Even though I’m from Jammu and have a lot of family members and friends working in Kashmir, it hasn’t been a place I cared enough to visit. Last time I was there in 1999, I had to cut short my stay after Kargil war started. Since then, I never really gave any attention to the place except for the usual stuff it’s infamous for. But recently. me and wifey made a quick trip to Srinagar to meet some family members working there. This post is a travelogue of this trip. I am not sure if it can be called a travelogue or not, but I expect it to have a lot more rants than usual.  I didn’t take my camera with me on this trip, so all the pictures are from wife’s cellphone.

To begin with, the flight and our arrival in to Srinagar were uneventful. As we drove to the main city where we were staying, I noticed a lot of security personnel on the roads. It was a mix of CRPF, J&K Police and surprisingly BSF in some places.  There was construction of some flyover going on in middle of the city and the road was pretty much non-existent forcing us to take a detour. After a bit of rest, family took the wifey out for some sightseeing.  Their original plan was to take us to Kheer Bhawani temple. It is a pretty important temple for now displaced Kashmiri Pandits as well as other Hindus too. I had no wish to visit the temple, so I refused and preferred to read something or watch cricket match. But there was some stone pelting going on in Ganderbal area and some other localities on the way which forced a plan change and family took wifey to Chashme Shahi and a shikara ride on Dal lake.
Botanical garden

Botanical garden

Next day, we hired a local car and visited Shankaracharya Temple first. The road leading up to the temple on hill top is very picturesque and green. There were a lot of brown eagles with white spots in the tree canopy as well as road which raced the car for some distance. Theres a security check point at base of stairs leading up to the temple and you can’t take cameras and phones beside this point. There are roughly 200 steps made of stone. Even though my last trip was almost 18 years back, I was a little surprised to see the changes. The open ground in front of temple was gone and covered by some tin and wood huts built by CRPF unit deployed there. The Dal lake near base of hill was much smaller, dirtier and full of weeds, a lot worse than what I remembered. Later on, I could smell the stinking water of the lake when we got near it.  This once beautiful and huge lake is dying fast and the people as usual are too stupid to stop. Another annoying thing was that the muslim dominated J&K government was trying to rename the hill to Takht-e-Suleiman. The turds are already renaming many places in Kashmir to muslim names like Anantnaag to Islamabad and so on.
Nishat Baag

Nishat Baag

From Shankaracharya Temple, we drove to Botanical Garden near Chashme Shahi. There’s a small lake with some boats and a nice garden around it.We had some tea and snacks there before moving on to  Nishat Baag, which is one of the better places in Srinagar city. There were only a few tourists, mostly Bengalis and a few Gujaratis who usually travel in big groups. As we walked around , the gardeners working there kept offering us flower seeds. We bought some but I have little hope of them doing well in Delhi’s weather. The garden itself is big with running water and fountains which work more or less. There are some huge and centuries old Chinar trees in the garden and all around the valley.
Our next stop was Harban which has garden and a lake for sightseeing. Last time I visited it, the lake was completely dry and the garden looked half dead. This time there was some water in the lake but the area seemed to be much smaller. Garden was green with some water flowing through, massive chinar trees and nice flowers. We didn’t stay there for long and stopped at Shalimar. Our driver didn’t want to stay there for long as a lot of stone pelting incidents happen in the area.  While on road, I could see a lot of walls with pro-ISIS and anti-India slogans including a wall of Shalimar Baag. We had our lunch of Kashmiri Masala Dosa, Cheese Dosa, too salty Maggi noodles and some kehwa in a “Vegetarian” roadside restaurant in front of Shalimar Baag. The eatery even had Jain and “Half Jain” food for sale.  Since everyone in the group was vegetarian except me and all other nearby shops were closed, we had few other options.
Shalimar Baag is nice by itself, but it was noting really special after we had visited 3 other similar gardens. The water channels and fountains needed cleaning but was done in a half assed way. We stayed there for about 20 minutes and left to visit Hari Parbat. It is a old fort and has a temple, gurudwara and a mosque. The temple was looted and vandalised by muslims a few years back, like dozens of other temples in muslim majority Kashmir and idol damaged. It was repaired and family along with some Hindu co-workers arrange bhandara and puja there whenever possible. But we had to turn back as the road was blocked due to some more stone pelting going on in the area.
Walnut blossoms

Walnut blossoms

So we decided to go back home through Old Srinagar. Driver drove much faster than usual because he feared more stone pelting following end of muslim prayers. Next day he claimed that his relatives had caught one stone pelter who attacked their vehicle just outside Srinagar. According to the driver, the stone pelter turned out to be a Kashmiri policeman who was organising stone pelting in the locality. According to him Abdullah owned National Conference party was behind most such stone pelting incidents and were using policemen loyal to them in Kashmiri police to organise stone pelting and to incite the mobs. Considering what junior Abdullah has been saying on this issue, the conspiracy theory seems quite credible.
Old Srinagar seemed to be a depressing ugly place unlike most other such older parts of a city. There were some old abandoned houses which belonged to Kashmiri Hindus forced to leave Kashmir due to violence by Kashmiri muslims. Some such houses were encroached upon by probably neighbours and random shops. Nearing our place, we saw some shops in the market which had sustained damage from stone pelters.
Panaroma shot of a farm

Panaroma shot of a farm

We were planning an early start next morning but found it impossible to sleep till late night. It was mostly due to 3 nearby mosques near our place competing with each other to see which one could make more noise. Each started it’s loudspeakers near 8:30 pm and kept playing the noise they call prayer well past midnight. I forgot to mention it earlier, but this was a very consistent experience throughout our stay. There was no single locality during our stay in Kashmir where one couldn’t hear some noise from more than one mosque. Most of it was in Kashmiri which we didn’t understand, but atleast one near Harwan was in Urdu. The preacher seemed to be non-Kashmiri and was rambling on about injustice done to muslims since beginning of time and the usual “islam khatrey mein hai” crap. Another thing was even school going girls wearing hijab and some other dress almost like burqa, but not covering face. Don’t  know what they call them. It was never like this.
Stuff like this gives an outsider an idea how mosques were used to scare and intimidate Kashmiri Hindus to leave their homes when exodus happened. It is probably even worse now.
We started for Pahalgam next morning around 75 km from Srinagar. We also considered Gulmarg, but decided that Pahalgam would be a better choice. On the way, we stopped at a kehwa shop in Pampore. Women managed to spend a more than decent sum of money on saffron, honey and quite a few other things.
Our next stop was Martand temple which everyone called Mattan temple to my consternation. It is constructed over a fresh water spring and has a specie of medium sized fish in large numbers.  There was a sign board prohibiting feeding fish anything apart from a special feed being sold by a shop there. Hindu priests from this village used to travel all over the state and did some religious work and horoscope creation kind of work in far off places. Now Hindus are almost gone and there are only a few Sikh families living there. There was a Sikh religious ceremony going on in temple garden when we were there.
Just after rain stopped

Just after rain stopped

We then drove alongside Lidder river towards Pahalgam on a road with beautiful scenery. Some river rafting is arranged on this river but the starting point had only 3-4 tourists sitting in the rafts. There was an area with a number of big tourist resorts lined up but all were empty as tourists were keeping away. On the way driver told us about some movies which were shot in the area and seemed quite proud of it for some reason. Just before reaching main Pahalgam town he informed us that the car will not go any further because the local unions don’t allow it. There is hardly anything to see or do in Pahalgam town itself and the few points nearby which are worth seeing are a few km away. We like to hike and wanted to see those places as they seemed to be bit better than just walking around the shabby town but were not sure about the idea.
Near end of

Near end of “hiking” route in Pahalgam

As soon as we got off the car, the mule owners swarmed around us. I had no intention of riding any mule but the mule owners were very persistent, annoying and pain in the ass. I was more interested in walking to a few places of interest. But wifey was wearing some girly shoes not suitable for walking long distances, so in the end we got one mule and it’s handler to show us the way with understanding that wifey may ride it if it was difficult for her to walk. Rest of the family stayed in the town. I wish I had remembered names of the places we saw on this hike, but it was more or less a waste of time. The trail was wide as a road, full of mud due to too many mules walking on it and stank due to their crap everywhere. Another mule handler kept following us for 20-25 minutes trying to convince us to hire him to and turned back only after some getting abuse.  Wifey got on the mule we had hired a few minutes of hiking because of all the mud. I had my hiking shoes on so it was not much of a problem for me.
There was an old shikargaah of Dogra Kings on the way, a rough road led right up to it. Our first stop was a small but beautiful meadow. It had entry fee of Rs 20 and some tea shops.When we arrived, there were atleast 50 mules on the gate already. There were also a few locals with goats, rabbits, kashmiri dresses which tourists pose with for pictures. While we were there, it started raining and we had some kehwa, tea and pakoda in one of the tea shops. It was a beautiful place but experience was somewhat spoiled by the above mentioned locals and lots of children begging.  Our next stop was a point on  a ridge with couple of smaller snack shops where we had to stay a bit longer amount of time due to another heavy rain shower.  We had forgotten to bring our jackets and the rain made it very cold. Nearby mountain peaks also got a bit of snow. After rain stopped, we went downhill and made a stop at a stream going downstream which everybody was trying to pass of as a waterfall. The downhill trail was very slippery and muddy due to rains and mules destroying whatever grip the soil on hill offered.  More kashmiri locals came up to rent their goats, take pictures and similar useless services, so we left rather quickly.  Very few tourists progressed further from that 1st stop at the meadow, so the trail was mostly empty.
Panaroma shot, meadow in Pahalgam

Another panaroma shot, meadow in Pahalgam

From there, we walked back to the parking through the village. On the way we were again accosted by very annoying children from village who asked us for money and even watches. If they behave like this with Indians, I can only imagine their behaviour with foreigners. The walk back was on a level road and the mule just trotted on a steady pace, so I was left far behind.  The views and weather were quite nice through a wooded area. Perhaps the word in such places travels fast. On the way, I must have come across atleast a dozen mule owners who must have asked the same thing in different words “Paidal hi aa gaya sahaib” ! A few also asked me to hire their mules for  the rest of a km long hike.  Preparations for Amarnath yatra had started already and I noticed some para-military units assigned for the security of pilgrimage setting up camps. Sad to see that Indian Hindus have to be guarded so heavily inside India from muslim terrorists and mobs.
After reaching the parking area, came to know that the other women had spent all the cash which was not a small amount shopping. After we paid mule handler some extra money as tip, the owner started bothering us for a tip too. Utterly shameless bunch of people. Total duration of the hike was  4 hours, give or take a few minutes and cost of hiring a mule for whole circuit was Rs 3000.
We started our drive back to Srinagar immediately but made a stop at house of a colleague of family near Pampore.  They were very nice and hospitable people and made us feel quite welcome in their home. Elder of the family served in Jammu region during his working years and was a little nostalgic telling us of his experiences there. Ride back to the Srinagar was uneventful and we reached there around 8:30 pm without any incident.
There’s not much to write about after this apart from usual noise from nearby mosques and the long security checks at Srinagar airport.
TL;DR for people who are planning a Kashmir trip:
Q: Is the place beautiful ?
A: A lot of beautiful places, but man made places are badly maintained and natural places poorly preserved.
Q: Is it safe ?
A: Few days before we confirmed tickets, some tourist vehicles were attacked and tourists received injuries. Another tourist vehicle owned by our driver’s family was attacked similarly while we were there. A terrorist attack happened in Anantnag almost the same time we were driving through it.  We could’t visit a few places because of stone pelting and curfews. All these incidents happened in different parts of the valley. There is very little danger from terrorist attacks though.
Q: How are people ?
A: If you know them personally, very hospitable and welcoming. But if you are a prospective customer, then majority of kashmiri tourism businesses are extremely conniving and annoying. Before you say, “it’s like this everywhere”, NO it’s not as bad as in kashmir.
Q: Is Kashmir worth visiting ?
A: Maybe, if you are willing to take risks like those mentioned above. If you really want to visit Kashmir, don’t do it during Amarnath yatra season. Everything will be very over-priced and in short supply.

This is a long rant, not an expert analysis. Treat it as such.

The current controversy about surgical strikes by Indian Army against Bakistanis is getting even more interesting. After Uri attacks, I wondered if India would strike back or just keep quiet like after Pathankot attacks. I had hopes that India would retaliate but we’re used so much to inaction and “log kya kahenge” syndrome in our foreign policy that I had to watch press conference by Indian DGMO twice to believe it. Predictably Bakis started their whinefest and denied it like they did with Osama, Mumbai attacks, Kargil, 1971, 1948, 1965 and numerous other incidents. But the panicked statements by un-uniformed jihadi Hafiz confirmed that attacks did happen and inflicted serious damage contrary to what the uniformed jihadis of Baki army and civilian jihadis in Baki gobarment were claiming. Then their begging bowl song and dance in UN confirmed it further.

After these attacks, the Baki nuclear bluff has been called out for what it is. The ignorant masses who can’t differentiate a Mig-29 from F-16 will keep on whining but people in relevant places now have confirmation about so called resolve of Bakis about the nuclear threshold. If they escalate the situation by firing on border or more terrorist attacks elsewhere, they will always do so with the knowledge that India will counter-attack and probably disproportionately. On this occasion, certain launchpads and related terrorist infrastructure has been destroyed which according to an educated guess killed a number of terrorists waiting to infiltrate in to India, their handlers who probably hold mid-level ranks and a significant number of Baki armed forces personnel guarding the places. This explains the loud howls of Hafiz and his ilk.
If Bakis keep on claiming that attacks never happened, then good for them and us. They don’t have any reason to escalate and will probably try to deescalate leaving us free to concentrate on our internal matters. In either case, it is a victory of India on a tactical as well as strategic level. It is a long pending move by India and everyone is accepting it openly or grudgingly.

Now there are some usual moles belonging to Congress, AAP etc. who find the success of an Indian initiative led by Modi a bitter pill to swallow. These politicians and their minions (atleast the few I have the misfortune of knowing) were barely able to hide their glee when they thought that Modi regime will not do anything to punish Bakis. As soon as news of the attacks broke out, some of them went in to stunned silence or some congratulated Indian Army while carefully trying to deny any credit to Modi. One congressi claimed that Indian army had done such attacks 4-5 times during UPA regime. It’s good, but what did such attack achieve ? It’s common knowledge that cross-border raids happen regularly on both sides. Perhaps they were a good idea at a local tactical level, but they served little purpose in overall strategic battlefield. As I’m writing this, a former DGMO Vinod Bhatia has denied even this claim of CONgress.
The AAPtard-in-chief pretended to congratulate Modi while asking for proof in the same breath. All of these butthurt losers know very well that details of such operations are almost never made public. When US (Russia, NATO or any other entity) kills Osama, or claims to have killed senior Al-Qaeda or other enemies by air attacks, how many times do you see the live footage ? How many of these idiots have asked for proof or provided proof for the claimed cross-border raids during UPA regime ?

As I said before, I know many Congi, AAPiya supporters and their reactions have been just like the politicians they support. There are some comparatively saner ones, who claim to not support any political party in a public gathering, But their posts on social media prove otherwise. Most of such people are ashamed to be called an AAP , CONgress supporter now and try to hide their embarrassment under the fig leaf of fake neutrality. Then there are some politically aware types who support Congress-AAP-TMC-JDU type parties only because they are not BJP. They are what you call full liberal, leftists types who will actively cheer for disgraced thieves like Kanhaiya, Khalid, Sanjiv Bhatt etc. Third category is supposedly not anti-nationalist but are just blind fanboys who will latch on to whatever their yug-purush will say. There is no sign that they can use their atrophied brain cells and will latch on to whatever their messiah says. It never occurs to them that their favourite politician is acting only to help his own interests at the cost of damaging the nation.
Then there are a few others, who are not as brain dead, but highly impatient. These people were complaining loudly against Indian inaction leading up to the surgical strike and as soon as the news broke out, they started referring to Paki media and playing doubting Thomas.

On a related note, a lot of people don’t like the expulsion of Baki fartists from India. I’ve been supporting it since a long time. I’ll whole heartedly support Bakis performers if they’re like Adnan Sami, but screw the others. Even if art is without borders, the money they get in India should serve Indian interests, not of the enemy. If you can’t get this simple fact, you have one thick skull full of platitudes and little else. Even the Indian fartists supporting Bakis are known Islamists and Bakistan lovers. Son of one such traitor was a friend of Dawood Headley. How can any Indian take such jokers seriously ?

When all is said and done, I certainly don’t say that trust the government blindly. But at least use your brain. Even if you dislike BJP or Modi, these whiners should realise that they live in India and Modi is Indian Prime Minister, whether you like it or not. Supporting Bakistani narrative hurts only the country you live in. If you still believe that Pakis are telling the truth, then I have 3-4 Taj Mahals that I’d like to sell.

Next time Bakis attack India by any means and to be honest, it’s only a matter of time, then Indian armed forces should not limit themselves to just killing the terrorists. They also need to attack the uniformed jihadis, Bakistani armed forces. Destroy the border posts which provide covering fire to terrorists. Attack the supply dumps, bases and Baki other military infrastructure near border. As of now, they don’t have any danger to their own lives. Once they have fear of a strong Indian retaliation and realise that their actions will probably cause their own deaths, they will be far less likely to play the role of an islamic ghazi. This will be seen as an escalation by India and rightly so. Till now, India has played nice and has only losses to show for it. Now Bakis are isolated on all fronts, apart from China and even they are unlikely to support Bakis in such a situation. Modi has played his cards right and we’ll have to wait and watch if the groundwork done in last years will lead to an Indian victory on this front.
Till then, have patience and keep faith.

I have started making a list of good work being done by current BJP government. Started quite late, so not everything is as perfect as it should be, but atleast is a start. The sheet below has the list of some work done by new BJP government starting from June 2014. I will keep on posting a new post after every 100 news items. Link to index post

Early on, our plan was to visit the orchard early morning as the trees were supposed to be sprayed with insecticide. But due to nearly continuous drizzle, that was postponed and we decided to visit after 10 am. Needed the sleep anyway.

Road leading to orchard

Road leading to orchard

The orchard is about 25 minutes drive from their house, just beyond Kufri  in a very picturesque setting. There are a number of apple and pear trees in addition to some walnuts, plum and a few others. Most of the fruits including apple were very small and still about 3 months from getting ripe. Apple trees were covered with nets to protect them from hail. Additionally, they have a very interesting way of rearing bees. A small hole is made in to the wall of a spare room which is connected to a box. It also keeps the bees safe from weather and most predators. The owners need the bees for pollination and also benefit from harvesting honey.

Little Apples

Little Apples

As mentioned earlier, they were thinking of building a few log huts in the orchard. A small resort of log huts or tents when built here in between the trees will be a great attraction. The views of the valley are awesome, it’s sufficiently far away from the road so that there is no noise and the weather is cool. Their plan is to keep it as natural as possible with minimum construction, so it should be good. It should be a nice place to spend a few days in mountains or a rest stop whenever someone is visiting Shimla and places on the route.  We did a bit of brainstorming over this.

As we started to go back, it started raining heavily again. We drove for about 45-50 minutes through some very narrow streets with very high inclines to reach Shimla. The rain had stopped by the time we reached the city and the weather was cool enough to make us wear sweaters. We walked around the typical touristy places like the Mall Road and nearby market.

Inside the orchard

Inside the orchard

For the first time in my life, I visited a state tourism office (run by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) on Mall Road and asked for advice. The staff there was pretty helpful and advised us to visit Rajgarh, Haripur Dhar, Habban valley and a couple of other places on the way. It turned out later that some of the places like Habban valley are marked wrongly on the map and most people don’t even know about such a place. So please don’t trust the maps 100% and confirm with multiple sources. Wifey had first wanted to visit Kasaul, but as it is very near Kullu Manali area and we plan on visiting the place 2-3 months later, we agreed upon the plan suggested by tourism officials. We booked a room in a guest house run by HPTDC in Rajgarh for about Rs. 1000 from there.

Wild flower

Wild flower

Later, we walked around a bit in the market taking in the sights. As almost everyone has been to Shimla, there is not much to write about. I just don’t like the uncontrolled construction which has led to the hills being stripped of their green cover to be replaced by ugly buildings all over. Our walk was nice as it had rained only about a hour before and was still cloudy. Doing the same thing the day before in normal mid May weather would have been out of question.

While walking, I noticed a small shop selling old books and felt curious. The place was just covered in books of all genres, but with a majority from British times. Few of them were in good condition while the others had pages falling out or crumbling. I found one book written by an explorer in Tibet and asked it’s price. The shopkeeper answered with Rs 9000. Haha. Even with the antique value, he is charging just whatever comes to his mind as the books weren’t even restored at all. Just picked from trash and put on display on shelves and sometimes bins.

Rainbow on way to Shimla

Rainbow on way to Shimla

There was another similar shop but with lesser number of books a few meters ahead. Didn’t feel like buying stuff but still ended up buying an out of print edition on Indian Ordnance Corps for Rs 300. An excellent bargain considering the mint condition of book and contents.

If someone remembers this artwork installed there, the young man in front posed as model

After getting back, it was time for dinner and packing for next 3 days. The car we arranged for was scheduled to arrive at 6 am. So we packed everything hurriedly and went to sleep soon after.

Memeorial to Lt Gen Daulat Singh on Mall Road

Memeorial to Lt Gen Daulat Singh on Mall Road

 

Taking Shelter

Taking Shelter

Same boy in different attire 15 years later

Same boy in different attire 15 years later