Far-flung, neglected for decades, Gurez Valley longs for attention


Walking down from Chakwali, the last village of our country on the northern tip in this region in Jammu and Kashmir, a common sight was women bringing 50-60 kg of wood on their back in baskets

Should we suffer because we are peaceful, love the country and wish to contribute more for its development?”Asked an elderly villager while discussing Gurez Valley’s slow pace of development during the 40th Shodhyatra last month.

Walking down from Chakwali, the last village of our country on the northern tip in this region in Jammu and Kashmir, a common sight was women bringing 50-60 kg of wood on their back in baskets. The protrusions on the baskets hurt their backs. They needed new designs. If we cannot remove their burden, can we at least make it bearable? A room requires wood for warming when the night temperatures drop to minus 6-7 degree. After a week or two, the area will witness 20-30 feet snowfall and be cut off with defense transport being an exception.

Thankfully, Tawsif, a local innovator from another region of Kashmir has developed an energy efficient Bukhari or heater. It will not only help keep room warm and require only 3-4 kg wood for a night but also be a revolutionary step in energy saving besides providing some relief to the women.

Some Shodhyatris offered to pay for such Bukharis costing Rs7,500 to be urgently deployed and tested in the region. Follow up has begun through Honey Bee Network and NIF cell at Kashmir University, Srinagar, under the voluntary leadership of prof GM Bhat. SRISTI team worked for over a month in advance preparing for the Shodhyatra in collaboration with volunteers of the Network including Nadeem and Sabjar.

A region without internet, mobile connections and practically neglected by markets and the state was endowed with abundant human ingenuity and creative spirit.

There is a tremendous scope for adding value to their ideas and local herbal knowledge and bring local products into market.

Honey Bee Network through SRISTI and NIF proposes to stay engaged with local communities in this region.

The area does not have a single hydro-turbine and even uses solar energy sparingly for light. Many such batteries have already gone out of order. Some children wondered whether solar energy can be used for keeping Kangri or Bukhari warm? How sunlight can be taken inside their houses. Though they got power only for 4-6 hours daily on an average, the energy potential of a river flowing alongside remains to be tapped.

Some innovations that caught our eyes were tablets made by school students Khalid Hussain and Mir Zamman using local herbs for stomach ache, a device for better grip of shoes in snow by Arshad Ahmad Lone and extra wheel for baskets for carrying weight by Arshid Khan. The design of snow shoe was not very popular in the region.

Shodhyatris also set up a library in Govt Higher Secondary School, Budgam by giving 1,000 books. Thanks to the contribution by Shail Desai, a Honey Bee Network volunteer of Mumbai. Many Shodhyatris resolved to pool books for other schools.

One of the most redeeming facts was almost total absence of malnutrition among children. Mothers breastfeed their kids for two to three years. They grew vegetables in small gardens. The communities have high respect for elders. The extraordinary hospitality for guests and visitors was very inspiring. The Yatris, who received affectionate response in each village, enjoyed the local cuisine.

This was the first time in the last three decades that Shodhyatris came across a published history of a village. Pride of people in local culture, history and natural resources can be harnessed for prompting responsible tourism. So far, outsiders have not come this far.

The stay homes are being developed. We stayed in schools where teachers were very warm and helpful.

More lessons and challenges will be shared next week. If you wish to join hands for the sustainable development of the region, write back to shodhyatra@sristi.org.