Dozens of villages falling near the Line of Control (LoC) in northern Kashmir get disconnected from the rest of the valley during every winter due to the heavy snowfall leaving them in severe shortage of the essential commodities due to the blockade of roads.
With snow capped mountains, pristine rivers running down the villages, serene nature and heart-warming people, Gurez valley is one of the such isolated place where winter for residents means settling into their homes with a stockpile of canned goods, dried vegetables and firewood or coal, and waiting patiently for spring to arrive.
Razdan Pass, which is the gateway to Gurez mountainous valley and Sadhna top, connecting border town of Tangdhar with Kupwara records around 10-15 feet snow during winter months and becomes the main reason for the closure of the roads, thereby making the area inaccessible during the harsh conditions of winter months.
“The long months of isolation for the Gurez which is picking up swiftly as one of tourist destination residents are passed by working on handicrafts for sale the following summer, listening to Shina and Kashmiri music, feeding cattle and visiting each other,” says Bashir Ahmad, a local health worker.
During the heavy snowfall, Bashir and his friends contribute money and assemble in the house to sing the traditional songs, besides folk tales are being told.
However the greatest concern over the long winter, other residents say, is health care as the snow-clad region comprising 15 sub villages remains cut off from the rest of the world during winters due to heavy snowfall which led to multiple administrative problems and created panic among the locals.
Critically ill patients have no choice during winter but to airlift from here to other hospitals,” the residents of Karnah said, adding that due to continuous snowfall, the situation is sometimes so complicated that the villagers of the valley cannot reach the sub district hospital. This winter, they said that the situation was so tough that they could not even bring the corpses to their native areas for four several days.
The snowfall which had draped the pristine Gurez and Karnah regions since the last three months has forced the administration to press choppers into service for winter to manage medical emergencies of the people living in the region.
Hoping that the road will be re-opened very quickly this year, people said that they don’t want to depend on chopper service during the emergency period. “If the weather is unfavorable then it can’t operate at that time either,” Abdul Rasheed, a Tulail resident said.
“During the winter months, nearby roads might not be in the best shape or not be as well maintained as urban roads,” Aziz said, adding that in some cases you may not even be able to spot your neighbours at all due to heavy snowfall because things may no longer remain as rosy as they seemed to be in summer.
The government in Gurez valley has installed diesel generators in the villages. A single generator feeds a village of about 60 households and provides regular 5-hour electricity daily from 7 PM to 11 PM besides two-hour electricity from 5 AM to 7 AM.
“As the villages are scattered and settled at high altitudes facing immense hardships in winter, in the form of connectivity, electricity and health emergency, Masoor Ahmad a resident of Karnah says people also lose daily earning due to unavailability of work around.
The closure of the road coupled with harsh weather conditions forces many residents to migrate to other parts of the valley, he said while citing harsh weather conditions, shortage of essential commodities and the health emergency as main reasons for migration.
“Everyone has to keep a huge stock of firewood and essential food items including rice, oil and dried vegetables which we use during winters when our area remains under several feet of snow and remains cut off with the rest of the valley,” he said.
The locals of duo snow bound regions said the tunnel at the high altitude tops would facilitate round the year traffic movement on the only surface link connecting the towns with district headquarters.
Recently people in the Karnah region have registered a protest demonstration to press their demand regarding the construction of the Tunnel while the same demand is also being raised by the residents of Gurez.
Officials told the news agency—Kashmir news observer (KNO), that the critically ill patients of these areas in the winter season were airlifted from their respective areas to the city hospital on priority basis through chopper service with the help of administration. Besides the students in need of evacuation also availed the service.
They said that a Snow clearance operation has started on a massive scale to clear the Gurez-Bandipora and Karnah-Kuwara Roads. “It is being ensured that both roads will be opened as soon as possible,” the officials said—(KNO)