Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Drass

Yusuf promotes Drass as an adventure tourist destination

(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.)


Adventures Behind Zoji-La

Just behind Zoji-La, 3530 meters, with perennial waters, long living glaciers and nestled in lofty snow clad mountains, lies yet another Himalayan valley, called Drass, 3230 meters above sea level. It is locally called Bari Humass which literally means “The Big House”. It is considered the “capital of Dard-Shina tribe” in India. The bleak, barren and naked mountain scenery is typical here. It is a place where “Burf, Pani Aur Pahar” greets the adventurers. Drass lies on Kashmir-Ladakh national highway, 150 Kms away from Srinagar and 57 Kms before Kargil, located at 34.27 N and 75.77 E.

Drass was known to people just because of its distinction of being the second coldest inhabited place in the world but its other peculiarities in the area of tourism are not perhaps known to many. It is in fact a fascinating and challenging destination for adventure tourism which offer all kinds of tourism related terrestrial, aquatic and aero sports recreational outdoor pursuits.

It is very rich in cultural heritage. Pilgrimage tourism is also gaining popularity here. The Dropati Kund, Buddhist statues of Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara, Bhembat’s stone, Imambara and Ningoor Mosque of Baba Abdullah Mastan are important religious attractions. Similarly Tiger Hill, Mushko, Tololing are important war sites.

But unfortunately it has remained out of focus of the Ladakh Hill Development Council and Kargil Development Authority. The adventure tourism potential has not been fully explored and exploited. Government has role to provide basic tourism infrastructure here. KDA must explore tourism opportunities and must formulate comprehensive tourism plan for this neglected area with special focus on adventure tourism. They must provide adequate training to the local youth which could generate employment avenues for them in tourism sector. Better would have been if a separate Development Authority is allotted to Drass as the Kargil seems to have dominated Drass. Astonishingly 90% of Indo-Pak war was fought in Drass but Kargil earned the fame and took maximum benefits of it.

Unbelievingly Drass recorded lowest temperature on 9th January 1995 when it dropped to -60 *C. After Kargil War in June 1999. It gained more importance when Pakistan raided India and India tested its Bofor Battery against Pakistan for the first time in this conflict. The Kargil War Memorial is a recent attraction for domestic tourists.

I remember, just three decades back Drass was a small village with less number of mud houses and less population belonging to Dard-Shina community but today it has become one of the largest and highly populated towns of Kargil district. More than 30 villages have come up during this period with pacca and concrete buildings everywhere.

The Forest Department is doing yeomen’s job by giving vegetation cover to barren hilly areas here. Three types of trees are commonly grown. The leaves of Malchang (Willow) are used as feed for cattle, while other kind of willow, Brokchang is used for timber. The poplar (Belpa in Balti and Fress in Shina and Kashmiri) is also grown here. The Palang bushes make the area green. Wheat, barley, pulses and peas are cultivated on vast fertile agricultural land. As compared to their fellow communities in Sonamarg, Tulail and Gurez etc the people living here are comparatively prosperous and more progressive.

It is laudable that with the multipurpose aims and objectives, particularly celebrating the “International Year of Youth-2010” by the students, to make reconnaissance and to study the potential of adventure tourism in Drass the Directorate of Physical Education and Sports, University of Kashmir recently sent a 30 member adventure expedition to this bleak Himalayan valley under the overall supervision of its Director, Prof. N.A Rather, led by this writer. After the success of Gurez exploration some years back it was novel idea of the University to explore Drass.

Kashmir University is perhaps first Institution that has paddled down the treacherous waters of river Drass. Being the first wild water activity in the town hundreds of local children and youth rushed to us and desired to take a pleasure ride with us. River Drass, nearly 70 Kms long, offer medium graded but exciting rafting. At certain places it turns wild and turbulent. The Tourism Department should try a State or National level Rafting Championship on this river next year so as to pave way for introducing rafting here. It has obviously tremendous potential for commercial rafting and has some ideal stretches for training youth. River Drass actually originates from Machoi Glacier at Gumry and after joining river Shingo (flowing from PaK) at Kaksar it finally joins Suru at Hondurman, 5 Kms before Kargil and flows down to PaK. Its main tributaries are Spangla, Matayan, Mushko and ALC nallahs, Marpo-cho, and Watakol etc.

The bowl shaped Drass is surrounded by towering peaks all around. It has high scope for climbing and trekking as well. The rock is igneous of the Punjab volcanic series. The summits are yellow and grey and dolomitic in appearance but utterly fragile and more resembling the scenery of Sonamarg. Rock faces and cliffs are in abundance here where Rock-Climbing training camps and championships could be organized for the youth. Machoi glacier offers great ice-crafting. It is also ideal for summer skiing. The Kargil Battle School has identified a rock-climbing area where they regularly train the soldiers to rock-climbing, while the High Altitude Warfare School is conducting Ice-Crafting on Machoi glacier.

There is immense possibility of undertaking short, long, low and high altitude treks here. A trek from Drass to Sankoo, Kashmir via Amarnath and Gurez via Mushko valley could be fascinating for trekkers. The famous Tiger Hill and Three Pimples peaks etc. offer great challenge for serious climbing. The University explored the possibility of holding climbing activities in the area in near future. It would certainly help inculcate and encourage a spirit of climbing among youth. The University team tried its best to trek into Tulail via Mushko valley but were not permitted by the army to move beyond Mushko village, though they had earlier requested the local Brigadier. Surprisingly after some days the Minister for Forests and MLA Gurez managed to cross into Mushko valley from Tulail which caused anguish among University explorers. A mountain biking trip from Srinagar to Drass via Gurez, Tulail, Chakvali and Mushko could be thrilling and a new segment for Discovery Channel.

Drass is the home of traditional Horse Polo and archery. There are two huge polo grounds at Drass and many other small grounds where horse polo is regularly played every evening by the local teams like we play football everywhere in Kashmir. There are nearly 16 well developed Horse Polo Clubs here, the prominent among them are Drass, Shahmurad, Holiyal, Goshan and Ladakh Scouts etc. In order to control, develop and promote Horse Polo they have formed Drass Polo Promotion Association which arranges polo tournaments there. Last year many local and major polo events were conducted which include Chief Minister’s Cup and Lalit Suri Memorial Tournament in which a Mongolian team also took part. Efforts of the DPPA are afoot to encourage this traditional sport amongst the Kashmiri youth. Appreciatively Mr. Mohammad Amin, President, DPPA arranged training of some University students to this unique sport at Drass in October this year. There is need of organizing many such events here at large scale by the LHDC and KDA regularly and to facilitate the DPPA to grow this ancient sport.

The town could also offer a host of variety of allied adventure tourism products like Zorbing, Mountain Biking, Winter Sports, Snow Cycling, Baseball, Rugby, Sport Angling and Orienteering etc. There is also possibility of introducing Scree Running on loose rocky hills at Matayan. Scree is an accumulation of rock debris on a mountain or hill. Scree Running is a method of descending gravelly slope. There are a number of naturally groomed scree slopes with fine small loose stones on them.

Not only terrestrial sports, Drass is ideal for aero sports as well which has high potential on commercial lines. There is best and constant wind condition for Paragliding and Parasailing here. The University Adventure Camp conducted preliminary paragliding training for its students on upper reaches of Goshan and Bearas Villages. The University also located an ideal place for parasailing situated at Lakthong near Kargil Battle School campus. It is vast flat area where the land parasailing could be operated with the help of a Gypsy.

The above established facts reveal that Drass is an enchanting, amazing and magnificent destination for round the year adventure tourism provided Government lays infrastructure and arranges construction of a Tunnel on Zoji-La. Adventure Tourism is in fact thrust area in the tourism sector of our state. The LHDC and KDA must therefore, highlight this sector. It could become a hub of adventure tourism.

It is great of University students that with the intention to pay homage to Drass they raised loudly and proudly a yell…”She-Hale” at the end of the camp. By word “She” they meant, Drass while “Hale” means live long (Drass L ive Long). They vowed to protect this hidden adventure treasure for future generations.

1 comment:

amin said...

we think that their is lot of oppertunitues to promote Drass as a tourist hub especially in adsventure sports and other Heritage sports like Polo etc