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Sunday, December 09, 2018

Kashmir 50 years ago :: 2 :: Below Peer Panjal

by Proloy Bagchi (writer), Idgah Hills, Bhopal, December 04, 2018

Remembering Kashmir as it was 50 years ago - peaceful and tranquil

In early October I had to go to Anantnag. None, except the stenographer, accompanied me. An inspector in-charge of the sub-division, one Ganjoo, came from Pulwama to assist me. After a three day-stay when it was time to get back to Srinagar Ganjoo asked me why not travel along the Peer Panjal and peep into Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian before returning to Srinagar. I thought it was a good suggestion. I would not only be able to look at larger numbers of field offices, I would also be able to see these sizable towns. Shopian, of course, I had visited in 1957 when we had come over to the Valley along with the family. I still have a photograph that my late brother had taken with his then newly bought Agfa camera. He was a mere probationer then – and now he is dead and gone after serving 34 years in the government and another 20 odd years with an NGO run by Dr Karan Singh.

After informing my office about my new destinations Ganjoo and I started off in my car towards Kulgam. The place was around 20 kms from Anantnag (also named Islamabad by Kashmiri Muslims). We had, however, to cross the Jhelum and move closer to the Peer Panjals and then head north. The road was, as was usual in Kashmir those days, very picturesque, sometime plain and at others undulating, generally lush green. Evening fell as we got closer to Kulgam. Ganjoo had already made arrangements for our stay in a rest house which was not far from a stream which I gather is known as Vashaw beyond which were the foothills of Peer Panjal. In the gathering dusk these hills seemed to be intimidating and brooding over Kulgam.

Next morning after completing my official chores as I was having tea back in the rest house and contemplating about the return journey Ganjoo asked me whether I would like to take a shot at Aharbal Falls. I had heard of Aharbal Falls in 1957 but we could not make it convenient to visit it, Ganjoo said it was very close – across the River over which there was no bridge. I was reluctant to go as I did not want the car to wade through the water. But he convinced me saying the river had very little water and he offered to go to the midstream to direct me. Reluctantly I agreed. Ganjoo walked upto the midstream and showed me the water was as high as his uncle. I put the car on low gear and drove into the river. It wasn’t exactly a cake walk. The Heralds used to be low slung three box cars and hence lots of stones and pebbled hit its bottom. But I made it and then we drove on green grass close to where the fall was hitting the ground

It was a fantastic pastoral scene I was witness to as we crept as close as we cold to the fall. The mossy dark hills from top of which the water was gushing out in a cascade were spectacular in the evening sun. Somewhere in the distance there was a white capped snow-covered peak shining in the sunshine below turquoise blue sky and down below my red Herald with its beautiful sharp lines looked stunning on the grassy green ground with the white sheep grazing nonchalantly nearby. We pottered around for some time and rued the absence of a camera to capture the beautiful sights. The next best thing I could do was to internalize the whole scene so that the visuals remained etched In my memory. The Aharbal Fall was of impressive proportions – the water cascades down about 150 ft in torrent making a big splash on the ground the surroundings of which were as beautiful as nature could make them. A fantastic sight!

We returned to the rest house just as dusk was falling. I had no words to thank Ganjoo for initiating this remarkable outing. He had endeared himself to me and so I asked him to accompany me. He used to have his family at Srinagar and he agreed to take the trip back home with me.

Our next halt was Pulwama which was about 50 Kilometres away. The road was as everywhere in Kashmir picturesque. What was more, one drove literally under the shadows of Peer Panjal. Kashmir was yet to develop and hence vehicular traffic was negligible. It was a pleasure to drive on generally good roads. As one didn’t have to bother about the traffic one could take in the natural beauty on two sides.

Pulwama town until then had only a municipal committee and the surroundings offered little by way of attraction for a visitor. As the town was small our outfit too was small. As I was looking through the documents a call came through from my boss Director P&T Jammu & Kashmir. He wanted some Delicious apples which Pulwama was famous for. In fact, Pulwama was known for its apples and was also known as the rice bowl of the state.

Our people told us about the best Delicious grower and we headed towards him. This was my first ever visit to an apple orchard and it was fascinating. The sweet fragrance of apples permeated the orchard and the red apples hanging from branches in bunches looked beautiful. The grower accompanied us and took us to the tree which produces the best apples, and would you believe, he charged us just Rs. 20 for 5 Kgs of apples?

I understand that old apple trees have since been axed as their productivity declined with age. The district now is strongly into growing high-density apple trees as suggested by Italian collaborators who claim that the productivity would improve several times over. The beginnings have been promising. Perhaps, in a few years time the state will flood the entire country with apples grown by the high-density Italian method.

We covered the 20 kilometres to Shopian in less than an hour. It is at a higher elevation and hence colder than Pulwama or Kulgam. It is a historical town in as much as it was the entry point into Kashmir via what was known as the Mogul Road which Emperor Akbar is supposed to have taken to visit Kashmir. This road fell into disuse once the Banihal Cart Road gained in importance as the only access to the Valley. The Mogul Road is now being revived so that another route becomes available relatively free from landslides and other obstructions.

A night’s stop and we hit the road again, this time for Srinagar. I covered Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian, the three places which have currently become very turbulent. Militants – foreign or domestic – frequently attack the Police or the policemen. Kidnappings and snatchings of arms from the security establishments are a matter of daily occurrence. Instigated by the so-called Separatists, school-going children come out in large numbers to pelt rocks at the security forces. The atmosphere is vitiated and the area has been converted into killing fields. Killings of terrorists, security establishments or the common people continue unabated. One does not know when and where it will lead Kashmir to. For an outsider the killings look meaningless as nothing is going to be gained by bloodshed - certainly, not the heavenly peace and tranquility that I witnessed in these areas half a century ago.

*Photo from internet



About the Writer

Pushing 80 I was born in Gwalior in Central India to parents who were educated in Calcutta, now Kolkata. My father did his master's in English in 1916. He was a professor of English in the then only college in Gwalior. After qualifying in the exams for entry in to central civil services I served the government of India for 34 years reaching the very top of the professional cadres of the Indian Postal Service. I also acted as consultant ion behalf of the Universal Postal Union in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Swaziland.
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