‘’Which hairband should I wear ??
This one , this one , or that one ??’’
I said , pulling out a few from my bag .
‘’We are at 11700ft , on the Razdan pass in the northwest of Kashmir .. who is looking at you , silly ??’’
chided Geeta , my perky , stylish friend from Mumbai .
‘’ “Let her wear one ! She loves it so much ! We are going to see the Peer baba ‘ziarat ‘, must do so with respect .’’ chipped in Vidhya , my very grounded , sensible sis -in -law from Goa.
Hair Band and head cover in place , we
knelt before the beautifully decorated tombstone and prayed fervently . It is said that here , all wishes are granted to those who ask !
And so we did !
Amongst the many wishes we asked of Peer baba , one was a tad frivolous .. that the ‘loos’ hereon be more habitable than the one Shaukat Wani , our irrepressible driver had taken us to at ‘Maggi Point’ , on our way up here from Bandipora !
Concentrating on both perching precariously on the open air chute below and ignoring the buzzing flies behind had been a task !
But all that was NOT important.
The peace imbibed beholding the Peer Baba Ziarat was heavenly .
We sauntered into
the adjoining room and lo and behold was a beautiful statue of Hanuman ji !
In the cold icy Himalayan air to discover this oasis of tranquility where two religions sit side by side in complete harmony warmed the cockles of our hearts .
But this was just the beginning of many surprises to come !
Eschewing the usual tourist routes of Srinagar
Pahalgam ,Gulmarg , Sonmarg , we had opted to go with the out – of – the – ordinary travel guide Abhirup Paul .. and experience a hidden gem of Kashmir .. Gurez !
Closest to the LOC , some 125 kms from Srinagar ,
ahead of the Bandipora valley which is famous for its Alim ( education )
Adab ( good manners)
Aab ( water ), skirting Wular , the second largest lake in Asia ,
past various army check posts along some of the most winding and scariest mountain roads in the world , finally opening on to breathtaking expanses of thickly pined mountains , running down steeply to verdant meadows and pastures along the bountiful rushing river Kishenganga .
This was Gurez !
Picture postcard perfect for miles and miles , each scenic spot and mountain village more beautiful than the next .
Virgin , unspoilt , the Sheena village folk ,( direct descendants of Alexander , so they say ) could be seen fishing , grazing livestock, cutting wood , singing songs , cooking .
A traffic jam caused by sheep or goats is an everyday occurrence!
An idyllic life , if only for the six spring / summer months , most families moving to warmer pastures in the bitter cold winter months .
That most of Kashmir is mountainous and that most of its people are ‘pahadi log’ came as a surprise !
They are hardy , love nature , are excellent craftsmen , love poetry .
Their life’s philosophy is far removed from political influences and religious biases of the valley cities . It’s very Sufi, very Shaivik !
desire is Aman or peace !’ A refrain one will hear time and time again !
Especially amazing are the border villages .
May it be Davar , Angaikot ,Khandial in the Tulail Valley ahead , besides their unique wooden log homes , each has a central village mosque .
Each also has a school , run invariably by the Indian Army and most of the Army personnel are invariably , Hindu . One can hear the chanting of the Azaan alongside
bhajans emanating from the Indian army canteen .
Surprise of surprises , the Muslim dominated mountain village of Naranag , 60 kms from Sirinagari ( as emperor Ashok named Srinagar in the 3 Rd century bc )
houses a Shiv temple right in the middle of it .
Stonehenge is a world wonder but how this Shiv temple was built in the 8 th Century AD with huge stone rock boulders placed one on top of each other , atop a mountain, without any form of cementing is a bewildering wonder too !
Ask any mountain villager directions he will of course answer it ,then cajole you to join him in his humble abode for a cup of kesar Kehva and girdha ( the local bread ).
He will regale you with stories , trade a cigarette for his biddi .
And even if he is 85 years old , run adeptly down the mountain edge to fetch water from a spring wellknown for its freshness and the ability to conjure romance into your life .. the picturesque Habba Khatoum
mountain spring !
There it is !
Invitation for a cup of tea may be passé when compared to
Aslam who insisted we share a meal in his home .
Soon we were sitting on carpets partaking of a delicious meal cooked by his wife right in front of us .. unbelievable !
We said so !
‘’It is in our culture,’’he said , ‘’we love to share. To help each other is not at all unusual!’’ . True ! That day we witnessed the neighbours daughter skip in , have lunch , then run back to school !
But Ask for dessert / something meetha ?
And Kashmiris will look askance , absolutely befuddled ! Goodness gracious me
Mountain folk just don’t eat desserts !
No doubt each mountain village had its own beauteous stamp, but we were quite taken in by the villages of Churwan Shahpura .
Situated closest to the Red Line of Control , the villagers here wished there was no fencing , that there were no boundaries!
Up , on opposing mountain faces were Pakistani and Indian bunkers placed strategically, barely a 100 metres apart . Down , on the beautiful meadow below , the village folk played Indias and Pakistans favourite sport .. cricket 🏏!
Not a care in the world !👍!
Back in the Summer Capital Srinagar , we were touched yet again !
At the terraced Nishat Gardens opposite the Dal Lake , not one but two Kashmiri families asked ‘us ‘to be a part of ‘their’ family photo !
And on the day we were finally leaving our Five star hotel , we were given papier-mâché back – home gifts! Can’t recall any other hotel in the world doing the same !
Kashmir to me is all about welcoming , giving , teaching you to be one with nature .
Quoting from a verse by Maria Sabina ( apologies for the changes )…..
”Cure yourself with the light of the sun
And the rays of the moon
With the sound of the river and the waterfall
Heal yourself with walnuts , lavender and fennel
Put ‘love ‘ in tea instead of sugar
And take it looking at the stars, holding a flower
Heal yourself with the kisses of the wind and the hugs of the rain
Keep your feet strong on bare ground.
Listen to your intuition looking at the world with the eye of your forehead
Jump , dance , sing !
‘Nature’ is the medicine !”
If my ashes have to be strewn , they will have to be in Gurez !
Thankyou my darlings Vidhya and Geeta !
Twinny just can’t travel alone !
Never could !
Love you !
And Thankyou Abhirup !