“Kashmir Under Curfew.”
“Stone pelting continues, unrest in Valley.”
“Uri terror attack. 17 soldiers killed. 19 injured”
These were some of the headlines that had been doing the rounds when we were planning for the trip. It got bloodier when Burhan Wani, a commander of Kashmir based militant outfit, died on July 2016. Kashmir which was once famous for its picturesque hills and breathtaking valleys has been in news for all the other reasons.
Welcome to Kashmir. Just like many other Indians, my introduction to Kashmir was through Bollywood. It was Preity Zinta dancing to the beats of Bumro Bumro in the movie Mission Kashmir. Her dimples were as cute as that of a cute Kashmiri kid. In a bollywood flick Silsila, when Amit ji walks hand in hand with Rekha amidst mesmerizing Tulip gardens, it invited whistles from the fans. And recently when Shahid Kapoor showed us the darker shade of Kashmir with his brilliant performance in Haider, our curiosity for Kashmir grew sky high. Books, movies and news were the 3 main sources for us to know about this region. But wait. Reading about it is one thing, witnessing it on youtube another and walking on the streets of Srinagar a whole new experience.
Opening those pages of history :
It was the year 1947 when India achieved freedom from colonial rule. At the stroke of midnight on 15th August, two nations were born. One was the secular Indian state and another was Muslim dominated Pakistan. While this decision was welcomed by most of the Indian states, there was a spot of bother in the northern most state of Kashmir. Unlike the other Indian states, the Muslims dominated Kashmir was ruled by Raja Hari Singh. The choice was open for Kashmir. Join India, Pakistan or remain independent with defence provided by both the above nations. The then king, Raja Hari Singh chose to sign the Instrument of Accession presented to him by Indian govt. And thus Kashmir became a part of India. While the Kashmir issue has been taken to the international bodies like UNO. But the problem remains unsolved despite 70 years of Indian independence.
Experiencing strikes :
We witnessed our first strike along the way to Sonamarg. Just near the Lal Chowk area there was a Trade union’s strike. An old man in his sixties was leading the crowd. As soon as he walked, the shops alongside closed. There was fear in the air. We were panicky for the first time. All the state buses started taking a U-turn. All those memories of stone pelters what we had seen in the news came alive. Our Innova criss crossed through cramped and unknown lanes of Srinagar. For a good half and hour or so, we were just trying to go as far as possible from the chaos. We were following google maps to begin with but soon we decided to follow all the other vehicles. I had read somewhere on quora about the use of Fatwas being used as an onslaught on Kashmiri Pandits. And therefore, even though they were sounds of prayers coming from a nearby mosque, a part of me was in terror. The moment we hit the highway again, there was a sigh of relief.
The house boat experience :
The blissful Dal Lake
The stay at one of the house boats in Dal lake has to be a part of your bucket list. We have all seen pictures of Dal lake. And trust me the experience is every bit worth. As you wake up to the most beautiful morning, chae and biscuits are waking for you at the table. Do some Yoga witnessing the shikaras go by.
I loved the magical sound of Azaan coming from a far off mosque. Spend your remaining day doing some shopping. it is fun to shop from the moving Shikara market. There are some cafe shops and restaurants and even a floating post office. All this in the middle of a lake. Incredible! Isn’t it?
Gulmarg Gondola :
Everyone talks about Gulmarg before heading to Kashmir. Boasting one of the highest Gondola rides on offer, it offers some of the nicest views. But if you personally ask me, the price of 1600 per person is a bit over priced. I also saw some trekkers along the way. So next time I would definitely go for a trek. You gotta take the horse ride in order to reach the start point of Gondola. And that was pretty adventurous.
The Surreal Sonmarg :
But what stood apart in this whole journey was a place called Sonmarg. Translating literally as the meadows of gold, Welcome to heaven! The route to Sonmarg is carved out of Glaciers! It’s also close to Baltal from where the pilgrimage to Amarnath starts.
The Glacier and the Sindh river.
In Conversation with a Local :
Below is the excerpt of the conversation which I had with our guide from Gulmarg. The conversation took place at a height of 13,780 ft on the Gulmarg phase 2 peak.
Ashfaq: “Do you see that line over there?”
That’s LOC he says while lighting a cigarette.
All I could see was snow capped mountains with protection from army.
Me : Tell me something about your favorite food Ashfaq.
A : “We like all kinds of meat. We start our days with Namkeen Chai. And Kashmiri Kahwa is a drink which we love to have 🙂 “
And now I decided to ask him the age old stereotyped question :p
So Ashfaq, tell me which team do you support in a cricket match of India vs Pakistan?
“95 % of people here support Pakistan. ”
Are there no theaters present here? What do you guys do for fun.
“We meet friends. Play all kinds of adventure sports when it snows. ”
I always used to think that the problem in Kashmir is more hyped by media than it actually is. Well I was taken aback by his next set of statements.
So Ashfaq, I don’t think you must be bothered with all this politics happening around Kashmir. You must be quite content with the tourism business that you are involved in. To which his reply was
“Hamara funda to simple hai. Tourism ke time tourism. Pattharbaazi ke time pattharbaazi.” which translates to “During tourism, it’s tourism and during Stone Pelting, it’s stone pelting.”
Wait. What did I just hear!
And that tells you something about the present mindset of youngsters in the valley region. Then he started talking about freedom. I asked him whether he’s not happy with what the army has done for their development. His plain simple answer was “Whatever development is being done, is for their own benefit. Nothing for us.”
To which I wanted to remind him about the amazing work which army had done in rehabilitation after the destructive floods in the region. But there was no point of discussion.
People can either chose to be grateful or resentful.
He then started telling me about how the Muslims of Kashmir are superior to other Muslims of India. “Unlike the Indian Muslims, we don’t even touch alcohol as that is considered Haram in Islam”
“Ok but cigarette consumption is acceptable as nothing has been spoken about it in Islam” was my reply.
And now he was speechless.
Let’s assume that Kashmir valley is made an independent country. How will the economy sustain. I don’t see any other substantial sources of income barring Tourism. The geography doesn’t have much scope for core industries.
Clueless about all the other practical aspects, “I am sure Allah will show us a path”, he says.
There were close to 1 lakh Kashmiri Pandits in the region in the year 1947. Today the number is less than 4000. Since the killing of Burhan Wani, the situation in the valley has remained tense. But what’s alarming is that 18 schools had been burned in a span of just 3 months. The future of kids in the valley looks uncertain. Rather than books, young impressionable minds are misled into holding guns. In the age of Ted talks and Quora, the youngsters in remotest parts are being brain washed like anything. May Allah really show them the right path.
If the famous poet Amir Khusro was alive today I doubt, would he really use the same lines as he used back then. (Considering the present realities of Kashmir.) “If there is a paradise upon earth, it is this, it is this, it is this” ?