Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Visit to Kashmir

Dhal lake in the 1940s
Source: Mr. Bremner - 1940 (www.harappa.com/bremner/gif/piclake.jpg)

Had been to Kashmir recently on our way back from Amarnath.  It looked like anyother city in India on the surface. I had discussions with some local people. Only 2 days back, some shoot outs were there near the boat house where we stayed. I saw the place also. Looks deserted now. The person said that some terrorists had barged inside the house and shot the inmates. I asked him how they were so calm with such a situation. He said that they were used to it. He had attended a wedding of a relative, the previous day! Their children go to schools and colleges and everything goes on normally. I saw some of the girl’s and boy’s schools on the highway. They were looking as normal as our kids are here – happy and chatting. The girls were walking on the road normally after school. Did not see any panic in them. I saw all the girls wore  churidar uniforms. Small girls wore pinafore with pyjamas (our children don’t wear pyjamas beneath, just below the knee frocks).

The boat house was in the Dhal Lake. It was off season and so the boat house was not expensive. It was beautiful. The name of the house was ‘New Melbourne’! The owner said that they have the house for more than 3 generations. The lake had some 450 house boats. Everything inside was rich – wooden panelling, dining table, beautiful curtains, sofa sets, cots – everything was there.  Two bedrooms with one sitting room and a small pantry. The power line came from under the lake. Every boat house had a septic tank underneath. Every morning, one boat man came to collect the garbage from each and every boat. I saw one boatman spreading a fishing net and collecting floating garbage. He did this everyday, it seems. Flower and subzi vendors came in the boat too! We went by a shikara (decorated boat with cushions) for shopping on the other side of the lake! This government textile shop is also situated in a boat! I and my sis in law bought some sarees and paid by credit card.  We had to go across the lake by boat to swipe the card.  I told my sis in law that I would go with the boatman and get it done.  It was pitch dark and I could see lights very far away.  I couldn't even see the boatman's face but started talking to him.  Asked him how he managed to live with fear in all the corners.  Then he told me about how his daughters go to school as usual and he had attended a wedding the previous day! My sis in law was waiting on the banks when I returned...she was scared seeing me getting down from the boat without any harm.  I was a bit nervous, that is all.  The boatman was a very nice man and any man in our place. 

The Lake is quite big, and wherever we went, we seemed to drive on its bank. The government hosts water skiing sports in April-May, it seems. Water surfing could be seen throughout the day. Most of the locals speak understandable English, but cannot read and write even Hindi. English is because of the tourists! The Kashmiri girls look beautiful with sharp chiseled features and the men tall and handsome! We were able to have good vegetarian food in Vaishno dhabhas which could be seen everywhere.  

One of the famous places to visit in Kashmir is Gul Marg. Nowadays the weather is nearly hot in this hilly area also! The months of April-May is the best time to visit this place. The whole area will be covered by snow and lots of ice sports can be seen here. I noticed on the way from Jammu that all the houses - whether single storied or multi-storied - had tin roofs on the top. Then one guide said that the snow melts down fast as soon as the sun shows up! The Gul Marg area has got a number of scenic places and it is impossible to go by walk. We hired horses like most of them do. It was a funny experience, sitting on a horse and trotting , wearing a saree! I was quite comfortable after sometime and enjoyed the ride!

Our guide in Gul marg said that only the media made everything big and so the tourists were hesitant to come for some years and now the situation had improved. No local person troubled us or other foreigners – though the guide said that they pay them handsomely than the local Indians! No beggar pestered anyone – though some were there. I have seen in Mahabalipuram, beggars running after the foreigners and touching them while begging – literally harassing them. The guide who was with us at Gul Marg was a nice 21 year old, happy youngster. He hadn’t been to school at all but spoke English well and knew Spanish and Italian, it seems! His name was Ismayil and he liked to smile always, he said!

Saw Adi Shankaracharya’s Shiva temple. Shankaracharya did penance there. The Shiva lingam is quite big. The temple itself is in lingam shape. The temple is on a hill and so we had to climb 126 steps! We can see the whole Kashmir city from the top.

The gardens we saw at the Mughal gardens were not very impressive at the time of the year we visited, Ooty has got better gardens.

We left the place with a lump in our throat. Kashmir should have been so beautiful before the terrorist activities started. Now we see poverty, though the people have brave happy faces even now. Hope the politicians help them and their children to see happiness in the future at least, instead of troubling them with their selfishness.

Best of luck to Kashmiris!


Tour diary - The Amarnath Cave Temple!

Ice Shiv ling which forms naturally and can been seen from June to August every year!

The Amarnath mountain cave is situated at a height of 3,900 mts. above sea level. Accessibility will be only in the months of July and August, when the mountain is not covered by snow. From the month of June onwards, an image of Lord Shiva, in the form of lingam is formed naturally as an ice stalagmite which waxes and wanes with the month’s moon cycle. First a solid base is formed and then the lingam begins to rise on it. On purnima day (full moon day), it slowly acquires the full form. Two more small lingams can be seen near the main lingam which represents Parvati and their son Ganesha.

As per legend, Shiva and his wife Parvathi were discussing the secret of immortality and creation on one Purnima day. Some doves eavesdropped the discussion. So some people saw the doves drinking milk near the shiva lingam, which happens even today. They say, the doves are reborn again and again and made the cave their permanent home. People don’t see them often, but the ones who saw them are termed lucky people!

We can take the road via Baltal or Pahalgam to Amarnath. The Baltal route is the shortest but tough. The Pahalgam route is very scenic and has rest sites with many refreshment centers (lungars) on the way. It takes 5 days to reach. We can take bath at Panchtarani (meeting place of 5 rivers) and then reach the caves. We took the Baltal route which should normally take just 2 days, even if we go slowly, to go up, have darshan and come back to the base camp.

Passage to the cave temple!
 First day:

Reached Jammu in the morning at 9 a.m. from Delhi by Jammu Thavi express. The station is full of Amarnath yathris and military personnel. I was told that this station is not so crowded in normal days. Because of the yatra, it is fully crowded for 2 months - July and August every year when the Amarnath cave temple is open for darshan. The station has one juice shop and 5-6 snacks shop which sell samosas, kachoris, puffs and biscuits. I didn't see any newspaper or bookshop. Most of the yathris carry one shoulder bag and a small suitcase. I met a person who had been coming to the temple for the past 9 years!

We planned to hire a taxi - tata sumo - for the five day stay at Amarnath and Srinagar. We had contacted a travel agency from Chennai itself, but for reaching them, we had to hire a phut-phuti (a tempo-like van which has seats on the sides). The agency vehicles are not allowed near the railway station because of some union problem. We paid Rs. 70/- for 7 of us with our luggage.

We left for Srinagar by the sumo taxi which is around 300 Km away. It was around 11 am. Not much activity on the road. Just the vans, taxis and cars. Had tea in a small dhaba. People seem to be friendly and happy after all the turbulence in the region. When I was talking to the boy who was making rotis in the tandoor, told him we were from Chennai, he said with a big smile that he knew to make idly, dosa and sambar also!

Then we came near the famous Jawaharlal Nehru tunnel, which is around 2 and a half km in length, connecting Jammu with Kashmir. The CRPF men check the car and the people and ask us to show the yathri pass. On the other side of the tunnel also the local police check us again and when they came to know that we were from Chennai, they waved us to go on with a big smile!

The highway to Srinagar is broad and well laid with trees on both sides - this area is called the green tunnel. Because of the close line of trees, the sky is rarely visible. It was twilight at 7 p.m. here! We saw the soldiers with guns on their shoulders often. Some of them waved at us with a smile - Chennai faces! They knew that we south Indians were harmless!

Actually we planned to reach Sona Marg and stay for the night, but because of the traffic and military checks, we were late. We should have reached the place by 6-7 p.m. Now it was very dark and the roads were looking deserted. We saw other vehicles very rarely. We were a bit nervous. Then around 8.30 p.m., some men in uniforms stopped our vehicle. They had guns pointing at our car! They asked the men to get down and checked them. Asked us if we did not know that vehicles were not allowed on the roads after 8 p.m. We told them the train was late and so we had to start a bit late and that was the reason for our delay in reaching Sona marg. After some discussion and Rs. 100/-, we were asked go to the Manigam Military camp and stay there for the night. We were on our way again for another hour or so and the driver of our car said that we were nearing the Manigam camp. Suddenly some deafening sound started coming – as if someone was shooting at us with a machine gun. We thought that we were being attacked by some terrorists and we were not going to see Chennai again! But it came out to be a small bridge we were crossing which had small iron planks and they were making the sound when our car was rolling on it! We had a good but nervous laugh. After sometime of silent driving, we were stopped by some CRPF men and were asked to park our car in an open area, where other vehicles were also parked. They asked us to come out with one shoulder bag and took us in the dark road for some half a km. We had to leave all our baggage in the car itself. We came near the gate of the camp where we were asked to take out our camera and remove the batteries and keep them safely in the holes on the compound wall and take them back when we leave in the morning. The soldier who checked us was one Mr. Hussain. He was stern looking but was not impolite. He even gave a small smile later! We noticed a Hindu temple in front of the gate!

Then we entered the camp where we saw 300 to 400 yathris having dinner of rotis and dhal and getting ready to sleep. We learnt that this was common for the yathris who were coming every year to this area. After knowing this, we relaxed and had dinner when we met some jawans who were from Tamil nadu. They were happy to meet us and we were happy to talk to them in our own language! They assured us that there was nothing to worry, just sleep for the night and get ready by 8 in the morning when all the vehicles will start moving with army escort. The camp people gave us some woollen rugs. The food and rugs were provided by some seva mandals to the yathris. People of the seva mandals (mostly Punjabi and Rajasthani religious groups) collect nominal money and provide food and temporary shelter (these are called lungars) to the yathris. They respect the yathris and do the work as seva. It was raining and the whole area was wet and sticky. Still we slept well on the uneven ground with just one sheet for bed. No mosquitoes!

When we woke up in the morning, all were brushing and taking bath and getting ready for the onward journey. Temporary toilets were there for our use. Most of the people had their bath in the open tap. We hadn’t taken our clothes and so just washed our face and got ready. Had roti, pooris and some sweet also.
We were warned beforehand that once we go out of the camp, we cannot re-enter the place. So we came out of the camp and changed clothes near our vehicles. We gave away the snacks we had brought from our home to the jawans before leaving. At around 8 am the vehicles started moving.

Again we noticed the army men on both sides of the roads with guns, each at a distance of half a kilometre. The scenery on the way was beautiful. It was not very cold or very hot so we didn’t use even the shawls. Reached the Amarnath base camp at around 10.30 am via Baltal. It was drizzling in Amarnath. The clay mud was sticky and it was slippery for walking in chappals. I had planned to go to the hill by horse, so I didn’t bother to carry shoes with me. Some of us who had planned to go by walk got the shoes and rain coats for rent. Some soldiers said that it was better to wear shoes because if we had to walk somewhere on the way, chappals are useless and one of them offered his shoes. I promised him to return them while coming back. We never thought that these stern looking soldiers were so soft inside! God bless them. The soldier’s name was Surjeeth Singh and he was a driver in the CRPF.

Then the rain started pouring heavily and most of the people told us not to venture to go up the hill because it will be too slippery. Again we met some Tamil soldiers and they fixed us up in a lungar which had tents for the yathris to stay. We had some more rotis and subzis there at the lungar. It was still drizzling and so we waited there and it was evening by then. So the soldiers suggested that it was better to start very early in the next morning and come back by night. He promised to arrange for the dolis for 2 old ladies who were in our group and horses for the others. He warned us that if it rained the whole night, the track uphill would not be easy. So we just prayed that the rain should stop and our journey should continue. We visited the other lungars in the area. Every lungar had yathris staying in the tents at the back. Everyone was treating the yathris with a lot of respect. Different lungars had different snacks to offer – dahi vada, sambar vada, kachoris, samosas, dosas and all kinds of sweets. They had evening prayers – arthis – and later dinner with hot milk with saffron and pista badams! It was cold in the night and tent was chilly. And it started raining again and continued till morning. We were very upset and the soldiers came in the morning and said that the path was closed now for the time being. We waited till 10 am and there was no sign of yathris’ movement. The soldiers said that if we start going up late, then we cannot come back till next day afternoon. And that too if the weather was good. We had set aside 3 days for the Amarnath journey, and any delays would have upset our schedule as we needed to come back to Srinagar and then to Jammu and catch the train back to Delhi. We had booked for the Rajdhani express for the same day to return to Chennai. So all the plans went awry and with great disappointment, we started our way back home.

The entrance to the cave temple!

We heard that the yathra was resumed for another 2-3 days and again 2 days break because of the weather. So we have learnt our lesson that we have to keep aside at least 10 days and go via Pahalgam and come back by the Baltal route, if we ever venture Amarnath yathra again!

Om Namah Shivaaya!

Picture courtesy: Source : www.jktourism.org

EDITED ON 26TH MARCH '13: I notice people reading this post of mine and it is increasing slowly! This is a very old post...I was a beginner at that time.  Still, it looks interesting when I read it now.  I didn't do any correction (needs lot of correction!) in the post.  Just noticed that the photoes have vanished.  Just added them once more! Please comment after reading, which will be appreciated.  Thank you!

Thursday, September 9, 2004

'Phir Milenge' the movie

Hi friends,

My Amarnath tour diary is getting ready. I am planning to include some photographs also with the article. It will be here in this website shortly, I hope!

We saw a movie yesterday. 'Phir milenge', a movie directed by Revathy. I had seen her one more movie, 'Mitr, my friend' which was quite good. This movie is entirely different. The first half of the movie looks just ordinary. The heroine is a creative director who is appreciated well for her job, but then the heroine comes to know that she is infected with the HIV virus. She is thrown out of her job, when her boss comes to know about this. Everyone hesitates to even shake her hand afterwards. The role is played by Shilpa Shetty and I have never expected her to act so well. She is the best actor in this movie. When the heroine loses her job because of the HIV, she goes to court. She is given the cold shoulder by all the lawyers she meets. Then she comes across Abhishek Bachchan, a young lawyer, who hesitates initially, but then takes the case. Nasser, who is a natural actor, plays his role as his professor very well. I have seen the English movie 'Philadelphia'. As soon as the heroine loses her job and goes to court, we start comparing the two movies. But Hollywood movies are different and they are appreciated by the whole world and the producers get back all the money they have invested. Once we remember this aspect, we start appreciating Revathy for having the guts to take this subject for an Indian movie.

Salman was the only wrong choice for acting as an HIV infected patient! He has a sad face naturally (!), but he is too healthy for this type of role. So the end part is a bit boring. We want the movie to be over fast. Abhishek Bachchan seems to be a good actor too! He is gifted with his father's voice and it suits very well for the lawyer's role! Our mood is lifted whenever he comes in the scene. We can notice that Revathy wants the movie to be viewed by an ordinary person also. We are educated softly about the disease and taught that it is important for all of us to treat the patients with some conscience. Even my husband, who is a comedy buff, appreciated this movie!

The 4 p.m. show was full house for this movie! Congratulations and thanks to Revathy, for giving us a good meaningful movie!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tour diary!

I returned last week from a grand 2 week long holiday (holiday from the cooking and housecleaning work!) to Ujjain, Mathura, Jaipur, Kashmir and Amarnath. I am fully rejuvenated now and plan to write about my journey shortly.

All the 7 of us – my sister-in-law and her sister-in-law’s family and myself (my husband hates travelling and son is too busy!) went by train. Had a whale of a time in the train also. All of us played cards with some fellow travellers. One boy who played with us was bragging about himself all the time! He said he was an arms dealer from Bikaner. He goes for hunting often and even the actor Sanjay Dutt went hunting with him! His mother acted in films in small roles. His marriage is fixed for September and he has ordered for a kundan jewellery set worth more than a lakh of rupees (like the set Aishwarya Rai wore in Devdas). He had taken our address and we will wait for his invitation! Met another girl who was a captain in the army. She was an engineer. Her parents were looking for a groom for her and she had come to Chennai for that. She is not very happy with her job, she said. She is planning to quit. The job is not suitable for girls, she said. While coming back from Delhi, we met an air force man and he was very happy with his job. He too was an engineer and married and was going home to Thindukkal to bring back his wife and son to Delhi.

It is interesting to meet new people and know about them. Now wait for the details of my journey. Hope it is interesting!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Court Humour

The following are excerpts from a book called ‘Disorder in the court’. These are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm and keeping a straight face while these exchanges were actually taking place.

Q: What is your date of birth?
A: July 15th.
Q: What year?
A: Every year.
Q: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
A: Yes.
Q: And in what way does it affect your memory?
A: I forget.
Q: You forget. Can you give us an example of something you have forgotten?
Q: The youngest son, the 20 year old, how old is he?

Q: Were you present when your picture was taken?
Q: She had three children, right?
A: Yes.
Q: How many were boys?
A: None.
Q: Were there any girls?
Q: How was your first marriage terminated?
A: By death.
Q: And by whose death was it terminated?



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