Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.
‘If there is a paradise on earth/It is this, it is this, it is this’
If there is anything in the world, I can call my dream place, it is Kashmir. Kashmir, the northern-most part of India, is a magically beautiful place. The Dal-lake, popularly known for boat-houses, is referred to as the ‘jewel of Srinagar’. And Kashmir itself is known as paradise on earth. One thing about it has kept me wondering for quite sometime now –how can anything so beautiful have such a scarred history?
Kashmir’s attraction is natural to me. Several decades ago, my grandfather had been transferred there for some time. My father was then a young boy but the Kashmir that he and my Grandparents remember is not the Kashmir of today’s newspapers or news channels.
Jammu and Kashmir lies just below China and shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. Kashmir’s weather is described as mild in summers while cool in spring and autumn. But, in winters, it is so cold that many people temporarily move to Jammu. People usually built two-storey houses here. The second storey is for summers. Ground floors, meant for the winter, have no windows so that the people inside feel warmer. The roof on top is used in the summers to dry chili powder and other spices. In such a climate, food is also a major aspect of survival.
Yes, Kashmiri cuisine is noted for two things –meat and bakery. Most Kashmiris, Muslims or pundits, are meat-eaters and prepare complex delicious dishes. As for bakery, there are elaborately laid shops in Srinagar. A popular dish is baqerkhani or puff pastry, typically eaten hot with breakfast. Kashmiris are also heavy tea drinkers. One popular drink beverage is the ‘noon chai’ or ‘sheer chai’ which is a pinkish coloured salted tea. The locals here strictly follow certain rituals of cooking and eating.
Still, Kashmir’s description can never be finished without a few words about it’s landscape. I am myself deeply attracted by the snow-topped mountains. And houseboats. One such houseboat has been immortalized by fitting a post-office cum philately museum on it. Many tourists take a boat ride right upto the ‘floating post-office’ to post a letter or buy the special post-cards with Kashmiri landscapes. This tourist attraction, the only one of its kind in India, is seen at the Dal Lake. Gangabal lake, Gadsar lake, Nunkol lake are some other famous lakes around here. Their picturesque beauty, added to the clear skies and hilly terrains, was once so popular among film-makers, that it was repeatedly captured on celluloid. While Ladakh is It is also full of shepherds with Pashmina goats, the wool of whom is used to weave the exceptionally soft, warm but expensive Pashmina shawls.
Another thing that is famous about this unique place is the Vaishno Devi Mandir. For those who have never made the pilgrimage, here are the basic points. From the base camp of Katra, you have to walk about thirteen kilometers to the Mandir. But it is not necessary to make the entire trip on foot. From Katra, you may easily take a horse, mule or palki to reach Sanjhi Chat from where you have only two and a half kilometers to go. In spite of all difficulties about 1 crore people make this pilgrimage every year.
Jammu and Kashmir is a cold place but colorful too. There are about 225 different varieties of birds such as finches, robins, redstarts and hoopoe. The wool of pashmina goats found here is used to weave the exclusive, soft and warm pashmina shawls. The favorite vacation spot of the Mughals, it is today a region with major pilgrimage centers such as Vaishno Devi and Amaranth. Films shot in Kashmir have also left their marks. A valley northeast of Pehalgam has been named Betab Valley got it’s name from a hit-film shot here.
Kashmir has anything that I could wish for. Except for one. Peace. Today it is in the news everyday for terrorist attacks or something similar to that. The latest among this is the Pulwama terror attack. This makes my father and grandparents to reminisce what they had seen there. Can this be the Kashmir where the festivals and feast are so charming?
Considering how stunning Kashmir can be, what I have written about it is nothing. Kashmir is my dream place and if, on any day, peace is won back, it will again be what god made it –paradise on earth.
Author: Ananya Aloke, Mumbai