It’s a happening place. Amidst the stillness of scenic hills with dense forests, this bowl–shaped cluster of villages in Pir Panchal range of Himalayas, is on the move, the machines and materials are climbing narrow hilly road to complete the rail track work as early as possible.
The Central government’s initiative to connect the Kashmir valley with rail has woken up the people here to a new reality – there is a life, beautiful and worth living – much different from the hit and run with guns with security forces out to hunt them out.
Train will pass through the beautiful hills, at times overlooking the mighty river of Chenab. Despite delays and geological challenges , as the track and tunnels pass through the most fragile Himalayan ecology, people are waiting impatiently the day when the train will chug along the hills.
“We are the natural children of development,” Jameel Ahmad, 21, who drives a tipper of one of the contractors , tells this reporter. “The track work has given me a job ( of a driver) and I earn handsome ( Rs 6,000 per month)."
Smile broadens on his face, when asked when would he get married. “Soon. Well, there is a life ahead.”.
He would not have thought so about six years ago, when guns would boom in the area. There was a scare all over. The people used to cocoon themselves in their homes much before the sun set and not venture out before sun rise.
There used to be army and the militants would be up in the mountains. They would descend onto villages and there were clashes , killings and bloodshed. “Those were really scary days,” Omakar Singh in his mid-thirties, teaching at a private school of 150 children.
“God bless Railways who have started the work here. The youth are running after work, not looking for the government jobs, because those are for the moneyed and influential people,” Onmkar Singh said.
The railway track work resumed in October last year, after the railways cleared the obstacles of re-alignment of Katra-Qazigund track. The work had started in 2003 from Katra end as also from the Kashmir Valley side, but , the alignment problems which surfaced in early 2008, the work was stopped in July 2008.
Such is the pace of the work, that Showkat Ahmad has come all the way from Srinagar , and started working as a waiter with a local Dhaba , where Kashmiri food is served. There are many others like him. “ By 2 p.m., he has nothing to sell, because all items have been consumed.”
The change is also visible in the lifestyles of the people. They travel in Sumos, not buses and many of them have replaced their old houses of mud and thatched roofs with cement and brick houses, dotted with dish antennas. “ We, too have constructed a new house. There is no fear. It is a sense of permanency and good life that has made us to look at the life this way,” Jameel said.
“ There is a transformation of both landscape and mindset,” Mubbasir Latifi, SSP Ramban, sums up the make over of the hills because of the rail coming to hills. And the way JCB machines, bulldozers and excavators are working , the hills are proving their nature of life providers.