"Here is an account of few of my true experiences that I had in Jammu & Kashmir. These had been caged in my memories for a long time now.
Though I was thinking of sharing these with you all sooner, however, keeping in view the "very sensitive" period the Kashmir valley was undergoing through, I somewhat abstained to do it so as to not jeopardize any feelings.
But now I feel that it is time to give them liberation. I am hopeful that you will like them."
THANK YOU, AKBAR!!!
Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
I am referring to the time, when it used to take two days to reach Srinagar from Pathankot (given that you take a very early morning bus); somewhere then only you can imagine reaching at Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar, J&K around 8 or 9 pm.
It was first trip to Kashmir for Subhash Hari and me, that too on a shoe string budget. Both of us were standing in a big hall of the Reception Centre which was carpeted with thick daree. One could spend overnight here and leave for home or hotel the next day. Though there was no danger in going out but we had to stay back due to unavailability of any transport at such time.
It was late evening when we got down from the bus. Not knowing where to go, we followed other passengers and ended up inside this big hall. After the long back-backing journey, we sat down on the floor to relax ourselves.
In no time the hall was nearly full. I saw a young man with a register who was writing the names of the people staying in the hall and collecting some money from them. I could not make out how much he was asking till he reached us. He asked our name, jotted down in the register and asked for 25 naya paisa each. These were the charges for staying per person for the night. He asked us from where we were coming and asked us to wait for him as he wanted to talk. Saying this he went ahead and diligently collected 25 naya paisa from every person.
I don’t remember his name exactly but let us say Akbar(somehow I just feel like calling him from this name). He was a student of Kashmir University and was doing this job as part time to sustain himself. As no more bus would come, he was preparing to close his accounts for the day. He would deposit this money the very next day in the tourist office along with the register and then go for studies.
"Bhaisahab (elder brother), where will you go tomorrow?” Akbar addressed us for the first time.
As young person all of us developed instant chord. He was sitting with us on the floor and we started chatting. “We plan to stay 2-3 days in Srinagar before going to other places” was our reply. “You can stay in this hall for two more nights, although it is meant for one night shelter only. In the morning you can use common toilets of TRC accommodation further away. You should leave the hall after that.”
“What about our heavy bags?”One of us asked.
I had a Second World War rucksack of US army bought from a junk market near Jama Masjid in Delhi. It was large with big pockets and had a heavy iron frame fitting on the back. We were carrying camping gear along with a small stove loaned to me from another friend Markande ji who paid regular Sunday visits to junk market. We were also carrying two makeshift sleeping bags.
"Oh! Do you see that small desk far away in the corner? That is my desk, it has a drawer where I keep the register .You can keep your Bags for the day behind this desk. Nobody will touch these.” Akbar gave a practical and soothing advice. Saying this he left the hall for now.
Every evening Akbar would visit the Reception Centre Hall to collect 25 naya paisa each from the people staying there overnight. After closing his accounts he would chat with us asking about our day exploration and went to his home afterwards.
We spent three night like this before going away to Sonamarg.
We spent 75 Naya paisa each for staying three nights in Srinagar, I think a record cheapest comfortable stay courtesy of Akbar, a young student of Kashmir University. After 45 years Subhash and myself remember this young guy saying “Thank you Akbar, for making it possible for us to explore Srinagar on such a shoe string budget”.
MY UNFORGETTABLE FRIENDS FROM THE KASHMIR VALLEY
“What are you looking for?” advanced a soft voiced question from our backside.
Our instant reaction was to look back and we replied in chorus “Chemistry Department". We had entered the Kashmir University Campus.
"It is in the next building” pat came the reply. We looked carefully at the young man who was a little behind us. He was a slightly tall, fair colour and thinly built.
"We are from Delhi and teaching Chemistry in a college there". We rattled these words before any further questions could be shot at us. Hearing this the voice became more respectful and polite “I am Bashir, Bashir Ahmed - a student of MSc Botany final year.” Then came other the round of introductions.
"I am Harish Saxena and this is my friend Subhash Hari. We both are Assistant Lecturers in a college of Delhi University.” Our voice had a tinge of pride. We had reached the Chemistry Department of Kashmir University in Srinagar and had a cursory look at the Labs. It was more or less a bonhomie with Chemistry rather any serious study.
“Will you come to my hostel?” Bashir asked us probably gauging our superficial interest in the Chemistry department." Yes of course.” replied my friend Subhash.
A few more minutes’ walk and we were standing inside a hostel dormitory with many beds evenly spread in rows, probably three or so.
We got introduced to few more students who were present there. “You might be hungry but it is 2.30 pm and the mess would be closed.” Bashir told us.
Just then, a helpful student offered to make omelettes with Kashmiri bread and tea. We were indeed hungry so accepted the offer, though without omelettes as both of us were pure vegetarians.
“Where are you staying in Srinagar? Bashir asked. ”We are putting up in a tent in front of Tourist Reception Centre” I replied. "I will come to meet you in the evening” said Bashir. “We will wait for you.” came the reply from our side.
It was time for us to bid goodbye and as the word might have spread that two young lecturers from Delhi have come, there were a number of students who had gathered by now. We shook hands with all of them.
After our warm departure from the college hostel, we shared a ride to the city in a Tonga and enjoyed the trip.
While we were relaxing in our tent and debating whether Bashir would come or not, it was late evening when Bashir with one of his friend finally visited us. “Meet my friend Mohammed Gora. He is into fruits' business.“ Bashir introduced Gora. We had another round of hand shaking and self introduction.
"Let us walk to Lal Chowk", Bashir commandeered us. It was late evening and we were enjoying the walk more so with the company of these two new friends.
I do not remember what exactly we talked, but we kept on chatting indiscreetly about our study, family and beautiful Kashmir.
“We would come tomorrow early. My mother has invited you both for Kashmiri tea at my house” informed Bashir. We agreed and bade good bye to them and then walked to Khalsa Dhaba, a popular eating place for tourists visiting Kashmir.
Next day, Bashir and Gora came early and we went walking to some other places in old Srinagar. After that we went to Bashir’s home which was near old fruit market. His house was on the first floor. All four of us were good friends by now. Kashmiri tea with bakery products was heavenly for us.
“Bashir we will leave tomorrow morning as we are planning to go to Manali in Himachal”, I said.
“Oh! you should stay for few more days and I will take you to my fruit gardens” said Gora. We thanked him saying that we can't delay and will have to leave by morning itself as there aren't many buses going to Pathankot leaving at about 7 am.
After thanking them, we walked back to our tent skipping dinner.
The next day, we bought bus tickets for Pathankot and while we were locating our bus, I saw Bashir and Gora coming towards us. It was 7 o’clock in the morning.
Gora was clutching a small wooden box in his hands."These are cherries for you both, but as they will not last for long you should eat these in couple of days only”, he said while handing over the wooden box with these instructions.
"Oh Friend! we have a long journey to cover and these will be spoiled in heat”, I protested without any result.
"This card bear the name of a shop in Azad Market in Delhi, every year my fruits go to this shop. You just show this card and bring season fruits from there without paying anything”, said Gora giving us visiting card which he had signed as Mohammed Gora.
We were so involved in our conversation that we didn't realise that time was passing so fast. The bus driver started blaring horn and the feeling dawned upon us that it was time to move forward. We embraced our dear friends from Srinagar, bidding them a reluctant farewell.
I kept the card of Mohammed Gora for almost 40 years but never visited his shop in Azad Market.
Some people have a remarkable effect on you, they never tend to fade away from your memories. Bashir Ahmed and Mohammed Gora were my earliest friends whom I vividly remember in my travel experience which encompassed all India and 107 countries by now. But I never met them again.
God bless them.
The Saffron Bonding
Kishtwar, Jammu & Kashmir
I remember that early morning; I was standing at Kishtwar bus stand waiting for the bus to Jammu. There were very few buses on this route.
After an eventful, stress full but in any way useful stay of 50 days camping at Chaugan (a long green grazing ground with good gradient so large that once an avro plane landed there), it was finally time to leave Kishtwar.
I was Hony. Director of a National level circuitous trekking programme beginning from Kishtwar towards Margan Pass, and back to Kishtwar via Synthen Pass (both above 12,000 feet in height). This trek had never been tried before. With no reeki done, the maps of forest department were the only guides on this route. There were challenges to organise this virgin trek especially for a large number of participants.
Local people both Hindus and Muslims were very cooperative and watched this organisation with awe. As a young person full of passion and energy, I did my best to successfully organise it with
the help of other friends.
the help of other friends.
The participants constituted of varied backgrounds. We had a judge (who later became Chief Justice of Delhi High Court), group of young lawyers from Ahmedabad (one of the lawyer rose to become sitting Judge of Supreme Court), a group of JNU students (some of them got their civil services result while trekking and I think 5 or 6 of them became IAS and IPS officers later), a large number of students from famous schools of Mumbai and Delhi including many more from score of other walks of life were a part of this trek. They enjoyed a lot during this journey and I am sure many of them still remember this trek even though it has been a long time of 40 years.
Anyway, I will now deviate from my thoughts because though I have a lot of memories connected to this trek but there is a special one which I would like to share more.
I reached Chaugan before the start of trekking programme and pitched my red coloured two-men tent; from nowhere one local person approached me introducing himself as Mamdu (I think his real name was Mohammed). Mamdu belonged to a Muslim village located below Chaugan. Here I would like to share that this place had a Muslim village on one side of the road and a Hindu village on the other. And interestingly the inhabitants of both the villages were somehow related to one another.
For a while, I glanced at this frail young man who looked much more aged than he really was. “I am a poor man. Please give me some work.”, he said.
“Ok, you can work in the camp”, I told him thinking that we needed some local persons also.
I do not know when and how he became my personal Orderly doing everything for me from bringing food to doing all errands. I just needed to say 'Mamdu, where are you' and he would appear from nowhere. He won my full confidence with his dedication and moved with me like a shadow. Because of his poverty, he was still unmarried and looked after his mother with his meagre daily wage income.
I moved towards Mamdu and said, “Mamdu now that the camp is over, I am going back to my home in Delhi.”
"Jenab, are you married?” For the first time in so many days he asked me this question.
“No Mamdu, but my mother is there waiting for me.” I said with a slight mischievous smile. I remember Mamdu used to tell me that his mother waits for him every day and so he never stayed in the camp at night. He would go back to his village even if it got dark.
I was at Kishtwar bus stand in this early morning. While shaking hands with locals and camp leaders extending my thanks for their support, I saw Mamdu standing a little away.
Looking through the crowd, I gestured Mamdu to come forward.
"Alright Mamdu, we spent a good time together in Chaugan camp and now its time to say goodbye. Get some job and marry to give peace to your mother’’.
“Jenab Director sahib’’ he looked at me with moist eyes and shovelled a piece of torn Newspaper in my hand.’’ This season we had only one Zafran flower in front of my house. My mother has sent it for your mother’’. He then hugged me and went away.
When I reached back home in Delhi, I kept my Rucksack outside in the veranda of home which was the usual practice after coming back from camping /trekking. My mother would take these dirty cloths later for washing.
In the evening, my mother gave me a torn piece of Urdu Newspaper which she found in a pocket of my pant. For the first time, I unfolded the paper which contained the Saffron flower. I smilingly gave it to my mother narrating the story of Mamdu and how his mother had gifted this lone saffron flower to her.
My mother died in 2005. After a month of her death, I was looking for some papers and while searching the drawer of her almirah, I found a piece of torn Urdu newspaper containing a yellowish spec neatly tucked in one corner.
This torn piece of paper took me 30 years back and all the memories flashed before me. Mothers have this special bond. Seeing that my mother kept this gift of Mamdu’s mother safely and I think with affection all these years, I wondered that how all the mothers in the world are full of so much love and affection.