This bus connects border villages to the heart of Kashmir

This bus connects border villages to the heart of Kashmir

This bus connects border villages to the heart of Kashmir

The new service from Teetwal in Kupwara district is transforming lives by ensuring better access to education, employment and healthcare facilities

 

Kupwara, Kashmir: Rashid Ahmad (53) is relieved that he can reach Srinagar in six hours to meet his son studying medicine at the Government Medical College. As he gets ready for the 169-km journey from Teetwal in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district, he says, “Days of planning and more money than what we could comfortably afford were needed to reach the place before the arrival of a bus connecting Teetwal to Srinagar via Kupwara.”

Run by the Jammu and Kashmir Road Transport Corporation (JKRTC), this bus has become a beacon of hope for Teetwal and Tangdhar (CT), the border villages situated in the scenic Karnah Valley. Karnah, Kralpora and Chowkibal, all situated near the Line of Control (LoC), also benefit from the service.

The bus starts at 8.30 am from Teetwal and travels 83 km to reach Kupwara by 11 am. The hilly terrain, Army convoy movement and extensive security check at Sadhna Top of bus passengers — the route has seen massive transportation drugs from across the border — slow down the bus. From Kupwara, the bus plies another 86 km to reach Srinagar by 2 pm.

According to the 2011 Census, around 80,000 people reside at Teetwal and Tangdhar. A majority of them belong to the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities, both listed as Scheduled Tribes.

“Earlier, we could not reach Kupwara without spending Rs 700 on a private vehicle [Tata Sumo]," said Ahmad. In contrast, a bus ticket to Srinagar costs only Rs 280.

This is a substantial saving for the village population dependent on livestock rearing. “People in Teetwal and Tangdhar rear cattle, sheep and goats. They are also into small-scale agriculture. As the villages are located close to the LoC, some work as porters at the military base near here,” Ahmad adds.

The people had been seeking better connectivity for a long time and had approached the authorities several times. But their efforts became successful only in May, when the then Kupwara Deputy Commissioner, Doifode Sagar Dattatray, agreed to their demand and flagged off the service.

 The bus driver makes regular stops along the route to pick up passengers (Photo - Suhail Khan, 101Reporters)

A bridge between villagers, better life

Saja Begum (55) of Jabri village in Karnah tehsil told 101Reporters that the bus service has enabled women in nearby villages to access better medical facilities. “When I was pregnant, people walked all the way to the nearest primary health centre, about 20 km away, carrying me.  I was writhing in pain, but we could reach the centre only two hours later,” she said.

“I wish no woman goes through what I have faced. Now, the bus service helps pregnant women to travel for their regular medical check-ups. In the past, the villagers had to rely on divine intervention if complications arose during childbirth.”  

Shameema Begum (52) agrees with Saja. “In the upper areas of Karnah Valley, not even one household owns a vehicle. The communities depend on selling wood for income. There is always a lack of resources in our village, but we could not travel to even nearby areas seeking better jobs.”

She said people used to worry about sending children to Srinagar or other parts of Kashmir for higher education. However, things are slowly changing with the new bus service. 

Waris Fayaz (26), a college student from Tangdhar CT, studies in Srinagar. “We can plan visits to our hometown every weekend, which we could not do previously. I feel that students and their families have benefitted the most from this bus connectivity,” he said.

People in these remote regions hope the bus will ply in winter months also. To date, the villages have remained cut off for four to five months due to heavy snowfall. Usually, the private vehicles on the Srinagar-Kupwara route prefer not to ply in the snow. However, as the border tourism initiative launched by the Union Territory administration over two years ago has started to get good reception among domestic and international tourists since May this year, people expect the bus service will not be disrupted. Under the initiative, the roads will be kept operational in the winter season by engaging men and machinery on the ground. 

Bus departs early in the morning and awaits passengers at one of the designated bus stops (Photo - Suhail Khan, 101Reporters)

Tourist footfalls increase

Locals claim that tourist footfalls in the region have increased ever since the bus began to ply. Due to heightened security concerns stemming from cross-border tensions, access to Teetwal, Tangdhar and other border regions in Kupwara was restricted for tourists.

However, following the ceasefire agreement of February 25, 2021, the situation has considerably stabilised along the border with Pakistan. Gradually, tourists began to make use of the online portal for e-permissions, aimed at facilitating visits by non-residents to these border areas.

According to government data, 3.75 lakh tourists visited the district in 2022-23. In the current fiscal, 2.5 lakh tourists have already been to the district. Teetwal alone attracted 30,000 tourists during this period. “Travellers enchanted by the region's ethereal beauty now have easier access to the hidden gems along the bus route,” said Adnan Ahmad (38), a driver operating the Teetwal-Srinagar bus.

The Karnah Valley is witnessing an expansion in shops and businesses that cater to tourists, thanks to the border tourism initiative and the bus service. The residents also have a better market for their agricultural produce and handcrafted goods now. Additionally, the concept of homestays has gained popularity, with the construction of several accommodation facilities going on at present.

Parvaiz Ahmad, the general manager of Kashmir district services, JKRTC, told 101Reporters that the locals were very active in searching for a suitable driver and conductor for the bus. “Once the candidates were shortlisted with their help, the department conducted formal interviews for the selection. Such collaborative approaches empower the community members to secure their livelihood,” he said.

Saja claimed the bus was a step towards improving their quality of life. “There is still a long way to go. Despite the affordable fare, there are many who cannot even pay that amount. Something that improves the people’s livelihood options and also their quality of life is what we hope for next.”

 

Edited by Tanya Shrivastava

Cover Photo - Passengers boarded the bus, and began their journey to Srinagar city (Suhail Khan, 101Reporters)

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