The Dudu Timber Saga
In today’s day and age the cutting of Forests is an abhorretion frowned upon by one and all. It was not always the same as once upon a time Timber was a great resource with multiple uses. Especially Himalayan Timber.
My family was involved in Timber business or “Jangalaat” as it was called back in the good old days when Timber and Forests were a resource to be exploited for Commercial gain. Cutting forests and selling them in the Market was an established big business in the Himalayan states especially in Jammu and Kashmir where Timber was one of the main resources of State Revenue.
Amongst the other hats he wore, my Grandfather was a Forest Leasee. A Forest Leasee was a person who took on contract a certain part of Mountain from the Government a part of Mountain. Under the terms of the Contract the Forest Leasee bid a certain amount for an area in Government floated Tenders. And once you got the Contract the whole Mountain was your and so were all the Trees. So once you landed up a Contract you sent your Men to the Jungle to cut down as many Trees as possible in the Contractual period.
It was a profitable Business I must say but not always as you would read as we go on. From the forests of Thandipora North of Kupwara, around Boniyar in Uri and even Pogal Paristan and Dudu Valley in Jammu. I grew up listening stories from my Father about those Forest Leasee days about how he would go to one of these remote Forestry Camps and spend the night there in Tents amidst the Bears and the Leopards. Of all the stories of those days my favourite one is about an incident which occured in a far away place in Jammu and Kashmir called the Dudu Valley in the Jammu Division somewhere in the wilderness between Udhampur and Kishtwar. Dudu Valley is now a part of the Latti Tehsil in Udhampur District.
Dudu Valley is today a secluded unknown beautiful part of Jammu so you can well imagine what it would have been back in those days over a 50 years back. But what Dudu had in those days were thick Forests which it still retains in parts till today as Iam made to believe. My Grandfather landed a Forest Contract in the Dudu Valley which was quite an isolated part of the state at that time. Also it was quite far from our base in Srinagar in Kashmir, in the back and beyond of Jammu Division. But my Grandfather thought he got a good deal and went ahead and took up the Contract along with a Partner who was based in Jammu and Pathankot.
Dudu Valley is drained by the Tawi River as it emerges out of its source near the Kailash Kund Lake from the Kailash Kund Glacier in the heights of the Pir Panjals. As it happened none of the younger men in the family were ready to go to this place in the back and beyond of nowhere. So it was upto my Grandfather to make the Journey all the way from Srinagar to Dudu Valley partly by Vehicle, partly by Horse and partly by foot. My Grandfather was a tough and sturdy Pahadi guy who was always up for the challenge. And he took it up.
So religiously he used to come to the place every other week to check on how stuff was going on at the isolated Camp.And of course things used to be fine when he was there but due to other business matters he could but spend just a few days in the wilderness of Dudu and had to return to Srinagar after a few days.
Now in those times half the challenge lay in getting the Contract for a lucrative Jungle and the other challenge was getting the cut Timber down to the Depots in Srinagar and Jammu from where it was sold in the Market. The way the Timber was transported in those days was kinda elementary. You just lobbed the cut Timber into the Mountain River and it would do the hard work and transport the Timber down River to more plainer areas where they were corralled and fished out of the River and sent to the Depot. This might sound very funny but this practice is still in use in parts of the World and even I have seen it being used in Kashmir long after we got out of the Forest Leasee business.
So one fine day when the Dudu harvest was done the logs were as usual tossed into the River. It was a good harvest and a large amount of high quality Dudu Forest Timber was now afloat the Tawi on its way downstream. And there were always teams of our guys downstream at the collection point to collect the Timber and get it out. But as it turned out that someone messed up and my Grandfather who was supposed to be on top of the operation was busy elsewhere, with full confidence in his Partner who was incharge of team for collection. The Timber arrived at the collection point but it seems no-one was there to corral it and the look out posted there had passed out after a bout of drinking. As a result all Timber just floated down. All the high quality Dudu Timber just floated downriver still and soon crossed over to Pakistan. It was a great loss.
Of course Daddy, as I used to call my Grandfather, let loose his wrath on all the incompetent people responsible for this debacle and decided that he would give up the Forest Business. And from the vast experience he had amassed working in areas in JK which even today most people have not heard of he decided to move to Government Contracts for construction in these areas. Besides the experience he had also at his behest a large Group of the hardiest men of these Mountains, the Gujjars in his employment as we shared Lingual similarity with them and our language dialects were quite similar. This of course helped him getting many Government and Military Contracts. The crowning glory of his career being bagging the prestigious Contract to build the High Altitude Warfare School at Gulmarg.
Sometimes I wonder what it would have been to have lived in those times. That Era. When Exploring Mountains could be made into a profitable business. Anyways.
Try visiting the Dudu Valley. Its still as pristine, almost, as it was during my Grandfather’s time. :)
A pic of the Dudu Valley. Summer’s, this year. Pic credit the FB Page of Latti Dudu https://www.facebook.com/LATTItehsil/