GILGIT: Boat service is the only means of transportation for over 25,000 people of Gojal this winter after a 25-kilometer patch of Karakoram Highway (KKH) was submerged under overflowing water of Atttabad Lake. The situation has worsened since the temperature in Gojal valley dropped and the surface of the overflowing water turned into ice, making the voyage difficult and at times impossible, locals said on Monday.
“The journey over the frozen lake is highly risky but we have no alternative. We have to risk our lives,” Ali Qurban, a member of Gojal coordination committee, told The Express Tribune. He said that temperature in Hunza and Gojal valley has dropped to -16 degree celsius and the chances of survival of people travelling on boats from Gulmit to Attabad are slim. “Can you imagine the condition of children, women and the elderly who are forced to travel on open boats in this freezing weather?” he said. After making the journey, most of the passengers have to be treated by medical specialists, he added.
The trade with China suffered as well, but whatever volume of trade took place was only through boats. Traders would load the goods on boats at Gulmit and offload them at Attabad, after travelling around 25 km. The goods would then be distributed from Attabad to other parts of the country.
Early this week, a boat carrying commuters and merchandise got punctured after it hit a sheath of ice formed on the surface of Gojal Lake. It was the boat operator who saved the lives of around 30 commuters as he skilfully managed to steer the sinking boat to the riverside near Goharabad, a sub-village of Gulmit. The passengers were safely rescued and taken to Goharabad while the boat sank to the bottom of the frozen lake, along with millions of rupees worth of merchandise.
Two days later, another boat carrying coal sent by China also got destabilised after hitting a sheath of ice but the locals managed to move it to safety.
The locals have demanded that the transport chopper services in the region to be resumed. They also demanded that teams of professional coastguards should be deployed in the region, which should remain active around-the-clock.
Wazir Baig, the acting governor of Gilgit-Baltistan told The Express Tribune that he has requested the chief secretary of the region to arrange covered boats for the people of Gojal. He said that one such boat can cost around Rs3 to 4 million. “The situation will be better for the people once these boats are available for the locals,” he added. Traders in the border town of Sost have also held protests, demanding the government and Pakistan Army to regularly operate the ferry service in the lake.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2010.