The thought of the approaching winter season sends shivers down the spine of frail-looking Ali Ghor Khan of Chiterkote village. The 65-year-old has braved worst winters in the past, but the last snowfall changed his life and outlook forever.
People often ask him about the status of the Chowkibal-Teetwal highway, the only link to the landlocked area. Earlier this year when his wife died in Pathankot, he witnessed the horrors of this road. The memory is still fresh in his mind. Her body was carried on shoulders by his soldier son, who trekked 50 km for many days to give her a decent burial at their ancestral graveyard.
“We have suffered immensely because of this road,” rues Khan.
The strategic Chowkibal-Teetwal road has already been declared a national highway, but it is in bad shape, especially from the Nastha Chun Pass, popularly known as the Sadhana Pass. It is the only entry into the Karnah valley. The road stretch from the Nastha Chun Pass is in such a bad condition that even a thought of it scares the locals. The authorities are apathetic and a population of over 70,000 people is suffering immensely.
The locals lament that the area is being neglected despite the devastating 2005 earthquake, destroying almost everything. Nearly 300 persons died in the calamity, the worst witnessed in the region so far.
“Isn’t it a shame for the government of the state and New Delhi that they have not been able to do blacktopping of the road up to Teetwal?” questions Abdul Rashid Kokar, a social worker in Teetwal village.
Though the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has completed the blacktopping of the road from Chowkibal to Sadhana, the one from Sadhana to Teetwal is in bad shape.
Veteran politician Abdul Rehman Badana, also a PDP leader and former MLC, says representatives from Karnah are also to be blamed for the pathetic road conditions.
“The elected representatives are more into giving benefits to their loyalists and no one is concerned about the road connectivity. We have failed our people,” said Badana.
Till the late 1990s, the road would remain closed for over six months during winter and now it remains closed over a fortnight. “It snows at least 20 feet at Sadhana and even if the road opens, it is risky to drive to Tangdhar. Accidents are common on the road,” says Owais Ahmad, Sub Divisional Magistrate Karnah. “We have been taking up the issue of road upgrade with the BRO, but to no avail.”
Now, all eyes are on the proposed Sadhana tunnel, which will negotiate the height of the Sadhana Pass and prevent the loss of lives from snow avalanches and shooting stones. It will also make the region accessible round the year. Residents and officials says it will ease travel.
Raja Muzzaffar Khan, local MLA, says he has raised the issue of the tunnel with CM Mehbooba Mufti. “The CM has already taken up the matter with the higher authorities in the Government of India, including the PMO.”
However, officials on the ground don’t know about any detailed project report prepared by the BRO.
“We have been listening about the Sadhana tunnel for many years, but nothing has started so far,” says a senior official at Kupwara.
“God forbid if there is cross-border shelling, where will people go? The Sadhana road is prone to shelling. The tunnel is needed not only for making travelling easier, but also survival in case of border skirmishes,” he says.
The condition of the main road, however, has not disturbed the peace of the region all these years. People enjoy good relations with the Army, which is highly concentrated in the border region. There is only one police station and two police posts in the entire Karnah. Visitors have to register themselves at the Sadhana Pass, where strong icy winds welcome them to the forgotten land.
“Our region is mesmerizingly beautiful. The place has tremendous potential for tourism. But in absence of proper road connectivity, who will come here?” asked Qazi Abdul Hamid Qureshi, a retired principal and chairman of the Shariah Council, Karnah.
Road to forgotten land
The strategic Chowkibal-Teetwal road has already been declared a national highway, but it is in bad shape, especially from the Sadhana Pass
It is the only entry into the Karnah valley
The road stretch from the Nastha Chun Pass is in a bad condition
The authorities are apathetic and a population of over 70,000 people is suffering immensely
Though the Border Roads Organisation has completed the blacktopping of the road from Chowkibal to Sadhana, the one from Sadhana to Teetwal is in bad shape