Khalid Jan Bari
Treading among the ruins and fragments of all that is left of a small settlement of Gulmit, one can apprehend the feeling of sorrows and troubles endured by its inhabitants during the calamity – the moments the lake was devouring their properties, the fields where they used to grow grain, potatoes, vegetables and trees. The area seems as if one was seeing a thousand years old settlements remnants and relics. A few things that remain are the brick walls and traces of old passageway that are noticeable after the water had receded though some structures of houses are much obvious with little damage. Everything resides under the lake now or is wrecked already. But the people have moved and found places to rebuild the settlements anew.
How would I rebuild all that I lost? It came to mind the moment; I saw the ruins of the house and land setting open before me alongside the many monuments of ruins of other houses. What misfortune may ensue again? These thoughts were a random occurrence but life has to be lived positively. I recalled the moments I had spent in that house and recounted all the memories spent with friends and
family. The orchards, fields, gardens and the flowers: hard work of the ancestors to put together all that was now, nothing but water and rubbles. Everything was worth a treasure not in terms of earnings, but because it was built by our grandfathers and their fathers over the centuries.
Later on, through news on media and when friends and acquaintances recounted their versions of the calamity; every word and happening resembled the general theme – “The mountain slide, the loss of precious lives and subsequent blockade of the gorge and ravine and the river filled the abyss and the lake steeped overnight and it reached Gulmit before submerging other villages; within months and at last the residents had to give up and pull out the wooden and usable stuff out of each of the houses in Gulmit”. It was difficult and brought grief to casually hear all the narration.
The affectees were helped by the people who volunteered in the time of need; to ease the burden of the affectees in pulling out their roofs and dismantling the construction for serviceable possessions. The roofs are made of wood entirely: it entails a cultural and indigenous mastery to prepare and is expensive too. The fear and hope that had engulfed the entire populace from the beginning of the lake formation; that it will reach Gulmit, was immense, accordingly when at last nothing seemed possible as the lake rose and submerged village after village upstream before reaching Gulmit; things were not as easy to endure as it seemed. Though understood and imagined it was not easy for the affectees to destroy their own houses before the lake did its course. But the peril couldn’t be challenged and all lost their hard-work and years of edifice, bit by bit; the trees, the crops, the fields, the yards, the terraces and above all the memories of a lifetime.
The elders recounted such incidents of lake destroying the settlements, in the past and similar stories passed down to them by their fathers and grandfathers. “It was said, that hundreds of years ago, a similar lake and blockade had destroyed twice more of the size as compared to this time but less of the demography was effected”, and there were all those stories of shamans or fortune tellers predicting more of such instances.
Another important location was the Gulmit square, where small restaurants and shops kept the evenings alive. It used to be called “Pareshaan Chowk” of Gulmit: literally meaning the ‘worrisome square’. If asked any passerby about such an unusual name of the square, they would tell that it was called worrisome square because most of the people at the square seemed worried about somewhat all the time such as the sad and disquiet expressions of travellers long waiting for transports and of customers upon not getting their desired goods at the shops etc. There was initially a single building established in the 1980’s or before and gradually shops augmented and later on huge market infrastructures were raised and the ‘Pareshaan Chowk’, became another mark of civilization. It was not a square but a fork where a non-metaled road connected Gulmit to the Karakoram highway and a center for commerce and trade flourished around it. Today, it’s just silt and sludge left during the lake-water recession and presents a grim view of the destruction.
Afterwards, my hometown never seemed alike to me for a long time: the sheer happiness and joy as the glimpse of it used to bring, didn’t happen. I couldn’t resume the prior association to the whole abode. It took more than a while living at my hometown to relate a sense of appreciation for its greenery, beauty and marveling its landscape and glaciers once again, as in the old days. Today, it has been nearly three years and life goes on. It’s worthy to see all the inhabitants cheerful and settled and life flourishing.
The contributor is a development consultant.