Kashmir, a paradise no more

Published: September 15, 2014
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A unique experience indeed; every now and then I go into a state of trance. PHOTO: SAPAN KAPOOR

Chhapak…chhapakThe oarsman slowly rows his shikara, a wooden taxi houseboat, as I breathe fresh air and put my fingers into the cold water.

This is my first visit to Kashmir and I always wanted to visit it – to take a shikara ride alone on the splendiferous, enchanting Dal Lake in paradise, that is Kashmir. A unique experience indeed; every now and then I go into a state of trance, a psychological state induced as if by a magical incantation.

Photo: Sapan Kapoor

There is something intoxicating in this air. It puts me in a daze.

In a nearby mosque, a muazzin calls out the Azan (call for prayer), and cool breeze wafts the prayer across the lake. ‘Allahu Akbar‘ (God is Great) he chants four times. The atmosphere is soothing and peaceful. They say the Azan, and not the sun, begins a new day in Kashmir.

It is at this point of time the rower, Suhail, chimes in.

 “Can you see over there? Yes, that is Pari Mahal, a terraced garden. A lot of Bollywood movies have been shot there. You must have watched the famous song from Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen starrer, Aandhi (1975), ‘Tum aa gaye ho (now that you have come)’, it was filmed here,” Suhail asseverates, whilst pointing towards a mountain.

Photo: Sapan Kapoor

“Prithee, look at your left side. Not right, left side sahib (sir). Yes, here, in this very houseboat, Mission Kashmir was shot,” he informs me, as he greets the houseboat owner in Kashmiri.

The Dal Lake is a world of its own. At some distance, a few hawkers on their shikaras approached us. One of them asks me if I would like to buy any souvenirs for someone special; another wants to know if I would like to get pictures clicked in traditional Kashmiri attire; another offers Kashmiri kebabs, kahwa, perfumes and flowers, but I politely decline all of them. I am too intoxicated by the surrounding spectacles that pulsate with life and vitality.

A group of five boys on a shikara pass us by. One of them quips with a smile on his visage,

Bhaisahab, akele akele kyun ghoom rahe ho Kashmir? Kamal hai”.

(Brother, why are you exploring Kashmir alone? This is extraordinary)

“Do not worry. I am sure next year he will not be alone in my shikara,” Suhail butts in, making us all burst into peals of laughter.

Photo: Sapan Kapoor

After exchanging light banter, Suhail shows me the Nehru Park that is situated amidst the lake and the famous Floating Gardens, which are land masses used for vegetable cultivation. I am told there is not a single vegetable that is not grown here. He offers to take me to a few local handicraft shops on the lake as well, hoping I would buy something.

Photo: Sapan Kapoor

But I am more interested in having a conversation with him.

“Do Indian politicians also visit this place frequently?”

“There was a time when leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi would regularly come here and the people were also very fond of them. But things are not the same. Just a few days ago, that minister from Gujarat had come here. What was his name? I cannot remember.”

“Narendra Modi?” I ask.

“Yes, Modi. When he came here, the authorities had to impose a curfew for two days. Such is the current state of affairs,” Suhail sighs.

I should change the topic, I thought to myself.

“Do you know Suhail bhai that you’re one of the luckiest people in the world?”

He pauses for a second and then says,

“We do know, sahib. Hum sab yahan Musalman hai aur bahut khush hain”

(We all are Muslims here and are very happy)

“May God bestow more and more happiness upon the beautiful people of Kashmir, Suhail bhai. Mai Allah se yeh dua maangta hun (This is what I pray for). Ameen.”

It is at this point of time, I recite the proverbial words,

Iss duniya me agar kahin jannat hai, toh woh yahin hai, yahin hai, yahin hai.

(If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)

“Ah, not like this,” Suhail interrupts me.

Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto hami ast.

(If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)

“Yes, hami asto, hami asto hami ast,” I repeat.

Alas, so much has changed in the last two months. Kashmiris, on both sides of the border, are braving one of the worst floods that have occurred in a long time. Scores have been killed; thousands have been rendered homeless and marooned without food and drinking water. The beautiful Dal Lake, where I had spent the best time of my life, has been ravaged by the flood waters. It has caused many houseboats to sink, not to mention it has snatched the bread and butter of many Kashmiris.

Photo: Sapan Kapoor

I am very anxious about the well-being of my kind houseboat owner, Farooq bhai and his family. I stayed in ‘Daffodil,’ moored on the banks of river Jhelum for three days. I cannot stop thinking of my Kashmiri mai, his mother, who took care of me like her own son.

I am also worried about my dear shikara friend, Suhail. I hope he and his loved ones are safe. The other day I spoke to one of my Kashmiri friends in Delhi and he told me his family is stuck in the Bemina district of Srinagar. He has not been able to contact them for the last several days as phone lines are dead and there is no electricity to charge mobile phones.

“Everything is destroyed,” my friend tells me as he breaks down over the phone.

“This too shall pass, brother. Have faith in God. Kashmir will once again become a paradise, insha’Allah.”

Insha’Allah,” he echoes.

Sapan Kapoor

Sapan Kapoor

A history buff and India-based journalist, the author has worked with the Press Trust of India. He blogs at sehar-anawakening.blogspot.in/ and tweets as @dRaconteur.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hobi Haripur wala

    Excellent article Mr. Kapoor! May your pen flourish and bring nothing but
    good tidings. You captured a Kashmir that is scared and lost. Under
    military occupation..With curfews and what not. A Step Child of Mother India.Recommend

  • Critical

    Another mindless babble from the History Buff…

    After being years under turmoil,only recently the Kashmir has seen a massive influx of tourism and return of livelihood for many of these local people…Looks like thats paradise lost for Mr.Sapan Kapoor

    According to him,Sierra Leone,Somalia,Afghanistan,Pakistan might appear paradiseRecommend

  • Heh ?

    Sacred ?Recommend

  • Prashant

    “Narendra Modi?” I ask.

    “Yes, Modi. When he came here, the authorities had to impose a curfew for two days. Such is the current state of affairs,” Suhail sighs.

    I should change the topic, I thought to myself.

    Sapan, I agree with your thoughts. Thanks for giving us a break from Modi bashing though much better has been written about Kashmir than what you have written here. Being able to read the entire blog by the readers in itself should be considered an achievement.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Before Omar Abudullah, Kashmir’s CM could even call an all-party meeting in Srinagar, Modi had already visited and pledged the people of Kashmir the money and the help from rest of India and left.
    Compare this to other PM of India and even Pakistan. Where is Nawaz Shariff now? They claim to have half of Kashmir, right? How much money have their dedicated to Kashmir for rehabilitation? Is it anywhere near 4000 Crore PNR?Recommend

  • meher

    Tragic……but they just need to keep up their spirits…..I have spent a few years of my childhood there and have the most wonderful memeories of that Paradise……Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Sigh.. Reminds me of my family trip to Kashmir – Srinagar / Jammu / Pahalgaon way back in ’84. What fresh air , What transculent skins on those women. Our guide told us – A few decades back ( when there was no electric heating system ) women used to keep a small sagadi ( coal fire ) to heat themselves up . Those were the days of yonder pavilions .Recommend

  • gp65

    Paradise was lost when at the end of the Afghan war, The violence that followed destroyed tourism. Kashmir is limping ack o normalcy with violence down, tourists returning and finally a sincere efort to resettle the Pandits.Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    Paradise may be lost (some would argue it was lost a long time ago)Recommend

  • Hueshang Ansari

    Look at the Indian trolls dripping poison. And claiming otherwiseRecommend

  • Gulwant Sing Bedi

    Two day curfew when Saffron Lord slithered into Srinagar.Recommend

  • oBSERVER

    “Kashmir, a paradise no more” .Thanks to Indian Army.Recommend

  • Chacha

    Modi cannot look into the eyes of Muslims, anywhere, leave alone Kashmiris. His hands are stained with the blood of innocents. All the perfumes of Arabia cannot wash away his sins.Recommend

  • Lalit

    a tourist spot turned terrorist spot.btw is there any connection between author`s visit and the subsequent calamity ?Recommend

  • Prashant

    Yeah, as If it would have been different if Nelson Mandela had visited Kashmir after being chosen as Indian PM.

    Saffron lord if that is what you want to address Modi as, how would you address Syed Ali Shah Geelani?
    Recommend

  • Prashant

    Surprisingly, either you do not have an opinion of the issue or you are in complete agreement with Sapan which makes me think that you do not come to ET to express your opinion but simply to see what Indians are commenting, what makes you that?Recommend

  • Vikrant

    Am sure that the “Mainstream Pakistanis” will regard this as nothing more than the “Indian section” of a (otherwise) Pakistani newspaper … so that the readership and associated perks i.e. sponsorships, advertisements etc are justified. Even as an Indian, I am appalled at the fact that there is not even a SINGLE REBUTTAL of what looks like a marketing ploy for “Kashmir Rehegaa India” — as oppossed to “Kashmir Banegaa Pakistan” … sometimes I really wonder as to the real loyalties Recommend

  • Ram

    My heart goes out for Kashmirs in this difficult time, we should set our politics aside and help Kashmiris to come out of this disasterRecommend

  • Hmm…

    If Kashmiris don’t want to be a part of India-I respect that sentiment.
    Problem is,that few people who are pro-pak,many are pro-independance (the UN referendum allows only for the entire state to be a part of Pakistan or India-no independence of its own )
    The second problem is that the kashmir valley,that doesn’t want to be part of India,is barely ten percent of the land area of the whole state of J&K-so how do you separate an entire state based on what the will of the occupants of one tenth of its land area ? They shouldn’ speak for all the residents of the state,60% of who’re non-muslim kashmiris.
    Militancy will not solve the above mentioned double dilemma-infact,it just makes a bigger mess of an already messy situation.Recommend

  • Human

    What makes you carp?Recommend

  • Lol

    You mean,all the ‘attars’ ?Recommend

  • Megha S

    Beautiful explanation Sapan. Keep it up!!Recommend

  • Megha S

    You have captured the very essense of Kashmir.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Read my comment again and you have your answer.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Kashmir is beautiful. And an integral part of Pakistan.Recommend

  • ak

    My heart goes out to Kashmir for the recent floods. Every Indian (and I am sure Paksitanis as well) are extremely saddened by loss of lives and properties.
    But talking about political and social situation in Kashmir,when will Kashmir owe atleast some responsibility for its turmoil?
    I consider them as my brethren, but when will this ploy of victim-hood end?
    Yes, there have been some atrocities in the past by army, but the same atrocities have been done to army and non-Muslims as well.
    Hate is never a 1way street. Kashmir enjoys lowest taxation, utmost subsidy, enough central grants, and still they enjoy the freedom to bash their giver.

    The day kashmiri Muslims (some of them, mostly in the valley) this acrimony based on religious identity, Kashmir would a peaceful place again
    Time to owe up responsibility and be a constructive member of the modern world.Else no one could and would care about you.
    Afterall, If religion could unify, there wont be 100s of Muslims states in the worldRecommend

  • Krishna

    Beautifully written blog! It was almost like I looked at a virtual tour of Kashmir!
    Hope things go well and the place becomes paradise. I would sure visit in the near future :) :)
    All my prayers for the families out there in Kashmir struggling! :/ Recommend

  • Krishna

    Beautifully written blog! It was almost like I looked at a virtual tour of Kashmir!
    Hope things go well and the place becomes paradise. I would sure visit in the near future :) :)
    All my prayers for the families out there in Kashmir struggling! :/ Recommend