Mohammad Ashraf was born on August 25, 1943 in a middle class family living in Amira Kadal near the famous locality of Maisuma in Srinagar. His grand father was a technical teacher in local Polytechnic and a very well known foot ball player of those times. His father had joined Government Service as a clerk but retired as a Deputy Secretary. Ashraf received his schooling in half a dozen institutions right from Islamia Middle School to Tyndale Biscoe School. He passed his matriculation exam from the S.P.Higher Secondary School and secured second position in the entire combined University of Jammu & Kashmir in Intermediate Science from S.P.College. Being among the first ten, he was nominated by the State Government to the prestigious Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. However, he preferred the locally started Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Srinagar itself and took admission in Civil Engineering course which he completed in 1965 but could not finish his final exam for a degree in Civil Engineering due to unusual circumstances prevailing at that time. On the contrary he completely changed his line and went for training in adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and in Gulmarg and completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. In 1973 he gave a project to the State Tourism Department for setting up of an Adventure Tourism Wing for promotion of adventure tourism in J&K. The proposal was accepted and he was appointed in charge of the wing. Starting his career as a Deputy Director he rose to head the same Department in 1992 as its Director and was promoted as Director General in 1996 from which post he retired in 2003 after a total service of 30 years in Tourism. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at National level and is a past Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the Patron of the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club. He considers his greatest achievement the pioneering of Tourism in Ladakh. In 1974, Ladakh was opened for foreign tourism by Government of India. Ashraf was extensively involved in developing tourism in this mysterious and enchanting land beyond the Himalaya. He considers it as his first love and is fondly remembered by its inhabitants for promoting tourism in this area. He has travelled to every part of the State including Pakistan Administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. During his tenure in Tourism he had the opportunity to travel widely in Europe, America, and Middle East. Even after retirement he is involved in a free lance capacity with various Airlines and Tourism Organisations in promoting tourism to Kashmir. He is single as he never married. He loves to be married to travelling and writing and is passionately attached to both!
|‘Difficult can be done now, impossible may take some time!’
New technology has helped me to re-establish contact with a friend after 36 long years.
Mohammad Ashraf was a dashing young officer in the Mountaineering Tourism division of the Tourism Department of Jammu and Kashmir when I made his acquaintance.
Established in late 19thcentury, J & K Tourism is the oldest Tourism department in India. British officers used to visit Kashmir to escape the summer heat, and following their example Bengali babus started visiting the valley during the Puja holidays. (Kolkata was the seat of the British Indian government at the time.) The Maharaja’s government, recognizing the importance of tourism, set up the department to cater to the needs of visitors.
Mohammad Ashraf, IAS (Retd)Mohammad Ashraf, IAS (Retd) Ashraf who had to leave engineering studies in unforeseen circumstances had joined the Tourism department after undergoing training at the Himalayan Mountaineerng Institute, Darjeeling, in adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing. In 1973, the government admitted his proposal to set up a division to promote adventure tourism, and put him in charge of it. That was when I landed in Srinagar.
Then, as now, Kashmir was loaded with political stuff, and journalists in the state were too engrossed in political reporting to devote attention to other subjects. I kept in touch with Ashraf as part of my quest for non-political stories. He proved to be a very valuable news source. He appreciated my interest in his division’s activities as it helped it get some publicity.
The most memorable of the stories I got from him was about the rescue of a young woman who went on a trek through the Zanskar valley not knowing that the pet dog which bit her had rabies.
She was the daughter of an IPS officer posted in Mumbai. She met Ashraf at his office and sought help to plan a trek through the remote Valley. He helped her. The next day he received a frantic call from Mumbai saying her father wanted to contact her urgently. The pet dog that bit her before she left Mumbai had died, and she needed to take anti-rabies injections immediately.
There was no way Ashraf could contact her. He told me about this. There was a human interest story in it. But my mind was working on how we could save her. I suggested to him to contact the Air Force authorities and seek help. He did, and they agreed to make an aerial search. As dusk fell, the search had to be suspended due to poor visibility.
I filed a report that night saying Air Force planes were searching for a young woman from Mumbai who was on trekking through the remote Zanskar Valley not knowing that the pet dog that bit her had died of rabies.
The next morning the Air Force resumed the search, and struck pay dirt, as the Americans will put it. The search party located the woman, a helicopter picked her up and flew her to Srinagar where she was given the first anti-rabies shot before being put on a plane to Delhi on way to Mumbai.
When I was leaving Srinagar after more than five years covering Kashmir developments – it was during this period that Indira Gandhi signed an accord with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, paving the way for his return as head of the state government after 22 years -- Ashraf told me flatteringly that my departure was a loss to J and K tourism!
Ashraf later became Director of Mountain Tourism and then Director-General of Tourism.
Recently I chanced upon a link to an article by Ashraf. That took me to his website Kashmir First (http://www.kashmirfirst.com/), packed with his writings on politics, history, tourism, adventure etc. When attempts to reach him through the site failed, I sought the help of a mutual friend, Mohammad Sayeed Malik, Resident Editor of the Kashmir Times, Srinagar, who kindly provided his telephone number and e-mail address.
Ashraf, who writes regularly for Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, the Kashmir Times, the Citizen, Countercurrents, the Caravan and the Khaleej Times of Dubai, says, “My motto is to speak the truth, regardless of consequences and I am always reminded of the Border Roads sign on the Leh Road, ‘Difficult can be done now, impossible may take some time!’”
All strength to MohammadAshraf's elbow.