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Bangus valley deserves to be left alone

Bangus valley deserves to be left alone

Bangus valley of Kupwara J&K. ANI file



Lt Gen Raj Sujlana (retd)

A recent report about a festival in Bangus valley of Kupwara (Jammu and Kashmir) transported me back to July 1971, when I joined my unit in this frontier district. The word ‘Bangus’ comes from Sanskrit words van (forest) and gus (grass). The valley is a huge grassy patch surrounded by a dense forest.

I was lucky to have seen this area in a virgin state during a long-range patrol (LRP), an important aspect of our training which honed our skills as independent commanders and enhanced our spirit of adventure. All LRP teams have specific tasks. The one I led was tasked to reconnoitre the terrain to identify likely routes of enemy ingress and interact with the locals. Being a restricted area, no casual visitors were allowed; only the nomadic Bakarwals were permitted to venture here in the summer to access the grazing grounds and go back before the winter set in.

The nine-day LRP was held over extremely difficult mountainous terrain. One of the toughest ascents was to the crest of the massive salient of the Shamshabari Range. The patrol helped greenhorns like me acclimatise to the high altitudes and tone up muscles for mountain warfare. The descent was comparatively easy-going. Once the rocky outcrop on the higher reaches was crossed, there were grassy slopes laden with wild flowers to welcome us. Tracks crisscrossed the slopes, created by the sheep, cattle and horses of the Bakarwals, who arrived here by early June. The Bakarwals’ dwellings, known as Bhaikhs, pockmarked the slopes in small numbers. The hutments were built of wood; each group of Bhaikhs had a name. These hutments were strong enough to weather the winter and give shelter to winter patrol teams. Open enclosures existed for their herds, faithfully guarded by ferocious dogs, who also warned of approaching strangers. It was interesting to meet the elders and learn about their activities. The grazing grounds fattened their cattle and sheep; milk was aplenty. They sold or bartered large quantities of ghee.

The decision to start the Bangus festival and develop 300-odd tourist destinations in J&K does not seem pragmatic from the security and environmental perspectives. Seeing the mess in Himachal Pradesh and other states, I wonder if the ‘paradise on earth’ will soon join this list. Commercialisation and tourism seem to be the overriding priorities, but throwing open Bangus and other areas close to the Line of Control, well known as suitable infiltration points for hostile elements, defies logic. It will ruin the habitat and livelihood of the Bakarwals once these areas are invaded by tourists. An adverse impact on the environment will follow, but most important are the security concerns. Imagine the opportunity for dubious characters to mingle with the tourists! Hope the decision-makers will look into these issues before it is too late.

#Jammu #Kashmir #Kupwara


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