Yusuf laments about a rapidly dying glacier in the valley caused by easy human access and improper tourist management
(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 56, 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.)
Thajiwas – The Glacier of Tragedy
Lot is written and discussed about Kolahoi and other glaciers of J&K State but little attention is paid by highly rewarded and awarded environmentalists and Glaciologists towards the protection of fast receding Thajiwas Glaciers in Kashmir Himalayas. Thajiwas is, in fact, a valley within the Sindh valley. It runs south-east to north-west to join the Sindh River at Shitkari below Sonamarg. It is surrounded by many lofty rock walls and challenging peaks like Mosquito,4612 mtr, Arrow/Blade, 4830 challenging peaks like Mosquito,4612 mtr, Arrow/Blade, 4830 Mtr, Valehead, 4750 mtr, Umbrella, 4789 mtr, Cefn Carnedo, 4800 mtr, Innominate, 4900 mtr, and Kazim ridge, 4970 mtr. on its south and easy grassy Zabnar (4040 mtr) on its north. Two very difficult types of sandstone and soft lime rocks form its boundaries. The eastern side of the valley is blocked by the Hapatnar Bal (Bear Valley Col). Melting glaciers form a stream at the base which later joins the River Sindh at Shitkari Bridge near Hung.
Thajiwas is also known as ‘The Valley of Glaciers’. In recent past it was abode of six fairly well defined glaciers lying in between different pinnacle shaped peaks, crags and cliffs. Most of the glaciers, running from mountain tops through gullies, were meeting each other at the base of the valley and was therefore known by a single name of Thajiwas glacier but the position of these glaciers is today entirely different. The moraines running from these glaciers to the foothills indicate that a large portion of these glaciers is receded for last some decades. These Glaciers are now shrunk to a great extend. Just before independence some sporting activities like climbing and ice crafting were actively conducted here by the British officers. These glaciers offered best possibilities of undertaking high adventures here. Surprisingly most of these glaciers are now hanging on the cliffs, waiting for their sudden death. Glacier 1 overlooks the ‘Meadow of Gold’ (Sonamarg) and lies directly amidst of two peaks, ‘Greater Thajiwas’ 4727 mtr. and Lesser Thajiwas, 4546 mtr. It is on the pattern of other glaciers, steep of snout. Glacier 2 lies between pattern of other glaciers, steep of snout. Glacier 2 lies between Greater Thajiwas and Wallow Crag walled behind by Arrow and Cefn Carnedo peaks. After Glacier 2 there was a snow bed, called Amphitheatre Gully, which is totally vanished now. One can find seasonal snow on this Gully till April/May but due to high rate of ablation it melts down fast. The snow clad Umbrella peak lies on the upper reaches of this gully behind Wallow Crag. Glacier 3 is situated between Umbrella and Valehead peaks. Kazim ridge forms the back wall. This is the largest of the six glaciers and the most active. It is roughly triangular in form. Glacier 4 and 5 are close to each other and lies at the foothills of Valehead and Mosquito peaks. The long and serrated north ridge of Valehead peak divides Glacier 3 and 4. Its lowest buttress, named Sunday Crag, dominates Glacier 4. Glacier 6 lies at the head of the valley over Bear Valley Col. It bends down from the very heart of Valehead Peak, beyond Mosquito Peak, in a smooth curve.
About four decades back it was possible to ski the whole Thajiwas Nar till late July. Glacier 6 was not crevassed and provided good ski runs in May and June. Glacier 3 would make a fine ski mountaineering expedition to the peaks “Valehead” and “Umbrella”. Even till 1988 these glaciers offered challenge for ski-touring. An Indo-Swiss expedition, with this writer as one of the members, skied down the entire Thajiwas Nar starting from upper reaches of Hapatnar Col to Sonamarg in May-June 1988. At some places it offered Extreme Skiing with nearly 8 kilometers of ski run in one go. Snow condition was excellent and kilometers of ski run in one go. Snow condition was excellent and fantastic. Another expedition, organized by the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association undertook Ski-Paragliding flights from top of Glacier 1 to the base in May 1989. Not only global warming but the increasing human activity in higher areas is equally responsible for disappearance of glaciers. Due to high rate of ablation and heat produced by increasing number of tourists, Gujjars/Bakarwals (Nomads), herdsmen, restaurants, School excursions and campers the glacier seems visibly retracting. The Glacier 5 has pushed out a tongue of ice into the main valley. There is need for taking tangible steps for addressing the receding Thajiwas Glacier.
The Jammu and Kashmir Government is undoubtedly duty bound to promote tourism in the state. It is making its all out efforts to promote tourism in a big way but the growing tourism harms our eco system as well. In its endeavor the Tourism Department is increasingly organizing different adventure programs, carnivals, fame tours, and festivals etc at high altitudes one or the other day. Conducting of Rafting Championships on Sindh and Lidder streams has become its regular feature. During such adventure activities a large crowd is gathered at higher places. Besides, a large number of domestic tourists are now regularly visiting these places. Hundreds of tourists and local excursions are frequently visiting the easy accessible Thajiwas glacier every day. The glacier is visited by nearly 50,000 to 60,000 tourists just in 120 days of tourist season every year. It is not possible for a common/pleasure tourist to visit Kolahoi or any not possible for a common/pleasure tourist to visit Kolahoi or any other high altitude glacier in a day. Surprisingly Thajiwas glacier is just 2.5 kilometers away from black topped road head. To seek pleasure by organizing snow fighting or zooming down the glacier on a Sledge the tourists from Indian planes always prefer to go to Thajiwas glacier because it is nearest and has easy approach. The increasing tourist inflow to Thajiwas is its deteriorating factor. Not only day tourists but a good number of Gujjars/ Bakarwals (nomads) and Chopans (herdsmen) are residing here during summer months. Many others have been permitted to set up Tea Stalls and Campsites in the narrow Thajiwas valley, unaware of the fact that due to increasing human interference the heat is generated in a larger quantity and thus proving disastrous to the glaciers. The Campfires, stoves, Cholas and burning of wood to make charcoal accelerates the heat here. Since Thajiwas is bounded by wall like high mountains on its three sides it leaves less space for heat to escape. The Sonamarg Development Authority must immediately shift these campsites to other places like Sarbal, Nilgrath and main Sonamarg but away from water bodies as well.
Finally, there is need of setting up a monitoring station by The Energy Resource Institute (TERI) here as otherwise we will lose this nature’s renewable storehouse of freshwater. On the other hand these hanging glaciers could also be dangerous for tourists who often try to reach out to these glaciers. Two years back five tourists were buried alive in a hanging glacier when it suddenly collapsed. We will have to minimize the tourist inflow to Thajiwas so that melting rate could be minimized and the glaciers are protected. The Government will be minimized and the glaciers are protected. The Government will have to prepare extensive project to protect these glaciers.