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l August 2003 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 4 l

L A S T  W O R D

Back to carnival time in Kashmir  

S M Kumar


The weather gods were merciful. When the clouds on the mountain top had dispersed, the flight got clearance to resume its journey. The AN 32 of the Indian Air Force taxied back on the runway for take-off, lifted its nose, gained height and flew over the plains and mountains for an hour when the verdant landscape of Kashmir came into view. Steering clear of the air pockets the flight landed at Srinagar Air Base in perfect weather conditions. The sun had set but the visibility was still very good. The air was invigorating.

As one stepped out of the airport, the familiar landmarks of Srinagar emerged one after another. The river Jhelum, the Dal Gate, the Boulevard, the Dal Lake and, above all, the Shankaracharya Hill. The shikaras and the majestic house boats had a ubiquitous presence all over the Dal Lake.

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Massive crowds surged all over. As the evening progressed, hotels and house boats reported full occupancy with the tourists. Lights dazzled from all visible corners and mirrored from the clean waters of the Dal Lake, they created a keleidoscopic ambience.

Srinagar was experiencing the return of carnival time after years of unrest. One could easily see the contrast. Where terror and bloodshed had ruled the roost, bonhomie and joy were to be seen everywhere. The locals and the visitors mingled freely without any inhibitions. Their mutual trust appeared to have been restored so much so that many tourists arriving late in the night would readily accept the offer of hospitality at modest prices from local residents without any questioning. This was unthinkable till sometime ago when the entire city used to be silent at dusk. Very few tourists came to the Valley.

But this time nobody seemed to be afraid. The festivities even at midnight were something one had not anticipated. There were people from all over the country. The children were the happiest lot. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the drizzle and breeze and freshness not experienced elsewhere. The Amarnath pilgrims on their way to Baltal seemed to be a spirited lot. It appeared everyone had overcome fear.

As the clock struck midnight, we, a group of scribes, set out on a shikara ride in the Dal Lake. Our enthusiasm knew no bounds even though it rained in torrents for some time. Undoubtedly, that was a lifetime experience of being rowed around the renowned lake in a moonlit night and see its beauties including the islet of Char Chinar in the backdrop of mountains. Everyone had forgotten when the night ended. There were floating shops selling all kinds of merchandise and delicious, piping hot cuisine of the local variety. One did not mind gulping down cups after cups of kehwa, the spicy local tea. The dawn came when we were passing through an area full of blooming lotus flowers. Soon the golden rays of the sun touched the lake waters and the calls of different native birds were heard. All of a sudden, a cormorant dived under the water and surfaced with its prey, a fish.

Today the local people in the Kashmir Valley seem to be very happy. Their faces are beaming. After experiencing the worst phase of militancy over a long period, they are seeing an economic boom now. The revival of tourism is bringing them a fortune everyday and they are confident of overcoming all their desperation and impoverishment. The terrorism that gripped the Valley in 1989 had not only vitiated the local socio-economic life but also dealt a body blow to its mainstay-tourism.

The ornate house boat in which we stayed was owned by Shamima. She was thrilled on having a regular clientele but could not restrain herself when she described the gruelling times her family had faced for survival during the years of militancy. She recalled how economic hardships had brought the locals to a breaking point. With the rise in militancy and violence after 1990, tourist arrivals dwindled from lakhs to just a few hundred. Shamima reminisced when the militants unleased their brutal agenda on tourists, the local people were terrorized into complete subjugation. The militants’ diktats brought an endless agony to the people in Kashmir. But in the prevailing gloom one fine day when she unexpectedly received a call from Mumbai for booking both her house boats for a group of tourists, she took it as a divine blessing. There was no food to serve the visitors and she was skeptical if they would ever come at all. But they did come, enlivening the spirit of the whole family.

Since then there has been no looking back for Shamima. The times have changed overnight. The flights and buses are always coming with full occupancy and over one lakh people have already visited the Valley in the last three months. This number excludes the Amarnath pilgrims. After ages the Bollywood has also once again turned to the picturesque locations of Kashmir like the Dal Lake, Pahalgaam and Gulmarg for shootings. The President, the Prime Minister and other national and foreign dignitaries have visited Kashmir in this season. High-profile political meetings have sent the unmistakable message all around that the State is safe. The contented Amarnath pilgrims this time have also created an enormous goodwill for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian Air Force (IAF)has organized several recruitment rallies in the State to give a chance to the meritorious local youth in its services. Already, the IAF has recruited 300 youngmen from Jammu and Kashmir in its ranks. It has also organised air shows in Srinagar and elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir, drawing enthusiastic spectators everywhere. They have been a tremendous success. Such activities have tremendously raised the morale of the local people.

The prospect of seeing the Valley on the country’s railway network in a few years from now has also enthused the people of Kashmir. With a perceptible improvement in governance and concrete steps to fully integrate them in the national mainstream, one finds that the residents of Kashmir are increasingly overcoming their scepticism and pessimism. They are now sure of a secure future for themselves without any let or hindrance.

As one leaves Srinagar, a roadside bill board on the Boulevard attracts one’s notice. It reads: "Kashmir wants peace. Restore it with dignity". (PIB Features)



Copyright © 2002-2003 Shyam Lal Watt Foundation

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