20th December 1998
When I met Colonel R.K. Dargan (Ronnie) who had served in troubled Kashmir I requested him to arrange a visit to the Valley. The genial Colonel didn't disappoint me. After two months he made it possible and along with Lt. Col. Rajiv Bhatia of Army Headquarters I took off to Kashmir from Delhi's Palam Airport on Indian Airforce An 32 piloted by Master Green, and young and cheerful Pilot Flt. Lt. Dhagat.
We flew at an altitude of 20,000 ft. and it took only one hour and twenty minutes to take me to the Valley of Dreams, Kashmir.
Since the Srinagar airport is under renovation we landed at the Avantipur airfield, 40 km from Srinagar.
Kashmir is beautiful, more beautiful than any other place on earth I have visited. The extraordinary Chinar Tree grows only in Kashmir. Its leaves change from yellow to purple to red. Many travel to Kashmir to see Chinar and people believe that it brings good luck to them.
I saw purple carpets all over Kashmir, the lovely saffron flowers grown all over covering vast fields. It is a major export of Kashmir to the flowery world. In some places it looked like purple raindrops. Kashmiris are good farmers and paddy fields are all over the valley.
I enjoyed the 'Ambula' which was brought by a Kashmiri 'Tikiri Menike' to her Kashmir 'Banda'. It was a delicious meal in a heavenly atmosphere.
The Indian army is spread across the valley and are trying to protect the people from the terror groups.
At a neglected cemetery in Srinagar the dead were resting in peace without much attention. They must be happy to have died in the most beautiful place on earth.
Serene Dal Lake is a god's gift to Kashmir. It is one of the world's largest natural lakes and beautifies Srinagar like a jewel in the crown. Houseboat cruises and Shikaras (little two-seater romantic boats) sail till sunset.
I did not see many tourists, may be due to winter but the boat owners wait in hope. Some parts of the Dal Lake are becoming polluted and it could spell danger if the city neglects this treasure.
I visited two flower garden's Chesmashahi and Nishad Bhag which are right opposite Dal. The flowers were in full bloom with plenty of waterfalls but machine guns mounted at strategic points in the gardens brought fear to some.
Guns and roses cannot be together. Flowers mean love, guns mean hatred. Col. Dargon said that guns are meant to protect the innocent. I could not agree more when we are at war in Sri Lanka.
Come what may few Kashmiri couples were showing their love for each other in the Garden of Eden. My heart bled. The whole world loves lovers in times of peace or war.
Kashmir has a picturesque cricket ground named Sheikh Kashmir Cricket Stadium. But they have no master blasters to set it on fire.
The main market is known as Lal Chowk. It was not crowded like any other markets. But the traders did their usual business. They have everything from a pin to pin striped suits.
A family planning hoarding screamed, 'One is Fun". I did not agree "It should be changed to "more is fun"
I said to my friend Col. M.K. Bawa who heads the psychological operations in Kashmir,. "The women of the valley are very beautiful. No they are heavenly".
Believe me I never saw any ugly or unpleasant Eve.
Ameen Al Quazi, owner of an apple orchard in the village of Harie En greeted me with open arms. He exports apples to many countries as most people think that an apple a day can keep the doctor away. Qazi provides employment to many Kashmiris both men and women. He is against the militancy and said, "We just want to live in peace, our land is prosperous and why destroy it?". His cheerful wife and two children too echoed his sentiments.
Kashmiri is one of the oldest living languages in India. But it is largely unknown to the world outside. I had the opportunity to read some short stories from Kashmir. The stranger beside me edited and translated by Neerja Mattoo. Most of the stories reflect the Kashmiri consciousness. They present the anguish of Kashmir, share with the readers the common sorrow, spectre of loss, death decay. Life of the people scattered like birds in fright. One story, which touched me, was 'Void' by Ali Mohamed. The story ends with these lines. "It must be raining, the air is cool and has a bracing nip. What a luxury it is to cuddle up in a white quilt but it is only for those who await the night and then the dawn. But what of him whom fate denies his wait, where can he go? Do you feel the pain? If Kashmir is feeling it mother Lanka must be feeling it more.
I thought may be the winds are changing. Kashmir is trying to rise slowly. I witnessed it at Avantipur, Srinagar, Baramulla, Rustompur, Malangapur, Balapur and Agham. The forces are playing an important role trying to breathe life to the Valley of Hope and there is love. I saw that in the eyes of the Kashmiri children who stood in line to greet me. They sang "Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara' (from the entire world my country is the best and it is a country of flower's) Let thousands of flowers bloom. Auybowan Kashmir.
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