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, September 21, 2012

Examining Why So Many Amarnath Pilgrims Died

Yusuf provides his analysis of the situation. He is not a doctor, but knows mountains of Kashmir like his backhand

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 58, 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 taught 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. After retiring from the University staff, Mr. Yusuf became an adventure tourism consultant. He is presently the director of operations of the Adventure Call Tours and Travels.In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and writing.)

Amarnath Yatra-2012 Why the Casualties Rose So High?

Why the number of pilgrim deaths was so high this has stirred a debate. The Committees, those were constituted to study the actual cause of deaths and to give report about this catastrophe, have unfortunately failed to reach to the depths. Surprisingly fifteen people who died at Ramban on National Highway in an accident have also been included in the Amarnath death toll. There are in fact several reasons as to why the number of deaths rose so high this time. Some of them are as under:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS):

The most important cause of death could be AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), towards which no attention is being paid neither by the yatra medical staff nor by the agencies at the helm. The pilgrims too are equally responsible as they do not adhere to the instructions given to them by the SASB through different medium including their website. AMS, the most important factor for deaths, is neglected by the pilgrims. It is not practically possible to everyone to reach heights due to difficult conditions in the terrain like high altitude, lack of oxygen, exposure to cold, epidemic diseases and the personal health reasons. AMS could happen even from the 8000 feet to the people, who do not acclimatize themselves well before gaining height. It is not advisable for the yaties to gain quick height up to 14500 at Mahaguns in shortest possible time. It is against the basic rules of high altitude trekking. The fast ascents sometimes cause cerebral (brain) and pulmonary (lung) edema. The yatries must be insisted to spend sufficient time at low altitudes like Srinagar, Pahalgam or Sonamarg to acclimatize there. The yatries must not over exert during the first 48 hours of their arrival to the base camps. Besides tickets, the yatries must be issued a separate route chart on which the Govt. must record their arrivals at different halt stations and ensure that they have sufficient time at base camps for acclimatization. Under climbing rules, the altitude at which a yatri sleep on any night should not be at a place which is 300 mtrs or more than the altitude of the place at which he slept on the last night. The SASB advises the yatries to carry portable oxygen but to our surprise very few are seen carrying it. Dehydration is also common because while trekking in the high altitude one has to consume lots of liquids because they lose lot of water in the shape of sweet. In cold climatic condition the Hypothermia can also be detrimental.

Previously the Kashmiri pundits and Sadhus were going to the Cave in lesser number and undertook the pilgrimage in a very scientific way. The Sadhus coming from other parts of the country would arrive at Srinagar many days prior to the commencement of the yatra. The Chari Mubarak was later carried from Srinagar by these Sadhus and pilgrims in the form of a procession. The yatries walked all the way from Srinagar to Holy cave, thereby making short halts at different places on the way. They gained height slowly and it helped them get adapted to the varied heights in a systematic way. Since humans want to achieve everything in shortest possible time today and with that motive some are trying to reach the Cave in shortest possible time. Many pilgrims hailing from Indian plains reach Srinagar by air in the morning and same day they are carried to Chandanwari or Baltal in a car for onward trek to the cave. They don’t get sufficient time to acclimatize themselves either at Srinagar or at Sonamarg/Pahalgam. The pilgrims even sometime hide the AMS symptoms which later proves fatal for them. This is suicidal. No one should be held responsible for his or her death. The Govt. should stop pilgrims taking quick ascents to the Holy Cave. It must be mentioned that such causalities also occur at other pilgrimage centers like Mount Kailash, but no hue and cry is raised there by anyone.

Verification of Medical Certificates:

Unfortunately many yatries manage a fake medical certificate. The Govt. must conduct on spot medical examination of the pilgrims before they are permitted to move beyond base camps. The old age yatra is another factor. The people up to 70 years, only if healthy should be permitted. The sick and weak people should be disallowed. These measures may help to prevent the growing number of causalities among Amarnath pilgrims.

Increasing number of Yatries:

Secondly it was decided by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board and the State Government that the inflow of yatries would not exceed 3000 per day but contrary to it the number of yatries sometime exceeded 25,000 a day. It is very difficult for the people coming from hot temperate zones to live under extremely cold climatic conditions with limited facilities. Cold climatic conditions sometime cause Hypothermia which could also prove detrimental to the yatries. The J&K Government had in fact made all necessary arrangements to cater the needs of declared number of pilgrims. The growing pollution in the region is also another important factor. More emphasis needs to be given on hygiene. The helicopter service should also be curtailed because it causes air pollution in the entire region. Only those doctors who are trained to mountain medicine and epidemics should be deployed there. They must be well acquainted with the altitude effects and must be able to treat AMS victims. It is suggested that besides medicos, the Government must involve the highly trained Mountain Guides who are well acquainted with mountain medicine.

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