Riffat Mohidin/Saleem Bin Ahmed
BANDIPORA, May 2: On Sunday, when Muzaffar Ahmad Lone reached the bustling market of Bandipora, he knew hardships back home had finally ended, at least for some time.
After five long months, 30-year-old Lone travelled 80 kms down from his home in Gurez to buy stocks for his shop, after the road link with the rest of the valley was thrown open for traffic.
Gurez and other areas near the Line of Control-dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan- remain cut-off from the rest of the valley during winter and are accessible only after snow melts to clear the road.
It was this annual ‘road-closure’ that had forced Lone to close his business for more than a month, as stocks for the winter had been exhausted.
“I had nothing to sell as I sold everything that I had. And I could not buy new stock,” Lone says.
“For five months, we live in isolation. Only God knows what all we face during this period.”
Lone’s tale is not uncommon in the frontier area of Gurez which has a strength of thirty thousand people-mostly labourers. People in this frontier region are forced to live under harsh conditions as houses remain buried under snow while small hamlets on mountain slopes are wiped-off by avalanches, even killing many.
The restoration of the road link from Bandipora to Gurez proves to be a respite also for others, who left home at the onset of winter, and are eager to go back as spring arrives.
Waseem Qadir Dar, a doctor who hasn’t visited home for the last six months, says he is worried about the condition in his native village.
“It is worse when all communication channels are snapped. I couldn’t even find out whether everything was fine,” he says.
But for the people living there, heavy snowfall only adds to the already existing woes in the area. The villages have no proper source of electricity and the diesel generators installed by the authorities provide electricity only for three hours every evening.
“Like other Kashmiris who use modern heating appliances, we can’t use electric blowers to warm ourselves. It trips down the generator leaving the entire are in darkness,” says Ahanger.
Moreover the use of ‘bukharies’ (coal heaters) for heat has resulted in several health ailments. “The cases of pulmonary infections and constipation increase during winters due to continuous use of Bukhari (coal heaters) and lack of exercise as people remain indoors most of the time,” says Dr Waseem.
“And patients with serious problems can’t get proper treatment due to the blocked roads.”
Though the authorities run a helicopter service to lift people including patients from Gurez to other parts of Kashmir, people say “it is least helpful to them”.
“More than 40 per cent of population are poor labourers. They can’t effort to use the service,” says a retired headmaster, Muhammad Asadullah, who says the authorities are only “turning a blind eye to the problems instead of solving them”.
“A tunnel between Gurez and Bandipora will end all our miseries. But the government only promised us of building the tunnel and did nothing,” says Assadullah.
“It will be the biggest contribution as it will not only solve our problem but can be effective for attracting more and more tourists to the valley in both winters as well as summers”.