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.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kashmir Calling

Summer or winter - Yusuf, the passionate outdoors specialist, knows the best. His recent two articles are reproduced below

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 57, was born in the Dalgate area of Srinagar. He attended Government Schools in Drugjan, Sonawar, and Batwara, all in Srinagar, and completed his college studies at the Sri Partap College, Srinagar. Following his graduation, he briefly attended the University of Kashmir, and in 1980, joined the Physical Education Department of the University of Kashmir. Mr. Yusuf teaches aquatics and adventure sports (swimming, mountaineering, snow and water skiing, rafting, parasailing, skating, kayaking, canoeing, etc.) and has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and is the Treasurer of the Winter Sports Association of Jammu and Kashmir, General Secretary of J&K Aero Sports Association and the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, Secretary of Srinagar Winter Sports Association, and Vice President of the J&K Yoga Association. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and writing.)

Destination Sonamarg

Sonamarg is set high in the Sindh valley before the Westward flow of the river Sindh is turned south to the vale of Kashmir. At this point it cuts through a line of igneous rock running North-West to South-East, weathered and firm. Nichnai and Thajewas Valleys form North and South run alongside these harder strata to join the Sindh just below Sonamarg near shitkari village. Sonamarg is not simply a picnic spot and a base for Shri Amarnathji yatra but is a wonderful destination for adventure tourism. It has tremendous potential for outdoor pursuits which need to be exploited by the tourism players. It is also one of the best places to study flora and fauna of the state but unfortunately it has always remained out of focus of the Government.

This tourist destination stands second to none all over the world. There is no other place in India where all types of snow, water and mountain based adventure activities could be conducted simultaneously. God has gifted it with all those ingredients that are required for seeking high adventures. Sonamarg could offer a host of many adventure sporting activities round the year. It has a wild mountain beauty that always greets the explorers.

The gushing River Sindh is ideal for wild water sports, such as rafting, kayaking and hydraulic Zorbing. The river, from Baltal to Shitkari, has grade 1 to 4 rapids, making it ideal for novices as well as for extreme rafters. One can further extend his rafting trip up to Ganderbal if he does portage at Hung/Shitkari for about a kilometer because huge rocks and other hurdles are lying in the middle of the river here, making this stretch a hazardous one. Should someone arrange clearing these hurdles the river Sindh could offer enchanting long commercial rafting/Kayaking run straight from Baltal to Ganderbal passing through picturesque countryside of north Kashmir? The Tourism Department has conducted two International Rafting Championships here and the third is being held soon. The main thrust for goingthrough with such major events should have been to generate employment in rafting sector. The Tourism Ministry has never come up with a policy to develop this sector of tourism in Kashmir while as rafting trade is flourishing in Ladakh region. On the one hand Tourism Department is spending millions of rupees for organizing the Championship and on the other hand Sonamarg Development Authority is charging Rs.5.5 lacs to an unemployed youth to run commercial rafting at Sonamarg, Surprisingly, the other rafting companies at Pahalgam, Mammar and Wusan are charged a meager amount of Rs.2, 000.00 per boat per month. This is purely anti youth and anti tourism policy of the concerned ministry in Kashmir.

For general public Rafting is run by a rafting company “Mountain Magic” at Sonamarg. Sonamarg Rafting has no parallel at any other place in the valley. It is because of these factors that our dynamic Chief Minister Jenab Omar Abdullah ran down a very high graded river stretch at Sonamarg last year. To make rafting a safe and secure affair the Mountain Magic has employed foreign River Guides. It has three sections of 3, 8 and 20 nautical miles run. Rafting is best way to experience fun, thrill, challenge and excitement with families at Sonamarg. Every School and College must allow their students to undertake a pleasure rafting trip at Sonamarg whenever they happen to go Sonamarg for excursion or trekking which will in return develop confidence and courage among them.

Sonamarg is considered mountaineering paradise. Some of the best mountaineering and rock-climbing is in Thajiwas or in the Sogput Dhar. There are some long and more technical rock faces at Shitkari as well. The mighty peaks such as Vishensar, Umbrella, Cefn Carnedo, Innominate, Mosquito, Valehead, Crystal and Blade/Arrow, etc. offer great challenge to intended climbers.

Sonamarg offers wide variety of high altitude trekking. It is a base for many magnificent treks. One can undertake circular treks to Amarnathji Cave; Bandipora; Gurez; Drass; and Pahalgam etc. A trek to Krishensar, Vishensar, and Gangabal is most interesting among all. It has nearly 55 high altitude lakes within a radius of 20 Kilometers. One can also undertake day treks from Sonamarg to Ludderwas, Eagle’s Nest, Sarbal, Amaranth cave, Lashi Pathri, Thajewas, Zabnar, Hapatnar and Kazim ridge etc. Zabnar, 4040 mtr. high above sea level makes a splendid day walk and provides one of the finest view points in the area for peaks such as Nanga Parbat, Nun & Kun and Amarnath massif etc.

Skiing is Possible in Srinagar!

When we talk of extreme sports we just think of Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Sonamarg etc unaware of the fact that a vast sea of adventure lies open to us within the Srinagar limits. Surprisingly snow skiing is also possible here but should someone explore the possibility of its promotion. A mountain called Mahadev, in Zabarvan range at Harwan offers great challenge for adventurers. It has the potential for skiing and snowboarding. It is now time for Srinagar Development Authority to adopt the mountain and promote adventure here. To our dismay the SDA is just concerned about demolishing and raising huge buildings with no plans of making Srinagar a Green City. Srinagar does not only offer heritage, religious, conference and pleasure tourism etc but it has vast scope of hosting adventure tourism as well. The SDA may say that promoting adventure tourism is the duty of Tourism Department but like other Development Authorities they are supposed to, besides construction work, indulge in the promotion of tourism in Srinagar city

Srinagar is walled by Zabarwan range on its eastern area. This range offers best possibilities of hosting trekking, orienteering, jungle safari, paragliding, rock-climbing and the fascinating snow skiing. Certainly, the word skiing must have surprised all of you. Yes, Mt. Mahadev remains snow bound till late May and has excellent ski runs. Notably Mahadev, 13,013 feet is the highest peak in Srinagar. Credit goes to Biscoe School for exploring this magnificent mountain nearly hundred years back for undertaking trekking by their students but unfortunately they never conceived idea of promoting skiing there. The rich Heli-skiers have been skiing in the area for long. But for the first time a local team, led by this writer undertook a ski-mountaineering expedition to Mahadev in May 1998. The team carried their skis from Harwan to Chakdara on their shoulders and there onwards they climbed the mountain with specially designed mountain skis, fitted with seal skins and crampons. The skis, fitted with Special Mountain Bindings permitted them to walk up on steep snow covered slopes. The expedition set up base camp at Lidwas and zoomed down all nearby ridges including Mahadev top. It was first attempt of its kind in Srinagar. If we really have to put Srinagar on Skiing map of India we need to install a cable car from Chakdhara to Lidwas and some poma lifts near the peak. The J&K State Cable Car Corporation must give thought to it. Surely in summer the lift would earn good revenue because everybody now desire to go deep in the city jungles to seek pleasure. I desire that every school should facilitate their students to climb Mahadev and have 360 degree panoramic view of the city. If Government has any plan to develop Srinagar Mount Mahadev must be kept in mind.

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