“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Mehraj and Yusuf argue that linking Poonch to Gulmarg by road over Pirpanjal range would be yet another environmental and wildlife disaster in Kashmir

(Mr. Mehraj Din, 56, was born in Srinagar. After graduating with an Arts degree from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, he took advanced studies in adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing. He is now an adventure tour consultant, running a tour and travel business with outlets in Srinagar, Nepal and Bhutan.

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.)

No More Environmental Disasters in Kashmir Please

This refers to the meeting of some ministers and bureaucrats of Jammu and Kashmir Government, held in Srinagar recently in connection with the construction of a road on Poonch and Gulmarg sector in Kashmir. Many environmentalists, explorers and the adventurers of the state were shocked on hearing the news. They believe that it would be yet another mistake of the Government to destroy the natural beauty of the scenic Pirpanjal range in Kashmir Himalayas. It is astonishing that the meeting was chaired by a minister who himself looks after the environment and forest ministry in Jammu and Kashmir state and is a leader of the Gujar (nomad) community. It is in fact his foremost duty to protect the environment of the state and to safeguard the interests of his poor community. Construction of one more road between Poonch and Kashmir will never be called a development. It would rather destroy the fragile Pirpanjal range.

The construction of the proposed road via Ferozpur nallah over Pirpanjal range near Gulmarg would never help develop tourism here as is presumed by the Government but will instead prove disastrous for both tourism and wildlife. It would undoubtedly destroy wild mountain beauty of the area, where there is immense possibility of promoting snow sports like snowboarding, Alpine ski, ski-touring, luge, bobsledding and other tourism related outdoor pursuits. The circular Mughal Road Trekking via Shopian, Poshiana, Alliabad, Pir Ki Gali, Poonch, Loren, Zamian pass and Gulmarg was most popular amongst the students of Kashmir University in eighties. Half of the trek from Shopian to Poonch is already vanished with the construction of road in this area. Now the attempts are being made to destroy the remaining part. This will badly affect our socio-economic position in near future. We quote an example here that the Lehinwan to Inshan trek in Kishtwar Himalayas was very popular among foreign tourists in recent past. Nearly 1000 high end tourists used to undertake trekking on this route annually but ever since the road was laid here no one desired to trek around here. It was a big setback for adventure tourism in Kishtwar area. It is estimated that Kishtwar trekking expeditions were generating directly about 30,000 man days of work for laborers, cooking crew and pony owners etc. every tourist season with the annual income of nearly 2.5 crores of Indian rupees. Similarly after construction of many other roads in Zanaskar Himalayas the foreign travel companiessevered their trekking programmes there. Another most popular route from Panikhar to Manali also met the same fate.

How nice it would have been if the Government could operate Twin Otter aircrafts for conveyance of locals instead of laying expensive black toped roads though the mountainous terrains. Due to soil erosion and heavy snow fall in the Pirpanjal range we fear that the Gulmarg-Poonch road could ever become all weather road.

It is astonishing that besides Pirpanjal, the Government is planning to construct one more road in Sindh valley connecting Telail (Gurez valley) to Kangan via Gangabal. This road will leave no place for high altitude alpine trekking for the posterity and perish nearly 40 high altitude lakes, well stocked with trout. Gangabal is a sacred lake for Hindus that could also be affected. The Kashmiri Hindus believe that the Ganga (River Ganges) actually originates from this Lake.

Perhaps the proposed road from Poonch to Gulmarg would also be not in the interests of Gujars and Bakerwals (nomad communities) who otherwise prefer to travel through pastures so that they could feed their cattle enroute. It would be less development and more destruction for Gujars in particular. It will obviously demolish their habitat. Construction of road in this belt would be nothing but an aggression to the nomad community and the wildlife. It will certainly snatch their bread and butter. The Gujar leaders must come forward and fight for genuine cause of their community. The move seems to be a political gimmick of our ministers. We do not understand what made them to think of laying yet another road to link Kashmir to Poonch when the Mughal road has just been opened for general traffic. We suggest connecting Pooch with Gulmarg through Cable Car and not by road. Cable Car could be suitable both for the development of tourism and for providing transportation to the locals here. This is amazing that many European countries are linked to each other through cable cars. One can travel from Switzerland to Austria or other neighboring countries by a Cable Car but alas! We cannot travel from one district to another through this mode of transportation. Laying road on this mountainous terrain would perhaps cost more money than the cable Car. It is admitted fact that we have tremendous scope for winter tourism in Pirpanjal range. There are many meadows behind Mount Apharwat and in nearby Tosamaidan region but we need a cable car to take tourists there.

The road will not only fell lacs of trees but will also cause threat to wildlife here. This area habitat some extinct species of wildlife including snow leopard, brown bear, fox and musk dear etc. we have a wildlife sanctuary here which may also be affected. So far winter sports are concerned these are becoming increasingly popular in Gulmarg. On weekends and holidays thousands of tourists come here for skiing. It is felt that after fifty years there will be no space for people to ski here. The back drop of Mount Apharwat is the treasure for winter sports and we have to preserve it for our posterity. Many tourists are seen venturing out from Gulmarg to Sunrise and Sunset peaks during winter to ski in the virgin areas or do extreme skiing there. We request the authorities to desist from constructing one more road in Pirpanjal range. It is surprising that on the one hand the politicians and bureaucrats are celebrating World Environment Days and Weeks with great pomp and show in confined halls and issue big messages in the newspapers but on the other hand they take such steps those are no way helpful in protecting the environment.

The Government needs to consult the subject experts before taking big decisions concerning the environment and biodiversity etc. We plea the Union Minister of State for Kashmir Affairs, Mr. Prithvi Raj Chouhan to stop facilitating the J&K Government in building the proposed Poonch-Gulmarg road.