Friday, June 10, 2016

GILGIT BALTISTAN - Continental drift: Where two worlds collide

GILGIT: “Please stop. Stop [right] here,” a foreign tourist shouts as his vehicle snakes through the Nagar Valley en route to Hunza from Gilgit in Gilgit-Baltistan region. The man has read a roadside signboard and cannot control his excitement.

“Collision Point of Continental Plates,” reads the signpost, apart from offering information about the place where the Indian and Eurasian continental plates are said to have collided almost 55 million years ago.

The man understands immediately he is standing, quite literally, on ground that has shaped the subcontinent and the surrounding mountainous region.

Bidru-Kha is part of Chalt valley, about 70 kilometres from Gilgit, on the Karakoram Highway and 40 kilometres from the junction point of the three mightiest mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas.

The Himalayan mountain range and Tibetan plateau have formed as a result of the collision between the Indian Plate and Eurasian Plate which began over 50 million years ago and continues today. The Himalayas are still rising by more than 1cm per year as the Indian plate continues to drift northwards, which also explains the shallow earthquakes in the region.

Bidru-Kha often fails to catch the tourists’ eye. In the surroundings of this celebrated ground, there is no place to stay or take a brief rest. The lack of an information centre also means the people usually pass through the area without noticing anything.

“Oh my God, I’m standing at this place! Amazing,” the tourist murmurs as he reads the signboard.

He is not the only one overwhelmed by this discovery.

Dozens of tourists, locals say, are taken by surprise as they learn of this oft-neglected yet important fact. “It’s a pity we have this place and nobody knows about it,” says Mujahid Shah, a resident of Nagar Valley. “This could have been easily developed into a picnic point for locals and tourists.”

Nearby, a small patch of the historic Silk Route is still intact. Although locals use it, it is hardly accessible to tourists. “This is another treasure we have but without any utility,” says Munawar Hussain, another local.

Apart from the landscape of historic significance, the area is rife with local legends.

Anthropologist Altaf Hussain says native shamans believed the place was a pathway to the three worlds: the upper world, the human world and the underworld. The upper world is inhabited by spirits, the human world by mortals and the underworld by the souls of the dead, he adds.

Talking to The Express Tribune, the anthropologist says Bidru-Kha is the exact spot where locals offered sacrifices to spirits by slaughtering their goats and other animals while passing through with a bride and groom.

An elected representative from Nagar Valley, Rizwan Ali, claims the government plans to include projects in the budget to make the area a tourist attraction.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2016.



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