Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kashmir: A Recollection from 2012

The following essay was written intermittently between October 2012 to present. All of the photographs were taken during a trip to Kashmir on October 2012.

This piece was written in accompaniment of the Project "Kashmir: Beauty Beneath the Hostile Borders". Click here or any of the images to view all of the images.

We just spent the whole morning traveling from Dal Lake to Pahalgam and the weather was gloomy at best. According to our guide Pahalgam was supposedly the Swiss Alps of India. We came several weeks early for the tourist season but we didn't really went there for vacation. But still the weather wasn't cooperating. Gloomy and grey. Our hotel was in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains, soon to be covered with snow. It was drizzling and cold, the rain from the past days started to form ice caps on the surrounding mountains. We checked in our things in our rooms and decided to have a walk outside the hotel. Right out in the corner was a police outpost manned by three policemen. I decided to have a chat with them, ask where the local market is, location of good food and whatnot. Then it started to drizzle more so I decided to stay a bit longer under the shed of the police outpost and continue our talks.

The three took turns asking me the usual questions locals asks foreigners. Is it your first time in Kashmir? How do you find it? Do you like it? After a few questions back and forth, I shared with them what I really feel about Kashmir - amazed by beauty and at the same time cautious of my surroundings and of what may happen. A different kind of awareness, more than personal but more territorial.

The moment I stepped outside the plane I immediately felt something different. The atmosphere was heavy. Armed soldiers in their raybans waiting outside the plane observing passengers getting off. To some extent guiding and escorting us of which way to go. On the way to Dal Lake we constantly saw soldiers patrolling the streets, in trucks, and check points. They were constant. Our mobile phones were basically useless in the territory, although connecting from the inside to the internet was possible but wasn't very accessible.

The three policemen told me that this is how it is right now in Kashmir. For the last 50 years India and Pakistan relations has always been sour at best or at least that is how people remembers it. Especially after the 2008 Mumbai Attacks these territories has been in constant hostility and tension. The heavy gunning and bombings have subsided over the years but once your'e there, you can feel that uneasy feeling of threat. This is the closest thing I'll get with war photojournalism, I thought. They said that India should just let them be with Pakistan as the government really doesn't care about what is happening to the people of Kashmir and Jammu. They feel that the government only cares about the region only as territories, fighting off the rebels, but they feel that the government doesn't really care about the people.

They told me that they had several areas in Kashmir and neighboring provinces that was at par with the best of the world. Natural beautiful places but they are poor and with the conflict over the years the sector never blossomed. The help that the government provides in sending troops from the south is apparently not enough, even to hold a lasting peace in the region. According to them 15 to 20 years back it was more beautiful here in Kashmir. A lot of them wants India to give up Kashmir and Jammu, probably because of this constant problem they face. Another reason would be is because culturally they feel more attached to Pakistan. Kashmir is a Muslim predominated territory and most of the people there traces their roots from Iran and Pakistan. You'd pity them and somehow would wish them a better life, but you know it's not that easy especially with all that is layered on top of the problem, if they actually knew what the problem was.

What's notable though, is how much beautiful Kashmir really is. The Himalayas can be seen around this area and the mountains are ever present. Beautiful backdrops on a clear day. The rolling hills around it provide a picturesque scenery, dotted by small villages and the beautiful people inhabiting it. The Dal Lake, although transformed and maybe ruined to be a tourist trap still has it's secrets which is only revealed to those who pursue it. This goes the same to Pahalgam and Srinagar- look past what they want to show you, and you'd be amazed with the texture of their culture.

I thought after experiencing and feeling Kashmir, that it is worth to go through all that trouble and experience it again in the future. Maybe dig deeper, stay a lot longer. 6 days after I arrived to the territory we headed back to the airport and was ridiculously scanned and inspected 4 times at 3 different locations. I thought to myself this would lighten up for sure sometime in the future. The cloak of terror harboring the territory should disperse, hopefully.

An hour or so later, we were transiting through New Delhi to Kochi when we saw the news: Rebel shooting in Dal Lake, Kashmir, 1 dead. A group of rebels rained shots on a group of soldiers somewhere near a place we where at several hours before.


This piece was written in accompaniment of the Project "Kashmir: Beauty Beneath the Hostile Borders"Click here or any of the images to view all of the images.