The Bomb Hill

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Not far away from Khundroo, Kashmir’s major Ordnance Depot, a village hillock is the site where the expired ordnance is exploded. The village living on the foothills has completely changed by the practice, reports Saqib Mir

Place in Brah village near Khundroo, where expired explosives are detonated.

Almost 20 km from Islamabad town is a village of 200 homes. But the residents live a life in constant fear as the walls of their homes have developed cracks. For the collapse of their homes, they say even a tremor is enough.

Incidentally, the cracks are found in all homes – thatch-roofed mud houses and the concrete structures. Many families who own multi-level homes have started living in single level simple structures for the fear of a tremor burying them in their homes.

The village Brah falls in Shangus block. Surrounded by hills on almost all sides with its macadamized road running through the apple orchards and paddy fields had made it one of the picturesque places in the belt. As people praise the village’s beauty, the residents curse their fate.

These cracks, interestingly, are not new. Resident Mohammad Yaqoob Wani said, these cracks emerged overnight almost the same time militancy started in Kashmir. Strangely, though, all these homes survived the October 2005 earthquake that devastated Uri, Karnah and most of Muzaffarabad, on the other side of the LoC.

A house in the village where no one lives now.

Residents do not have a convincing reason for the cracks. But most of them attribute it to the existence of Kashmir’s one of the biggest ordnance depots at Khundru. There is a hillock Shaal Teng (a hill of wolves) in their village and residents say it has become a choicest good site for soldiers to explode the expired explosives. The massive use of the spot for explosions has changed its name. Locals do not call it Shaal Teng anymore. They call it Bomb Khud (The Bomb Pit). “With every explosion, the forests, the apple orchards, the green pastures start reverberating,” Abdul Gani Wani, an elderly citizen said. They consider these bangs as the only reason behind the cracks in the walls of their houses.

Mohammad Hussain Bhat, 40, lives with his aged parents, wife and three teenager children, in the village. They were sharing a big house with his brother. When Bhat’s family felt that every explosion at Bomb Khud was adding to the cracks, they felt they are seriously unsafe. They shifted out.

When Bhat and his family left their house in November 2017, instead of constructing a new house they constructed a cowshed in their nearby apple orchard with two rooms on it. Presently the family lives in these two rooms.

“We do not want to construct a new house because we know it is wastage of money and energy because one day or the other that house will also develop cracks,” Bhat said. “Wish, plastic houses exist then we would have also constructed one”.

Few yards away from Bhat’s cowshed home, lives Nazir Ahmad. “Right now, we are living in a concrete house but we also lived in a cowshed cum house for nine years,” Ahmad said. “Our old two-story concrete house was severely damaged by these blasts”. Ahmad said he knew his new home will also eventually get cracks. “But how can I avoid not making my family happy?” he asked.

Not far away from the Bomb Khud is the government middle school for girls. It has good enrollment. But the deafening bangs at Bomb Khud has impacted this as well.

“When we felt that these explosions often cause panic among the students of the school so we were compelled last year to shift this school to another far off place in the same village,” Bashir Ahmad, the headmaster of the school said. “We operated from the new premises for only five months and then we shifted back because many parents complained their wards had to walk a longer distance than before”.

Muhammad Hussain Bhat and parents.

The hillock foothill has vast apple orchards. The villagers said they fear for their lives when they go and work in these orchards because every time they trace scattered live shells around.

“As this fear prevents us from going to our orchards quite often so it has badly affected the yield and the quality,” an orchard owner Abdul Gani said. “We often prevent our children from going in these orchards as we are under the constant fear that there may be some live shell that will explode if the children try to play with it.”

The village is desperate to see the hillock rediscover its Shaal Teng image. They actually dream about it. “We requested the concerned officers in government to stop destroying expired explosives here but every time our pleas are ignored,” Wani said.

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