Disaster: Another paradise lost?

By Syed Mujahid Ali Shah

In January this year, the Hunza Valley witnessed a disastrous landslide resulting in the loss of 21 lives and inundating hundreds of hectares of land in the lower region of Gojal in upper Hunza. Landslide debris blocked the Hunza river to create the 20km long and more than two km wide lake at Attabad. Currently, due to landsliding and erosion of rocks exacerbated by heavy rains and floods, a similar situation is developing in the village of Miachar, district Hunza Nagar, some 80km north-east of Gilgit. Sajjad Hussain who studies glaciers and the landscape of Hunza Nagar at the Gilgit Resarch Centre said, “Miachar had also eroded in 1908-9 but it was only the lower edges of the village that slid into Hunza river and stopped the water flow for less than a week. Since it was summer, high river flow washed away the debris very soon. He added that with heavy rainfall and earthquakes in the vicinity, the land mass was pushed further towards the Hunza river. In a landslide situation in Miachar, debris of more than 300 metres can extend upto three kilometres in the river stream, forming a lake even bigger than Attabad because the landmass of Miachar is 10 times greater and could block the river for over 18 months. At least seven villages in Nagar, from Tashot to the Shyar-Asqurdas-Sumayar (SAS) valley in the upper Nagar subdivision as well the lower regions of central Hunza starting from Murtazabad to Ganish, can be submerged. “It is high time the government and the NGOs took the matter seriously and prepare the plans to cope with a possible disaster even bigger than Attabad,” said Sajjad Hussain while showing me an electronic map of Hunza Nagar on his laptop where he had marked the danger zones in red. I travelled to Miacher last May on the way to Gilgit from my home village of Phakar. Traffic was diverted to the right side of the Hunza river to Nagar, since a minor landslide had blocked the KKH at Chikas near the village of Nasirabad/Hindi on the Hunza side. Only small vehicles were able to go through the narrow road at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres to cross Miacher before going down to Minapin to finally reach the KKH at Pisan. We returned from the blockade at Chikas and went down to the Tashot bridge, beneath which runs the Hunza river, surrounded by high and steep rocks. The road to Phakar via Tashot bridge is locally called pul siraat for being dangerously narrow, and many stories of unfortunate accidents are associated with it. As we took the western road leading up to Dadimal, the van stopped for more passengers. Jan Alam who edits a monthly magazine in Karachi on the culture of Nagar, also joined us. He showed me the historical site of Miachar-i-Khan, visible from the KKH at Chikas on the border of Dadimal and Miachar, at the crest of the village above the Hunza river. As the van reached closer we saw a 400-year-old mosque and Matamsara (Imambara) which he said are the only places where people still come to pray while other buildings built over 1,200 years ago were ruined and abandoned. He explained that previously people used to live in clusters at the crest just above the river in a strategy to fight the Hunzakut tribes who would cross the river in the low winter tide to steal cattle and edibles from Nagarites. With a population of 2,500, Miachar is embedded on the Hunza river on a sulphur line on the steep bare rock of the Kacheli mountain. Several water springs create a weak land mass. Miachar faces the Rakaposhi and Minapin glacier in the south. Parallel to the village and across the river is the Karakoram Highway (KKH). In Miachar, I saw gardens of walnut trees and potato fields on the slopes. “We have to build big barriers of cloth sheets from tree to tree to stop walnuts rolling down to the river,” said Muhammad Essa, a government tractor driver, clearing a blockade in the village. The government has established a middle school and a health dispensary in the village. “Miachar is so steep that children in the local middle school have to be very careful when they play volley ball because a forceful hit can roll the ball all the way into the river and nothing can stop it in between” says Yousuf Ali, a local school teacher, who was also in the van with us. “Miachar is eroding and the land patch on which the village is perched is sliding towards the river hence facing a severe threat of massive landslide in the area,” said Yousaf Ali. Being the linguistic boundary between the Shina and Burushaski speaking population in Nagar, Miachar is also important from the cultural point of view. It borders the Minapin in the west, from where starts the belt of Shinaki; people only speak Shina in the region though a minority of Burushaski speakers settled here later. From Miachar onwards, is the Burusho-Nagar area where people speak only Burushaski. “If we lose Miachar, it will not only cause a loss of human life, animals and land but also the heritage of Miachar-i-Khan, widening the gap between two languages and sub-cultures that the village unites,” said Jan. Each day big boulders and rocks fall from higher altitudes in the northern part of the village and make headlines in the local newspapers of Gilgit. Recently several grasslands and crops were destroyed, five homes were totally damaged and the number of internally displaced people is steadily on the rise. The road connecting Miachar to the outside world through Minapin in the west has been damaged as it is beneath the main sliding spot. Villagers opt to take an alternative relatively farther and dangerous route, via Dadimal in the east and then down to the Tashot bridge to reach the KKH. Students have stopped going to high school in Minapin because of fear of crossing the landslide area.

Originally Published by the daily DAWN

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  1. One explanation!-The stealing events of cattle,edibles etc in the historical Hunzu and Nagyr Principalities were happening on both sides-As I heard from elders and read literature.The article needed precision so is mentioned only one side.

  2. hunzukuch are peace loving people which is their drawbck, we should come to the streets and should what we can do if govt is showing rigidity. its last option we should implement.

  3. hunzukuch are peace loving people which is their drawback, we should come to the streets and should show what we can do if govt is showing rigidity. its last option we should implement.

  4. Mr Mujahid Ali Shah in his article has rightly highlighted the snaching and stealing attempts of Hunzukuts. The Nagarians were compelled to construct their house in cluster manner at the bank of Nagar River in order to stop this evil deed.

  5. Hi readers,
    It’s not a moment of mingling in the history of Hunza-Nagar. We are the same race, same religion and have the same common values. I strongly urge the both valleys to strenghthen their ties through the inter-region marriages as happened in the past to further strenghthen their relations. I don’t see any difference between the two. This hype was created by the outsiders who wanted to profit out of our trans-border differencies.
    Hunza and Nagar is the same paradise of Shangrilla. We need to think commonly on the issues of daily life rather than mingling into the meta-physics of unknown nature. We need education, economic and social development through a scientific aproach to benefit our people out of natural resources and hence pulling people out of the poverty. Religion had never been able to change our socio-economic status for the last 1000 years, rather it has deteriorated our development. Differences should be considered as diversity not agony.
    I am proud to say that Nagar is following the agenda set by the Imamat institutions to come up with the challenges faced by us all. I hope that people in the area understand this phenomena of silent change through social uplift.

    Long live Hunza-Nagar

  6. We note with slight sadness, and also with great irony for this is a very good story to bring to light the voice of a people long suppressed and unheard, but unfortunately this article is not an honest attempt to bring to light the true historical episodes rather it seeks to paint a disparaging picture of the people of Hunza, in a very very subtle way. It appears that this article is part of an intellectual assault on a civilization, from a person who is under the dangerous influence of a false ideology. M H Sheraliat another …… [word deleted by editor] form the goblet of this sinister ideology is a cheering partner in this struggle.

    In local mythology the people of Hunza and Nagar often engaged in acrimonious debates ranging from religion to royalty. For example, during a time when Hunza was governed without a prince it is said that the people of Nagar used to taunt Hunzukutz for not having a blueblood at the top of their social and political hierarchy. Similarity the people of Hunza often talk of Nagerkutz as ‘black ants’ that bite hard and even lay a beastly animal like an elephant to ground. These historic mutual hostilities need not be portrayed in a way that is detrimental to mutual comprehension of the people at a time when our economic development and political future is at stake. I absolutely agree with beatifically articulated series statements made by Mr Haqiqat with regards to adopting scientific approaches to solve our persistent problems of social and political marginalsiation, economic disempowerment, and lack of education and also to combat with coming natural catastrophes. Natural disasters come uninvited and strike at a time of nature’s such as the Attaabad/Gojal disaster in Hunza and the potential of Miacher/Phakaar mountains going berserk, yet we need not engage in practices of mutual caricatures.

    Over the last two months we saw an outburst of news and a flooding of reports in international media regarding false stories of Chinese military incursion in the region, and laying waste to our beautiful valleys of GB. While these stories may not appear true at this particular juncture in our history yet these are foretastes of things to come. If our educated people engage in trading hatred rather than promoting a culture of peace, pluralism, and constructive debate than we will certainly prepare our people as pawns in the coming great game of resource wars. We should aim to become partners in the wars of future not as tinderbox zealots who are ready to commit anything for nothing.

    Trangfa Maujood
    Shishper Meadows

    1. As a tourist in GB, I heard stories of old rivalries between Hunza and Nagar and raids between the two “sides”. I agree that in these times much more will be gained from cooperating with our neighbors. It is my sincere wish that people of GB can put aside so many small differences and unify for a better society.

  7. The article has mentioned the one and half line history as a metter of fact why people build their houses in a cluster shape—–I dont think it is something ideological driven writing or else-But I do agree with Haqiqat and Trangfa Maujud the bothe sides of a coin might have shown-as the writer has presented his problems with precision may be the reason is not sufficient.
    I also think we should not shy of discussing history -because it is the best way to learn lessons.
    I think the writer has not meant what some of the commentators are driving the story towards a specific direction.

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