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Mulbekh village is located in Shargole Block of Kargil district, 45 km from Kargil city. Around 700 years ago, this village was settled at high altitude –hence its name “Mulbekh”, which means “high altitude silver colored rock” (‘Mul’ = silver; ‘bekh’ = color). Mulbekh once used to be a “khar” (palace) of Namgyal dynasty. Today the palace is in dilapidated condition. In historical times, the attacking enemies pelted stones at houses for assault. Palace was surrounded by walls with holes to see intruder enemy. Even walls of houses had holes to see intruders.
Gradually this hilly village expanded into plains up to the dry portion of nallah. King of Chiktan (whose dilapidated fortress still overlooks on hill top in Shikar-Chiktan Block on way to Chiktan from Mulbekh) would be the unauthorized ruler of Mulbekh. Mulbekh historically used to be the attackers’ envy. It was the order of the day for the enemy king to take pride in attacking. His men would mount assaults on Mulbekh and steal away property, cattle, horses and small ruminants. Entire Kargil district 700 years ago was Buddhist. Current population of Shargole Block is 50% Buddhists and 50% Muslims. Mulbekh has 100% Buddhist population. Village population is 1200 persons in 200 households. They speak Laddakhi and Purkhi languages. Purkhi is original pure form of Ladakhi language. Houses are constructed with kutcha bricks, or “thapak” technique is used for construction of wall using parallel wooden slabs.
A statue of “Chamba”, believed to be the next ‘avatara’ (reincarnation) of future Buddha, is situated 4-5 km from Mulbekh village in Chamba ‘mohalla’ on road to Kargil city. It is a tourist attraction. Mulbekh is the oldest and most traditional village in Kargil district as its name appears in folklore and traditional songs of Laddakhi Buddhists. The village with substantial Buddhist population has cordial and harmonious relations of co-existence with nearby Muslim populated villages in Shargole block. People are religious, understanding and organize religious-cultural functions with fanfare; village performs three grand-scale ‘poojas’ even as procession is taken out in streets and roads up to monastery each year. Everyone participates in festivals and ‘poojas’. They participate in dance, singing, chanting ‘mantras’, worship, etc. Celebrations keep them happy. Cultural functions help people in survival even as they are fairly prosperous and rich. Economic differentiation income and wealth exists though with less inequality. Economic prosperity, equality and richness of culture, is the secret of their happiness. Villagers have ensured survival with peace and happiness for centuries with celebration of these three festivals in Mulbekh, organized each year: Flower Festival (“Samola” Mela); Harvesting Festival (“Shukla” Mela); and Winter Festival (“Losar” Mela)
Mulbekh traditional village has nine ‘mohallas’ scattered like islands: Kurtan, Kalkalas, Panchghar, Chamba, Mulbekh, Doksging, Thasgans, Chattitham, and Dambu. Main ‘abadi’ (population) is settled in Panchghar mohalla. Maximum distance of one Mohalla from another is five km. Total area of village is 1000 acres, of which 313 acres (31%) is common land. Agricultural land is 375 acres. Pasture land for grazing cattle in forest across river/nallah is 312 acres, which is accessible and used by all villagers. All households in Mulbekh own agricultural land. Average size of holding is less 1.88 acres and maximum holding is 20 acres –which shows there is economic differentiation in one respect i.e., size of owned holdings. Farmers cultivate wheat, barley, and vegetables (onion, potato, cauliflower, pea) on 80% land. On 20% land, they cultivate ‘Alfa-Alfa’ grass, mainly on dry bed of nallah as soil has moisture. Main objective of farming is family subsistence though 10-15% farm produce is marketable surplus.
Villagers expressed satisfaction with work performance of Gram Panchayat (GP) during past three years. MNREGA is implemented in Mulbekh. So far (2013) nine works are completed –one in each mohalla, pertaining to canal (‘kool’) repair, construction of footpath, community ground, community hall, community toilet, etc. However, funds are released with delay. For 2012-13, payment was made to village laborers after six months even as they kept asking for wages. As soon as funds were received late by GP in March 2013 Sarpanch made payment to MNREGA Job Card holders on night of 31 March 2013 itself. People are not interested in bank loan despite that new branch (Business Unit) of J&K Bank has issued Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) to 75% of 200 farmers in 2013. Villagers favor the idea of devolution of financial powers to GP.
Over 300 acres pasture land has trees and natural grasses, accessible for 3-4 months in summer. Glacier water is available for 1-2 months in summer even as it gets depleted in May or by end of June. Earlier (40 years back), snowfall was recorded 5-6 feet. Roads did not exist. Pathways were covered with snow. People had great problem in walking down the hill. So, they devised wooden “kyar” (round shaped foot wear), which they used to walk down the hill. However, “kyars” are not needed now-a-days as snowfall is less (2 feet). Impact of climate change in terms of less snowfall and less cold is reported from Mulbekh. In contrast, Kharnak-Zara area of Ladakh in Leh district reported more snowfall –a trend that started 30 years ago. A differentiated pattern of snowfall could be an outcome of climate change.
Main occupation of villagers is farming. Few people are employed in government service. There is no significant allied occupation. They have nothing else other than farming. Despite education (100% literacy) villagers prefer farming to service. Only 8-10 youth have migrated to cities for salary/wage employment. Other 8-10 youth are doing higher education in medical or engineering courses at Jammu and Srinagar. There is no change in employment pattern over the past few years. All village youth after education get absorbed in farming, since they could not find alternative livelihood opportunities commensurate with education level.
Mulbekh does not have agricultural market though barter trade is carried out since 700 years. Villagers used to do barter trade with adjoining villages situated in Leh and Kargil districts producing apricot (khumani) which continued up to 1998. Farmers of neighboring border villages (e.g. Hanu village) would bring apricot and walnut loaded on donkeys to Mulbekh since there were no roads. From 1990 onwards they brought apricot on truck. Barter trade continued (even in 2013) though only during harvest season, not throughout the year. Villagers in Mulbekh needed apricot and walnut to store it for consumption in winter. They would exchange it with wheat and barley. Exchange rate in barter trade was as under: 1 kg fresh apricot = 3 kg wheat-grains; and ½ kg dry apricot = 3 kg wheat-grains. Due to cash system becoming popular barter trade is now restricted and limited to few days during the harvest season. Despite difficulties of exchange in barter form it was carried out even without basic facilities of market like weighing, standardization, sorting & grading, etc.
Village roads are semi-pucca. Mulbekh has four main link roads to connect with the outer world: (i) Mulbekh–Kurtan portion of road to Kargil city is entirely ‘kutcha’ and laid with granules. This portion of road is used to commute between Kargil and Mulbekh. Beyond Kurtan up to Kargil it is pucca; (ii) Mulbekh–Gumpa road (on top of hill) is pucca and constructed under RIDF assistance of NABARD; (iii) Mulbekh–Hot Spring road along stream/nallah is semi-kutcha and un-surfaced. Villagers use this road to access nallah for taking bath, washing clothes, etc.; and (iv) Mulbekh–Abadi (Panchighar Mohalla) link road which is kutcha. Flood protection works (bunds) are absent. Nallahs are not pucca. Emergency arrangements are not made. July-August 2010 witnessed flash floods in Wakha and Kushtang nallahs. There was land erosion; fields were washed away; trees and crops were destroyed.
Inputs for farming are purchased from Block Head Quarter Shargole. Some households carry it on motorcycle. Their problems in offices (BDO/ DDC) are reported to be addressed easily though they avoid visiting city offices because single trip from Mulbekh to Kargil city and return by private mini bus would cost Rs.80 which villagers normally could not afford. However, Sarpanch makes a number of rounds of these offices to get funds released e.g., under MNREGA. For canal repair project they had to make lot of rounds and attended meetings. For bunds they faced lot of problems of funds but wanted urgently since flash floods are uncertain. They visited DDC, BDO and CEC offices for funds needed for bunds but to no avail. Earlier this village used to get fund under Master Plan, which is now stopped. Reason for discontinuing allocation was not revealed to the Sarpanch. Mulbekh is facing resource crunch for development works. A veterinary center exists in village; compounder comes daily and attends to vaccination of animals. The village earlier used to have a multi-purpose cooperative society, which is now defunct. There is one NGO functioning and two SHGs are also formed under SGSY by DRDC which are functioning as members have set up micro-enterprises. PMGSY scheme is also being implemented; Mulbekh–Chattitang road is constructed under PMGSY in July 2013.
For full text see www.excelsior.com/sunday-magazine
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)