Merely 10 kilometers from Kargil district in Ladakh lies Hunderman, a border village along the India-Pakistan border. It is also home to a remarkable treasure known as the "Museum of Memories," where long-forgotten artifacts and war memories are showcased.
The resurgence of the settlement through artifacts and memories has transformed it into a living museum. Designed to offer visitors a distinctive glimpse into the history and culture of an otherwise obscure Kargil settlement, it provides a unique experience.
Hunderman, situated in Kargil district, is the last village in India where the road concludes and trek for soldiers towards their bunkers along the LoC begins in the mountainous terrain.
According to locals, the village has a complex history of belonging to two nations. Initially part of Pakistan from 1947 to 1971, it came under Indian control after the 1971 war. This transition resulted in some villagers fleeing to Pakistan, while those who remained became Indian citizens.
Locals recount that for several years following 1971, the village was abandoned and deemed a ghost village, remaining vacant for an extended period.
In 2015, Ilyas Ansari, assisted by the NGO Roots Collective, transformed one of the structures within this village into a remarkable museum under the project titled Unlocking: Museum of Hunderman. The restoration work focused on three rooms within a row of abandoned traditional houses in Hunderman, believed to be over a century old, akin to the other residences in the village.
The splendid museum meticulously preserves and showcases long-forgotten stories, letters, and age-old artifacts. It stands as a remarkable destination for visitors eager to explore the cultural heritage of Ladakh.
Locals revealed that the items exhibited at the Hunderman Museum were retrieved from dusty trunks, obscure corners, and the recesses of memory.
The museum showcases a diverse array of items, including photographs, old kitchen utensils, passports, traditional jewelry, family documents, helmets, perfumes, indoor games, old landmines, and letters from family members.
According to locals, the most intriguing artifact preserved at the museum is a letter penned by a man from Kargil to his family. This individual was visiting Skardu when the village fell under Indian control during the 1971 war, rendering him unable to return home.
Ilyas Ansari, who has native connection to this village, along with Ajaz Hussain Munshi, museum curator from Kargil and other organizations built the museum.
In its inaugural year, the museum welcomed approximately 3,000 visitors. The village, now accessible to tourists, experiences a significant influx of visitors, including bikers, during the summer months. Furthermore, some village residents have established homestay facilities to accommodate tourists, enhancing the overall experience for visitors exploring the region.
Past and present facets of Hunderman village:
The village of Hunderman is located along the banks of the Suru River. According to locals, Hunderman comprises two distinct parts: Lower Hunderman Mal (the lower village) and Hunderman Broq (the hill village).
While Hunderman Brok holds a significant position in the region's history as a resting spot for travelers along the historic Silk Route between Kargil and Skardu, its current prominence is less remarkable.
Mohd Hussain, a resident of Kargil, noted that despite its remote location, the Hunderman Brok settlement stands out due to its distinctive architecture, evident from its physical features.
"The village has undergone significant changes over the years. The construction of roads and the establishment of health and education facilities have brought relief to the people. Otherwise, living in Hunderman was quite challenging," he said.
The LoC viewpoint:
While exploring the village, visitors shouldn't overlook the delightful uphill walks, particularly in the evenings. An intriguing LoC viewpoint, established by the Tourism Department, awaits at the entrance of the village downhill road. From there, one can enjoy a panoramic view across to the first village of Pakistan and a dilapidated silk route road.
“One can see the close view of Pakistan village and the army posts of both the countries with the use of a telescope at the viewpoint. It is an exciting spot as people come and stop here to see the LoC. Some people stop here to have tea,” Hussain said.
The village is easily accessible by road, as it is motorable and the road is fully blacktopped. Visitors can reach the village without any special permissions, as no special permits are required. Additionally, cabs and vans are available from the main market of Kargil bazaar for those who prefer public transportation options.
A traveler who visited the place a year ago remarked that people from across the country, especially those residing in metropolitan cities, visiting this place provides a stark realization of the challenges faced not only by the villagers but also by the Indian soldiers stationed there. These soldiers work tirelessly round the clock in desolate areas where temperatures plummet to below minus 20 and minus 30 degrees Celsius.
The harsh conditions serve as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by both the villagers and the soldiers who endure extreme weather conditions to safeguard the nation's borders.
Such experiences offer profound insights into the resilience and fortitude required to thrive in such environments, fostering a deep appreciation for the courage and dedication of those who call these remote regions home.
Travelers often remark that a visit to the area provides valuable lessons on the inherent dangers of living in a border region and underscores the importance of being adequately prepared for such circumstances.
“This was an eye-opener visit for me. I suggest whoever visits Kargil, Hunderman village is a must visit. At least to enjoy the beauty of river Sind and the enduring fruit bearing soft green apricot and other fruits,” he said.
With tourists increasingly making their way to the village, there's a gradual transformation underway and tourism is anticipated to create new avenues of employment for the local residents.
The community holds the belief that with enhanced tourism initiatives and other measures, there's hope for their stories, history, and memories to find a place among readers worldwide, extending beyond the borders of Kargil.