Mounting the plane bound for Srinagar from New Delhi, I bump shoulders with Indian soldiers tagged with double “R”s on their sleeves. Others have the word “Artillery” stitched to their collars. I am heading for an area in Northern India where border disputes with neighbouring Pakistan have been erupting for over 60 years. Since the Partitioning in 1947, the area is known to be explosive.
Kashmir is an area enclosed by snowy mountain peaks. When I last visited the area in the 90s, crossing the Karakoram Pass on the old Silk Route from China westward, I crossed the Pamirs and entered the province of Gilgit in Pakistan. If you look at an Indian map nowadays, it will indicate that the area is Indian property. In fact the region is claimed by 3 powerful nations with the Kashmiri population acting as a pawn in a far bigger game.
I am the only Westerner on the plane, a white woman with light blonde hair. A Blondy. Suspiciously I watch the other passengers and they reciprocate. Instinctively the women have filled the rear of the plane, though separation of the sexes on public transport is by no means practiced in India. In Pakistan it is part of everyday life. Segregation by gender is strictly observed in the Islamic State adjacent to the Hindu Kush. But, here there are hardly any Hindus. Perhaps a handful, no more.
I am entering Muslim territory. Bright saris, golden nose rings over red lipped mouths and glittering, jangling bracelets are in the minority. The Indian women wear their hair uncovered, greased and oiled in long plaits. They are very decorative, doll-like, beautiful. The Indian men’s foreheads have been marked by red Puja dots that stretch upward from the Third Eye in the direction of the hair line.
Their contrast to the majority of the passengers, who believe in the Prophet Muhammed, is sharp. Simple country people, their heads demurely covered by plain muslin cloth or small, flowered print, fill the benches with their children clinging to their frock tails. Their faces are angular, stark, and long. Their plain head coverings are tied up behind their ears, which are further accentuated by the heavy, dangling golden earrings. This is apparently their only jewellery.
A couple of Sikhs, strong as oxen, hiding their long hair beneath khaki turbans, clutch the hand bars firmly. They are counted as reliable people and are generally respected everywhere. Amristar, their holy city, the town of the Golden Temple, is not far.
Steadily we fly over the outskirts of a capital that does not want to end. Slowly, agricultural areas, offering the eye neat geometrical patterns, dissolve into ever drier stretches of land eroded by wind and lack of water. Dried-out river beds vein the dusty skin of the land. The plane continues north. Eventually hill slopes become mountains with ridges covered in snow that drips down crannies, filling turquoise lakes gathered like tears between the wrinkles.
Suddenly the Himalayan Mountain Range of Ladahk pops out between the puffs of clouds. The folds and tumbling sails of white clouds have given way, offering spectacular glimpses at the towering mountains tucked behind them like children’s noses peeking forth from curtain slits. Snow-capped peaks have emerged. Am I dreaming? White mountains have broken through the surf and spume of lofty clouds. Like dolphin fins they cut the surface of the sea. One, higher than the others, springs up, outdoing the others in majesty, notes of a song reaching forever higher, sweeter. They form an impressive range of jagged peaks. They defy the senses- wild. Each one is around 7000 m high.
One in particular holds my gaze. Shaped almost like a pyramid with four even sides it plays hide and seek behind the clouds with me. My breath turns the window misty as I stare open-mouthed. Beyond it lies a part of Kashmir which is counted as Tibet and controlled by China.
Looking below now I see that the texture of the land has changed. Finally we are above the valley of Kashmir. The green of the fields here is more intense than elsewhere. The pastures are flowing and curved. Canary yellow patches flicker amid the patchwork of green fields. Winding rivers fertilize a country awakening from its winter sleep. The motor stops and we come in for the landing. Slowly, the aircraft drops and we arrive in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian province of Kashmir and Jammu. The town of Jammu lies 305 kilometres to the south of Srinagar.
If I travelled three days eastward I could reach Leh, 5000 m above the level of the sea, on the outskirts of Himalaya, a town of Tibetans, Yaks, Buddhist pilgrims and tourists in mid-summer. The road from Srinigar is, however, closed till the 1st of May. I have come too early in the season. For the time being the pass is buried deep beneath the cold snows, but I do not know this yet and am confident that I will get through.
In all, I see only a handful of other Westerners from afar and perhaps two handfuls of Indian tourists. The flight passengers jump up as soon as the wheels of the plane touch the ground, ignoring the tremendous speed with which the aircraft is taxiing down the runway of the Sheik-Ul-Alan airport, 15 kilometres from the centre of town. A tall Kashmiri urges me to stay on his house boat. His dark eyes shift back and forth while the small, golden creoles, looping through the lobes of his ears, catch the bright light of the early afternoon sun. I agree with much reserve and, after filling various forms at the exit, we mount a mini van and ride down the roads coated with grey dust and past the tiny shops towards Srinagar.
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Nice vision Nishant
| Sep 15th, 2009
What you observe is something very rare and great. You showed the valley of Kashmir what it was and what it become now. Terrorism is a height of hatred...and hatred has evolved as an epidemic in every part of this blue planet. I work as a development professional and observe this everyday and feel ashamed of being Human... Fights, Terrorist attacks, genocides, these all are the means of getting Power as an end. I loved the way you observe things and write. I wish to meet You someday and show you the same in many part I visited... and its still going on and on...
Nice description Ikram Ullah
| Aug 4th, 2012
I appreciate the way you have described Kashmir, My Land. I hope Indians understand how pathetic it is to see their ghostly looking soliders yanking at us each passing moment. But let me tell you, the dream of Independence which you thick as unrealistic is going to see the light of the day. We the young and intellectually more strong Kashmiris are highly inclined to see our dreams come true in a much different and effective manner. Surely, time is what it takes but hopes become the feeder of our aim.
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