To retain sanity in trouble terrain, many young Kashmiris have found an escape route in hillwalking. Such recreational trips in times of substance abuse and searing regulations are now involving more and more distressed professionals from different fields.
At the summit of the 2010 ‘summer storm’, Owais Shamsi became an ‘impatient inmate’ in his own home. With Kashmir witnessing seething street protests and severe curbs, he decided to come out of his “depressing days and insomniac nights”. But moving out was a perilous outing as Omar Abdullah-led apparatus was culling dissent and fanning out in a feverish hunt for the “Quit Kashmir” poster boy.
But the teenager in that tense year—heralding a new strife shift in Kashmir—came out of confines with a social media-driven adventure.
When he left home for the mountains, Shamsi learned how some in his peer group were getting involved in drug abuse and other harmful activities. Assured that he chose the right way of escape, the boy became a mountain regular.
“We would go to different places and hike various mountains,” Shamsi, now a 26-year-old adventurer, recalls. “Once back, we would share trek tales with our friends, and motivate them to join our jaunt.”
By finding solace in summits than in substance, this Sonawari lad subsequently witnessed a surge in his spirited camp.
“Other friends got interested in our peak feats and became our group members,” Shamsi recalls.
But somehow, the summit reached its nadir when Shamsi’s hectic college life started. Under the burden of his career choices and competitive exams, he became grounded and glum.
Away from the meditative calm of mountains, the boy started losing his temper over little things.
“The frustration of not getting things right disturbed me,” Shamsi says. “Drugs could’ve easily consumed me, but mountains came to my rescue.”
It was the year 2017, when he regrouped with his adventurous acquaintances—some of whom were certified mountaineers from urban pockets—and started going for, what had then popularized as, “Sunday treks”. The alp adventure at once gave him inner peace.
These treks would involve people of all age groups and professionals like doctors, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, students and many others.
But before Shamsi would find his call in these ‘Sunday treks’, one Taoos Baba from Srinagar had started the group along with his like-minded friends.
A trekker since his school days, Baba eventually invited adventure lovers to join him in hiking for making Sundays more entertaining and interesting for everyone.
And this is how, he says, “we started the ‘Sunday treks’.”
Although the idea of ‘Sunday treks’ was already introduced by Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club a few years ago, this group only used the concept as a “stress-buster” for their distressed community members.
“Sunday treks are successful because it’s just a daylong outing,” Baba, in his early thirties, says. “And that’s why Kashmiri families don’t object to such short treks.”
With time, however, as the group provided an escape route to the “depressive phase” in Kashmir, some core members went outside on career pursuits. But the void was filled by the new trekkers.
“Our club is the valley’s first adventure club that visited more than a hundred Kashmiri alpine lakes in 2018,” Arshid Majid, a core member of the group, says.
The group’s motive is to visit unknown and unexplored places in Kashmir.
“More than recreation,” Arshid says, “these outings are meant to explore our homeland and get familiarized with its hidden features. We observe flora and fauna at many places. It not only becomes a way of escape and adventure, but also a way to learn about nature in a natural way.”
To boost the trekking, the group was planning to commercialize their camp activities. But as the situation headed south with the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, they had to drop the idea.
Earlier, a core group member’s death during a summit in 2018 had put a cap on partakers.
“We take physically fit and well-disciplined people with us,” Arshid says. “Most importantly, those passionate about trekking are being considered for treks.”
But while the group’s ‘explore the unexplored’ motto continues to attract adventure lovers, for someone like Shamsi, ‘the strife-scorched soul’, trek remains an escape route from “depressing days” in Kashmir.
“11 years after I first decided to go for treks, depressing days and insomniac nights are still haunting us Kashmiris in our own homeland,” Shamsi says.
“But somehow, it feels nice to unburden ourselves in those mountains and retain our sanity in the region once described as ‘the world’s most beautiful prison’.”