Kashmir: Land of Mountain Ranges

While declaring 11 December as IMD in 2003, the UN General Assembly mandated Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO) as the lead agency. The FAO has developed information and communication material in all the UN languages to celebrate IMD. Conservation of mountain biological diversity remains main focus for the well-being of mountain dwellers and our own well-being.

Mountains occur on all continents, in all altitude zones and within all the world’s principal biome types. Based on the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre’s data of mountain regions, the global mountain area is almost 40 million square kilometers (approx. 27% of the Earth’s surface). Excluding Antarctica the proportion of land area that is mountainous is around 24%. Continent-wise, the Eurasian land mass has the largest mountainous areas. The Tibet (Qing Zang) plateau and adjacent ranges have the most extensive inhabited area above 2500m. All of the world’s famous mountains above 7000m in height are in Asia and all 14 peaks above 8000m are in Greater Himalayan range.

The State of Jammu and Kashmir has predominantly three geographical regions - i. The Lesser Himalayas, also called “Jehlum Valley” (Kashmir), ii. The Inner Himalayas or the “Indus Valley” ( Ladakh & frontier areas) which is also called as “Trans Himalayas” and, iii. The Outer Himalayas, also called as “Southern Mountain range” (Jammu). The Valley of Kashmir is a longitudinal depression in the north-western Himalayan range carved tectonically, and situated at an altitude of 1590m. Its latitude stands between 23-4’ and 37-6’ North & longitude between 72-31’ and 77-30’ East. The length of this oval shaped valley has a parallel axis to the general direction of the mountains bordering it which include: the middle mountains, the Pir Panjal, the Himalayas, the Zanaskar, the Ladakh, the Korakaram, and the Shivaliks. Uniquely the valley of Kashmir is covered with majestic mountain ranges which possess a source of most of Earth’s fresh water, repositories of biological diversity, popular destinations for tourism and recreation, areas of important cultural diversity, knowledge & heritage. Mountain regions also provide food, energy, timber, flood and storm protection and prevention of erosions. Mountains and hillside areas hold a rich variety of ecological systems.

Some of the prominent mountain ranges of Kashmir valley include: i. Karakorum and Kyun Lun Ranges, around north and north-east of the J&K State which separate it from Turkistan and Tibet; ii. Himalayas range continues towards Karakorum range in the north-west. Notable passess in this range include, Karakorum pass (5353m) Nubra pass (5800m) Khardungla pass & (5557m) Changla pass (5609m) ; iii. Zanaskar range which separates Kashmir valley from Indus valley, famous passes include Zojilla pass (32.29m) and Poat pass (5716 m) ; iv. Nun Kun range between Kashmir and Ladkh boarder, famous passes include Bawalocha pass (4891m), Botakul pass (4414m) and Umasila pass (5300m) & Haptal glacier is majestic in this range ; v. Harmukh mountain being part of the Himalayan range falls between Jhelum and Kishen Ganga valley; vi. Burzil mountain bifurcates Kashmir and Ladakh regions, famous pass is Burzil pass (3200m) ; vii. Amarnath mountain range has a famous pass called Mahgunas pass (1475m). Gwasharam (5450m) is situated in Lidder valley towards Pahalgam holding the world famous Kolahoi glacier; viii. Tosmaidan range falls in Inner Himalayas; ix. Affarwat spread through Gulmarg valley; x. Pir panjal range separates Kashmir valley from outer Himalayas, carries famous Banihal pass (2832 m), Baramulla pass (1582 m) & Hajipur pass (2750 m); xi. Shivalik range extending from north of outer plains to middle mountains. Also we have volcanic mountains called Soyamji peak (1860m) situated in north Machhipur, Handwara & other karewa peak lies in Pahalgam area which is known to be dead but Soyamji peak erupted volcanic lava in 1934 for about 13 months.

Mountaineering and trekking in some of the surrounding mountain ranges of Kashmir valley like Karakoram & Nun Kun have remained mountaineers dream. A famed English mountaineer Eric Shipton described the Karakoram prior to his pioneering 1930s expeditions of the mountain range, located west of the Himalayas, as “Blank on the map.” At that time the range virtually formed an unexplored boundary between cultures, nations and religions, with China on the east, India on the south, Afghanistan to the north and Pakistan to the west. The range has Earth’s highest concentration of glaciers, some of which are longest outside the Polar regions and the longest concentration of tall peaks in the world, with more than sixty peaks over 7000m in altitude. Among these is K2 (8611m) second highest mountain in the world, which has remained the only Karakorum range mountain designated by just a letter and a number. Infact, in 1856 a British team led by Thomas Montogomerie explored and surveyed the massive peaks of Karakorum range and the first peak was named K1, the second K2 and so on up to K5. Since Henry Haversham Godwin- Austen, a member of the team, was the first to explore and survey the sides of K2 and glaciers at its base, it was named after him as Mt Godwin Austen but generally known as K2. Similarly Nun & Kun, twin peaks, in Zanaskar range of Ladakh (Kargil District) has fascinated the mountaineers the world over – Nun (7135m) & Kun (7077m). These are highest peaks in the Trans-Himalayan range and several expeditions failed by various mountaineers and it was in 1953 the Nun peak was climbed by French- Swiss- Indian-Sherpa team led by Bernard Pierre and Pierre Vittoz through west ridge. And Kun peak was first climbed in 1913 by an Italian Mountaineer, Mario Piacenza through north- east ridge.

Regular and organised mountaineering and hiking activities in Kashmir started with establishment of a mountaineering club in 1934. The club was formed by Eric Tyndale Biscoe under the name and style of Cashmere Climbing Club. Late Chandra Pandit, Nand Lal Bakaya, Arjan Nath Mujoo & Samsar Chand Kaul, all being teachers at CMS School, Fatehkadal, were its active and basic members whose interest in mountaineering & hiking was kindled by the men like R. Denton Thompson, who served the School in 1920s after losing a leg in the First World War. In 1936 first expedition of the Club was to Harmukh, comprising seventeen members, including two ladies. Similar expeditions to other peaks followed. In 1965 the first Indian Everest Expedition gave a big boost to mountaineering activities all over the country. Among the nine summiteers two were from Jammu & Kashmir, one among them Hero Wangyal is Honorary Member of our Club. After 1947 the Club activities remained scattered nearly for 17 years and in 1965 Cashmere Climbing Club was effectively revived and renamed as the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club nominating Sir Jhon Ray as the Chairman. In 1969 eight-member team of the Club led by Major Nugyal scaled the Kolhoi peak (17799 ft). In 1972 the Club sponsored a trekking party to the base camp of Everest. In 1986 two members of the Club participated in the Indo-French expedition to Saser Kangri peak (25170 ft) in Korakoram range. The Club has been actively participating in various State & national level events ever since its 1969 revival till 1990 when turbulent times affected its functioning. It was after 18 years that J&K Mountaineering & Hiking Club in association with J&K Tourism Department re-explored the following Trans-Himalayan treks: Pannikhar – Wadwan, Kishtwar (in mid August 2008), Zanaskar-Umasila - Gulabgarh (in September 2010), Gulmarg – Boniyar , Uri ( in May 2009). During the year 2010 the Club members undertook the following alpine treks: i.Tarsar-Sonasar Trail, ii. Nandkaen – Chhumnai Trail, iii.Langnai Trail, iv. Gulolegali – Sonasargali trail, v. Tosamaidan trails. Besides, this year February, Chadder Trek over frozen rivers of Ladakh.

Since this year’s theme for the International Mountains Day is “Mountains & Forests” so biodiversity of the forest is to be looked into seriously as ecological system has become too fragile to bear more assaults. Mountains are no isolated ecosystems rather highlands and lowslands are interlinked in most complex ways and mountain related social and natural assets are equally significant for the inhabitants of these lands. Mountain forests are ecologically complex and biologically diverse. Over the decades the mountain forests have come under significant pressure for timber, water, agricultural land, unplanned urbanization, recreational areas and the like the world over. Similarly, denudation of forests in our State has been rampant in the last couple of decades. Stumps of cut grownup alpine trees in Kupwara, Tusamaidan and Doodpatri forest compartments look like cemetry grave stones from afar. This is going to affect our ecological balance, flora and fauna , wild life, glaciers, water sheds, cycle of seasons etc immeasurably. Such concerns can quickly and timely be felt by moving out to mountains. Horizontal deep cracks are now seen in the majestic glaciers like Chalong, Batkol (Pannikhar- Wadwan trek) , not seen twenty years back by the alpine trekkers which points to very fragile life of the glaciers. The nature of this cracking was highlighted by Discovery TV channel a couple of years back also about fragile glaciers. Should we continue to remain indifferent to the increasing level of imbalance of mountain eco systems including mountain forests we no longer will have such gifted natural resources to benefit from. The Club is committed to the involvement of desirous youth for exploring the wonders of nature like the mountains, alpine valleys & meadows.

Source: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2011/Dec/11/kashmir-land-of-mountain-ranges-1.asp