Kashmir-A Lost Paradise

Manohar Luthra

My recent visit to Kashmir after 1985 was far from my expectations. The first look of Srinagar City was shockingly antiquated. Barring few peripheral roads most of the roads are dusty with filthy open drains, old shops and dusty houses in the by lanes of the city are a common sight. All sign boards, official and private are in Urdu and English language; no trace of Hindi anywhere. The specific green colour dominates all places in the city. The population of the region is predominantly Muslim. Kashmiri Pundits once integral part of Kashmir already driven out by strong Muslim majority are conspicuous by their absence. To me, the feeling was that of a stranger in the city of a neighbouring Country on a tourist visa.

The Kashmir valley is inhabited by majority of poor Muslim population, mostly uneducated, engaged in running small businesses and tending the tourists for their survival. Hindu population in the valley is mainly of the tourists from different parts of India who come here to enjoy cool environs and breathtaking view of snow peaked Himalayas and the newlyweds who visit the valley to celebrate their unforgettable honeymoon romp. But for the tourists, the city is insipid, bereft of glamour. The yesteryear charm is missing. The number of tourists has drastically declined after the advent of terrorism in the valley. Foreign tourists are very rarely seen after travel advisory issued by their countries.

The hot spots tourist attraction, Gulmarg, Pahalgaon,sonmarg paint picturesque panorama of the pristine beauty of nature. Snow covered mountains, Sky kissing long trunk ed trees, miles and miles of greenery weave magic of virgin nature around you. These places still hold charm as they are beyond the reach of human hands. The local guides call them Switzerland of the East. One word of caution: only look upwardly to enjoy the beauty of nature as the walkways are all strewn with horse dung. These places are thronged by ‘ghodewalas’ who at any day outnumber the tourists. Their ‘rozi roti’ depends on the visitors. I wonder what these people do in off- season- time to feed their families and their horses. Their wrinkled faces and tattered clothes tell the story of their poverty. It doesn’t take much time to understand why their young sons are trapped by the brokers of terror from across the border.

Coming to the Kashmir problem, a bone of contention in the relationship of two neighbouring nations, we all more or less know that Article 370 of the constitution has vastly contributed in the trouble in the valley. Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdulla, the architect of the Article kept Sardar Patel out of the Kashmir affairs. Without Article 370 Kashmir could have mixed population like other states of the country. It would have been a progressive and developed state of India. The peace of the serene valley is shattered by sound of frequent gunfire. Thousands of innocent lives are lost for a piece of land. Kashmiri separatist movement poses another threat to the peace in the valley. Poverty has motivated local youth to pick up stones and weapons. Frequent bandhs called by separatist groups and local violence has kept the tourists away from Kashmir. Those who dare visit the valley are advised to be in their hotel rooms by early hours of night.

I was searching Kashmir of yesteryear in vain; the paradise seems to have been lost.