Thursday, 7 July 2016

Kashmir Once Again- III

My plan for this visit to Kashmir was fixed some 4 months back when I booked my train tickets. The only disadvantage of planning and telling people about it so much in advance is that they tend to forget. I had to remind people repeatedly when it came to any engagement of my time during this tour period. This is Indian habit I think, where people do not plan so much in advance. It also reflects in the way people behave during the times of pilgrimage to deities. Spontaneous decisions, rushing for the trains, going along wherever crowd takes you and all such things in life sound like they are highly spirited actions but certainly these are not my cup of tea. I used to hate those aspects of my previous jobs wherein I followed such ways without much of choice. The down side of such advanced planning is that I have always ended up travelling alone or not having any travel buddies. While I was proud to know that I was the first one to register for the Yoga camp, nobody had agreed to join me as I insisted on so much on very early planning.

I wanted to experience Kashmir railway. When I had visited Kashmir in 2012, I had seen the train tracks being laid down and had fixed in my mind then that I would be travelling by train whenever I would visit this place again. After going through the information and the schedules, my plan was finalised. I wanted to go upto Baramula, the northernmost station on the Indian Railways. Reaching there also meant touching a place which is infamous for being on the frontier where near its mountains Indian military closely guarded the territory from potential aggression from Pakistan. Northern Kashmir being closer to the Pak occupied territories is also very much volatile. I came to know later on that the just the day before I traveled there, Sopore a major town on the railway route had seen clashes between terrorists and the central reserve police forces.

My last day of the trip started early. I had not been able to sleep with lot of excitement in the mind. The Yoga Camp had ended and all the participants were going to go in different directions. Kalpanadidi and Hardikbhai, a couple who are life time workers at Vivekananda Kendra decided to join me for the Railway journey by deciding at the last moment. Though not initially planned, it was a good company to be with for the next 12 hours as we travelled together all the way upto Udhampur.

Our journey started from the Anantnag station. Currently the trains in Kashmir ply between Banihal and go upto Baramula while passing through major stations of Anantnag, Srinagar, Budgam and Sopore. The morning time train coming from Banihal was already full with daily commuters travelling to Srinagar. There was no place to sit but we were anyway happy standing at the large space that was available at the start of gangway while getting full view of the outside from the open window. Local people in the train were looking at us admiringly especially after seeing Kalpana didi with her prominent bindi and uncovered head. Many people curiously asked us where we had come from and where we were going to. We were a novelty getting in at a place like Anantnag.
The train had started running taking with it all sorts of people, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus; Students and beaureaucrats; migrant labourers and businessmen all alike. It started off from the southern part of the Kashmir valley which had rich landscape with abundant water flowing through the green paddy fields. Habitations were loose agglomerates of large houses having some fruit trees and kitchen garden plots around them. One young man standing besides us started to give us information about crops, plants, villages that we were seeing on the way. He turned out to be recent college pass out with a Geography major. He beamingly told us about his recent selection in the Income Tax Department. He along with many others got down at Srinagar station.
Expanses of rice paddies, apple orchards and poplar plantations
The new crowd which had gotten in or continued further was all serious faced. It also reflected in the landscape as it started to become drier. The rice paddies were giving way to apple orchards. Houses were becoming smaller in size and the habitations more compact. We passed one army camp along the way. Huge sized tri colour flag was fluttering fully up in the air with all of its grandeur. It was one proud unforgettable moment. It signified the great job Indian armed forces and the police have been doing in face of such adversity. We reached our final station on the route, Baramula.
In the fifteen minutes for which the train was going to stop at the station before it started its journey back to Banihal, we got the return journey tickets. I clicked some pictures around at this scenic station which has a backdrop of a distant snow capped mountain. Those pictures also included my first silly attempt of taking a selfie, in spite of having had a number of smart phones in the last few years. I went outside the station to see if some food was available but there were no food stalls but only one general shop which was also closed most probably due to the Ramadan.
Sopore town

Scenic view from Baramula station

Baramula station entrance from outside
After the train started I sat on the other side of coach and started absorbing the views from there. The initial excitement was over and even the natural beauty had also started to feel monotonous. I fell asleep. The remaining part of the journey was spent chatting with Kalpana didi and Hardik bhai and munching on some small packets of nuts and dates that were bought from one moving vendor.
We got down at Banihal and took a shared taxi to Udhampur. While Kalpana and Hardik remained at the station waiting for catching the train to Shimla, their base station, I got into the train that took me to Delhi. At Delhi after passing some time at Humayun's tomb along with my backpack, I started off to Ratnagiri in Rajdhani Express. This time I took care not to get fed heavily on the food that Rajdhani Express offers continuously. Compared to my journey from Ratnagiri to Kashmir, the return journey had lesser crowd, lesser stress, lesser pain, lesser eventfulness and lesser excitement. In plain words it was mundane.

If somebody asks me about advice on doing solo unchartered travel in lesser explored areas of Kashmir, I have following points to say,
1.       Yes it is possible. You can do it. Do not fear. Remain open and move ahead with faith in basic human goodness of people.
2.       The area is disputed. As a traveller and explorer, respect that people can have basic freedom to have their own separatist views. Do not argue with people and boast about your own nationalistic views.
3.       The local culture is conservative Muslim one so behave yourself accordingly. You can be very much inquisitive about their customs and traditions but criticism of it will surely get you into trouble.
That brings to the end of my series of blogposts covering my tour to Kashmir.

"But  you had gone there for a Yoga camp. Did you do it or just roamed around." A friend of mine has asked after reading the first two posts. "Wait my friend. The fourth one is coming up shortly."

(Written on 6 July 2016)

Sachin Patwardhan
Post a Comment