University who were given different project topics relating
to various aspects of Dachigam National Park as part of the M Sc
programme. Though my project topic was not of great interest, but the
sheer joy of working in Dachigam made me exuberant. This initial joy
turned out to be a life changing experience. I felt as if my dreams
were partly fulfilled.

Dachigam Park, located about 22 kms from Srinagar, is easily
accessible. The park is home to wide variety of flora and fauna. Black
Bear, Brown Bear, Leopard, Blue Sheep, Red Fox, Marmot, Pine Martin
besides the Kashmir Stag (Hangul) is found in the park. Based on
topography, the park has been divided into two sectors – Lower
Dachigam and Upper Dachigam.

I first visited the park in April last year and I found myself in
nature’s lap. I knew it was the beginning of a great year remaining
close to nature and wildlife. I have always been passionate about
nature in general and wildlife in particular since my childhood.
My next visit to the park came in the month of May, which marked the
beginning of our project work. I had four study sites for my project,
which were located in four different vegetal types of Dachigam. This
made me acquainted with different plant species. I came to know about
a tree species, locally called ‘Arkhor’, which is said to have
irritating properties vis-à-vis skin. I also came across many
medicinal and aromatic plants. During summer months, fruit bearing
trees are in bloom much to the delight of Himalayan Black Bear and
various birds. It is a pleasure to watch fruits like wild cherry,
apricot, walnut and different kinds of berries. The park presents a
colourful view in summer. The gushing Dagwan stream (Dachigam Nallah)
has more water than in late autumn and winter seasons. The greenery is
just exquisite, though the park also presents a magnificent site in
the autumn. From dense forest to grasslands to alpine meadows, it has
everything for nature lovers.

But I was more interesting in the wildlife of the park. In the first
few months, I could only find a few Himalayan grey langurs, small
deadly black scorpions and some lizard species, though it is a bird
watcher’s paradise during this part of the year. The birds which I had
never seen before like grey heron, vulture, yellow-billed magpie, etc.
could be seen in good numbers. Snake sightings were also reported
every now and then. But my dream of seeing Hangul in wild still seemed
to be a distant dream. It wasn’t until September 2004 that I along
with four of my friends came across a large Hangul herd comprising of
about 10-15 animals at around 5:00 pm in an Oak patch, which is
adjacent to the road leading to Draphama guest house. Gotcha! What a
moment for all of us. Luckily one of my friends had a binocular, which
made a close view of the animal possible. The time virtually stopped
for me. It was the most wonderful moment and a dream come true for me.
We felt extremely fortunate because Hangul is nowadays a rare sight in
wild as its population is less and also because of the shy character
of the animal. I played Archimedes saying Eureka! I have found it. We
could not control ourselves and decided to go a step further deep into
the Jungle. Langurs were busy dropping walnuts to the ground. I felt
like it was a welcome gesture for us. In the meantime, the herd
disappeared into the woods seeing us approaching. We wanted a closer
look and that prompted us to go further ahead. But some of my friends
were too reluctant to follow the Hanguls and we decided to move back
to the road. As soon as we landed on the road, a Himalayan Black Bear
appeared at the place where we were standing a few minutes earlier. I
couldn’t believe my luck. I was witnessing some of the wild mammals of
Kashmir in wild. We were extremely fortunate in that we saw two
beautiful mammals in a row. We also felt lucky to have avoided a
confrontation with the black bear. The day ended with a lifetime
experience. After all, we had seen Hangul, which I believe is one of
the most wonderful sightings in Dachigam. We could not have asked for
anything more.

I was also fortunate enough to see a well-grown Pine Martin in
December. The animal is quite shy and didn’t allow us to see it from
close. I was a regular visitor to the Leopard, Brown Bear and Deer
enclosures, which have been kept in the park. I also used to make a
visit to Laribal fish farm every time I was in the park. It was also a
great experience. Talking about the bad experiences, I once found two
black bear carcasses inside the park, which is a highly protected
area. Within weeks, they were consumed by birds of prey and the little
soil-dwelling decomposers.

I enjoyed the company of my friends, who were with me most of the time
though I also had two bad experiences. But that’s life – bad
experiences come along good ones.

On the whole, during my entire course of work, I felt very much close
to nature. I witnessed scorching heat in the grasslands, shady comfort
in the woods, a typical forest downpour and what not. Dachigam to me
presents a typical jungle, which everybody has in imagination. I was
so close to the city, yet so far from it.

All my experiences in Dachigam National Park whether good or bad
turned out to have a great impact on me – really a life changing
experience. My backcountry skills, my personal skills, survival skills
etc have all been fine-tuned. I am quite satisfied with all the
experiences I gained that year. I learned a lot about myself, my
interaction with other people and nature. This was probably the best
and the hardest time I've ever had. In short, I can never ever forget
those days. I still dream about them with the hope that those days
will get revived soon in one way or the other.

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