Stranded in wilderness

Hundreds of passengers and supply trucks stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway since the snowfall on Jan 7 are helplessly waiting for opening of the road in the absence of any help. Hussain Danish reports

Watching a famed adventurer Bear Grylls on Discovery channel challenging the nature may be quite a cozy experience, but what it takes to survive the bone-chilling, life threatening weather in the middle of a mountainous highway is altogether a different experience.

Ask the passengers who were left stranded on the unforgiving Srinagar-Jammu highway.

A car for shelter; bread for two meals; snow for water; and a vast open space for washroom… It is all a family of five was armed with to fight for three days the snow, ice cold winds, and hopelessness…

Middle aged Nisar of Awantipora was taking home his wife and three children, all below 10 years of age, from Jammu, clueless that it was going to be a life threatening journey for them.

The family left the winter capital on Jan 13 in a ‘Santro’ car after the authorities gave the Srinagar-bound traffic the green signal. As ordered, they crossed Nagrota before 6:30 in the morning.  But the road was closed when they were only half way through at Ramban.

The car stopped at a place in the middle of mostly uninhibited, sky-kissing mountains away from any market place or residential houses. To add to their miseries the unprecedented snowfall had turned hostile at the otherwise-dry-Ramban area with the walls of snow on either side challenging the will to survive. There were not many vehicles before and after them either.

“We were like in the middle of nowhere. There were no markets, no houses anywhere near. There were not many vehicles with us either. My wife and children started to worry,” Nisar recollects. “For two days, the car was the only protection we had against that harsh weather. We survived on a little bread we had with us; we used the snow for water and shamelessly defecated in open; and we could not even wash our faces.”

“Every time I thought about moving away into the residential areas to look for food, I feared that we may be stranded again if the road opened that very moment,” Nisar adds, “Our only connection with the external world was the cell phone that I kept alive using the car battery. We could sense the death every second…It was fearsome.”

Although the family was allowed to move towards Srinagar after two days, the road was closed when they had just reached Banihal.  Luckily for the family, the halt was only 24 hours long and they reached home on January 16.

“It was a state of hopelessness. No one came to us for help in those days. A few policemen came in the morning but with their approach we could not figure out whether they were there to help or were stranded themselves,” Nisar says.

The 300 Km highway—Kashmir’s only operating road link with the external world—was closed to traffic after the first major snowfall of the season on Jan 7. The closure, which continues till date, left nearly 2500 trucks and an unrevealed large number of public and private passenger vehicles stranded.

All this time the lack of support and facilities, more than the natural challenges, have challenged the mettle of those stranded. And, many, unlike Nisar, are yet to triumph.

“We did not have virtually anything to eat for four days. And then yesterday I was sold a Samosa for Rs 10. We did not have water to wash ourselves,” narrates Nazir Ahmad Sofi of Pampore, who, along with his family of seven, is stranded at Udhampur since Monday.

Nazir had gone to Jammu for the treatment of his daughter, Raziya Nazir. The family, including Nazir’s septuagenarian grandfather, left for Srinagar on Sunday night, but the road was announced closed when they were at Udhampur.

“All these days we were never told the truth. They (authorities) frequently tell us that the road was about to open until it has been five days,” Nazir says.

The state government has avoided a word a about the condition of the stranded passengers and truckers on the highway. 

The state government is now making “special arrangements” of Indian Air Force aircraft for airlifting passengers stranded at Jammu, subject to availability of aircraft. However, there is no respite for those stranded in the middle of the road.

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