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!