Tarsar tragedy: A braveheart tourist guide gave his life to save Kashmir’s guests

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Srinagar:  When a tourist lost his balance and slipped into the frothing Tarsar lake, Shakeel Ahmad thought nothing of his own safety and simply dived in to rescue the drowning guest.

But his heroism met a tragic end. “It takes a strong man to save himself, but a great man to save another. Yet he leaves a void, and a loss of future together in these mountains,” said Mohamad Arif, a fellow trekking guide of Shakeel Ahmad.

Every word of lament by Mohamad Arif rings loud and true.  Till 9.30 in the morning, there had been no inkling that the day would take such a tragic turn. Rough weather was not unheard of, and the stream roaring to the mountain breeze rallied the spirits of the 26-year-old Shakeel Ahmad.

His companions testify that there was a spring in his step as he set out in his usual cavalier style to escort a group of 14 people including 11 tourists and two guides. The group planned to picnic at the fabled Tarsar lake in the Anantnag district.

However, when the merry group was crossing a narrow log bridge between Sikewas camp and Lidderwat camp, a tourist lost his balance and fell right into the stream. Shakeel jumped in but to no avail.

 “Always willing to put himself at the front, he had helped five or six clients already to navigate the tricky bridge by holding their hands. But one unfortunate tourist couldn’t be shepherded across. He held the tourist for about 200 meters in the stream but the powerful current swept them down a sharp drop as both fell to  death,” recounted Arif

Over his career of ten years as a trekker and mountaineer, Shakeel, a resident of Gangangeer, Ganderbal always prioritized the safety of his tourist clients. The young and energetic mountaineer had conducted expeditions to all great alpine lakes and other significant slopes of the valley.

“He was courageous, daring, and possessed a never-say-die attitude. This year, he was planning to get married,” Arif said with a voice heavy with emotions.

On Wednesday, the teams from NDRF and local rescue teams from Gangangeer, Sonamarg, Srinagar, and Aru were roped in, however, the bodies could not be found.

“We did not have any breakthrough till evening. The water was unclear and the current was also strong,” he said.

The rescue operation was resumed again at 5 am on Thursday. “It was 10:30 in the morning when we retrieved the body after much effort. It was spotted near a boulder opposite the stream,” Arif said

Environmental expert and Assistant Professor, Department of Geoinformatics, University of Kashmir, Dr Irfan Rashid told The Kashmir Monitor that although populations/communities offer some resilience in the event of disasters, often the resilience does not suffice when tackling life-threatening situations. For example, the happenings in Tarsar, or the Kolahoi tragedy of 2018 when two trekkers lost their lives.

“We have similar reports from the 2014 mega-flood as well. The relatively poor resilience in such cases stems from the non-timely response systems in place and also the lack of scientifically informed environmental/ infrastructure development plans, he said.

Dr Irfan stressed that the mobile connectivity and/or response systems need to be strengthened especially in high altitude and otherwise inaccessible areas especially in summer and autumn when there is a higher influx of tourists in these areas.

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