What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Kashmir? Paradise on earth? Our neighbor nation? Bloodshed? Or may be Article 370, due to much furor over it in the recent months?
There cannot be a second opinion on the fact that Kashmir is a truly paradise on earth, the very heaven created by God on Earth. And this reminds me of the beautiful and famous lines about the valley: Agar ruhe zami asto, ami asto ami asto ami asto…
Undoubtedly, Kashmir is a beautiful place, and truly a paradise and perhaps one of the best places I have ever visited in my life.
The mesmerizing Dal lake with hundreds of colourful Shikaras floating, the ever blowing cool breeze, slowly sipping sweet Kahwa, especially during the peaceful morning or the evening hours, I sat on one of the Shikaras. One could see tall mountains behind, covered with snow, shining as the sun rays fell on them. On the top of one such hill gazes the fortress of Akbar, which has now been closed for some security reasons. A large number of houseboats line up along the boundaries of the lake hosting the guests of the valley to give an unparalleled experience through their hospitality.
Further, the Mughal structures could make anybody to stare at them. The Nishad Gardens, the Shalimaar Gardens, Chashmeshahi, Pari Mahal etc., are the perfect examples of the finesse of the Mughal art.
Moving on, the connecting tourist destinations, viz., Pahalgam, Sonmarg, Gulmarg further exemplify the existence of heaven on this very planet. The glaciers, mountains- extending beyond the skies, waterfalls and what not. One would not hesitate from uttering- Nature is miraculous!
Kashmir could capture anybody’s heart through its scenic and unparallel beauty. Its snow covered mountains, lash green valleys, breathe-taking hilly terrains, rivers, Mughal Structures and yes, the people are simply admirable.
However, besides its beauty, the other side which is brought much in to discussion is the pertaining border issues, bloodshed, brotherhood and a claim over its integrity.
As one enters the city of Srinagar, one could see army barracks everywhere, with soldiers patrolling within the area of every 400 m, or even closer. It feels like that its not Srinagar, rather it is the ‘Fortified Srinagar’, with army keeping an eye on every single step of a person. Well thats for the security reason. As I passed through the streets of the city, all that I could think of were the regular bomb blasts, curfews, riots and similar things, as that is what we hear the most through our media.
For the first time when I saw an old man eating Rumali Roti with tea during the morning hours, I was shocked. It was quite different from what I saw everyday here at home and perhaps anywhere else. But afterwards it became quite normal for me as everywhere I went I saw people doing the same thing.
How easy it is for us, the people of the rest of India, to claim it as our integral part, without perhaps looking at the costs of such integration. The army is doing a commendable job of trying to prevent things from falling apart, while most of the times the masses sound disgruntled.
This youth is ambitious of a bright, azad Kashmir. “We will be free one day, and that’s what we hope for”, says Shehzaad, the driver who we hired for the tour of Pahalgam, driving speedily through the mountains, making us to hold our breathe, singing songs all the way, commenting on his passing-by colleagues, in short, enjoying.
“Abdullah has done nothing for us. We brought him to the position because of the promises which he made. Mufti will come this time. We hope she will deliver her promises and do something for us”,speaks Jahangir, our driver.
Tourism is the main source of income for the people. They work hard to earn the every penny. I wonder, what would have been the condition of the state, had there been a dearth of tourists.
“Illillah… Illillah…” (the rest I could not understand), they shout as they pull our sledge-cart to the top of the hill. “Allah gives us strength to pull”, speaks Mehfuz, a boy of around 18, smiling, with a shining face, without any woolen covering on his body in the freezing cold, yet seeming full of energy. Trust me, it is very difficult to pull a sledge cart. Yet there were teenagers pulling up the carts with heavy men, women sitting on them. Truly, only God must be giving them such strength.
“What do you do in the off season then?”, I asked the boy who was holding the reins of the horse which took me up to the hill on the difficult track of the Gulmarg valley from the Gondola (rope way). “We use the horses, down in our village for carrying goods. And sometimes we pull the sledge-cart as still many people visit during the winter.”
There is more to Kashmir merely than its territory, its beauty. Visit there not just to admire the miracle of the nature, but also meet its equally beautiful people, ever-ready to host the guests to the valley.
Though both the sides might be having the genuine claim over the territory, yet the minds of the people of Kashmir are free, far away from the debates of the Parliaments of both the nations.
Travelling Kashmir was altogether a different experience and truly its the meeting with people which enriches your sojourn and makes you to appreciate the diversity and integrity of the country in an even better manner. After all it is not just about travelling and seeing landscapes, its people are equally important and without talking to them, not just a trip to Kashmir, but any other trip would be incomplete.
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Sarthak Sonwalker
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