I am ….touched by his warmth and have always believed that the hill folk have it in abundance.
Kashmiri non-vegetarian food is undoubtedly one of my top favourites across India…..
Arshad comments ……. ‘Tourism is just one aspect of Kashmir and it is no yardstick to judge the state’ …… The strong undercurrent of hostility among Kashmiris, according to him, is mainly due to the draconian, AFSPA. ………. ‘Independence will trigger a civil war among Kashmiris. We never had the privilege of self-rule! The Mughals ruled us, the Sikhs ruled, the Dogras ruled us.’ ……… ‘…….It was easy for Pakistan’s ISI to brainwash young people because of the excesses committed by the Indian army,’ he tells me……..at no point does he condone militancy. He highlights the fallouts of militancy that has now come to haunt Kashmir. ‘Murders, rapes and drug running are not rare occurrences any more in Kashmir. These crimes were almost non-existent before militancy took root in the state,’ he says
…………the seemingly endless cycle of killings has not only sapped the general populace, but even hacks.
‘A militant is lucky if he lives to be Thirty. It is almost a thumb rule that a militant’s maximum run is about five years, before he gets killed. His luck doesn’t hold out for long,’ Shabbir tells me.
I ask Arshad about the freedom of press in Kashmir. He tells me that it is very tenuous. If a media house gets too critical of the government, the administration moves in quickly to gag it. ……..Most newspapers in the Valley have an anti-establishment stance while television reporters are mandated to follow the editorial line of their respective channel owners, which in most cases, support the official version. ………Times Now is particularly despised in the Valley. Arshad feels the channel’s coverage of Kashmir is jingoistic…… ‘…….Do they even realize that the one-sided coverage can only fan alienation amongst Kashmiris?’
I cant help but be grateful for the pearls of wisdom from so many tea sellers on this journey – their overwhelming warmth notwithstanding, no GPS ……….can ever beat them for their innate travel instincts, particularly when you happen to travel alone.
Sonamarg does manage to create one of the most magnificent views in Kashmir.
Drass is the second coldest place on earth after Siberia. The average temperature in the area borders on a tortuous -10 to -40 degrees celsius in winters, lasting ten whole months, from mid-October to May.
……….Leh ……….roadside vendors selling vegetables and dry fruits. What is most endearing is that along with plying their wares, these men and women continue to meditate and hold a prayer wheel in their hands. Sometimes their lips move quietly, even as they negotiate a price with a potential customer.
….Leh’s height (11,562)
………the fantastic Nubra valley appears in sight – the sprawling high altitude desert. During the glorious days of the Silk Route, trade caravans followed this strategic route from Ladakh and Kashmir to Baltistan and Yarkand in Central Asia.
…….Hunder is also one of the greenest areas I have seen in Ladakh.
…..Kargil……… ‘Whatever little development has taken place in the region, it is post the 1999 conflict with Pakistan. And much of it has come because of the Indian Army’s initiative called Operation Sadbhavana,’ says Zeya. For instance, the concerted efforts of the Northern Command in promoting activities focused on the basic needs of the local population. Zeya extols the work done by the armed forces in running a school for the mentally and physically challenged children …….and a vocational training centre for women…….And the army hospital is a great boon for Kargil, where civilians are offered free medical treatment. A year after the Kargil war, the Indian Army also introduced Operation Sadbhavana in Ladakh.
Built by German engineers, the three-kilometre-long Jawahar tunnel is a marvel, that runs through the Pir Panjal mountain range, connecting the outside world with the Valley. Considering it is a significant part of the Jammu-Srinagar road link, and a prized target for militants, the Indian Army guards it round the clock.
Suddenly, it strikes me that during this entire trip, I hadn’t come across a single Kashmiri Pandit – not in any of the shops, nor in government offices or even amongst passengers who travelled with me on sundry routes. ……