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Sunday 2 November 2008

Ladakh-Srinagar highway open till Nov 21

Srinagar: The Srinagar-Ladakh highway, which was to be closed for vehicular traffic on October 31, will now remain open till November 21। “Due to better weather condition, the government has decided to keep the road open till November 21”, Satish Nehru, DC Kargil, told PBI. He said, the stocking of essentials in the twin district is 95 per cent complete. The highway is considered as one of deadliest routes in the world as the road passes through some of the highest mountains, dangerous curves and a difficult Zojila pass.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Srinagar-Gumri road being closed from Friday,

SRINAGAR, Oct 22: With the closure of Sonmarg-Gumri road from Friday, traffic movement on the 434-km-long Srinagar-Leh will remain suspended for six winter months.
However, traffic from Drass, the second coldest place in the world after Siberia to Kargil and Leh will continue to ply during winter months, depending upon the weather conditions.
Meanwhile, the authorities claimed to have stocked sufficient quantity of essential commodities in Leh and Kargil and other far flung remote areas which get cut off during the winter months.
A spokesman of the Beacon Project, responsible for the maintainance of the highway, life line to entire Ladakh region, said due to erratic weather conditions, early snowfall, extreme cold temperature and likely icing on the road surface especially on Zojila Pass, it has beeen decided to close Srinagar-Sonamarg-Gumri for all vehicular traffic from October 31.
He said all resources deployed at various locations on Srinagar-Sonamarg-Gumri road will be withdrawn accordingly.
Chief Engineer, Project Beacon has further said following the closure of the road, it will not be possible to provide any assistance to passengers who get trapped on the highway after Friday.
He has requested public and tourist as well as transporters not to ply their vehicles beyond Gagangir on Srinagar-Sonamarg-Gumri road after the closure of Leh highway.
It will not be possible for project beacon to evacuate any person or vehicle trapped on the highway,he said

Chhewang, Namgayal LUTF; Akhoon, Khan NC nominees

JAMMU, Oct 27: The battle of ballot today hot up in Ladakh region and Poonch district of Jammu region, going to polls in first phase of polling on November 17 with top Buddhist leader Thupstan Chhewang filing his nomination from Leh as Leh Union Territory Front (LUTF) candidate and NC candidates Qamar Ali Akhoon, former Minister and ex-Chairman, Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil joining fray from Kargil and sitting Councilor Feroz Khan from Zanskar. A ‘tacit understanding’ between LUTF and NC appeared to be on the cards for four Assembly segments of Leh and Kargil districts, the hints for which were dropped by leaders of both the parties.
In Poonch district, all three NC MLAs in previous Assembly, Aijaz Jan (Poonch), Mushtaq Bukhari (Surankot) and Javed Rana (Mendhar) obtained papers from Returning Officers today for filing their nomination papers while Imtiyaz Banday, Rafiq Khan and Dr Mushtaq Bukhari securing papers as PDP candidates from Poonch, Mendhar and Surankot respectively. The PDP has denied mandate to veteran political leader, Yashpal Sharma from Poonch, who had joined the party after contesting December 2007 by-election from Poonch as an Independent candidate and losing to Mr Jan. Expressing surprise over PDP’s decision, Mr Sharma told the Excelsior that he would talk to his people and take a decision within a couple of days whether to contest the election again as an Independent or not.
Nissar Ahmed, a former Minister in 1996 Farooq Abdullah regime and Choudhary Aslam, former PCC (I) chief have obtained papers as Congress nominees for Mendhar and Surankot respectively while Congress was said to be weighing options between Jehangir Mir, who had won by-election in last December and Bashir Naz, as a candidate from Poonch.
Dr Mushtaq Bukhari, who today took nomination form for Surankot Assembly segment, is cousin of two time MLA of NC and former Minister Syed Mushtaq Bukhari. Choudhary Aslam is sitting Rajya Sabha member but his term is scheduled to expire on November 25 along with all three other members from J&K to Upper House. In both 1996 and 2002 Assembly polls, Mr Bukhari had defeated Mr Aslam. Hamid Manhas (covering PDP), Mohd Sharief (BSP) and Haji Mohd Sadiq (BJP) have also taken nomination forms today for Surankot segment.
Besides Aijaz Jan (NC) and Imtiyaz Banday (PDP), other political leaders who today took nomination forms for Poonch Assembly segment, include Shah Mohd Tantray (PDF), who had contested December by-election as an Independent and secured good number of votes, Pardeep Sharma (BJP), Vipan Kandhari (BJP covering), Atika Jan (NC covering), Haji Rashid (Lok Janshakti Party), Mohd Yunus Chouhan and Mohd Abbas Khan (Independents).
In Mendhar, an Independent Nazir Hussain has also taken the nomination form. Nissar Ahmed, who took the form as Congress candidate, had won Mendhar seat in 1996 as a NC candidate and remained a Cabinet Minister in Farooq Abdullah Government. However, he was denied NC mandate in 2002 polls. Last time, Congress had fielded its district president Zafarullah from Mendhar. Rafiq Khan, who took the papers as PDP nominee, is also a former Minister. Nazir Hussain took the papers as an Independent candidate from Mendhar.
The PDP decision not to field veteran political leader Yashpal Sharma from Poonch has surprised political circles. Mr Sharma despite having lost last three successive Assembly elections from Poonch with a narrow margin (first as Janata Dal candidate, second as Congress and third one as an Independent) commanded a considerable influence among voters of both the communities.
Mr Sharma said he had been promised PDP mandate from Poonch when he had joined PDP early this year after losing December by-poll as an Independent candidate. "I don’t know what prompted the PDP leadership to change their decision", he said, adding he would talk to his well-wishers and take a decision within a couple of days on whether to contest the election again as an Independent candidate or explore other options.
Sources said the candidates, who today secured nomination forms in three segments of Poonch districts, are expected to file their papers after Diwali. October 31 is last date for filing of nomination papers. The Congress is also expected to name its candidate for Poonch anytime now.
Meanwhile, political scenario has also hot up in Leh and Kargil districts with prominent LUTF leader and Lok Sabha member from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang today filing nomination papers from Leh segment in the presence of a large number of supporters.
In another important development, the LUTF has fielded Tsetan Namgayal from Nobra Assembly constituency. He will submit his nomination papers on Wednesday. Mr Namgayal had served as a Minister in 1996 Farooq Abdullah led Government.
The NC has fielded Qamar Ali Akhoon, a former Minister and ex-chairman LAHDC, Kargil from Kargil Assembly segment and Feroz Khan, a sitting Councilor from Silmoo, who had won the Council poll uncontested from Zanskar constituency. Feroz Khan is son of retired DIG of police, Ghulam Hassan Khan.
Surprisingly, the NC has not fielded any candidate from Leh and Nobra so far.
Mr Chhewang told the Excelsior that the LUTF has not much stakes in Kargil and it was likely to support NC candidate Qamar Ali Akhoon. In Zanskar, he said, there could be a friendly contest with NC.
There were enough indications from the two parties—LUTF and NC— that LUTF would support NC nominee in Kargil and, in turn, NC would back LUTF nominees in Leh and Nobra. The two parties could have a friendly contest at Zanskar.
"We hope the NC won’t field its nominees in Leh and Nobra", Mr Chhewang said.
Though the Congress is yet to come up with its list for four segments of Leh and Kargil, the party has dropped that it would repeat its sitting MLAs. Leh and Nobra were won uncontested by Nawang Rigzin Jora and Sonam Wangchuk Narboo as LUTF nominees in 2002 but both of them had later sided with the coalition. Mr Jora remained a Cabinet Minister in the Government. Similarly, Haji Nissar Ali had won from Kargil as an Independent candidate but later joined the Congress and also became a Cabinet Minister. Independent Ghulam Raza had won from Zanskar in the by-election after the death of NC candidate Abdul Kabir Pathan. Mr Raza was supported by the coalition Government.
The BJP, which has some support base in Leh and Nobra, has not fielded any candidate in the two constituencies and there were indications from the party leadership that it could back the LUTF nominees. Out of four segments in Ladakh region, the BJP has named its candidate only from Kargil segment.
(Daily Excelsior, 28th October 2008)

Train to Kargil? Railways seek report from govt

The ambitious plan of the railways to link Kashmir with the rest of India may be in a limbo, it is now planning to connect the inaccessible Ladakh region, which shuts down during winter months, with Kullu-Manali in Himachal.

Initially, the central government had thought of rail connectivity between Kullu district and Leh, which is at 474 km from the Kuluu-Manali, but it is now thinking of connecting Kargil, another Ladakh district which is a further 230 km from Leh towards Kashmir, to this proposed route as well.

Kargil district commissioner Satesh Nehru told The Tribune that his office had been asked to submit a report on how beneficial rail connectivity could be for the district, the connectivity of which to the rest of country is worse than Leh, another Ladakh district which receives much less snow and has round-the-year air connectivity.

The railways had to factor in costs before they give the project green light, Nehru said, adding that the district would be immensely helped by the new route. "It's not only about its over one lakh population (and the Army has a massive presence here), it's strategically important too,''he said.

Poor connectivity is probably the single biggest complaint of localsagainst authorities and they say they are always made to play second fiddle to Leh.

Asgar Ali Karbalaie, Kargil's former chief executive councillor, who is chairman of the local development council and is given a cabinet-minister rank, says the project might be good for them but the central government should first try to make operational more feasible connectivity projects.

"The rail line is an ambitious plan which might or might not happen but what about long-pending proposal of blasting tunnels in Zojila, the Himalayan range that divides Kashmir valley and Ladakh and remains snowbound for close to six months cutting off the hilly region?" Karbalaie asked.

He said it was announced that commercial flights would start from Kargil from August 15 this year but the plan came stuck with the fall of Ghulam Nabi Azad government. Absence of connectivity means that the people in the Muslim-majority district are forced to live a pitiable life in winter months when parts of the district like Zanskar valley are disconnected with even the district headquarter.

Nehru admitted to these issues and said demands of constructing tunnels through Zojila or reviving old land routes with Kashmir were still at a nascent stage.

(Article from "The Tribune", Chandigarh, 28th oct. 2008)

Monday 19 May 2008

Digestive trouble common in Ladakh

Based on its geographic location, Ladakh should be rife with digestive problems. Nestled in the Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir, it lies where two hot spots for gastro-intestinal problems intersect — India and high altitude.In the United States, digestive problems are the No. 2 cause of workdays missed. In India, they are thought to be the No. 1 cause. Low sanitation and a diet heavy in grain are thought to be some of the main culprits. The poor are most affected.According to Dr. Ghulam Mohd of the Leh Government Hospital, gastro-intestinal diseases “are very common” in Ladakh. Men and women are affected equally and illnesses occur most in people over the age of 14. He says about 99 percent of patients with gastro-intestinal diseases in Ladakh have the bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori present in their stomachs.Helicobacter pylori, or H. Pylori, is found in 40 percent of the world’s population. One-sixth of those infected develop stomach ulcers. It is theorized that H. Pylori blocks acid from traveling to the upper-digestive system. Although the bacterium decreases the likelihood of developing cancer of the esophagus, it increases the chances of developing stomach cancer.In the West, plummeting rates of H. Pylori directly correlate with a decrease in incidence of stomach cancer, while cancer of the esophagus is becoming more common. The reverse is true in the Far East — H. Pylori is much more prevalent, leading to high rates of stomach cancer. One possible reason for low rates of H. Pylori in the West is good sanitation. In places where there is poor sanitation, the bacteria infects up to 90 percent of the adult population. Aside from stomach cancer and ulcers, gallstones are common ailments in Ladakh.Mohd cited poor sanitation as another cause of digestive problems. He said illnesses were especially common in summer, when the heat allows bacteria to multiply in water and food. As in the rest of India, digestive illnesses are most common among the poor, due to lack of education and access to sanitation.In contradiction to Mohd’s claim that digestive problems are common among Ladakhis, when surveyed, three female students at SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, a school outside of Leh meant to refine students’ skills in English and prepare them for 10th through 12th class exams) said gastro-intestinal illnesses are not common at all. This perception could be due to the students’ lack of exposure to life outside Ladakh. They may not recognize the presence of digestive diseases as a major problem because they don’t consider the diseases serious. The girls said digestive problems peaked in summer, but for a different reason. During the summer, they said, people eat too many apricots.When three male students were surveyed, they said digestive illnesses were, in fact, common among Ladakhis. They also said problems are most prevalent in summer.Amchi Tsewang Rigzin from the village of Saspol said, “In Ladakh, there are many (gastro-intestinal) disease patients.” He said that people over age 15 are most affected and agreed with Mohd that illnesses occur equally among men and women. According to the Amchi, or traditional Buddhist doctor, problems increase in spring, when the body produces more phlegm. In Amchi medicine, phlegm is associated with laziness. Tsewang said it increases acidity in the stomach, making people more susceptible to ulcers and stomach cancer. According to Rigzin, waiting long periods of time to eat also increases the acidity in one’s stomach. Most Ladakhis are farmers and may delay meals if they are working.He said problems are most common in Eastern Ladakh, a predominantly Buddhist region, and Chantang, a nomadic village. Nomads eat mostly meat and have little variety in their diet. In Nubra and Sham, farming villages where people have more access to fruits and vegetables, incidence of gastro-intestinal illnesses is low.Ladakhis prefer to cure digestive illnesses naturally. They consider it very important to keep the mid-section warm. To combat cold, which is thought to cause or worsen digestive problems, they drink warm water and wrap their middles with a scarf or blanket. Rice soup, a simple, bland dish, is eaten because it is very easy to digest. For persistent problems, they see an Amchi.Rigzin Sandup, a freshman in college in Leh, said that Amchis “have a lot of strength.” He would normally prefer to go to an Amchi if he were ill. Amchi medicine is known in Ladakh for being all natural, eco-friendly and free of side effects. He later noted, “If it is serious, I would definitely go to (a Western-style) doctor.”Tsewang said that he rarely sends patients to a Western-style physician — only if they are in critical condition. On occasion, a Western physician will send a patient to an Amchi if the patient remains in the hospital for an extended period of the time without being cured.Both the Amchi and Western physician said ulcers and hemorrhaging are common, which can be attributed to the prevalence of H. Pylori among Ladakhis. While there are antibiotics to treat H. Pylori, decreasing the recurrence of ulcers and a patient’s chances of developing stomach cancer, antibiotics are generally less effective at high altitudes. It seems that bacteria cause most serious digestive problems in Ladakh. All surveyed groups and interviewees mentioned that problems peak during the warmer seasons, when bacteria can easily breed in food and water. Students at SECMOL mentioned spoiled food as a common cause of gastro-intestinal illness.The group of female students at SECMOL said that many people in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, get ill because the flush toilets drain into the drinking water supply. There is a problem with leaking septic tanks in Leh. In Ladakhi villages, people use composting toilets, which don’t require any water.Mohd said digestive illnesses are common in Zanskar, an area that is rural like most of Ladakh. He stated the “backwardness” of people there as a cause. However, gastro-intestinal diseases are not isolated to a certain region of Ladakh, age group, gender or lifestyle. Farmers, nomads and city dwellers all suffer. The real problem is sanitation, not just in rural villages, but in the modern city of Leh as well. Improvement of sanitation throughout Ladakh would greatly decrease the prevalence of gastro-intestinal illnesses by decreasing exposure to bacteria, including H. Pylori.Digestive diseases are so common in Ladakh that some Ladakhis do not even realize there is a problem. Indigestion tends to be treated at home, and only when a serious or persistent illness is observed do people seek medical attention. Not noticing a serious illness or recognizing its persistence early on may factor into the high incidence of stomach cancer in Ladakh. In addition to improved sanitation, Ladakhis should seek medical attention at the first warning signs of a digestive problem beyond simple indigestion. They can also get tested for H. Pylori and take antibiotics so as to prevent stomach cancer from developing. 

HIV/AIDS a threat to Ladakh

HIV/AIDS exists in all corners of the world. On every continent, every country and every region. However, here in Ladakh, a remote part of the Himalayas, it seems that everyone including doctors denies its existence. This is alarming since India has the second highest prevalence in the world and 60 percent of South Asia’s AIDS cases. “AIDS is knocking on the door of Ladakh and wants to come in,” says a 17-year-old student. In reality, AIDS is very much present here. What I found was a culture that undermines the dangers of the virus and won’t let the epidemic taint a pristine picture.An understanding of the culture’s taboo approach to such matters is crucial in understanding why HIV/AIDS is not acknowledged in a public way. Dr. Ghulam Mohd of the Leh Government Hospital said that “AIDS does exist here, and we have seen cases.” Dr. Ghulam Mohd explained that the most common cause of death among young people included TB, diarrhea and pneumonia, which are all secondary infections of AIDS.I interviewed several students of Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) as well as several students in villages. Almost every student said that HIV/AIDS does not exist in Ladakh. The way in which people in Ladakh have separated themselves from the virus can in part be due to the fact that they don’t like to talk about it. If they don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist, and that concept is what reaches the people.Ladakh is made up of small villages scattered among high mountain passes. Their inaccessibility due to few roads can be part of the idea that they are completely separate from the world. The villages are secluded in beautiful valleys and along rivers.The remote sense of Ladakh is interrupted every summer when 50,000 domestic and foreign tourists come here. This makes it seems inevitable that the people of Ladakh would be exposed to the virus. Over half of a group of students reported that they had heard or believed that tourists sleep with tour guides. Several students mentioned that they thought that outsiders including Nepalis, Tibetans and Americans had AIDS. However, there was no connection drawn between the tourism and presence of Tibetans here, and their own vulnerability to the virus.Rural Development and You is a large non-governmental organization stationed in Leh. Its intern said that, “Yes, AIDS does exist here but mostly among non-Ladakhis.” From here my surety of its existence increased. The military’s presence in Ladakh is visible everywhere, from the second that you get off of the plane. The idea that soldiers from southern India were in Ladakh for three months triggered the idea of prostitution and its relevance in Ladakh. When a group of teenage boys were asked if they thought that there was prostitution in Ladakh, every one said yes. However when girls were asked, most said no. Several of the boys said that the presence of prostitutes could be attributed to the presence of the army. One student explained, “Prostitution is good for men who were away from their wives for a long time, but is not good because they sometimes spend all of their money and have nothing left.” However there was no mention of the effects on the women or potential health risks.Commercial sex workers play a key role in the spreading of the virus, especially in the early stages. When society doesn’t want to acknowledge that prostitution exists in Ladakh, these vulnerable women will continue to be at a high risk of both contracting and spreading the virus further. Without the knowledge of its relevance, women will not be able to be reached by prevention groups.Most students reported having some form of education about AIDS in school, whether it was through their science textbooks or guest speakers. But the message isn’t getting across if none of them know of its relevance here and how it can potentially affect them. The students had received education about AIDS in school, but their parents and grandparents still don’t know what the disease is. Students who are unable to discuss this issue with their parents feeds into the idea that AIDS is irrelevant. Because education hasn’t reached adults, the potential of it spreading among them without knowing it is a serious concern.Even though Ladakh has a very conservative society, students have no education about AIDS before age 15, leaving children uneducated about potential health risks when doing something as simple as getting an injection at the hospital where clean needles may not be used.Most students said that they would get tested if they thought that they had AIDS. However, none of the students knew where testing was available and they were afraid of social stigma. “We provide testing here, and do have people come in commonly for voluntary testing,” explained Dr. Ghulam Mohd. However the confidentiality and readily available testing is questionable.It is clear that HIV/AIDS is present in Ladakh, and will continue to be an issue until people acknowledge its existence openly. Without acknowledgement, the virus will continue to spread throughout Ladakh. The realization of its global impact, and that its relevance will not ruin their culture but strengthen it through a communal effort, can stop the virus.Thorough education should be required for all students including how the disease is transmitted, who are at the highest risk, where testing and treatment are available, as well as the proper use of condoms and other protective measures. Also, testing should be free, readily available and confidential. And finally the message of health officials needs to improve. There should be billboards, ads, propaganda and information in order to get rid of stigma. Addressing HIV/AIDS in Ladakh is crucial in keeping it from spreading further. 

Saturday 19 April 2008

Ladakhi Buddhists want end to violence in Tibet

Leh, Apr 18: Leh, Apr 18: The hunger strike of the Tibetan exiles settled in the Ladakh province has entered into 29th day today. They have been protesting against the Chinese government’s use of force on peaceful precisionists in Tibet in which many deaths have taken place and hundreds of monks injured and arrested. India settled over 10, 000 Tibetan refugees Choouglamsar village of Leh district in 1962 giving them land and financial assistance. They have been demanding freedom of Tibet from China and every 10th March hold protests against Chinese rule on Tibet. Muslim Tibetans also supported the call and held a protest rally at Kargil. When the Olympic torch arrived at New Delhi, Buddhists of Ladakh, in a show of solidarity with their Tibetan counterparts, observed complete Bandh called by Ladakh Buddhist Association and Ladakh Gonpa Association. The main rally protest was held in Leh in which over 15,000 people participated. The protesters assembled at Polo ground Leh where problems of Tibetans were highlighted and deepest sympathy and condolences conveyed to the families who lost their loved ones in the historical movement. The protestors demanded that an independent international fact finding committee be sent to Tibet to let the world know about the scale of violations of rights perpetuated against the people there. They also demanded that China should allow free press to visit the entire Tibet and put an end to the killings there, release all those arrested and engage into meaningful negotiations with Dalai Lama. Lama Lubzang Anchok, president LBA, thanked the Muslims who showed their unity with the victims and observing Kargil Bandh.

Friday 18 April 2008

Buddhists protest cultural genocide in Tibet

LEH, Apr 17: Even as Tibetan refugees held large scale demonstrations against China in New Delhi to coincide with the Olympic torch relay, thousands of people led by Buddhists took out a massive rally here today in support of Tibetans.
Since morning, thousands of demonstrators had converged at the road leading to Polo Grounds here to hold a solidarity march in support of Tibetans’ demand for autonomy.
Snowfall in Leh had cancelled several flights for here yesterday.
"We are used to such weather swings... It will not deter us from carrying out our programme," the organisers had said yesterday. Though chilly winds continued throughout today, a clear sky ensured a pleasant afternoon.
Buddhist Monks led the demonstration, followed by school students, youth, women and local residents.
Hundreds of school students could be seen holding banners and play cards on the main road. The rally was led by Buddhist Monks associated with Ladakh Buddhist Association and Ladakh Gongpa Association.
Three decked up vehicles carrying huge portraits of the Dalai Lama were part of the procession which covered a distance of over three kms through the heart of the city before converting into an assembly at the Polo grounds.
The demonstrators raised anti-China slogans and appealed to the United Nations to take appropriate action against the Chinese "cultural genocide" in Tibet.
Slogans like ‘Jago-Jago Bharat Jago and ‘wake up-wake up, India wake up’ also filled the air.
Fifteen effigies of dead bodies also formed part of the rally.
These effigies represent the deaths of over 200 innocent Tibetans at the hands of Chinese security agencies in and around Lahsa’’ read a banner.
The rally-cum demonstration also gave chance to students to display their skills in Tattoo making. Most of the students had painted their cheek with pro-Tibet slogans. Some of them had even painted their heads with Tibetan flags.
Addressing the gathering at the Polo grounds, Ladakh Buddhist Assoication president Lama lobzang Angchuk said the Buddhists of Ladakh were with the Tibetans who were fighting for a just cause. "We must pray for those killed and maimed in violence there," he added.
"The presence of a large number of people only, shows how deeply hurt they are at the developments in Tibet," Mr Angchuk said.
Young children dressed in traditional clothes performed a prayer and recited a song of mourning. Another group of children held a street play at the venue about the killings of Tibetans in around Lahsa.
In a memorandum addressed to Presidents, Prime Minister, Nobel Laureates and the United Nations, the Ladakh Buddhist Association demanded an immediate dispatch of independent international fact finding committee to Tibet to find out the truth.
It also demanded to the international community to persuade China to allow free press into Tibet. The memorandum said the presence of international medical teams, such as red cross and medicines sans frontiers was necessary to take care of injured Tibetans.
Besides Leh, a total bandh was observed in Kargil, the other district of Ladakh.
Demonstrations were also held at Demchok and Chukshul the Indo-China border, Durbuk Block Head Quarters, Nyoma Block Head Quarters and other adjoining areas. Muslim dominated Drass also observed a total bandh. The Ladak Buddhist Association claimed. (UNI)

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Vital road to Ladakh reopened in record time

Srinagar, April 15: The vital road link between Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar and the landlocked Ladakh region of the state was thrown open to vehicular traffic on Tuesday after remaining closed for winter months.
It is for the first time that the 434-km road has been reopen as early as mid-April. It used to be generally opened for traffic in June. Last year also, the opening of the road was advanced to May 1, which was then the earliest time to have the highway thrown open after prolonged closure during winter.
Chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad flagged off a fleet of Srinagar bound vehicles from zero point near Gumri across Zoji-la, marking the earliest annual opening of the Srinagar-Leh highway after remaining closed for the winter. He met engineers, workers and jawans of Beacon and Himank projects of the Border Roads Organisation maintaining the highway and appreciated their efforts to ensure its early opening. He said, "This is an important road link as it connects the Ladakh region with rest of the state and country." He added that its early opening has significance for the people and hoped that this would help dispatch of essentials sooner to this mountainous region and also promote tourism activities.
The major mountainous and most difficult portion of the road from Sonamarg (2,740 metres) lying at the foothills of Zoji-la to Leh (3,510 metres) traversing through Fatula (4,119 metres) was constructed by the Project Beacon.
Project Beacon keeps the stretch from Srinagar to Gagangir (72 km) open throughout the year while Project Himank keeps the stretch from Leh to Drass (147 km) open throughout the year.
Zoji-la (pass) was closed on December 10, 2007 when the region began receiving heavy snowfall. The "summer snow clearance" along the road began on February 21 this year.
Later speaking at a public rally at Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world and about 146 km northeast of here, the chief minister the all-time earliest opening of Srinagar-Leh highway was indicative of how much the state and the Central governments were concerned about taking steps to mitigate the difficulties of the people of Ladakh region.

Monday 17 March 2008

Cultural genocide in Tibet: Dalai Lama

MCLEODGANJ (HP), Mar 16: The Dalai Lama today accused China of unleashing a "cultural genocide" in Tibet and demanded an impartial international probe into the situation in violence-hit Lhasa.

Addressing his first press conference here in the wake of the violence in the Tibetan Capital since Friday, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said that India has a few limitations as far as China is concerned and was "too cautious" on the Tibet issue.

The Indian Government, the 73 year-old monk said, had "hostile views" on certain actions of Tibetans but "we should not pick up one particular incident". He did not elaborate.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel peace laureate, demanded an international probe into the Chinese crackdown against protesters in Lhasa, saying "some respected international organizations can find out what the situation is in Tibet and what is the cause."

He said the investigations should be independent and unbiased.

He favoured holding of Beijing Olympics in August, but reminded China that it should play a "good host."

Replying to questions, he said "Tibetans’ protests in Lhasa is borne out of China carrying out a sort of cultural genocide in Tibet intentionally or unintentionally."

On whether he could contain the violence, which, according to Chinese authorities, had claimed 10 lives, he said: "I have no such power.... I do feel helpless."

Expressing concern over China serving an ultimatum to protesters to surrender by Monday midnight, he said "while the Chinese authorities are bent upon crushing the agitation with the help of the Army, Tibetans in Lhasa and other places are equally determined to continue the agitation".

Denying China’s charge that he was behind the violence, the worst since 1989, the Dalai Lama said that he was "completely committed" to non-violence and favoured a "middle path" which he said was also supported by some Chinese officials and scholars, whom he did not name.

On whether he would use his good office to ask his fellow countrymen to halt the protests, he said "the situation in Tibet has become volatile and only a miracle power can control it, not me".

"I have reached a stage of semi-retirement and at age 73, I am looking for full retirement," he said.

The Dalai Lama, who offered prayers before talking to the press, said "we want genuine autonomy and not independence (from China)."

On the death toll in Tibet, he did not give any definite figure claiming that different sources had varying figures which went up to even 100. "I do not know."

He was also of the view that some trusted group should go to Tibet and see how it happened.

Holding that he was being made a "scapegoat" by the Chinese authorities, the Dalai Lama said whether Beijing admitted or not, there was a problem in Tibet.

He said "there is an ancient cultural heritage that is facing serious danger" and that China was imposing "political education" in monasteries there, much to the dislike of the monks.

He said in order to achieve peace, China was using force in Tibet. "They (China) simply rely on using force in order to simulate peace, a peace brought by force using a rule of terror," he said.

The Dalai Lama said he has been receiving phone calls and e-mails from Tibetans asking him not to stop them from continuing with their agitation in Lhasa.

He blamed the local Chinese authorities in Tibet were responsible for the "non-solution" of the problem.

"While educated Chinese very well understand our viewpoint that the only solution to the Tibet issue is by granting genuine autonomy, the local Chinese authorities nourish a negative attitude," he said.

The spiritual leader said he was of the opinion that "genuine harmony and unity between the Tibetans and the Chinese can be established only on the basis of trust and this shall come from the heart".

Recalling the direct talks between his envoys and the Chinese Government, which began in 2002, the Dalai Lama said the negotiations have been facing "difficulties" since February 2006 with Beijing "hardening" its stand on the Tibet issue.(PTI)

Saturday 8 March 2008

LoC Kargil (2003) part 2

Ladakh attracts more foreign tourists

Jammu (PTI): World's highest inhabited plateau Ladakh in the Jammu and Kashmir is a foreigners' delight as it receives more tourists from abroad than domestic ones every year.
"Ladakh is hot favorite tourist destination for foreigners. The cold desert - Ladakh is being visited more by the foreign tourists than domestic ones annually," officials of state tourism department said.
A record 50,185 tourists visited Ladakh in 2007, an increase of 16 per cent as compared to 2006's figures of 43900, they said.
"Of them, 28178 were foreign tourists and 22007 domestic. Every year, more foreign tourists visit Ladakh than domestic ones, as foreigners love Gompas and rock carvings dotted across cold desert," tourism officials said.
Similarly, 43,900 tourists visited Ladakh in 2006, out of which 26,070 were foreigners and only 17830 were Indians.
"Low intensity Kargil war and tension between India and Pakistan has had a negative impact on tourism in Ladakh over the years," a Leh-based tour operator said, adding that things are improving now.
Ladakh also known as Moonland, has always attracted foreigners, who had always outnumbered the domestic tourists since 1974, when frontier region of J&K was opened to them.
Wrapped in the golden silence of rocky terrain, Ladakh is a repository of myraid cultures, traditions, heritage spots, scenic sites and religious influences.
It has 30 to 40 odd ancient Gompas, two to three high altitude lakes, two dozen naked peaks for mountaineers, two dozen mountain reeks, markets etc, he said.

LOC Kargil (2003), a movie based on the war that actually happened in Kargil between India and Pakistan

Tuesday 25 December 2007

LUTF urges PM to hasten grant of UT status

NEW DELHI, Dec 24: Stating that a reign of terror had been let loose by the State Government in Leh, a delegation of the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) today urged the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to expedite granting Union Territory status to Ladakh.
Led by Thupstan Chhewang, MP and LUTF President, the delegation called on Dr Singh and urged him to include the Bhoti language in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and open the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage through Leh.
It pointed out that Bhoti was spoken by almost all inhabitants of border Himalayan regions in the country. The elevation of the language would boost their "confidence and self-esteem." The opening of Leh route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra would usher in prosperity in Ladakh, the delegation said.
Making a strong case for UT, the delegation pointed out that the Congress-led State Government was treating the duly-elected Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC-Leh) with utter contempt. It stated: "A reign of terror and repression has been let loose against us. The police has been set upon on us as a clearly pre-meditated strategy to browbeat us into submission."
It referred in this regard to the forcible closure of the headquarters of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), framing of false criminal including murder and attempt to murder charges against its office-bearers, police assault on an elected LUTF councillor, disrespect being shown to the Chairman and Chief Executive Councillor of the LAHDC and a campaign of calumny against the LUTF chief.
"We continue to be deprived of many financial and legislative powers. Our experience has been worse with key police and administrative officials remote-controlled from Srinagar. They hardly show any appreciation of basic tenets of democracy and our distinct and unique ethnic and linguistic identity. How can policemen or bureaucrats be allowed to ride roughshod over a democratic dispensation? How can they treat our social and religious organisations with utter contempt? Their wrong-doings have strengthened our resolve to keep striving for Union Territory to strengthen what we regard as our umbilical chord with New Delhi, the deleagation said."
The members of the delegation were: Tsering Dorjey, Chairman and Chief Executive Councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (Leh). Sonam Wangchuk Norboo, MLA, Nubra, Tsering Angdus and Tsewang Tondup (Councillors), Lobzang Nyantak (senior LUTF leader), Dorjey Stanzin, Stanzin Delik, Tsering Angchuk, Jigmet Namgyal, Sonam Tsering, Nawang Norboo, Chotar Tsering, Tsering Paldan, Tondup Spalzang, Phunchok Stanzin,, Sonam Dorjey and Dorjey Namgyal (all councillors).

Monday 10 December 2007

Losar celebrated in Leh and Kargil district

KARGIL Dec 9: Chairman LAHDC greeted people on occasion of Mela Losar.As per a press note,Haji Asgar Ali Karbalaie wished that the festival would bring peace and prosperity to the state. Executive Councillor health and tourism department Sonam Namgyal also felicitated people of Leh, Kargil and Zanskar on the occasion.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Buddhists in Ladakh renounce family planning

Wary of rising Muslim population, Buddhist apex body in Ladakh urges community to produce more children

SRINAGAR: Buddhist leaders say their population is declining due the family planning norms adopted by its community, while the Muslim population was showing an increase because of their refusal to adopt these initiatives owing to their religious directives.
A new dimension to the embroil has been added by the recent whip issued by Buddhist leaders urging their community members to renounce family planning programmes and produce as many children possible, in order to undo the demographic changes being effected in the area.
Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), an apex body of the Buddhists, has also shot off a letter to the Jammu and Kashmir government asking it not to implement family planning programmes in the region. “The Ladakhi race has limited population in the country and there is apprehension of its extinction. Hence, you are requested not to apply small family norms in the district as a special case,” said Dr Sonam Dawa, president of Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) in a letter written to J&K’s minister of health and medical education Mangat Ram Sharma.
Dr Dawa cautioned the government about the family planning camps in the area. “In the recent past, there have been certain cases of public resentment during the family welfare camps in the area. So you are requested to direct the department concerned not to hold family planning camps in the district,” he said.
According to 2001 census, the population of Ladakh’s two districts-Kargil and Leh-was 2.36 lakhs. Muslims form the majority with 47.40 percent of the population and Buddhists are behind them with 45.90 percent. The growth of Muslims was also better at 31.52 percent against 29.97 percent for the Buddhists. Muslims are in majority in Kargil district while Leh is dominated by Buddhists.
“There have been many factors responsible for our dwindling population. We have been adhering to family planning norms with the result that our population has been declining, while Muslims do not adopt the directives,” said Dr Dawa. LBA has now asked all its monks to preach against family planning.
Muslims on the other hand, have rubbished claims that they were responsible for the dwindling population of Buddhists. “Many Muslims are adopting family planning norms. It is an individual decision and we cannot force anyone,” said Asraf Ali, president of Anjuman-e-Islamia, Leh.
Ali noted that Buddhists being more educated and more prosperous take up family planning because they want smaller families.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

OPERATION SADBHAVANA – A Culture of Peace Process

(I visited Ladakh and a few border areas and saw for myself the project “Operational Sadvavana”, I met a number of villagers, school children and women in particular to know more about the unique developmental process, and I thought at once that many people outside India may not know the effort of an Indian Army General towards a culture of peace process in Kashmir, so I decided to write a paper about it.)
The contemporary world is witnessing an increasing assertion of rights and privileges on the basis of religion, ethnicity and nationality. Religious fundamentalism together with ethnic conflicts and terrorism have appeared on the international arena with remarkable force, and pervasiveness. The traditional idea of the term security has become outdated. We have to redefine security not only in terms of military power but also in terms of economic power/ role it plays due to its extensive spill over effects on other vital issues of nation state. A question can be raised at this stage---Security for whom? And how do we achieve it?
A phrase often used by the Kashmiris, when asked about their indifferent attitude towards the rest of the country is “hum to mile thae ---ap ne alag rakha (we joined but you kept us separate )”. To some extent, it holds true in the case of Kashmir. The need to break the geographical and political isolation of Kashmir from rest of the country should be the uppermost objective. The construction of railway lines to the Valley should have been taken up as a part of greater political strategy long ago. There is a strong need to remove the “ you ---feed ---me” type of attitude among the Kashmiris. The economic aid and investment must be geared to allow Kashmir’s economy to grow from below. The model for development must be found in order to have a systematic and sustainable development in the state.1
At the heart of the Indo-Pak conflict are two constants: One, the political usefulness of a war-like situation in both countries, and two, mutually sustained mindsets which recognize war as the only real solution. India and Pakistan are all the time vulnerable to the urge to fight. Peace-time life carries a sense of drudgery for millions of people in both countries. Military preparedness and the news of impending war have the unfortunate capacity to give both the young nation-states an instant sense of purpose. One can’t help recalling a time when India derived a sense of purpose by acting as a force for world peace during the seventies, it started to lose that self-identity, even as the failure of the national development project of the sixties became all too apparent. A new national identity began to take shape alongside the models available in the cold war-ridden world. Hunger, poverty and illiteracy gradually ceased to inspire the state planning apparatus. The desired self-image of a military power served a cohesive political role.2 Both countries have used education and the media to reinforce hostile mindsets. In Pakistan, school text books openly teach prejudice towards Hinduism and equate India with Hindus, belittling India’s struggle for secularism. Elite public schools have a better record, but their products either migrate or learn to live on the margins of a fluid, routinely manipulated public space. That journey to the margin of a rapidly shrinking political space is just beginning for the Indian elites whose children have been dutifully raised on the staple of scientific temper in a corrupt, chaotic political milieu. The simplistic, secular textbooks they have studied fail to contextualise Partition in a rational universe, leaving adequate room for the belief that Pakistan is neither a legitimate historical entity, nor a functioning nation. Here lie the roots of a common elite perception that India can emulate what Israel has done to the defenseless Palestine. Senior Dutch sociologist W F Wertheim has rightly bemoaned the absence of a peace economy in the lone superpower the world has now. If only rich countries would consider stopping the sale of expensive weapons to poor countries, they can bring about the stability and peace they love so much. It is the arms sold by the US, UK, Russia, France and a few others that have brutalized life across the Third World from Chile to Liberia to the Philippines. Yet, for India and Pakistan, a phased disengagement with the arms trade offers the only realistic countdown to peace. 3
So how do we define peace? To me, a fruitful definition of peace has to include both the absence of direct violence and the absence of indirect or structural violence. Yet this is a rather negative way to define peace, and several peace researchers and peace educators have attempted to arrive at more positive definitions of the term. Garcia (1981) holds that one of the most attractive definitions of peace and peace education for a broader and more realistic scope is the following one given by Mario Borelli :--- By peace we mean the results in any given society of equality of rights, by which every member of that society participates equally in decisional power which regulates it, and the distribution of the resources which sustain it. (Garcia, 1981, p.-165) So by peace we mean the absence of violence in any given society, both internal and external, direct and indirect. We further mean the nonviolent results of equality of rights, by which every member of that society, through nonviolent means, participates equally in decisional power which regulates it, and the distribution of the resources which sustain it.
The more up-to-date definitions of peace with the UN system to not define peace only as the absence of war and violence, but as the presence of justice. Peace is defined in more positive terms. This view was well expressed at the General Conference of UNESCO at its eighteenth session (Resolution 11.1): “Peace cannot consist solely in the absence of armed conflict but implies principally a process of progress, justice and mutual respect among the peoples designed to secure the building of an international society in which everyone can find his true place and enjoy his share of the world’s intellectual and material resources.”
Many would, however, still advocate that the Kashmiri struggle has reached a stage of no return, but in reality, the people in the Valley are most disenchanted and disillusioned not only with the unending spate of militancy but also for the fact that they have become a pawn in the game of power politics between Pakistan and India. Almost every family has lost a son, forcibly taken across the border for training. The women have fallen victim to rape and sexual molestation at the hands of the terrorists. The executions of numerous Kashmiris, including some prominent citizens, have left a bitter taste. The power struggles among the militant groups have led to kidnapping, looting, raping and killing of fellow beings. The local militants have resorted to forced marriages with girls belonging to socially higher and economically better off families. This has generated disenchantment among the average Kashmiri. 4

India, China troops hold peace meet in Ladakh

LEH, Oct 20: Indian and Chinese troops, as a part of confidence building measures and ‘Peace and Tranquility Agreement’ of 1993 between the two countries, held a peace meeting on the border in Chushul sector of eastern Ladakh region today.
With an objective to develop long lasting friendship between the two border forces, a mechanism of border personnel meetings and holding of flag meetings has been institutionalised. Today’s meet was held at Indian Border Personnel Meet Hut in Chushul sector. Both sides were represented by nine officers.
The Chinese delegation was received by the Indian delegation leader, Brig Surinder Singh. After the reception, the Indian national flag was hoisted and both the Indian and Chinese delegation saluted the tri-colour. In a formal meeting held in atmosphere of mutual trust, greetings were exchanged by both the sides. Both the sides agreed to join hands in contributing towards maintaining peace and tranquility in the region.
The Chinese delegation was treated to a cultural programme by the troops of Chushul garrison. The delegation was enthralled by the rich culture heritage of India and soaked in a spirit of bonhomie and friendship. They also enjoyed the Indian and Chinese music and resorted to foot thumping in the lovely afternoon. Later, both the sides exchanged pleasantries and gifts to commemorate the occasion.
As the curtain came down on the celebrations, the visitors saluted the tricolour and were escorted back to the Line of Actual Control by Brig Surinder Singh.
The friendly interactions between the two border forces have played a significant role in promoting and strengthening bonds of friendship, mutual trust and confidence between the two armies.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Tearful adieu to Sheikh Mirza

LEH, Oct 16: Renowned Muslim Cleric of Leh Sheikh Mirza Hussain, who died in Srinagar, was today given a tearful adieu when his mortal remains were brought for burial here.
A large number of people from different shades attended his funeral procession. Prominent among them were Power Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, Chief Executive Councillor LAHDC Leh Chering Dorje, Executive Councillor Health Dorje Mutup, MLC P Namgial, MLA Nubra Pintoo Norboo, Deputy Commissioner Leh Dr M K Bhandari, Executive Councilor PWD, LAHDC Kargil Nasir Munshi, MLA Zanskar Mohd Raza and Councillor Agha Mukhtar.
Leh Bazaar remained closed for half day in the memory of the religious leader.
Sheikh Mirza dedicated his life not only in preaching of Islam in Ladakh but also played prominent role in social activities especially in promotion of secular amity.

Sunday 14 October 2007

Eid celebrated at Leh, Kargil

LEH, Oct 13: Eid-ul-Fitr was celebrated with great enthusiasm and religious fervour at Leh and Kargil.
In Leh, the main Eid-ul-Fitr congregation was offered at Imam Dargah under the Imamat of Sheikh Ghulam Hadi wherein thousand of Shia Muslims participated. Special prayers were offered for world peace, prosperity, communal harmony and brotherhood among different sections of the community.
Addressing the gathering after Eid-ul-Fitr Namaz, Ashraf Ali Barcha, president Anjuman Imamia Leh felicitated all Muslims of Ladakh region on the auspicious occasion and said that festival would bring the message of universal peace, tolerance, brotherhood and compassion.
In Kargil, two big congregations were held at Islamia School and Jama Masjid in which thousands of Muslims offered Eid Namaz under the aegis of Sheikh Mohammad Mussa Sharifi and Sheikh Mohammad Mohqiq. They prayed for the peace and prosperity in the region and the State.
Edi-ul-Fitr was also celebrated at Jaffaria Masjid Drass, Sankoo, Tai Suru and Shakar Chiktan blocks.
The Chief Executive Councillor LAHDC Kargil Haji Asgar Ali Karbalaei greeted the people on the occasion.