Thursday, April 21, 2005

Paradise on Earth


“If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” once exclaimed King Jehangir of Kashmir. The atmosphere is not as carefree as it was during his time, but I echoed his feelings when my eyes feasted upon the natural wealth of Kashmir for the first time. I was full of mixed emotions when I went – what was I to expect? The last two decades have seen Kashmir’s socio-political atmosphere disintegrate tragically, and even if one isn’t too keen on reading about the state of affairs there regularly, the Indian media won’t allow you to speculate. Bombs, suicide attacks – that’s all I ever read about. But things are improving, albeit slowly. On April 7th , the first Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus in recent times made a journey. The happy event was however clouded by a purported ‘militant’ attack on the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar a day prior to that. I say ‘purported’ beause the majority of educated Kashmiris in the city believe that it was a government plan to attract attention to the terrorism in the state – security in the area prior to the bus journey was so tight that even a fly couldn’t have flown by, and then a militant attack?, they noted skeptically.

As my flight descended into the Valley, I was awestruck by the looming snow-capped mountains in the distance, and the yellow mustard fields dotting the landscape. The grey clouds in the sky seemed all at once mysterious and beautiful. Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir (or, as the BBC, politically correct as always says, ‘Indian Kashmir’) is nestled among the Karakoram range of mountains and has a population of 1.1 million. Muslims are the majority but Sikhs, despite the Anantnag massacre in 2001, still live here, as do many Hindus despite the ouster of the Kashmiri Pandit Hindus a while ago. Army men stand with guns or man bunkers on the roads every few feet, despite the relative peace in most areas where people go about their daily business, having got used to the presence of the military in the state. The supply of electricity is erratic, with regular power cuts, and life pretty much shuts down by 8 PM.

Having said all this, I don’t think I can do justice to the beauty of the place. It is no wonder that India and Pakistan are fighting over Kashmir, because I’m pretty sure that tourism alone would bring in a lot of money if there was peace. I went to Gulmarg, literally meaning ‘Meadow of Flowers’, which was actually a meadow of snow when I was there! A white blanket dotted the mountainous area, and a ride by cable-car took me to the upper reaches of the area where the base of some peaks were within walking distance. Many old Hindi films have been shot in Gulmarg, and I even recognized some locations from my limited memory of a few I’ve seen (If anyone knows the Mumtaz-Rajesh Khanna song ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’, it was shot here).

Pahalgam is another pretty-as-a-picture place to visit. This one translates as ‘Valley of Shepherds’. A rushing river gushes through the region, called the Lidder Valley, as snow-laden peaks shine in the distance. It actually snowed briefly while I was there, and though summer is known as the best time to visit, the cold added its own touch to my memory of Pahalgam.

Taking a ride in a shikara on Dal Lake, getting dressed up in Kashmiri get-up for a photo and begging the army men at security check-posts at the entry to the Mughal Gardens at Cheshmashahi to let us take a video-camera (which we finally did smuggle inside!) are some other enjoyable moments of my trip.

One thought that repeatedly came to my mind during my stay was that this was truly a paradise on earth. Now if only someone could only make the region’s decision-makers and activitists understand that.

5 comments:

One Who Nets The Dot said...

" The happy event was however clouded by a purported ‘militant’ attack on the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar a day prior to that. I say ‘purported’ beause the majority of educated Kashmiris in the city ..."


Does your blog reflect your view or of 'the educated Kashmiris'?

Raccoon said...

Hey Wanderstruck...!Superb!!!!! You went there on a holiday or work? Do we get to see any pics??

wanderstruck said...

Dear One Who Nets the Dot,
My life is influenced by the people in it. My visit to Kashmir was mostly about the Kashmiris in it, and with specific reference to the militant attack, this is what they think and I'd rather go with what they say than what the media says. My blog reflects my view, but in this case the view of educated Kashmiris and mine is the same.

wanderstruck said...

Dear Pranav,
Went on a holiday. Pics won't be posted !

ro1vi said...

Its heartening to see that Kashmir is limping back to normalcy - which means more people will start visiting soon. I checked some pics at www.gulmarg.org and I had such a definite urge to visit and check out the natural beauty at its best.