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Trekking in Kashmir: Where nuclear powers once clashed

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As we resumed our marches, my guides told me how illegal logging works. The trees can be cut quietly by day: Thieves use axes and handsaws to fell two-foot-thick fir and deodar trunks. At night, they come back with horses. A tree is cut into about seven logs; a horse can carry two logs at a time, making it a four-night job. Prices vary, but here a whole tree can fetch $320. But that's not all profit: One former smuggler on the trail with me regularly paid $70 to bribe the forest officer and $45 to bribe the police.

Still, $50 a day is big money here. The government price for a trekking guide is $11 a day. But that hasn't discouraged Trekking for Trees.

"We make them aware and educate them about the value of the forest. If there will be no trees, there will be no [lasting] snow. And there will be landslides on these mountains," says Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, one of the organization's leaders who is hiking with us.

Trekking for Trees is looking for other alternative livelihoods for villages, such as guesthouses and orchards.

One of the quietest and gentlest guides told me that "through this profession, there is honor and through timber smuggling there is no honor."

On the afternoon of the second day, we reached a wide-open meadow ringed by mountains. Thousands of trees and thousands of sheep dotted the slopes. In a few corners lay stumps and wood chips: Timber thieves had done their dishonorable deed. The trade-off between honor and economic security, as the smuggler-turned-guide described it, will continue to be too great for many Kashmiris until more legitimate development comes.

After setting up camp, I followed three of the city boys in my group to look at the cuttings: Abid Hussain, a sports reporter for the newspaper Greater Kashmir; his buddy Sameer Ahmed; and Muneer Ahmed, a Trekking for Trees driver.

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