Separating Accident from Tragedy
( A must read for tourists)
By Muhammad Khalil Dar
Very first day of the month of May brought a tragic news of an accident in Upper Neelum Valley. By next day or so total death toll reached up to 11. All were young and belonged to same larger family. Loss of eleven young boys is certainly the most catastrophic thing to happen for any family, especially the old parents. Though, its not uncommon for the area to periodically witness such accidents, this one came as a shock with deaths of youngsters belonging to the same family. The news is still circulating on print media and various TV channels. Bad condition of road and breakage of drive chain of the vehicle are being blamed for the accident.
There, is no denying the fact that primary cause of the accident was the breakage of some vital part of the drive chain of the jeep and leading contributing factor was the bad condition of the road. There is a traditional way of viewing such accidents with similar but standard blames and then forgetting about until the next accident. The factors which must be taken in to account to avoid entering in such situations where the chances of accident increase, usually go missing in our way of viewing and perception. If our desire is to minimize the chance of such accidents in future then there is a genuine requirement to bring a paradigm shift in our traditional way of viewing such accidents. Bottom line is to begin with the understanding and belief that was this accident avoidable?
If we look at the hard realities on the ground the road from Kel to Taobat is pretty dangerous at places and it does not allow the move of vehicles other than 4×4 vehicles. Recent widening and repair have, though, improved the conditions quite significantly but it essentially remains as a 4×4 vehicle road. The jeep was an open type, which is common in that area and the accident time was 0830 at night. These two factors hide the secondary contributing factors which have turned this accident in to a tragedy. Driving at night is not a common practice once it comes to routine passenger jeeps from Kel to Taobat and back. Though, these are also filled to maximum capacity but these reach the destinations well before the dark. Hiring a single jeep for around 15 people is not uncommon by the standards of that area. But loading it to maximum and then driving it at night is certainly beyond the normal practices of the area. Had these two factors been catered for in planning the scale of the tragedy could have been minimized at the least.
Now extending our view to the reasons which compelled the unfortunate youngsters to plan and execute the night travel. My experience of keenly observing the behavior of our youngsters in such areas, coupled with the time of accident makes me belief that they would have arrived at Taobat late in noon ending up having few hours of day light to explore and appreciate the area. If the same jeep had been hired both ways, most likely in this case, then the driver must have been in hurry to reach back to his home. Therefore, I would view this tragedy brewing hours before the actual accident.
Here I would add yet another cultural habit and that is the habit of rising up late in the morning even while touring the Northern areas or Kashmir. This delay in the morning keep hauntiung for the rest of the day and often end up late returns from the forward areas or even cancelling part of the intended visit. In this particular case if that be the reason of arriving late in the day then the contributing factors lurk in the culture which are pervasive, unfortunately. Such a situation would potentially create similar circumstances at many similar day long destinations in Neelum Valley, like Ratti Galli, Noori Top, and Babun Top. Most of the discussed factors are pretty much avoidable.
Primary objective of writing this article is to persuade the younger generation in particular to factor in the few essential things in the plans. First and the foremost is, strict to timings in a manner that journey is finished an hour before the sun set. In order to achieve this there is a compelling reason to start the day early and keep the time on your side. Always ensure that jeeps tires are in good condition and jeep has functional brakes and gears. That may sound strange to many but there are jeeps and drivers which struggle with gears through out and keep pumping the brakes to stop. Such jeeps are only waiting for the disaster to happen. If the tourists start to reject these unfit jeeps, perforce the jeeps will be brought to better standards. I would even suggest that police check posts must ensure that departure of jeeps be regulated in a manner that none leave close to sunset. Last of all try not to board the jeep which turns it into an overloaded vehicle. May it be a jeep, boat or a bus over loading itself is such a potential for disaster that it needs little emphasis. Always and always avoid travelling at night and in the rain.
Accidents keep occurring but these turn into tragedies when it comes to known that few small adjustments could have avoided that accident. Accidents are measured at the scale of consequences, please keep this in mind and take two jeeps instead of huddling together on a same jeep and overloading it. I wish all the young tourists the very best in the coming season and safe travels.
Writer is senior retd military officer and have extensively trekked in AJK, Norther Areas and KP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org