This is the story of Zytoon Begum, symbol of unwavering resilience, born on October 11, 1940, in the tranquil village of Hariganiwan, Kashmir. Her life unfolds as a symphony, in the backdrop of high mountains that cradle her existence.

“Life in the mountains teaches you to be strong, but no strength can prepare you for the loneliness that follows the departure of a loved one,” she confides, her gaze penetrating the vastness of the hills embracing her village.

Her journey began amidst the breathtaking beauty of the mountains, her early years shaped by the traditions and simplicity of what is called tribal life. Alongside her beloved husband, Abdul Kasana, they crafted a life interwoven with the very essence of nature. Yet tragedy struck, leaving Zytoon Begum alone in a village echoing with memories.

“We built our home with love and laughter. The mountains were our protectors, and every storm made us stronger,” she recalls, her weathered hands tracing invisible memories in the air.

Undeterred by the echoes of loss, and defying isolation, she navigated life’s rugged terrain alone after her two sons chose separate paths. “The mountains might be isolating, but my spirit is connected to every rock and every stream. I am not alone; I have the companionship of nature.”

Now for over four decades, Zytoon Begum has weathered the storms of solitude, and preserved the heritage of her people in the face of change. Her hands are marked by hard labour, and she explains. “My hands have woven stories into every basket, and my heart beats with the rhythm of a life well-lived. I am not just surviving, I am thriving in the mountains,” she declares, with a spark of defiance in her eyes.

Challenges persist in her daily life. The flickering light of a kerosene lamp in her mud house battles the darkness that envelopes the mountains due to electricity shortages. Cooking becomes an adventure as she navigates the constraints of fuel scarcity, using a traditional hearth fueled by firewood from the surrounding woods.

Her culinary skills, a thread connecting her to generations past, endure despite the challenges. They too are reminder that even in the most isolated corners of the world, people shape their destinies in the backdrop of mountains and memories.

Waiting for the final breath to reunite with her husband, she finds solace in tribal rituals. Every sunrise and sunset in Hariganiwan carries the weight of memories, as with unwavering patience she awaits the culmination of her earthly journey.

The mountains, with their towering peaks and silent valleys, have witnessed her journey. And every flame that dances in her firewood hearth is testament to the resilience of a woman who won’t let challenges outside extinguish the flame within. Her ability to create nourishing meals with limited resources is example of the resourcefulness of mountain living. In her culinary artistry she becomes a guardian of tradition, ensuring that the flavors of her culture continue to thrive despite the changing surroundings.

Her spirit is unbroken. Her hands weave stories into every basket. Each intricate pattern is a reflection of her experience, of a life richly lived. Her words encapsulate a philosophy that extends beyond personal triumphs, a philosophy that embraces life in all its complexities and that finds strength in the very heart of adversity.

In her narrative we honour not only her individual triumphs but the collective strength of communities in remote mountain regions. We acknowledge the importance of addressing the challenges faced by such communities, to help individuals like Zytoon Begum not only survive but thrive in the embrace of the mighty Himalayas.