Do we ever ask why God-chosen-Mecca happens to be such a"desolate" hilly landscape and why stayin Arafat and Mina under the naked sky is such a challenging and liberatingone? Why should one of the greatest scenes – the storm scene – in arguably thegreatest play King Lear that unfolds Lear's redemption be about encounter withnothingness and disowning civilization's artificialities? Why is that mountains are treasured symbolsof spirit and mountaineering a mantra/wazeefa and pastoralism/sheep-goat rearingin mountains treasured spiritual experiment/experience? Why do religious andspiritual traditions propose periodical retreats for their adherents? Why we should opt for culture overcivilization is we are forced to choose only one? Art and religion – themanifestations of what is called culture – are treasured means of givingmeaning to lives against sciencefostering civilization that gives only comfort.
If our task is to live and live well and live on our ownterms and in greater harmony with cosmic rhythms and keep the corruptinginfluence of civilizational project at bay, we may consider living in far flungmountainous areas for some time. It would constitute a true spiritual retreatand one may experience beauty and purification for which shrines/monasteries are well known. For a studentof cultures and world's spiritual traditions (that in fact hold a key to ourpsycho-spiritual health) spaces like Gurez are providential exits from the aridity of city life. If wereally cared about higher things in life that science or civilization can't buywe would consider living in Gurez for extended period of time and not justvisiting it like tourists. One is invited to sacred landscapes to heal, to risehigh above the fret and fever of life of cities and markets. If we want totravel backwards in time – if only to remind ourselves about the cost ofprogress and address of our great ancestors who lived healthier and moremeaningful lives – consider visiting Gurez where people live without any needto buy anything from market and are healthier, more contended and have fargreater score on Happiness Index than denizens of cities or towns of Kashmir.
Let us guard against romanticizing filth, diseases,overpopulation, lack of privacy, illiteracy, superstition and failure ofindividual growth which one can also find in plenty in isolated less accessiblespaces like Gurez. The question is how we preserve the best of traditionalcultures without allowing the pathologies to encroach. Here is where thinkingis needed as against unthinking ideology of development that has broughtirredeemable evils along with it. Theidea of development has been a mixed blessing and has been imposed from aboveresulting in "submerging culture," and emasculating people's sense of beingthemselves – proud Gurezis who have inherited Aryan values and various streamsof world's religions and embody some of the treasured virtues of spiritualhumanitarianism.
The fact that we can consent to drown Gurez in thedevelopmental projects, watch precious wildlife and biodiversity getting lost,pass by as a great legacy of culture and language (Dardistan and Shina) faceoblivion and see people selling their souls to petty gains of the market –jobs/amenities/perks shows – we are spiritual dwarfs.
Gurez, arguably "themost beautiful of Kashmir's Margs," and "hub and a vital link between townssuch as Kashgar and Gilgit in the north and Srinagar and Kargil in thesouth" from which "renowned potatoeswould be taken to Skardu on a day's march from Chorwan," is now waging itsbattle for survival. At stake are language, culture, and the last remnants ofDard Shin people and certain priceless archeological treasures – "hundreds ofinscriptions in Kharoshthi, Brahmi, Hebrew, and Tibetan that provide insightsinto the origins of the Kashmiri people and the early history of Buddhism".
A Kashmiri may visit Gurez to experience virgin nature orwilderness that has increasingly been exiled from Kashmir and its tourist spotsdue to maldevelopment of tourism, to see how big dams threaten everything wetreasure – ecology, lives and livelihoods, cultures and histories –, to seewhat Kashmir conflict means to generations of separated families, to understandhow razor fencing of pastures may or mayn't prevent across the border movementbut does prevent development of livestock sector and obstruct livelihoods offarmers, to understand better the tragedy of Kashmir – its exile from homelandor separation from the beloved/mother – as symbolized in the story of Habba Khatoon who is believed to hover around even today inthe mountain named after her longing and wailing for her husband and see, firsthand, the legacy of partition thatrequired dividing the child into half to appease warring mothers as none ofthem willing to let go her claim. Gurezhas been pushed into a life of "isolation, and, to a certain extent, oblivion,tucked away in a corner of India that they are unfamiliar with."
We could have used the best of modern science to help peopleoverwinter in a spirit of celebration and better experience the abundant gracethat descends in the form of snow. I wish every Kashmiri read anthology of verses on snow (JalaenAateshkadaey) compiled/translated by Manzoorul Amin during winters and thankGod for tons and tons of snow. One needs to be a poet and have a keen eye forthe aesthetics of snow to appreciate why for traditional people like Gurezisthe snow wasn't a curse that was to be cleared by snow clearing machines butspecial Heaven sent gift that called forth gratitude and joy. Six month lullmay be experienced as an extended Sabbath by workholics and this would cure tenthousand ailments resulting from our inability to repose – a semblance ofeternity – or failure to enjoy long leaves from work and return kisses from Godin the form of snow flakes. It isone's good fortune that one lives in or near Gurez for which God be praised. Our failure to lovesnow and embrace more traditional or natural life style wedded to longishretreat from humdrum of life shows sickness of soul. In a way Kashmir needs tocultivate Gurez like spaces and not vice versa.
What makes Gurez more valuable to Kashmir experiencingtransition to modernity is regard for traditional architectural heritage andclimatic requirements in home design. Wood based housing needs to beappropriated and not replaced by concrete. This especially applies to livestockhousing and other associated infrastructure. The wood-log houses plastered withmud are known to help overwinter where temperatures drop as low as -40ºC.Threfact that women are primary caregivers/workers in Gurez calls foranthropological studies.
We, the dwellers of cities and towns/modern villages areliving in exile; we have little idea of the treasures and glory we haveinherited and keep losing. Gurez is losing the tradition of hospitality thatconstrues Guest as God and not a customer. Gurez is not yet fully consenting tosell its soul to market.
Though much has already been lost and much is fast losingbefore our very eyes, a few points and observations on the economy and cultureof the region that should bother authorities if they want to salvage somethingvaluable and plan less destructive modes of development of the region.
Many traditional industries like manufacturing woollen pherans/capscould be boosted if government or employees associations choose to encouragethe sector by consenting to buy at least one locally made item once in life forpersonal use or gifting at the time of special functions including retirementand promotions. Market ideology generally outcompetes traditional art/beautycentric products and as such communities need special interventions topatronize such arts and crafts.
A few observations on livestock resources are in order.Though it has been noted that the name by which the people of Gurez call theirvalley is "go-hara‟ (cow pasture), not Gurez, its significance has generally been missed.Gurez had ample resources to support cattle and sheep in large numbers and traditionally its people "used to sell theirmilk, meat and wool in plains of Kashmir and purchase grains with the moneythus earned." In fact animals have been driving their economy. Almost everyfamily, till recent times, has been rearing some livestock, especially sheep.Although extended harsh winter is a veritable punishment for many, especiallyvisitor type and comfort addicted mindset, for some locals, if they have "grass for the animals, wood forfire and potatoes for food, they can survive the harsh, six-month winter." Nowthis access to resources has been squeezed and one wonders who care.
Given currently endangered status of Gurezi breed remarkablefor its competitive edge in milkingcapacity and many other parameters, it would constitute irreparable loss ofbiodiversity and economy of the State if speedy steps to restore its originalhabitat and access to fodder resources are not undertaken. In fact Gurezi breedhas the potential of transforming local economy in the area and constitute along term solution in rural and peri-urban areas for the development of milchbreed of sheep. My recent visit along with District Sheep Husbandry OfficerBandipore, a geneticist and a linguist to different blocks of Gurez includingTulail confirmed my worst apprehensions about cultural and economic problems offarmers. Gurezi breed is fast dwindling as grazing area has squeezed a greatdeal and demotivated a number of farmers who are fast abandoning theirlivestock farming. As such it is prayed that the District administration,research institutions and other authorities make concerted efforts to salvageGurezi breed and farmers.