It was around 2.00 pm in the afternoon and I was excited when the pilot announced that we were ready to land. My joy knew no bounds for it had been my dream to visit this place ever since I was in the 5th Grade. We had lesson in school that described the beauty of this place and today 15 years later as the pilot prepared for landing I can recall every word of that lesson. Well, here I was going to set foot in Kashmir – termed as Paradise on Earth by a Persian Emperor.
I was peering out of the window not wanting to miss the view and it was indeed a spectacular sight – snow clad mountains everywhere with clouds all over them.
The first thing that caught my eye as soon as we set out from the airport was the presence of the army – they were there everywhere and the driver told us that the ratio of the civilians to army was 1:1. The beautiful streets were lined with army men holding guns and parading down the streets inspecting every nook and corner as the locals went about doing their regular work. Our guide tells us that the valley was shut for almost 10 years due to the militant activities, which was evident when we happened to pass by a village where every house was deserted and when asked we were told that when militancy was at its peak the entire village was burnt during the night and the empty houses stand testimony to that. This was the most horrifying thing that I had ever heard or seen and all I could do was to say a silent prayer and thanked God for giving me such a comfortable life.
But given all the adversities that the people of Kashmir have been through and are still exposed too, they are some of the warmest and most social people I have ever met. The locals are very cheerful and are every ready to help tourists and guide them. They understand the value of life much more than any of us and believe in cherishing each day and moment for their experience has taught them that in all probability there might never be a tomorrow. I was surprised when one of the salesman at a shop we went to was ready to sell us a product at less than half the price he initially quoted, to quote his words ” Madam its a good product, please buy it for Rs 100, I do not want to loose this money today for am not sure about tomorrow” . This bought tears to my eyes and I thought about how I always crib about not having so many things and in spite of having all the comforts in this world I always have a list of things that I do not have. A small conversation with that man revealed to me how fortunate I was for never in my entire life did this thought cross me about whether there would be a tomorrow for me and the best part was that the salesman also offered tea and introduced his son who also helps him in the business.
Kashmir is a beautiful place with really beautiful people and by the end of my visit I was very happy that despite a lot of people warning me to cancel my trip I went ahead and as I bid farewell to this state I was sure I will not have a chance to come again but the lessons that I learnt and the conversations that I had with the people will always remain etched in my memory…..
The one line that comes to my mind when I think of Kashmir today is a line from the poem Lines written in early spring by William Wordsworth – “And much it grieved my heart to think what man has made of man” for it truly summarizes the current situation of Kashmir and its beautiful people.