Missing Link Of Kashmir

2 June 2014
Kashmir Life
Bilal Handoo

Srinagar: The only connection between Kashmiris living on the other side of the Banihal tunnel with valley is a treacherous road link that has annihilated lives at random. The situation triggers an immediate need for an alternate surface communication between Chenab Valley and Kashmir Valley. Though Doda-Dessa-Kapran road was commissioned by state in seventies as the alternate, Bilal Handoo reports that the same remains elusive till date. He speaks chaste Kashmiri but hails from the hinterland of Jammu province. At that fringe of district Doda-stands Bhatta: the last village of the district, where people of his tribe are putting up since decades. But Sharief Ud Din Bhat, 36, is no nomad. He is Kashmiri, dwelling in virgin meadows and towering peaks-but cut off from the larger Kashmiri flock at the place, where surface communication is still a distant dream. A panoramic view of Bhatta makes it the most desirable, yet unexplored tourist place of Jammu and Kashmir. The place which is seemingly a 'beast of the beauty' is 25 km away from the main town of Doda. The half of the road to Bhatta from Doda town up to Bimna is motorable; and rest, a rugged terrain. As one treks on mules or by foot, a virgin meadows, fresh water streams and breathtaking sight unfold. A three hour long arduous trek on rugged terrains takes one to Bhatta where life is remotest in every possible sense. But isolation from larger flock hasn't dwindled Kashmiri culture and traditions among them. They wear Pheran, warm themselves with Kangri, and cook Wazwan on marriages, besides displaying Kashmiri behaviour and mannerism. Bhat says the available road link to Kashmir at the fringe of Jammu has helped his tribe to retain Kashmiri traits. From the other side of Bhatta behind peaks lies the southern end of Kashmir, Kapran, a village in Shahabad tehsil in Islamabad district. It is located 79 km from Srinagar-surrounded by Qazigund tehsil towards west; Achabal tehsil towards the north; Pahloo tehsil towards east and Banihal tehsil towards south. Every week, villagers from Bhatta and Dessa (place between Doda and Bhatta) trek the Baribal Mountain atop along with their mules to reach Kapran for purchase of commodities. 'Getting the same commodities from Doda town road takes more time, costs and labour,' says Bhat, who is toiling hard to throw his birthplace on tourism map. But then, heading towards Kapran is no cakewalk. Villagers have to get up early in the morning to reach Kapran along with their mules-so that, they can return home with their commodities next day. A seasonal farmer in his village, Bhat says the Kapran route is the closet link to Kashmir stretched over 12 km-but given the physical condition of the road, it takes people 7 to 8 hours of foot journey to enter Kapran. But as arduous trek to Kapran from Bhatta is on, villagers are patiently awaiting Doda-Dessa-Kapran road commissioned by state in 1978. But 36 years after, the wait for the road-believed to usher a new era of development for the 'neglected regions' of both district Doda and Kashmir-is far from over. The road is feasible for a lot of reasons, like in 2011: Dessa farmers loaded their entire walnut crop on horses and mules and unloaded them on the other side in Kapran without any trouble. The road will cut down the distance between Doda and Srinagar to 140 km from the present 229 km through Jawahar Tunnel. In fact, Doda will be just 45 km from Kashmir valley's southern end. Apart from narrowing down the distance, the route will connect Srinagar with Jammu via Doda by a shorter, safer and an all-weather road. The road that still awaits state's intervention is likely to relieve people from nightmarish journey on existing road: afflicted with shooting stones and landslides. It can also be connected with Bani-Besoli and Sudhmadev route with Jammu-and thus will provide an alternate route to Jammu-Srinagar highway. Besides, Doda-Dessa-Kapran road can reduce number of accidents-otherwise common feature on the existing Doda road stretch-due to overloading in public transport, narrow and sharp curves on mutilated roads. In March this year, three people were killed and seven others sustained injuries when a Tata Sumo plunged into a gorge. As the road will have to be built according to the highway standards, the chances of accidents are likely to dip. And the immediate need for this road-is the gradual sinking of a larger portion of Doda-Batote road. After the commissioning of Baghlihar dam and subsequent rise of water in Chenab, a large portion of this only connecting road has been rendered unfeasible. Lately complaining voices from Chenab Valley are speaking out-'the road is akin to death trap for us! And, the government is making us hostage to the same!' Dessa-Kapran road will also open up a number of unexplored tourist spots in the Dessa area. Beautiful and vast meadows high up in the mountains of Dessa can be made accessible by this road. Some of the meadows in Dessa: Danna Dahar, Saiba Wali Marg, Draman, Chaba, Chandi and other exotic spots are yet to be explored. 'All these places have remained inaccessible owing to roadblock in the construction of Doda-Dessa-Kapran road,' says Bhat, who also ferries pilgrims during annual Amarnath yatra. But till state put its machinery on task in the hinterland, Bhat along with his tribe would continue to walk a treacherous journey.