Booming guns do not break the calm of the meadows of Tosa Maidan in Kashmir anymore. For seven decades, the lush meadows in Budgam district had lost their serenity as the Army used to practise artillery fire in the grass, leaving them out of bounds for locals and tourists. The Army’s decision in 2014 to relocate its 1,809-hectare firing range, where soldiers simulated battlefield conditions, have now left behind a rare island of peace in the Valley.
Tents have replaced tanks, as troops moved out and trekkers came in. But Tosa Maidan, spread over 11,200 hectares of forest land about 45 km from Srinagar, bears grim reminders of the past. Since 1964, when the Army moved in, 63 civilians, mainly shepherds and children, lost their limbs during crossfire practice.
“My son Waseem Ganai lost one leg in an explosion by an uncleared shell on August 12 this year. His friend Wajid Ahmad was unlucky and died in the explosion. I hope and pray the shell was the last remnant of the past. And we get to live in peace now,” said the victim’s father, Abdul Majeed, who works in the CRPF.
The local population is hoping for the good days to return as the government forms the Tosa Maidan Development Authority to add these meadows to the tourist map of the Valley.
Tosa Maidan pastures once hosted Mughal entourages complete with horses and elephants that entered the Kashmir Valley from Poonch. A seven-storey log structure, locally called Dam-Dam, is a bow to the Mughal era.
The meadows are fast becoming a grazing pasture, and during spring and summer, wild flowers beckon picnickers. The firing range had made 52 villages surrounding the meadows vulnerable. Now, the villagers go about their lives without any fear.