Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Citizenship Walk along the LOC - Day 3 Monday 22/08/11

Photos on flickr photostream (ID: sahaafi)

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As I bade farewell to the Peer Sahaab (Spiritual Head) in the morning, he instructed one of his disciples to drop me at Mo-il. This is where I begin my walk northwards aiming to reach Deva Batala. A solitary (local) soldier in plain clothes confronted me along the way, though he softened his tone once he understood what I'd set myself out to do and was satisfied that I'm an AJK citizen. He refused to take part in the survey though, visibly alarmed at some of the questions I posed.

I have a couple of maps (one bought from a Pakistani army shop on Murree Road in 2005, the other was printed by the AJK tourism dept.), a tourist pamphlet (again courtesy of the AJK tourist department) and GPS on my mobile (which is almost useless as there is little or no network coverage). Thus, I have to rely heavily on asking each and every person I meet along the way to confirm that I've adopted the correct route to my daily destination. 

I come across the first army camp of my walk unwittingly and almost inevitably. This is not before a local shares a dream with me that he had not many nights ago. He had sensed the breeze of freedom and independence blowing northwards from the direction of Jammu. Meanwhile, when I reach that first army camp of my walk - perched as it is on a steep hillock – I feel compelled to prematurely break my fast.

A soldier obliges me with a bottle of cold water as I explain my purpose and verify my identity with a couple of colleagues of his. Fifteen to twenty minutes later they bid me farewell by giving me directions for my onward journey. Coming across a goat herdsman just as he's finishing his morning dip in a small lake, I decide that I should try and get him to answer the questions on the survey. I regret not recording his reaction as there was a lot of humour in his innocent anger. When I asked him of which single identity he would choose to adopt from among Indian, Kashmiri and Pakistani; he was livid at the prospect of Indian being one of the choices at stake. He wanted to hand his 'prize catch' to a soldier passing by, who had descended from the very camp that I had already visited.   

About five kilometres further ahead, it dawned on me that Deva and Batala were two different habitations and even then the people who lived there were scattered. The second army camp of the day was encountered near Sariyaala Chapar. Their conduct and approach was similar to the first, cordial though just slightly lengthier. I spent the rest of the day and night in nearby Kot Jamal, interviewing locals.

Judging from the abysmal quantity and yet more abysmal quality of electricity in Kot Jamal – they receive as little as six hours of electricity per day with the voltage sometimes as low as 10 watts out of a standard 220. It's little wonder that every shop and household is armed with a regulator or two. Neither is it surprising to hear of a rumour that both China and Iran have reportedly offered electricity to AJK at a flat rate of 200 rupees per month for full electricity without any load-shedding.


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