Forgotten Community: The Resilient Women of Khaltaro Village Defying All Odds

By Dr. Sadia Khalid

Khaltaro Valley is the name given to one of the wildest and untamed beauty in Gilgit-Baltistan. This valley is a real treasure, hidden from the rest of the world. There are no tourist facilities in this valley, including hotels, restaurants, or local shops. This valley is in Gilgit district and its road is very scary.

The jeep drive takes two hours on a tiny, narrow road along with Darchan River. The route is extraordinarily steep. Between Sassi and Khaltaro, the path climbs sharply from 1,401 meters above sea level to 2,577 meters above sea level. The hiking to Khayi Valley, the last settlement in Khaltaro, can take up to four hours due to the difficult terrain.

The village. Photo provided by author

Although this place is a breathtaking hideaway, its majestic snowcapped mountains provide a much-needed escape from the chaos of everyday life. Unfortunately, everyone ignores the heart-wrenching challenges faced by the vulnerable communities living here. Their lives are a constant struggle to survive without essential resources and government support.

The women in Khaltaro Valley are facing different kinds of challenges daily. They are cut off from the outer world due to the rough terrain, and sloppy and unpaved road tracks. Their homes are mostly covered in snow for a considerable period of the year. They also witness heavy snowfalls, landslides, and even avalanches, which sometimes result in temporary displacement. They are facing hurdles in having access to food items, education, quality healthcare, and paved roads.

The first challenge, these resilient women face is unpaved roads and rough terrains. They have to walk for several kilometers carrying heavy amounts of goods or water to reach their homes. This heavy weight sometimes puts a lot of strain on their physical bodies, particularly in situations of extreme weather such as significant snowfall or landslides.

An elderly woman from Khaltaro shared her concern in the following words, “

“I developed chronic back pain a few years back from carrying heavy weight over unpaved, uneven terrain. Extreme weather conditions such as severe snowfall or landslides make it much more challenging.” 

Another pressing issue is the lack of proper toilets and sanitation systems in local homes. Women, especially young girls are unaware of hygiene management. Uncleanliness can lead to diseases like diarrhea and cholera. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other diseases may result from the absence of washrooms and poor hygiene.

One of the young girls from Khayi Valley said in despair, “Our elders refuse to build washrooms in their homes because they consider it dirty and unclean. As a result, we have to wake up early in the morning to use the washroom before everyone else.”

The difficulties that the women in Khaltaro face get even worse because of the lack of a dispensary, doctors, and clinic and restricted access to medical care and medicines.

One helpless mother expressed her worries by saying,

“The health of mothers and children is a major concern in our community. It is heartbreaking that we do not have access to proper medical care, forcing us to give birth at home and putting our lives and our babies’ lives in danger. Things get even tougher because we can’t afford quality medical help unless it’s a dire emergency.”

Ayesha, another woman villager said with teary eyes, “We just want good healthcare along with emergency services. It is heartbreaking that we have no stores or clinics nearby when we are sick. We deserve a life without unnecessary suffering.”

Regrettably, Khaltaro Valley’s lack of educational opportunities poses a serious problem for the local population; there is only one primary school.

Fatima expressed her concern, saying, “We aim for a better future for our girls, one that can only be achieved through education. However, we find it difficult. The one primary school located in the main bazaar requires my daughter to trek for an hour each day simply to get there. I am concerned about her schooling after primary school because the closest secondary school is about 50/60 km and we do not have enough resources to send her that far. “

The women of Khaltaro Valley are the symbol of perseverance and resilience, working tirelessly to manage their families through managing livestock and agriculture. Their firm persistence in the face of endless challenges is inspiring.

However, local authorities must recognize the urgent need for change. Basic rights and facilities, such as education, healthcare, and sanitation, should be accessible to every woman in Khaltaro. Empowering women through these means will not only bring about social justice but also uplift the entire community.

These urgent steps will send a powerful message of empathy and support to the women of Khaltaro, showing them that their needs and dreams are being heard and valued. By investing in these vulnerable high-altitude mountain communities, we can create a brighter and fair future for the entire community.

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