Unsung Conqueror

Kashmir Magazine

Mohsin Mushtaq

Settled in the heart of sky-scrapping Himalayas, Kashmir valley in Northern India is the hub of marvelous natural beauty. Also called “Paradise on Earth”, the valley hooks nemophilist from across the globe. The snow-capped peaks, glittering lakes, alpine valleys and captivating gardens of the Kashmir valley host some unexplored meadows and salubrious valleys which are yet to reach.
However, slogging through these forest glades and pine trees seems ordinary to every tribal population who ramp through these high altitude meadows, but Shabnam Bashir Gojer Chechi, a 22-year-old tribal girl, who documents these unfolded valleys turns this usual routine into a fruitful run.
Shabnam a resident of Quilmuqam village of Bandipora is a tourism student by education. Her firmness and resolution have helped her to break all gender-based stereotypes in a tribal patriarchal society to work for the cause of regressive people. But, despite such immense contributions and enthusiasm towards the environment and civilization, Shabnam is yet to get recognized.
“Being a tribal girl residing in the lap of mountains, I always loved to ascend the high mount peaks but one trip to Gulmarg with my family in my adolescence days changed my notion towards the green land where I reside in,” Shabnam said and added, “It was 2018 when I with my parents visited Gulmarg, on reaching back home I told my father how beautiful and eye-catching the passes of Gulmarg are, and they reassuringly replied that we have pretty good notches and grasslands than Gulmarg here in our habitat. That was the day when I choose the path of a nomad to spend my quality time in these lush green valleys. After that I never looked back and departed myself in this stiff journey”.
With an intense desire and avarice fervor to inscribe these unexplored pastures in the tourism map, Shabnam relentlessly and tirelessly began to scale these pastures in the hunt for every secret hidden in these grasslands. She hiked every stone and trotted every patch of land to gather a variety of these snow slopes and green perch peaks, which she inked in her debut book, “Unexplored Kashmir”.
Shabnam in this book summed up all the potential of tourism in these remote areas. She mentioned the name of some folded places of which even a dweller was unaware. Nachni, Dumgali, Nagmarg, Lashkoot, Banzuri, Kendra and, Danna Bandipora are some remote places that she mentioned in the book.
“In the pre-dawn light, when people were opening the gates of the Mosque to pray morning prayers, I was pushing myself to the mountains to gather every potential hidden in these green gold mills. It was in 2018 when I began to conquer these mountains and till present day, I have never cut off myself from this uphill battle,” Shabnam says while pointing towards the curve she used to walk through to enter these mountains.
Shabnam persuaded the people of her community to enter and participate in the festival with zeal, zest and enthusiasm. She used to do door-to-door campaigns while awarding people with the benefits of tourism in the area. Not long ago, India’s premier off-road adventure, overland and motorsport outfit organization “Kashmir Off-Road” throngs the scenic tourist destinations which Shabnam explored.
“Recently, our village hosted the Ketsan Festival which was the first ever winter tourism tribal festival in the district Bandipora. It took me a year to persuade the administration to organize the festival and to persuade the marginalized people to participate in the festival. I constantly for a year used to knock at the door of the administration to organize such festival of its first kind in the area. The main aim of the festival was to promote eco-tourism, aware people of the benefits of home stays, acquaint people with the registration process of the same and advise them about horse riding registrations, and how to do the same,” Shabnam describes.
“Within days after the festival, I invited the Kashmir Off-road travel group to the village to encourage eco-tourism, home stays and sustainable tourist practices in the area. The people of the area met the guests with warm hospitality and the guests were astounded by the tradition and reception that they received,” Shabnam narrates.
Despite hardships and suffering, Shabnam never felt disappointed. She left no stone unturned while surveying the potential of tourism in these far-flung areas. Her journey comes with fewer rewards and more upsets. Her courage to scale these scary mountains alone, and pen down everything that comes to her eye is highly inspiring but certain moments upset her.
“It is difficult for every girl, especially in the tribal communities where people think the girls are for a home. Their world is confined to the four walls. They cannot afford such activities as a city girl can. However, I defeated all those stereotypes and raised myself over the horizon to show the world that jungle girls also can bring a change. But, unfortunately despite such a resistant trek which I conquered the most, my work is yet to get recognized”, she continued.
Shabnam mentioned that if she does not get any benefit from the work she is revealing for a half-decade now, how can the girls from her community, who are bounded to their four walls, think of breaking the spiral of silence which they are dominated by? She said she only received some mementoes so far, while she deserves much more than that.
“So far, I have only received some mementoes and some plastic trophies for the thousands of pennies I expended while digging for the tourism potential that both benefited the administration and the people as well. I get disturbed while thinking about the other girls in my community who want to chase their dreams as I did, but due to a lack of support, they pull themselves back. How can they kick off the journey when there is no one to listen to their pain?”, Shabnam questioned.
“My real aim is to promote eco-tourism. I don’t want the sky touching constructions in these meadows. I want the huts which are built there to be decorated in such a way that will hook every backpacker inside it and will also protect the natural surface of these meadow,” Shabnam hoped.

She requests every nature lover who will approach these mountains not to litter there. She says if the people did so, this will destroy the habitat in the area. She also appeals to the higher authorities to install the viewpoints, and dustbins and make sure the first aid medical facilities are in the area for tourists who will throng there.
“Littering in these green lands will not only destroy the habitat of the area but will also invite the wild animals to attack every traveler hence will make them vulnerable to the human-animal conflict that nowadays is spreading all over the globe like the spark in the forest,” she added.
Shabnam wishes the local people must be trained as tourist guides, horse riders, and medical specialists which will not only boost tourism in the area but will also create the best employment opportunities for the destitute population residing there.
She has decided not to look back until she will not save every youth from the menace of drug addiction, depression, and unemployment and every girl from the fear of stereotypes that shatters them. She is moving from department to department like a warrior and registers every youngster in the line serving the tourists.
“Many youth are going under the training for tourist guides. After finishing the training they will be guiding every trekker and will also earn good wages out of it. Nearly 100 houses are under maintenance, and they will be promoted as home stays for tourists which will not only benefit the men in the area but the women will also get welfare of it,” she said.
She feels that renovating the minds of the tribal population towards these meadows and high altitudes is the most difficult task for her to do. People who remained ignored about secrets of employment in these meadows and peaks must be taught about the hope of sustenance and future opportunities in these grasslands, which is not an easy chore to do. Besides that, the unexpected weather in the area, the pointed rocky paths and the wildlife fearfulness make it difficult for her to lonely stroll in these mountains.
Shabnam also feels that these unique and diverse meadows deserve much more attention. “These are the places with extremely rich biodiversity that demands enormous resources to safeguard these tourist destinations. There is also a huge potential for employment in the area but hardly anything is done in that direction,” she said.
“I request everyone including the higher authorities to lend increased passion towards these unexplored forest meadows. Everywhere eco-tourism plays a vital role in maintaining the ecosystem, economy and health of people. These valleys are a treasure that must be conserved well for the well-being of future generations,” she added.