Kashmir is called the Heaven on Earth. I had visited Srinagar in 1985 with family but we were never able to explore the place. Terrorism took over the paradise and it hit the tourism industry dearly. My brother in law Tabish Ahsan visited Kashmir in his summer vacation this year. He is studying at the Tata Institute Of Social Services in Bombay. He along with a friend had to collect some data on Kashmir and hence they went for this trip. Tabish came back with a wonderful picture about Kashmir and its people. I coaxed him (later it turned to pleading since Tabbi sahab is the master of procrastination) into jotting down his thoughts. He has finally collected his thoughts and I am documenting his golden memories in this post. I am also enclosing some fantastic pictures that Tabbi clicked during his stay in Kashmir.
Kashmir has been a word than brings several different thoughts to your mind. On one hand Mughal Emperor Jahangir called it the only heaven on Earth, on contrary today it comes in the one of the most militarized area of the world. Whenever you think about going to Kashmir it is not like any other place.
If you go back to the 70s, especially in the era of Shammi Kapoor you will find scenes shot in Kashmir in almost every movie. But in the following years, with the rising tensions in the valley Kashmir went off the silver screen. Even the scenes which represented Kashmir were shot in other location like Shimla. This is a shift that brought Kashmir from paradise to an unsafe region. I gradually developed my interest in the issue of Kashmir. After joining MSW in Tata Institute of Social Science I got a chance to explore it through research dissertation. For me Kashmir has been a place where I always wanted to go. There is a large-framed photograph in our house that has everyone in my family, except for me. To no surprise it was clicked in Kashmir. That very photograph teased me for more than 22 years by saying that I am the only one in the family who failed to reach the Heaven.
There is a long story of preparation of data collection tool, selecting the universe etc but I would skip it and directly come to the Kashmir trip. I planned to leave Delhi to Kashmir at the end of the May. At that time Delhi had already started to roast you from heat. I was assuming that Kashmir would bring some relief. On 19th May I left for Kashmir and planned to stop at Rajouri which comes in the Jammu division for 1 day.
In Rajouri I stayed at a friend’s place who himself was in Delhi. I must say that I never got such a reception away from home in my life. My friend Jaffer’s family was so loving that I can’t express. The food that we were served was one of the best that I had in my life. We were not allowed to leave Rajourias in Jaffer’s family 1 day was too less to spend with them. We wandered here and there in Rajouri and visited the Rajouri University. Believe me, I have never seen a beautiful campus in my life. It is hard to believe that you are in India. The plush green campus surrounded with mountains which was bisected by a current which goes all the way to fall in Chenab.
Well, it was time to leave for Srinagar. We took a Tata Sumo from Rajouri which is the only medium to reach Srinagar from Rajouri. We took the historical Mughal Road which was built by Emperor Akbar in 16th century. The road is an alternate road route to Kashmir valley from rest of India, other than over-crowded Jammu-Srinagar Highway through Jawahar Tunnel (Banihal Tunnel) (National Highway 1A). The road passes through Buffliaz, Poshana, Chattapani, Peer Ki Gali, Aliabad, Zaznar, Dubjan, Heerpora and Shopian. We were told that you can tell the difference between Jammu and Kashmir just by looking at the hills and in reality it was like that. While one side of the same hill was dry, the other side was covered with snow and yes it was the border that divides Jammu and Kashmir.
I had never seen snow before and was very excited to see that. It is said that you can see four weathers in a same day on your trip from Mughal road and yes it happened. We started in the warm weather of Jammu and it was chilly cold as we moved towards Pir Ki Gali, after that we say snow fall and near Shopian to Srinagar it was raining heavily. We never imagined that we can see snowfall at the end of the day, but luckily we saw that. I will say that Mughal road is a must visit for its beauty and history.
When we landed in Srinagar it was still raining and the weather was very pleasant. We came to know that this year tourist arrival has broken the record of past many years. We then went to my Uncle’s place in Bishambar Nagar area of Srinagar. Again we were welcomed in a much hearted manner. I must say in my whole trip I never felt away from home because of the love that Kashmiri people gave us. You were welcomed to their houses by the people whom you know just from few minutes.
Kashmir has been able to secure its traditions and culture to a great extent. Still beautiful carpets are used to sit and sleep. Still there is no concept of western style sofa sets and beds. Food is served in beautiful metallic places with engraved textures. I will again say that people of Kashmir are so loving that I can’t explain it in words.
In my 20 days stay in Srinagar, there are many places that we visited but visit to Pahalgam is very unique. Pahalagam is about 3 hours away from Srinagar and is also popular for Amarnath yatra. Pahalgam is bisected by the river Lidder. Lidder carries water which melts from Himalayas just a few miles away from Pahalgam. The water is cold as ice and clear as glass. Alongside Lidder tourist department has developed several parks and you get a view that you can’t even imagine elsewhere. About 2-3 miles away, there is place Betaab Valley named after Sunny Deol’s movie Betaab. The valley is also a place that you can not forget.Along with this Chashma-e-Shahi, Mughal Gardens and Kasmir University are places worth exploring in Srinagar. You can spend evening after evening sitting on the shoes of Dal lake and you will find something new each day.
On contrast to this beauty, you can see a sadness and fear among the people of Kashmir. They are afraid of both militancy as well as from the India military. Many reports have shown presence of depression among the people of Kashmir. Many activities such as SMS and social gathering are controlled. Unlike other parts of India your movement is also restricted to the timings. The presence of military everywhere doesn’t let you feel normalcy. I constantly faced a dilemma inside me as one side you can’t expect anything more beautiful than it and on the other side you can sense the calm of sadness.
The trip to Kashmir has been a memorable part of life. I went there to get some answers to my research questions, but I believe that I have developed more curiosity to know about Kashmir that I am sure I will go there many more times.