If there is one place in India, every single one of us has wanted to visit at least once in our lifetime, it has to be the “paradise on earth”, Kashmir. And this is true not just for our generation but for people both older and younger. I guess our elders must have fantasized about visiting Kashmir after every movie they saw in their times just the way we have wanted to visit Switzerland after watching every Yash Raj movie. But owing to the political decisions or blunders if I could say and the circumstances, visiting Kashmir was always a farfetched dream for most parts of my school and college life. With the not so good ground realities and the icing done by the ever selective Indian media, most parents never took the risk to travel there. We came as close to Patnitop which 150 kms from Srinagar all the way back in 1998, but had to retreat and settle for Himachal because of the militant activities.
But thanks to forces beyond our control, the place has been relatively calm for the last three years. Mind you, the focus is on the word “Relatively Calm.”The regular feeds and beautiful photographs I received on my facebook page about my friends visiting this “Jannat” on earth added to my existing resolve to visit this place for once. Now if I were in college, I would have simply packed my bags and gone to this beautiful creation of God. But now that I am firmly anchored to my family, I took another step of calling up my senior who was posted in Srinagar to get some check on ground realities. He was more than helpful and even introduced me to his friend who manages a travel company in Srinagar. Anyways, I promised my wife a Kashmir trip on our anniversary given everything stays calm. After all the doubts and confusions and million changes in the plan we finally reached and enjoyed Kashmir to the fullest and even came back safely to now write this piece for my dormant blog.
Like any place worth visiting, Kashmir has its pros and cons. While its beauty is unparallel and comes as a very pleasant experience even after all the hype surrounding it; one has to be careful to not fall in the usual tourist traps in selected places. However, for me travelling to Kashmir ended up being much more than just enjoying its serenity.
The day we reached Srinagar, it was under curfew over the death of a civilian. You can imagine our utter disappointment when we came to know that it could be extended for another couple of days. But to our surprise our tour guide didn’t even bother. For him and rest of the population, curfew was a part and parcel of their lives. He assured our plans would remain unchanged, and he was right. The curfew was only restricted to the businesses being closed. The usual tourist spots were, as usual full of people owing to the peak season. While driving there, I asked if there was any theatre since I wanted to catch a movie may be late night. There came the first shock. Srinagar doesn’t have a single movie theatre. My instant reaction was “is it because a theatre is very susceptible to a militant attack?” I was wrong. “It is to safeguard our culture” came the reply. I tried hard to control my urge to react. So I enquired if they saw any movies at all. They did, on laptops and Television. I could hardly digest the underlying contradictions. Another thing I noticed was the dress code of females. It was surprisingly uniform. Not one exception to it. Irrespective of the age group, right from small kids to elderly females, everyone wore the same kind of clothing. This was once again attributed to safeguarding the culture. I won’t want to comment on this. In places where we live, seeing a Police, often erupts anxiety and bad thoughts. We often relate them to some unfortunate event having been occurred or about to. But there in Srinagar, Thanks to the Armed forces act, I guess it’s a common sight to see army, CRPF and police holding automatic weapons and guarding the streets. Sitting in the front seat, I couldn’t help but ask our driver who seemed like an educated man from his demeanor, about his view of the heavy army presence. It was then that he seemed saddened and angry at the same time. The next hour or so, he spoke of the brutalities which we don’t hear very often in the news. He even showed his own bullet mark on his leg. He recalled about the torture his family had suffered and how his father was beaten in front of his family. He talked about people from his street that ran away to the neighboring country to the detriment of their respective families. He recalled how he and many others like him are seen with suspicion, wherever they go. He shared his plight on how they were tormented on the source of funds when he was able to construct a 3 storey house for himself. He mentioned about hundreds of missing kashmiri people. He showed what absolute power can do to a place. He went as far as claiming some of the famous names to be innocent and framed. When I asked him if people in Kashmir actually want to be a part of the neighboring country, he was crisp and logical. “Why would I want to be a part of another country, which itself is suffering from a major economic and socio-political crisis?” But he added, How long would I want to be a part of the country that treats us like an outsider and is ready to kill people just on a hunch or a doubt? He raised certain questions over the rationale of army presence to which I had no answers.
After the end of the discussion, some of his thought did seem to be farfetched; however, a majority of his grievances weren’t wrong. He like many others believe amending Article 370 is good for them even though their political representatives would never agree. He like many other knows, a lot of what happens in Kashmir has its roots in deep political and economic ambitions. He like, everyone else, wants and believes that Kashmir one day could be the place, it once was.
I for one am a fan of Kashmir. I was humbled by their hospitality and helping nature. I was forced to reframe my opinion about the people of Kashmir. In my 6 days of stay, I was gently made to believe through my experiences that people there are far more respectful and accommodating that in most parts of the country. I firmly believe they deserve to be treated well. I shall certainly visit this part of the country whenever I get a chance to meet such joyous, helping and charming people. And I hope I get to buy a piece of land to build my vacation home in the valley of Kashmir. It’s beautiful and really underpriced!!!