SOS From An Icy Kashmir Highway
11 February 2005
The Hindustan Times
New Delhi: 'Help us...' It was a desperate voice calling from a key highway in Jammu and Kashmir early on Saturday, a voice that was barely able to utter a few sentences before the battery of her cellphone fizzled out. Shabnam Querishi - stuck with her family in a bus on a stretch of road blocked completely by heavy snowfall and landslides for six days - was trying to call relatives in New Delhi for help after being unable to contact anyone in Kashmir. Stranded on desolate stretches of the Jammu-Srinagar highway since the movement of traffic was affected by inclement weather, hundreds have become desperate due to lack of food and warm clothing. Shabnam was stuck at Ramsu, about 150 km from summer capital Srinagar. With the battery of her phone almost dead, she passed on a brief message on the plight of her family. 'We have been stuck for over six days and there are more than 20 people, including children, in the bus in which we are travelling,' she told her relatives. 'We have nothing to eat and we don't have adequate warm clothing. We can't even go for help as there was one avalanche ahead of our bus and another behind it,' Shabnam said. Though some Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters had made sorties in the area, Shabnam claimed they had not returned after airlifting the relatives of some top government officials who too were stranded in the same area. Heavy snowfall in the past week has triggered avalanches and landslides along the highway, killing over a dozen security personnel. Reports have said that owners of shops and hotels along the highway have substantially hiked the prices of goods and services over the past few days. At places, a cup of tea normally sold for Rs 2 now goes for as much as Rs 16, while a mug of hot water costs Rs 5. A few pieces of coal for a heater cost Rs 5, while rooms at roadside hotels, which just have very basic and limited facilities, are being let out to stranded passengers for as much as Rs 500 a night, almost four times the normal tariff. But Shabnam and other passengers stranded in the bus have no access to even these facilities, making their condition desperate, she said.