About this Blog: A few days back, we had visited Kargil and from there explored Hunderman, a lesser-known destination. Hunderman is a small village located near the India-Pakistan border. Very recently it has started attracting tourists. The village is also the home for Unlock Hunderman Museum of Memories, that chronicles the life of the families living in the village and affected by the war. This blog is our effort to bring forward the stories of humans of Hunderman. Read on to know more.
Hunderman is a small, nondescript village located about 10 km uphill of Kargil town. It is said to be the last village in Indian territory lying just close to the Indo-Pak border. And just like any village near the border, Hunderman has found itself in the crossfire of wars fought between two nations.
Hunderman has, in fact, witnessed four wars and has been a part of two nations fighting for land. It is one such village near the border that has faced the atrocities and the trauma inflicted by the war. From 1949 to 1965, Hunderman belonged to Pakistan. During the India-Pakistan war of 1965, it fell into no-man’s land for several months. Finally, in 1971, India captured Hunderman and brought it under her territory.
Overnight, the people in the village became Indian, and those who remained in Pakistan, became refugees. Family members were separated across the border. Husbands and wife were separated, brothers went missing and people became refugees in their own land. The village also faced a lot of problems during the India- Pakistan Kargil Conflict in 1999.
The Story of Hunderman
Hunderman tells the story of a village that has been conflicted by a mercurial border. It tells the story of its people, many of whose lives have been torn apart by the unpredictability of the borders. The partition of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947 was an event that had affected many lives. I have heard stories about families torn by borders, atrocities faced by the people due to partition and so much more. People have left their home, wealth, life and routine because of the partition. I had seen documentaries and movies made on the same. However, it is perhaps the first time I spoke at length to someone who had left a life in a different nation. To be honest, it was a surreal feeling for me.
The Tale of Shifting Borders
The current settlement in Hunderman that one sees today, is not the original one. People moved to the area much later in 1974. The original village was founded at a much lower level almost four centuries ago. Drawn by its fertility and abundant water source located amidst the towering Himalayan mountains, a few families settled around this area, also known as Brok. (Brok, in Balti language means a summer haven for cattle grazing). It was also once a prominent locale in the illustrious Silk Route.
India gained independence in 1947 and got partitioned into two nations – India and Pakistan. The Radcliffe line that separated India and Pakistan ran through these mountains and valleys. According to records, between 1949 and 1965, Hunderman was a part of Pakistan.
After the India-Pakistan War in 1965, the village remained in no-man’s land for several months before going back to being a part of Pakistan.
In 1971, when a war was being fought for the liberation of Bangladesh, the Indian army captured this part of territory from Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. Hunderman became an Indian village and its twin village Brolmo remained in Pakistan.
According to the local narrative, the Hunderman brok was originally known as Hundermo. During the war of 1971, Major Mansingh of Gorkha Regiment of the Indian army was the first soldier to arrive at Hunderman. His kind words pacified the villagers. The army also distributed free rations to the villagers and many of them tasted rice after a long time. As a tribute to the Major, his name was added to the village as a suffix and Hundermo came to be known as Hunderman.
Humans of Hunderman
Many of the villagers fled to Pakistan after the Indian Army captured Hunderman in 1971. And those who remained behind, became Indian citizens overnight. Quite obvious, this created a conundrum in the lives of the inhabitants of the village.
We met an old villager in Hunderman who used to go to school at Brolmo. After that night, he had no school to go. He might have lost only his schools and friends. There are instances where a family member was staying at Brolmo and could not return back to Hunderman once it became an Indian village. Couples who found themselves on either side of the border, divorced each other through letters. This might sound unreal to many, but it actually happened.
We met another old lady who had not met her elder brother in the last 50 years. Because he was at the other side of the border on that ill-fated day.
A villager who had retired from the Pakistani army did not know where to ask for his pension. He finally applied to the Indian Army for pension, but his demand was perhaps lost among the bureaucracy.
A school that was built by the Pakistani Government was inaugurated in India.
There are endless stories as such about Hunderman and its people that will tug your heart. The villagers live on with the hope that one day they might meet their loved ones on the other side of the border.
Hunderman, an unexplored Destination near Kargil
Kargil is a relatively unexplored destination. Yes, tourists visit Kargil on their way from Srinagar to Leh, but it mostly serves as a night stop. The busy and crowded town in Ladakh might seem to be in contrast to Leh. However, the Suru River flowing right in the middle of the town makes it quite beautiful. And if you travel a little away from the town, you will discover the real beauty of the place. Suru Valley and Hunderman are only a few places that can show you what travelling in Kargil can be.
It was our second time in Kargil. The first time we were here, Kargil had just served as the night stop for us, something that most of the tourists are guilty of. This time, we wre coming from Zanskar Valley and had explored Suru Valley on our way back to Kargil. We had some time in hand before going to Garkon in Aryan Valley and so we decided to visit Hundeman village.
Visiting Hunderman Village
We started from Kargil after breakfast and headed towards Hunderman, which is located about 10 km from Kargil. As I said before, Kargil is a bustling town. But as we left the precincts of Kargil, the surroundings became calmer and more beautiful. To reach Hunderman, we took a winding road up the hill. The drive was beautiful as we kept looking at the towering mountains from the car.
“That is Pakistan” – our driver pointed out to a hill beyond.
“And this is in India. Our army is stationed over this mountain. They are always keeping an eye over us”. – those were his next words.
I squinted to see the mountains of India and Pakistan. They all looked the same. Of course they will look the same. When does nature understand the concept of borders?
Finally, our driver stopped in front of a small hillock. The road there was narrow and so he parked the car a little away. There is a small viewpoint on the hillock. It is the place from where we can see Pakistan.
There is a binocular installed that can be used to view the village in Pakistan. There was a guide who would help us with the binoculars in exchange for a small fee. They take Rs 50 per person for a view of our neighbouring nation with the binoculars.
I went forward and got a view of the Pakistani village. The guide pointed out that there is an army man from Pakistan and I somehow made out the figure of a man sitting on top of a rock. There was also a Masjid there.
If we see by naked eyes, we could see the flowing river and a patch of green land at the foothills of the ochre-coloured mountains. The green patches are a part of Pakistan.
After watching our neighbouring nation through the binoculars, we moved ahead till we reached the signpost pointing to Hunderman village. And we could see a cluster of mud houses at a distance. The entire village had a haunted appearance. It looked as if some catastrophe had struck the village and left it barren and devastated.
We went towards the signpost. There was a winding gravelly trail going down towards the old Hunderman village. There is also a ticket counter of sorts. Perhaps it sold tickets for the Hunderman Museum of Memories, or simply housed someone who could help the visitors.
Hunderman – The Ghost Village
The deserted village that we saw was the original Hundermo Brok, where the villagers settled almost centuries ago. It was the village that suffered due to the whims of the LOC between two nations.
In 1974, the villagers moved to a new settlement on the upper parts of the valley where they reside till date. They gradually started rebuilding their lives and devoted their time to rebuild a new and better future. They found employment as porters in the Indian army. The new village is called Upper Hunderman and houses around 250 people, mostly survivors of the war.
In the meantime, the old village, also known as Old Hunderman village lay forgotten for years with silent houses, empty lanes and old artefacts strewn here and there. It became, by all means, a “Ghost Village”.
Unlock Hunderman Museum of Memories
It was in 2015 when the plan for the Hunderman Museum of Memories was born. With the help of Roots Collective (a local NGO working for cultural preservation), Ilyas Ansari, a villager from Hunderman converted his ancestral houses in the old Hunderman Brok village into a museum. The Unlock Hunderman Museum of Memories was thus born with the intention of preserving the history and culture of Hunderman.
The museum is built on the remains of the two houses belonging to Iliyas where the objects found in the house are displayed.
The museum contains artefacts like old perfume bottles from the trade era of British Raj, old biscuit tins, old shoe polish tins to shrapnels and bullets from the war of 1971 and 1999. A container of French coffee, currency from East Pakistan, medicines from USA, book polish from Central Asia are a few of the artefacts displayed in the museum.
However, the most interesting display of the Hunderman Museum of Memories is perhaps the letters that has been exchanged across the border over a period of time. These letters display the sense of loss and parting when borders were redrawn. Most of the letters are from Ilyas’s maternal uncle who were left behind in Pakistan in 1971.
Exploring Hunderman Village
The counter was closed. On asking around, we found out that the museum remains closed on Fridays. And as luck would have it, that day was Friday. Though we would not be able to visit the museum, we would be able to explore the village.
We took the narrow, rocky downhill trail that leads to the old Hunderman village. We entered the deserted village and felt a sense of eerie calmness.
There were several houses made of mud and stones there. These houses have a unique architectural style. The entire premises consisted of houses and cattle sheds that were interconnected throughout. It was apparently for the reason that people did not have to step out of their house when it snowed in winter. The doors too seemed quite low.
How The Museum Got its Name
Every house had a special lock consisting of a unique lever mechanism hidden between the wall and door. Only the owner knew how to open the lock. Interestingly, this unique locking system inspired the name of the Museum – Unlock Hunderman Museum of Memories.
As expected, the museum was closed that day. We roamed around the village, saw the cluster of houses, peeked inside some of them trying to understand the place. Then, we climbed up some rocky steps to the upper part of the cluster.
We also saw a cave where almost 40 villagers stayed hidden during the Kargil Conflict in 1999. A feel of poignant indignation invaded me. I kept on thinking about power and wars and the futility of such things.
Nevertheless, keeping my thoughts aside, I went on exploring the place. Finally, we came to the end of the village at a place that looks like an amphitheatre.
We spent some time at the old Hunderman village and then retraced our steps back towards the main road.
Upper Hunderman Village
It was a bit late. However, I wanted to visit Upper Hunderman as well. I wanted to see the new village, the place where people stay these days. So, we drove towards Upper Hunderman. It was almost noon and very few people were on the road.
We met a few little girls playing on the road.
And then we met an old man who reminisced about his childhood; how overnight he lost his school and friends. I met the woman whose brother was left behind in the other village across the border and who she has not met in 50 years. Here, I met the humans of Hunderman.
Most of the men work as porters for the Indian army. Women go for farming and tend to livestock. A few of them drive cars and taxis in and around Kargil. However, with time the economy is gradually changing. More employment avenues are generating apart from farming and transportation, though quite slowly. Tourism in Hunderman is also increasing.
There was a time when tourists were not allowed at Hunderman because of its proximity to the border. However, now the peak summer season sees an influx of tourists, both Indian and foreign nationals.
Visiting Hunderman was a poignant experience. There I was feeling happy to explore a new place and to learn new things. On the other hand, I was also feeling sad having seen how war affects the common people. A visit to Hunderman village and Hunderman Museum of Memories surely touched my heart and I am sure it will be the same for you, if you ever visit this place near Kargil.
Hunderman Village (FAQs Answered)
How to reach Hunderman Village?
Hunderman is located about 10 km from Kargil town in the Union territory of Ladakh. You can take a car and reach Hunderman village easily from Kargil.
The nearest airport to Hunderman village near Kargil is Leh, located about 225 km away.
Where to stay at Kargil?
There are a number of hotels, guest houses and homestay options in Kargil. However, the options may be limited if you are visiting during the winter season.
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