Well Kashmir as you know it’s always been a hot topic for us since we were kids growing up…we read about its beautiful lakes, majestic mountains and sadly also about its unsteady political situation. Right at the beginning I want to state that this blog is about my own personal experience of visiting the Kashmir valley. To be honest, I have always felt sympathetic about the problems faced by Kashmiri people aired through the media, living in Delhi I really could not totally understand why the conditions were always tense and only negative… My parents had always told me stories about a peaceful era but the present painted an opposite picture.
In our Himalayan adventure last summer, Kashmir was one of the places I was looking forward to truly see if it was the so called ‘Switzerland of the east’. In the end, to be honest I think Kashmir turned out to be a mixed bag and a bit underwhelming. I begin with the positive first…as you cross through Zozila pass on NH1, there’s a flat straight road surrounded by breathtaking mountains on both sides…it is beautiful (that is an understatement)…Here we met some nomadic children who didn’t understand hindi and they had no idea about any common Indian language. The barrier of language was broken easily when we offered them chocolates :)…We pushed forward towards Sonmarg…the drive there on that road was amazing; first, we had to bring in inch perfect precision to save ourselves from falling into a 1000 feet deep gorge. Then, there was a rain storm and an amazing drive through twisty roads to deal with…The dropping down from Zozila into Sonamarg was a bit bumpy as the road is constantly broken by landslides and cloud bursts, but as you come down the hill there’s an amazing tarmac that runs along the river with lots of winding turns…
In contrast to Ladakh, first up the landscape changed, gone were the rocky, dusty, brownish mountains to an alpine forest and much greener mountains (nothing really to complain about here). With the change in landscape also changed the people and their attitudes. There was a lot more army presence who seemed tensed (unlike Ladakh), the people on the road we met, contrary to Ladakh, were angry and mostly unhelpful. On several occasions groups of young men stopped us on our way into Srinagar and asked us questions about where we were headed and gave us wrong directions. It seemed like they were playing a joke on us. We ended up driving through a small village during our final section of our journey and decided not to ask any locals for help and finally made it into Srinagar at night. We stayed at a houseboat ran by a 14 year old kid. He was nice, helpful and a very good host. We easily got along with him and his family, even played cricket with his friends one evening. But there was a problem, the boy a case in point even though getting an education going to school, running his house boat business was sadly mislead. He believed in stone pelting against the police, and even joined gangs of older teenagers during weekly stone pelting in the past. Yes, its a weekly thing out there! I felt really letdown; here was a promising kid with a future thinking about pelting stones at the government in protest to save a local goon who murdered someone by stabbing them to death. The logic was hard to understand! Yes but this was Kashmir, the kids seemed to hate the government apparently because that’s what they have been told to do!
I feel a lot of it comes down to ‘intolerance’, here one culture community doesn’t know what it’s like to live with different groups and can’t tolerate opinions of others. Its an argument about how could someone be different than my thinking!…people hated Israelis even though the people from that country had done nothing to irk any of the population in Kashmir. This situation came to test the next day when we visited Shankaracharya temple in Srinagar, I personally practice hinduism as much as it comes to celebrating certain festivals that I grew up enjoying with my family. So I wouldn’t call myself religious at all but I have respect for people’s beliefs even though I might not share the same with them. So, right after coming back from the temple we stopped at a local grocery store to get a bottle of water. While I made my purchase to get some sodas and water for my friends…during this time to my surprise I was surrounded by two skull cap wearing men who basically were disgusted to see my face. It was as if somehow I ruined their day. The situation was about to get tense until my friends noticed and intervened. With no harm, we walked away. A while later I realized it was the mark of saffron tikka on my forehead that sparked the disgust in those two youths. Obviously I had meant no harm but the people with their backward mindset did not see that situation the same way. It felt like it was a crime to go to a temple. This stems from the situation that people there are generally angry and have no idea to respect other people’s faith or beliefs. All of us felt like even though the streets may have the same type of signs, language or looks, this area truly felt like a foreign country to us. We felt unsafe out in the city.
However, it was a different situation when you come back to your houseboat and take a Shikara ride in the dal lake. On the lake, life is slow, calm and peaceful, you can sip through Kawas while shopping for things you don’t need…and ease into the slow Shikara ride through tiny water lanes of the dal lake…this is somehow I feel my parents may have experienced Kashmir. There was a true dichotomy! There were people like our Shikara driver who wanted to work and cared about peace in this beautiful land. But, obviously there are people with other motivations.
In general, how do you bring certain normalcy in a place when someone is truly hell bent on disrupting the peace. People like getting angry at someone and getting mad at the government is an easy excuse. To be honest a government can only work if people let it function. Sadly few angry mobs now get to decide what direction of discourse should take place. So innocent kids start pelting stones without knowing what the true meaning of it all is, they start hating people from certain countries and of religions just because they have been told to…without even having an interaction with them. Women’s place in society gets marginalized and so on…and then you have protests and angry mobs.
Taking my personal experience in Kashmir with current political context in Delhi, I seriously feel astonished as to what these so called student organization are protesting for? I always felt these political student parties were there to waste other students time. But now they have taken things too far…I mean seriously I don’t understand what these people really believe in…are they unhappy they have been educated so now they feel the need to destroy those institutions??? a lot of it in the media makes heroes out of Kashmiri struggle…and I don’t share that opinion at all…A certain section have a fundamentalist mindset…and that attitude is unjustifiable in any part of the world…it is seen in political tension during the 90s itself…Just by spreading hatred or someone’s personal goals is not going to help anyone…currently in JNU the lives of normal students who just want to study are getting affected…because of these so called ‘revolutionaries’. Similarly in Kashmir, people who just want to get on with their lives has been affected by the political unrest that has been there through the last two decades! I hope people see each other as humans not based on their color, religion or the country they come from