“Kashmir has always been more than a mere place it has the
quality of an experience or a state of mind, or perhaps an ideal”
Traveling down memory lane, I vividly remember the chilly morning of March 1998 when I first stepped foot in the enchanting Kashmir valley. Undoubtedly, Kashmir stands as one of the most mesmerizing places I've encountered on this planet – from its snow-capped peaks to the breathtaking meadows nestled amidst majestic trees. With this in mind, I felt compelled to document my experiences, particularly those from the border villages of North Kashmir that I was privileged to witness during my service
It was an absolute treat to visit Tithwal, a remote village in North Kashmir. The journey was made even more delightful by the warmth, politeness, and friendliness of the locals, who welcomed me with open arms. Arriving at the ancient site in Tithwal, situated right on the India-Pakistan border, I had the privilege of meeting a dedicated village elder. His commitment to rebuilding the Temple and Gurudwara at this sacred site, where an ancient Sharda Peeth Temple, Gurudwara, and Rest House (Dharamshala) once stood, was truly inspiring. Regrettably, these structures had been demolished by tribal attacks during the partition in 1947.Sharda Peeth, a Hindu Temple and an ancient center of learning, now stands in ruins within present-day POK. This Temple, along with the Martand Sun Temple and Amarnath Temple, constitutes one of the three sacred pilgrimage sites for Kashmiri Pandits. Amidst the historical echoes of this place, Tithwal village has braved multiple cease-fire violations from Pakistan. The village is predominantly populated by Muslims, with a few Sikh families contributing to its diverse fabric. A brief interaction with the locals revealed their resilience in the face of adversity. Despite enduring injuries caused by snipers and artillery shelling from Pakistan, their spirit remains unbroken. They have steadfastly stood alongside the Indian Army, thwarting attempts by adversaries to destabilize the region. Despite the challenges they've faced, the locals continue to extend warm welcomes with broad smiles and unparalleled hospitality. Their boundless love and care for everyone they encounter defy description. Tithwal, a haven of strength, unity, and unwavering determination, stands as a testament to the human spirit's ability to shine even in the darkest of times.
During my visit to the Gurez valley, a standout experience awaited me in Kanzalwan. Here, I had the privilege of sharing lunch and engaging in conversation with a "Bakarwal," an encounter that left an indelible mark. The Bakarwals of Jammu and Kashmir, primarily Muslims, lead a distinct way of life that sharply contrasts with their counterparts settled in the state's plains. Their unique customs, language, and nomadic lifestyle set them apart. These pastoral people migrate with their herds to alpine pastures during the summer months, a practice that is undergoing change due to the growing challenges of this seasonal journey. Many Bakarwals are now opting to settle in the plains, seeking relief from the hardships of migration. Upon arriving in Dawar, I found myself captivated by the majestic "Habba Khatoon Peak," its sheer size and mystique casting a spell. The symphony of crystal-clear blue waters dancing upon rocks and the backdrop of snow-clad peaks painted a mesmerizing panorama.
Yet, what left me most astonished during my visits were the Kashmiri culture and the tapestry of wedding festivities. The image of an orthodox community shattered when I attended a local Kashmiri boy's wedding. Much like the breathtaking beauty of the region, Kashmiri weddings are a bewitching fusion of tradition and visual delight. The bride and groom adorned in traditional attire, the rich tapestry of rituals, and the harmonious blend of jubilations—all infused with the essence of Kashmiri cuisine—crafted an experience that shall forever remain etched in my memory.
When my friends back home inquired about the safety of tourists in Kashmir, I held no reservations in sharing that the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A has sowed the seeds of enduring stability in this pristine valley. Measures such as the fencing along the Line of Control have proven effective in curbing infiltration. In fact, Kashmir now unfolds a plethora of opportunities for visitors. From its ethereal landscapes to tranquil Shikara rides on Dal Lake, from winter sports in Gulmarg to spiritual pilgrimages, and from leisurely strolls through apple and apricot orchards to moments of introspection beneath the Chinar or Deodar trees—Kashmir beckons with diversity.
One certainty prevails—the average Kashmiri yearns for peace and prosperity. The state is gradually reaping the rewards of development, spurred by substantial government funding for regional infrastructure. Collaborative efforts by entities like the Indian Army, NGOs, and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives are extending their hands, working together at various levels. Their shared goal: ensuring the far-reaching benefits of infrastructure projects and governmental initiatives reach the remotest corners of the region. This collective endeavor contributes to the integration of the Kashmir valley, fostering enduring peace and stability within the region.