Category Archives: travel

A conversation on Kashmir with an ex-army man…

I and my friends Manish and Sunil were going to Garh-Mukhteshwar for a dip into the holy Ganges. As soon as we reached Garh-Mukhteshwar, we took a boat to go to other side of the river for a swim. The rays of the sun were shimmering in the waters of Ganga , intermittently blinding our eyes. The garland of flowers floating nearby shielded our eyes briefly, thus giving us some respite. That Garland may had embellished an idol of god or it may had been a final gesture of reverence to the dead by a family member. Who knows! Anyway, We reached the other side within minutes. A Panditji was offering prayers for his clients, who were repeating the hymns chanted by the Pandit.

I have always believed that the cool waters of the Ganges rejuvenates my body and mind and Manish could not disagree with me .After the Bath/Swim, we sat on the wooden planks nearby. And Manish started about his favorite topic-Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits. An elderly Gentleman, who was sitting opposite,just a couple of meters away, on the other wooden plank approached us and asked, ”Are you Kashmiri Pandits?” I said, ”yes we are”. He said,” My name is Singh, I have served armed forces and I was Stationed at Kashmir in the nineties”.

Our conversation started…..

Manish-what is your present assessment of Kashmir?

Singh-It is better than nineties ,but it is still not Normal. When I was there, it was like a guerilla war, we never knew when, where , how and who will attack us. We had to be prepared at all times. Had we been given powers, we would have normalized the situation within a day. It is the politicians, who are doing the macabre dance on the cost of the lives of their soldiers, just to enhance their political career.

Manish- You must have heard the cacophony of pro-jihadi , anti-India, and anti-Hindu slogans, that was voiced from the loudspeakers of the Mosques across the valley?

Singh-Yes, I did and so did my colleagues.

Manish-Did you met Kashmiri Pandits there?

Singh-Only in the early 1990.You fled to jammu and other parts of India as the terrorists were killing you.

Manish-It was all pre-planned. The majority of the Muslims, in the valley, were privy of the plans and intentions of the Terrorists. But they maintained a sinister silence.

Sunil-In 1947, the army of the Maharaja sided with Pakistan and thus helped Pakistani army to annex POK. This all happened on the name of religion. The same happened at the time of Sukh Jiwan Mal, when his army deserted him. Yaqub shah, being a shia muslim was also deserted by his army. History repeated itself in 1989-90 and Kashmiri Pandits were rendered homeless.

Singh- The lack of political will is a deterrent for the return of Kashmiri Pandits. you are not a vote-bank and you did not even raise your armed unit to counter your hostile contemporaries in Kashmir .The political will is a must for the return of Kashmiri Hindus. Kashmiri muslims are being heard because they talk not only diplomatically masquerading peace, but when the need arises ,they restore to violent methods also. They know how to be heard.

Manish-We are a peaceful community. But that does not mean that we are naïve. At the same time, I have to agree with you. Our peaceful nature has become a hindrance. The govt. too knows this fact, that is why they have not been able to make inroads for the kashmiri pundits into Kashmir. Pakistan has a Plan for Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims. National conference, PDP and congress has plan for Kashmiri Muslims .The plan for Kashmiri Hindus is to appease Kashmiri Muslims by marginalizing KP’s socially, financially, religiously and politically . As you said it is vote-bank politics.

Sunil-The valley-centric political parties are playing dirty politics. They have over years, successfully sown the seeds of hatred against India. The frequent outbursts of Mustafa Kamal against India is not new. The recent obnoxious statements of NC MP Ghulam Nabi Ratanpuri is also not new. Attaullah suhurwardy,a senior NC Leader, the former minister and Deputy speaker had said in a speech in State legislative council that he is first a Muslim then an India and that It is the fundamental duty of a Muslim to strive for conversion ,any muslim who forgets this duty is not a worthy Muslim. The Kashmiri Hindus were proving to be an impediment for the religious zealots and bigoted politicians.
PDP is also no saint. Their patron Mufti mohammed syed instigated riots and violence at Anantnag, which led to migration of many Kashmiri pundits in the mid 1980’s.It is a known fact that when he was the chief Minister of the state, he did not used to salute the National Flag of India on special occasions like 26th jan or 15th August. It was a clear indication to his vote-bank that he does not care about India. These gestures by the valley-based mainstream political over the years have poisoned the minds of majority of Muslim minds. This propaganda has lead a Kashmir Pandit to a point of no-return.

Manish-That is why we demand a separate homeland for Kashmiri Pandits. we have seen seven migrations. Enough is enough .We can not live anymore at the will and whim of Islamist fundamental jehadi mindset politicians, who use us whenever it suits them and discards us when it suits the emotions of their vote-bank.

Singh-The politicians should consider this option. As I said a political will of the government is a must to facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits.

Manish –If Govt. is not serious to facilitate our return on our conditions then, let them formally announce us as Refugees. There are many countries who have special laws for refugees. We will also find one such country. At least we-the kashmiri Pandits can live as a community and preserve our ancient heritage and culture.

Singh-Govt. should ponder over this point too. You see, Kashmir matters for me as well!

Sunil-How does it really matter to You or rest of Indians .Majority of Indians are still oblivious to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. Majority of them still believe that we live in Kashmir even today.

Singh-You may be right! But I too have given my blood for Kashmir. I was hit by the bullet in my right leg. My colleague was killed in the Gun battle with the terrorists, in front of my eyes. I too faced trauma-physically , emotionally as well as mentally.

He folded up his trousers to the thigh. There was a livid Scar above the right side of his right knee. I looked at the face of Singh. It was livid as well. The sweat drops on his forehead made me realize the conspicuousness of his Curled white moustaches that still had some shades of black. Just like his personality.
Calmness descended on his face as he curled down his trousers.. He was again composed .Manish was looking at him intensely.

Manish-Singh Saab, I appreciate your patriotism. You are also one of our many unsung heroes, who gave their blood for Kashmir.

Sunil-I agree with Manish. Where will you go from here singhji?

Singh-I live in Gajraula. I will reach there within half an hour .Where are you going?

Manish-Lucky you. You have a place to be called as Home. My home is illegally occupied by some Muslim men in Kashmir. By the way, we are going to NOIDA.

We exchanged our mobile numbers, with this hope that we will remain in touch with each other and share some more information and incidents on Kashmir. Before he left he said, ”you should ask Govt. for a place of your own in Kashmir”

Singh fared good bye to us. We watched his back as he walked with a limp towards the Boat. His family was already in the Boat. A man grabbed his hand and pulled him into the Boat. The boatman paddled the Boat away from us. we waved with our hands at Singh. He waved back. He alighted from the Boat, ascended the stairs , looked back at us and again waved. we waved back.
Singh Saab was gone but there are thousands of singh saab’s who have fought for Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandit’s fight for the restoration of their rights and justice is long, arduous with little support from the Government machinery. For some, it may look impossible to restore our basic fundamental rights in Kashmir. At times, it feels that a Kashmiri pandit is fighting a lone battle. But then we meet some people like singh, for whom Kashmir still matters. And hope floats. Just like that garland that floated in the Ganges and shielded our eyes from the blinding reflections of the Sun…..

Advertisements

trip to mahadev at 11000feet above sea level

It was year August 1989.I along with my friends Sanjay Bharti and Naveen raina decided to have some adventure. Being a native of Kashmir,It was natural for me to have love for mountains and hence I loved trekking and hiking nearby mountains like Zabarvan, Amarnath, Dhyaneshwar(Bandipura). Zabarvan was my all time favourite, since it was the closest to my home in Rainawari. Apart from trekking, swimming also used to give me an adrenaline rush.

Raksha Bandhan, A sacred festival among Hindus of Kashmir used to be celebrated with lot of enthusiasm, KP devotees used to pay their obeisance to their deities by visiting various holy places, especially places connecting to Lord Shiva, Like Amarnathji,Harsher,Sersher,Dhanshewar,Shankarayacharya temple etc.

I  along with my two friends had decided to go to Mahadev. My elders had warned me that Journey to Mahadev is strenuous , Tougher than Amarnathji. We had decided to meet on Aug 16 at the lal chowk bus stand .We all met at the desired place at around 1.00p.m.

We boarded a bus to a village known as Dara. Village  Dara is very near to haarvan,  and famous Dachigaam national park. We took some snacks along with us…some biscuits and bread and started our ascend. I was wearing a brown baggie pant and a brown and white check shirt which our family tailor Gulzaar had made and whose shop was at jogi lankar bridge. I was also wearing a liberty sports shoe(white with orange stripes).

We started our ascend at around 2.00p.m and were ascending through the narrow gorge which accompanied us right up to our next base camp at lidwaas. After one hour’s ascend,we were already feeling hungry and satiated our hunger with whatever was left with us. We were ascending at a leisurely pace and occasionally stopping at some places and resting on boulders. We could not see a single person in our first 3 hours of ascend. After  3 hours or so, We met some people. My Muslim neighbor was also among them. His name was “Arif” I asked him “what are you doing here!”, He said” I had been to tarsar and marsar and I am in these mountains from last 4-5 days” (Tarsar and Marsar are high altitude mountain lakes). They were a group of around 4-5 boys and they were fully equipped with tents, haversacks, carry mats etc.(After some years after this incident came to know that ”Arif” had become a militant and  mentally co-related our last meeting ).

.

we were enjoying our trekking, it took us almost six hours before we reached a place known as “leedwas”.This place is a small meadow with some 10-20 houses, at around 10,000 feet above sea level, belonging to nomads known in kashmir as” Gujjars”. For these gujjars their lives revolve around their livestock. By the time we reached leedwas, it was around 7.30-8.00p.m. We met some other Kashmiri pundits(KP) also . Total number of devotees were around 8-10 people. We were told normally every year at least couple of  hundred  devotees  come to Mahadev, But that year situation was somewhat different.(It was an early stage of Militancy in Kashmir).As carefree teenagers, we could not understand politics neither had any inclination.

We had thought that we will be able to find something to eat once we reach leeedwas,

but to our disappointment, there was nothing that we had hoped for. However, another group of KP devotees, had before hand seen coming events and had brought a stove, utensils and enough rice and raw bottle gourd with them to feed at least a dozen mouths. In the late evening all of us (8-10 people) contributed   some way or the other in making our dinner which consisted of cooked rice , bottle gourd and pickle. We were already hungry as wolves and guzzled our dinner in no time. Next thing that was forcing me and my friends to get worried was to find a place to stay put for night. That worry was also taken care of by other KP’s, as they had arranged 2  Gurjar Kotha’s for all of us. We were   given a place to sleep in a Gurjar Kotha  by the  local Gurjars at a very nominal cost. We  three friends were the youngest among all the devotees, and we were well guided  and looked after by other KP’s.

Gujjar “kotha” or gujjar house is a rectangular shaped single room and single storey house, may be 15 yards long and 10 yards wide, made of mud. Inside the Kotha, there is a  low horizontal partition whose height will be approximately 2-3 feet. Front side of the partition is used as living, dining and bedroom by The Gurjar’s and the back side is used by  their livestock. This means both gujjars and their livestock share that one room or kotha. It was a bit uncomfortable sleeping in that kotha as there was hardly any decent flooring. We used deodar twigs covered by a blanket as  Mattress. We spread one Blanket on the flooring and one to cover our bodies. I remember vividly the eyes of goats and Sheep’s, looking directly to me over my head.their eyes were shining like fireflies in the night. That night, I slept like a log…

We were woken by our fellow KP’s at 4.00 a.m. For our next and final stretch, an experienced and elderly person of around 55 years took the charge of leading the way further up to Mahadev shrine.  It was a Full moon night and we were all walking in a line, ambling and climbing the mountain very cautiously. We were following literally each other’s footsteps. Our leader and other KP’s had constantly captivated our minds by their interesting anecdotes. “I had seen many a times a Hangul here in my previous journeys, maybe we will see a Hangul today also” said the Leader who was also acting as a guide.Another one said,”look at these lights twinkling below in the plains,that is chandpur,my village”.Another Gentleman took his monocular to look a the the village below that was described as “chandpur”.

After some 3 hours we reached a place, where we saw a huge boulder. That boulder must have been at least two story tall and standing at the edge of a precipice. We were told that we have to climb this rock as Mahadevji is on the other side of Rock. Our little ascend on that rock boulder was bare footed. The rock was very rough and I could feel the rough edges piercing my foot soles. That rock was right on the ridge of the mountain, just above the famous dachigaam national park. Finally, I had the darshan of Mahadevji. It was a image of shivlingam naturally carved on the rough rock and looks quite distinct than its surroundings. It was like a smooth black/grayish marble carved on that rough rock, just above the ridge. It must be around 4 feet tall and two and half feet wide .At any given time, maximum, two to three persons can stand in front of  Mahadev as that place is cramped.The danger of falling down the precipice is very high there. It was an early morning by the time we reached there , everything looked so beautiful, scenic and divine…

After having darshan, we immediately started our journey back to leedwas. We reached leedwas in less than 2 hours. I remember from Leedwas, we could see a bus, which was moving down somewhere in valley. From that height it looked like an ant. It was already 10.00a.m, I was worried as I was given a deadline to reach home back by 10.00a.m…

From leedwas, I with my friends Sanjay and navin hurriedly descended back. we were actually running and It took us another two and half hours to reach back to Village Dara.We could not find any transportation back to the Srinagar Bus Stand as a “Harta” was called by the Muslim fundamentals in memory of  Pakistan Military Dictator Zia-ul-hak’s first death anniversary. Instead of waiting we started walking and running back to Srinagar and after 2 hours we got a lift from the truck driver. That truck dropped me midway at Nishat. From Nishat, I knew there was a short cut via the famous bundh to reach Rainawari.It was another 4-5 Kms ,before I could reach my home. Alone, walking through the bundh, my only accomplice was a big water pipe which comes from haarvan and quenches the thirst of many in Rainawari and adjoining areas. It was a hot day, My only consolation was that pipe which was icy cold and water was oozing out at some joints, those weak joints acted as my thirst quenchers. I crossed the famous 7 bridges before I reached back to my home in Rainawari. I was exhausted and tired by the time I reached my home at 5.00p.m. I don’t need to write how I faced the fiery stares of my Parents. ..

Today, my friend Sanjay Bharti is working in Mumbai and Naveen Raina in Delhi, Occasionally in touch through a phone call or e-mail .Mahadev episode pops up each time we meet as That  trip was our last in Kashmir and thus remains  one of  our most cherished trips……