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.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Call of Mountains and Valleys

Yusuf introduces readers to the charm of Sonamarg

(Mr. Muhammad 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.), before retiring in 2011. His students have has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and has been 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. He presently works as a consultant at the Adventure Call Tours and Travels. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and blogging.)

The Winter Is Calling

Till now most of the tourists would visit Sonamarg for a day and return back in the evening. It all was perhaps mainly due to absence of infrastructure, particularly the accommodation. There were few JKTDC huts, a dormitory and Tourist Bungalow which did not cater the heavy influx of tourists. Then some more hotels in the private sector were built, but now we have sufficient accommodation available here.

The Sonamarg Development Authority has built sufficient accommodation with modern amenities - recently many buildings like Sonamarg Club, International Youth Hostel, number of VIP huts, and Yatri Bhawan thrown open, besides a number of campsites, picnic spots and parks were developed. Many more hotels are under construction so there may not be any problems of accommodation now.

By outsourcing its properties to private sector the SDA has easily generated a huge revenue of nearly one crore which is spent on further development of infrastructure like laying of pathways for ponies and terminals for buses and trucks. The Tourist Reception Centre is under construction and may be thrown open next year.

Pertinently the International Youth Hostel alone could accommodate 200 persons at a time in its 4 dormitories and 10 rooms. It has all indoor and outdoor sports facilities available like billiards, table-tennis, carom, chess and health club. While for outdoor pursuits it has Adventure Club that conducts different adventure activities like trekking, camping, zorbing, and bungee-trampoline etc. It also has a large Conference Hall that facilitates corporate sector to hold conferences and meetings. Holding major cultural and educational programs is also possible here. It is situated a mile away from main market and is away from the noise of the main Sonamarg market. It is situated amidst lofty mountains and forest with a commanding view of River Sindh, Vishensar peak and Baltal range. Adventure Activities:

Sonamarg could offer a host of adventure sporting events round the year. It has a wild mountain beauty and offers wide variety of low and high altitude trekking. It is a base for many treks. One can undertake a circular trek to Amarnathji Cave; Bandipora; Gurez and Telail which can be further extended to Bandipora via Zadkhusi, Drass, and Pahalgam. A trek from Thajiwas leads to Kolahoi peak via Bear Valley. The most interesting trek is to high altitude Himalayan lakes of Vishensar, and Gangabal etc. There is no other place in the entire Himalayas which has more than 30 high altitude lakes within a radius of about 60 kilometers. One can also undertake day treks from Sonamarg to Ludderwas, Eagle’s Nest, Nilgrath and Sarbal, Amaranth cave, Lashi Pathri, Thajiwas, 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 etc.

Sonamarg is considered mountaineering and rock-climbing paradise. Some of the best mountaineering and rock-climbing is in Thajiwas. There are some long and more technical rock faces at Shitkari as well where the High Altitude Warfare School is regularly conducts its training camps. Other organizations like Kashmir University, J&K Mountaineering and Hiking Club and Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering have been active in the area for some time.

Sonamarg is also called “valley of glaciers”. There are a number of challenging peaks at Thajiwas which include Umbrella Peak, Cefn Carnedo, Innominate, Mosquito peak, Valehead peaks, Crystal peak and Blade/Arrow, etc. Sonamarg receives heavy snowfall during winter but unfortunately it remains cut off from rest of the state during winter. The frequent avalanches in Shitkari area block the road and make it impossible to conduct any winter sports activity here. A large number of European Heli-Skiers have zoomed down the virgin passes, ridges and long ski runs covered with fantastic powder snow in Gund and Kulun areas. In late April, May, June and July, it is possible to ski the whole Thajiwas Nar. Glacier 6 is not crevassed and provides good ski runs from April to July. Glacier 3 would make a fine ski-mountaineering expedition to the peaks “Valehead” and “Umbrella”. A Ski team of J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association undertook first reconnaissance expedition to Thajiwas glaciers in May 1988. The team along with some Swiss skiers also undertook ski tour to Bear Valley. There is also possibility of operating tobogganing, sledging, Snowboarding, and Cross-Country and alpine skiing here. u With the raising of infrastructure the resort is all set to hold winter activities in near future.

The gushing River Sindh is ideal for wild water sports, such as rafting, kayaking and Canoeing, from Baltal to Shitkari with Grade 1 to 4 rapids. One can further extend the rafting trip up to Ganderbal if one does portage at Hung/Shitkari for about half a kilometer. Some huge rocks are lying in the middle of the river here, thus creating a big hazard making it impossible to run down the river in this stretch. The blasting of these huge rocks would offer one of the best and long commercial rafting/kayaking trips straight from Baltal to Ganderbal passing through picturesque countryside of north Kashmir?

The Tourism Department (Kashmir) has organized many International Rafting Championships in the recent past. Recently the Department organized North Zone White Water Kayaking Championship here.

Not only terrestrial sports, Sonamarg is ideal for aero and other allied sports. There is best and constant wind condition for Paragliding and Parasailing here. Paragliding pilots could fly here on glacier as well as on land. Paragliding was first introduced at Sonamarg way back in May 1988 by J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association. The team took first flight from Glacier 2 to the Thajiwas base which was in fact first flight of its kind in the sub-continent There is also possibility of organizing many other allied adventure sports like Snow rugby, Mountain Biking, Snow Cycling, Grass Skiing, Sport Angling (fishing) at different beats in river Sindh and high altitude lakes and Orienteering. Orienteering is a Cross-Country race involving map reading. Competitors make their way through unfamiliar mountain terrain using a compass and a topographical map. There is also possibility of introducing Scree Running in Krishensar/Vishensar areas. 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. A circular mountain biking trip from Srinagar to Gurez via Drass, Telail, and back to Srinagar via Bandipur could be one of the fascinating and thrilling adventures.

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