Highway Kashmir

January 10, 2012

By Fayaz Kabli

As I started my journey from Srinagar to cover the aftermath of a heavy snowfall along the 300km (186 mile) Srinagar-Jammu highway, the early morning chill was bone biting. Though I had a heater in my hired taxi, it still could not cope with the outside cold but as we drove along, the heat started to pick up.

A recent heavy snowfall across the Kashmir region had snapped electricity transmission lines, telephone lines and internet services plunging the region into darkness and cutting it off from the rest of the world; compounding the misery of around seven million people who live in the valley. The mountainous Srinagar-Jammu highway, which connects Kashmir with the rest of India, remained shut for a fifth day on Tuesday after heavy snowfall.

As we approached Qazigund, the main town in south Kashmir, I could see long lines of stranded trucks on the left side of the road. Some drivers were busy trying to keep the engines and fuel tanks of their trucks warm with bonfires. Some tried to remove snow from around their trucks and others prepared late breakfasts inside empty trucks. Many told me about the problems they faced while being stranded and wanted me to highlight them in the media.

My driver, Ghulam Rasool, had a tough time giving way to vehicles approaching in the opposite direction after the light vehicles were returned back to Srinagar when police informed them the road was closed.

I met a senior police officer, Farooq Ahmad, in Qazigund town who told me that “we are trying our best to throw the road open but it seems the weather god is against us”. The officer was polite and offered me a cup of tea which I politely refused because I wanted to cover as much distance as I could and take pictures of snow being cleared and other activities. The officer allowed us to only travel up to the Jawahar Tunnel and return back as soon possible as the weather kept on changing every moment in the area. He advised me not to stop for long in the tunnel area.

I told Ghulam to drive very carefully on icy, slippery roads and keep honking his car horn at every sharp bend of the mountainous road. Though we were sure no vehicles were coming from the opposite direction there were many stranded people carrying their belongings walking on the icy road as they tried to cross the Jawahar tunnel by foot to reach Banihal town. Many people pleaded for a lift but we could not stop the car as it was too dangerous to stop on the icy road.

Finally we reached Jawahar Tunnel where we could stop for a while. There, I saw a Kashmiri man carrying his daughter as he tried to cross the 2.5 km (1.5 mile)-long tunnel on foot.

Seeing both father and daughter in pain as the wind blew at dangerous speeds, I took them in my car, crossed through the tunnel and dropped them on the other side. The father praised us for the lift, it was then that I could feel the warmth of duas (blessing) coming from inside. We returned back along the highway and I kept taking pictures of laborers surrounding the fire during their break and people crossing the treacherous path on foot.

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Beautiful land of Kashmir; a replica of paradise on earth!

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