Tour Tragedy: Ray Of Hope In U’khand, Memory Of Brave In Kashmir

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By: Vineet Upadhyay | Aakash Ahmad
Updated: 25 June, 2022 9:55 pm IST
Tour guide Shakeel (left) and Dr Mahesh Kumar (right) have been missing since June 22.

DEHRADUN/SRINAGAR: “Hope is the one thing that can help us get through the darkest of times.” Family and friends of Haldwani’s Dr Mahesh Kumar seem to believe staunchly in this quote.

On a trekking expedition to Kashmir’s Pahalgam, Dr Mahesh had washed away after falling into the Lidder river from a makeshift bridge on June 22 and has been missing since then. But his family, friends, and colleagues are still hopeful of his safe return.

In Kashmir’ Ganderbal, people remember the selfless service of 28-year-old tourist guide Shakeel who took a plug into the raging Lidder river in a bid to rescue his client, Dr Mahesh.

Dr Roshan Kumar, a colleague of Dr Mahesh, says he and Dr Kumar’s family is still hopeful of finding him.

“I know this is far-fetched but we are still waiting for a miracle to happen. Maybe he and his guide who jumped after him to save him swept away to the safe shores somewhere in the valley,” he said.

Even after a long and tedious search and rescue operation, authorities in Pahalgam could not find any trace of the duo. Combined teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), and police were deployed for the operation but to no avail.

Dr Mahesh, who runs a hospital in Haldwani city of Uttarakhand’s Nainital, is well-known for his penchant for trekking trips and adventurous expeditions.

The aggrieved family of the missing is in contact with the officials from Kashmir. However, no positive news is in offing for now.

Back in Pahalgam, local tour guides and friends recall how Shekeel died while giving priority to the life of guests over his.

A resident of Ganderbal, the young guide was accompanying a group of tourists from Uttarakhand who were on a five-day hiking expedition to Tarsar and Marsar alpine lakes located in the Lidder Valley, which is situated in the higher reaches of the tourist resort town of Pahalgam.

Mohammed Arif, a hiking guide who was part of the rescue operation, said that the group of eight tourists, two guides and some porters, reached Tarsar lake on Monday, June 21, and set up a night camp there.

“On the next day, they were scheduled to visit Sundersar (Sonsar) at an altitude of 12,449 feet which is five kilometres from Tarsar with an elevation gain of 500 feet,” he said.

Arif said the weather turned rough at the high-altitude trail. “It started raining and snowing, and the group decided to return to the campsite. At a makeshift bridge made of two wooden logs in Hamvas, Shakeel helped all the tourists reach the other side of the tributary. However, Dr Mahesh, who was last among the tourists to cross the river followed by Shakeel, slipped on the logs and fell into the water,” he informed.

The strong current of the raging tributary intensified by rains and snow in the higher reaches rapidly carried away Dr Mahesh. Without caring for his life, Shakeel took a plunge and managed to grab the arm of Dr Mahesh. He managed to hold on to his arm for around 300 metres before a sharp drop in the tributary’s course separated them,”

Shakeel had quite literally been hand-holding tourists for the last several years to ensure that their Kashmir visit was an enriching one, a tour guide remembers.

Recalling the incident, Arif said that they were on a 5-day trip to Tarsar, Marsar lake starting Tuesday but they changed their plans and decided to return in view of the inclement weather.

Shakeel was a courageous person and would always keep inspiring everyone with his work, Arif said. The death of Shakeel came as a shock to his family, friends and colleagues who remember him as a helpful person.

One of Shakeel’s fellow guides, Ajaz Ahmad Raina, said that he was compassionate, loving, friendly and a brave fellow. He was passionate about trekking and would assist his fellow trekkers every time he would accompany them.

In the death of Shakeel, Ajaz said, they have lost a friend and a brave heart tour guide but he left an example for everyone.

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