It is the month of January in Srinagar, Kashmir and I am awakened by my Paternal Grandmother, My wrist watch shows 5.00a.m in the morning, I rub my eyes and see my Brother already up and smiling at me. It is the month of Magh which is considered auspicious by all the Kashmiri Pandits and many devout KP’s throng to Mata Sharika’s Mandir ,which is also known as “Hari Parbat”, to invoke her blessings.
It is freezing cold outside and I have put on my Pheran(Traditional dress of kashmiris used in winter), with a fur cap on my Head and woolen gloves to cover my hands, I feel protected to some extent from the cold of horrendous winter of Kashmir. We move some 50 meters from our Home and stop outside our neighbors house, It is pitch dark and silent , suddenly my Grandmother coughs,” ahhoo,ahhoo”and wait for some seconds and then again she repeats the artificial cough, ”Ahhoo, Ahhoo”, This time I hear the sound of same type of cough , ”Ahhoo, Ahhoo” coming from inside. My Grandmother says to us,” They are coming out within few seconds”, I see 3-4 dark images coming from gate of our neighbor’s home. We are joined by our friend also who is of our age as he greets us with excitement.
The group walks swiftly towards Bagh Jogi Lankar and many a times the atmosphere is filled with the Barks of Street Dogs that are ubiquitous throughout our Journey. Since we are now a group of 8 people, there is nothing to fear about those ferocious Dogs that had the dubious distinction of biting lone strangers who ventured into their territory.
We again Stop in front of Post Office and Again my Grandmother repeats the same procedure of coughing, this time however a couple of elderly Gentlemen emerge from the Dark sub lane. Now we are a bigger group with 5 males including us(I, my brother and friend) , There is hardly any conversation between the members ,the group walks at a good pace until we reach Malkah(Burial Ground).We amble through probably the biggest Graveyard of Muslims of Kashmir as I overlook and pass through thousands of Graves until I am greeted by the wall which encircles Hari Parbat, this wall must be running over several Kilometers. I along with the group pass through the opening of that wall and walk further until all the elders stop at a point. It is Maqdoom Saab, a Sufi Saint of Kashmir who is revered equally by Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir, though we don’t go up the stairs but all of us bow our heads in reverence. Some meters further , I see hundreds of burning lamps(Ratandeep/Diyas) and I soon realize that we have reached Ganpat/Ganesh Mandir. We all lit the diyas(lamps) in front of the idol of Ganpatji.The Ganeshji here is present in the form of a large Boulder smeared with Sindoor(vermilion), Inside the temple there is congregation of hundreds of devotees singing Bhajans that Culminates in the morning Aarti.
The group comes out of the Ganpat Mandir, It is already Dawn, our group walks in the by lanes of that area until we reach a open space. We walk through a dense mini forest at the bottom of the Hari Parbat Hill as I leave behind Kali Mandir which comes en route and walk further, until, I see the first glimpse of the stairs which our group climbs and finally reach the temple compound of Sharika Mata.
Here again a big Boulder smeared with Sindoor, silver and Gold foils represents the power known to us as Goddess Sharika. At the left side of the compound though an idol has also been made by the devotees of Mata, This compound is reverberated by the Bhajans sung by youths who mostly have come from Habbakadal and Rainawari areas , I recognize many faces among that group and recognize some of musical instruments as Harmonium, Tumbaknar and Nout(earthen pot).
The group I am travelling with genuflects in front of the Mata in the open compound, My grandmother and other elders read sholokas/bhajans (Hymns) from the handbooks which they are carrying with them, while we(I, my brother and friend) go inside the covered compound where the singing of Bhajans is going on with full energy and soon ,we also become a part of the chorus.
On our return, the old group disintegrates and now our new group consisted of my grandmother, I and my Brother, My friend and his Mother. We soon left the main Bhawan(compound) and descend a few stairs, though our return route is different from the route we came from. We pass through a nursery planted with saplings and some almond trees, those almond trees looked beautiful especially in the spring when white flowers bloomed on these trees and the fragrance could titillate and intoxicate anybody’s olfactory.
As we walk further , we see a temple which is also known as” Ramchanderun Mandar”(Ram temple), I enter the temple compound and pay my obeisance to Ramchanderji. From this temple I can see beautiful vistas of Nagin lake as well as Hari Parbhat fort. our next stoppage is Pokherbal which is situated at the banks of Nagin Lake.
I don,t have much memory of pokherbal, so I will move forward. We all crossed Kathi Darwaza -That part of the encircled wall which once used to protect the Hari Parbat fort. Our group walks further some meters and then stop at Chatti Padshai Gurdwara, the religious compound that is connected with the legacy of Guru Hargobind singhji, the sixth Guru of Sikhs. As it is a Sunday, we all go inside and in reverence bow in front of the Guru. On Sundays, the sikh volunteers of the Gurudwara serve hot tea to everybody as a part of Sewa, our group also drinks the tea served in steel glasses and feel refreshed.
We again start our journey back to home as our group bypasses Malkha, soon an acrid smell hits us and I cover my nose with the Muffler, I instantly know that we have reached pouj Mahal (Buther colony),the Drains are filled with blood of the sheep, Occasionally we could hear the cries of the dying sheep screaming “mhea, mhea”. our increased pace help us to leave the “pouj mahal” and its acrid smell behind us.
further down, we stop at the Kandur’s shop(Kashmiri Bakery) near hari sing high school and get some hot lavaasa (a sort of kashmiri unleavened bread) from the oven to eat as we(I, my brother and friend) were feeling hungry by now. The Group amble through the bagh jogi lankar Bridge and soon we reach the comfort of our home as I tuck Kangir under my pheran and wait for the Kahwa to be served to me…..