Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Kashmir Once Again- II

I reached Anantnag station by 7.25 pm on 19 June 2016 and it still had day light out there. The sun must have been somewhere near the horizon. It reminded me that I am up in the north and day length here is more than what we have in Maharashtra during summer. In stark contrast to the hot weather in the hills of Jammu it was quite cool here in Kashmir at this peak summer time. The station had very few people getting down. Most of them were migrant labourers who seemed to have quite settled in Kashmir for a while. As the rest of the people walked out of the station, I was the only one out there at the exit searching for some means of transportation to take me to my destination Nagdandi, which was about 15 km from the station. To my luck there were two autorikshaws kept parked near the station. I asked one young man and he immediately agreed to take me. When I agreed to the first price he had quoted, he started to hesitate and was about to start some haggling. As he saw the other autorikshaw driver approaching he pulled my hand and took me to his autorikshaw and explained his brother sitting in the vehicle the approximate location I wanted to go to.

My prepaid mobile SIM card did not work and the driver of the autorikshaw did not know the exact place where I was going for the first time. It had become dark now. When I had started my journey two and half days ago from my home, my initial sense of adventure had come from the fact that Kashmir is a hotbed for anti-India terrorist activities. I, a Hindu guy, was travelling alone here in this part of Kashmir, which is off the regular tourist circuit. Hindus were systematically driven out in this Muslim dominated land a few years ago as Kashmiri separatism and Islamic Extremism joined to form a lethal mixture. I felt strange at that particular moment however as I found myself going with the flow without any sense of fear. The young, straight nosed, fair skinned and clean shaven Kashmiri guy driving the autorikshaw was quite friendly and at the same time very polite. In spite of Ramadan, our autorikshaw traversed through the empty roads since the people in the area had called for a bandh (strike) in the memory of a militant killed some 20 years ago. The driver kept on sharing bits and pieces of information here and there. His autorikshaw was made extra comfortable and decorated. I used his phone to contact the people at the Ashram and get the proper directions to reach there. Finally I reached the place. Everybody at the Ashram was waiting for me and were worried for me since they had not heard from me till the time I had reached nearby.

I had gone for a Yoga camp organised by Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari at a place called Sri Ramakrishna Mahasammelan Ashram. This is a place where Swami Ashokananda, a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa meditated and attained a samadhi. The camp had a tight schedule that kept us busy throughout the day and participants were not allowed to go out during the camp period. On one day we were given a surprise and were taken around to some few places of tourist interest nearby. These places are not on a regular tourist circuit anymore though they once were in the 1970s. 

Martand Mandir is a temple which has still remained in function and Kashmiri Hindu population still comes to the place on its pilgrimage. A river called Chaka emerges at this place and joins further with the Lider river coming from Pahalgam. I lingered a bit near the temple offices and pilgrimage centre. One priest came forward and asked my whereabouts. He asked me what caste I belonged to and whether I was a Brahmin. It might have been out of his curiosity but it also brings one to the social reality of Hinduism where the premise of caste system has remained strong even at a place like Kashmir in spite of going through dangers of Islamic extremism and forced eviction of Hindus. 
Martand Temple, Mattan
Our next stop was at Sun Temple. The temple constructed during the 7th century is now in complete ruins and destruction of sculptures by the iconoclasts is very much visible. Still it seems they have not been able to finish their job. Many of the sculptures are now kept at the museum in Srinagar. We had visited this museum during our family trip back in 2012 and I would highly recommend a visit to the place to the people who are interested in the history of Kashmir and who want to go beyond the gardens and mountains.
Ruins of Sun Temple

A Sculpure in the temple
Kokernag botanical garden is one beautiful place developed around a stream that joins many others to form Bringhi river. The icy water coming from the mountain tops, giant Chinar trees and nearness to the green covered hills makes it one peaceful place for relaxation. From Kokernag, we were taken through some beautiful interior hill roads to Verinag. This is a place where Jhelam river originates. The clear blue water collected in a small reservoir is one majestic site. I had visited this place during my last trip to Kashmir with our family. Then in 2012, we were the only non Kashmiri Hindu tourists and we had become a sort of attraction for the local crowd. This time however there already were some tourists from outside of Kashmir and nobody seemed to be bothered about our presence there. 
Bringhi River that passes through Kokernag Botanical Garden

Large Roses at Kokernag

Scenic roads

A valley view

Verinag, Origin of Jhelam river
The word Nag in Kashmiri language means a spring. There are many town with the word Nag in their names. These have developed near those springs. The word Anantnag beautifully means Innumerable springs. The springs in Kashmir are particularly interesting as many of the springs emit huge quantities of water from inside of the grounds and it literally gushes out in the form of streams. These streams have become lifeline of the rural areas in Kashmir as they not only provide drinking water but also provide local species of fish. The water emanating from these springs have been channelized to rice paddies and in spite of low rainfall during the summer, Kashmir can cultivate rice with flood irrigation. 

Achabal is a place for Mughal style garden. This place is 8 km from Anantnag town. This place was sort of similar to Shalimar garden in Srinagar though very small compared to it. The whole atmosphere at this garden was that of a local hangout place rather than a tourist attraction however. I saw some local kids abruptly starting throwing stones towards an old demented man. I tried to talk with the kids and told them to stop their act but in vain. I said to them that they should play some games instead of throwing stones to the man. The kids answered me that this was their game. I felt strongly then that something really needs to be done for these kids who were passing their time aimlessly but we knew at that juncture of time we could not much and ended up discussing about what could be their family and social conditions that would have made them engage in such acts. We got back to our base in Ashram after this visit and prepared ourselves mentally for the exhaustive Yoga camp routine that was going to resume again the next day.
Achabal Garden

When you dont know the language and the script, even a mundane signboard would look beautiful. ;-) Near Achabal Garden.
There is more to be shared about this Kashmir visit but wait for my next blog post.
(Written on 6 July 2016)
Sachin Patwardhan
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