It’s a cold white Friday in mid-December as our twenty-member team from three non-government organisations clog the vehicles at the banks of river Jhelum, some 140 kilometres west of Srinagar. Bad weather and snow compels us to leave vehicles and walk up the final destination Jabda, which is still some 5000 feet up in a cloudy mountain.
We reluctantly accepted to trek up the timeless snowy mountain leaving our three vehicles in the foothills on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad International Highway, as driving vehicles up the mountain became out of the question.
During the entire conflict between India and Pakistan, this village remained its epicentre right from 1947. This western most frontier village of Jammu Kashmir used to be among the main routes for rebel insurgents to cross-over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training.
Although, now guns, occasionally pound the area, but nothing considerable has changed beyond that. From past several decades, Jabra has continued a backward, impoverished remote and accessible only by foot during most of the seasons.
From Sarai-Bandi at the the banks of Jhelum, we hike a trail that climbs steadily along a deep snowed valley. Snailing up in the snowy weather and cloudy sky; of hill after hill with neither tree nor settlement, the approach to the Jabra became up a narrow valley of snow, darkness and bitter cold.
It is half-past four and we are still half an hour short to summit, where our medical camp is arranged. Looking up at the last cliff, villagers are visible waiting us, uninterruptedly tracking our movement from the top. After travelling nearly ten hours-non-stop the sense of exhaustion was quite visible over our faces, but no one would have sensed that it would turn into an unforgettable fight.
Abruptly our team halted in an empty landscape, at the base of a few steep cliffs below the final destination. “What happened? Some-one behind shouted. “We are moving back.” The response came swiftly.
Usually in winter, days shorten much in Kashmir. When the sun sets, the temperature drops to below minus degrees Celsius. And it becomes much hectic to travel. There are no hotels or guest houses, and hospitality in this land is a matter of survival.
In just a few moments the team got fragmented into two; one bound to retreat as soon as possible, the other few adamant over to trek on until the camp is over.
Despite a heated debate for around fifteen minutes, no one could take a call. Our team was disconnected from the base station in Srinagar, just as we travelled past Uri town. So it was impossible to consult the project head and get the final opinion. At last the team had to follow a split-second decision not to turn around, which ultimately became our memorable diary.
Back in Office, our Security in-Charge and Project Head had considered all the matters and planned accordingly a day before. In-fact the weather forecast was taken into view, which un-denyingly had predicted clear weather for the upcoming week. Hardly, few might have assumed that weather in Kashmir displays a significant impact of western disturbances. And geographically, it would have been wiser to consult the weather forecast from Pakistan. But almost everyone missed the fact. And the next morning when we entered the Uri town, it was out-rightly a different landscape.
As most of us were not technical trekkers, so only the medical team afforded to reach to the summit camp and majority of our colleagues hardly moved beyond the base cliff, (Disputed Point) where the row had begun. And many of us usually talk this trip with ‘JABDA MEIN JAGDA’ tagline.
The sun had already leaned over the western horizon the moment we stepped in the village, where more than hundred people received us with mixed feelings. Villagers gather around to marvel at the foreigners who have arrived in the dead of winter.
Our medical team got just a few hours to look patients and provide them the basic medicines we had taken along. We had to move before the darkness fell, because to
slope down the mountain it was again a couple of hours’ task. However, the satisfaction from both the sides became debatable and still an unending discussion. But it is a fact that perfection is just a mirage, and failure is the first step towards success. We never managed our medical team to send this village again, despite we had promised. But I wish someone else, who might go through this travelogue that this village sans of all basic health facilities need us most.
Here, emptiness is not nothingness. In these mountains the silence of conflict-ridden speaks everything. There are no roads or electricity. Cattle dung fuels the fires of the few, who live in this village and the land yields only a single crop of maize each year: certainly an insufficient supply.
Accustomed to hardships, these communities live their lives at the mercy of fate. Pregnant women fight to scrape a living on the plunging slopes of the unforgiving mountains; carrying wood, cutting grass and working in the fields. Medical assistance is a casualty here and government apathy a norm.ENDS…