Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cashmere & Ladakh

And if there was one place that you wish to see where all the four (4) seasons are so distinct then Cashmere or Kashmir or perhaps Kasshhmeer!!!!! oh my me what a horse like stress the locals have...well they are no doubt stressed out people with all that turmoil for over 20 years and now they are back to making money. Cashmere as I always loved to call it is a great place to laze around and indulge...you bet. Ofcourse Ladakh is an entirely different experience especially if traveling upstream along the Indus and wetting your hands in the cold nay warm waters it feels so nostalgic..read et al...as go on....

Why Cashmere? the Immediate Reason!
It all began at one of our usual tour guides get together when the word Cashmere (Pashmina) shawls buzzed around and then some one said what about our annual convention and Cashmere said someone and lo...not many takers...but I persisted and they said lets see...that was in 2006 no takers...and again in early 2007 ....we persisted...and finally as good luck favoured one n all..thanx to Asoka, the President Emeritus of the Tourist Guides Fed. of India, from Chennai, the national body finally condescended to venture into this region once again. The Govt. of J & K promised to play host for they had to prove a point in rem! The ground work done in early summer and the TGFI fact finding team decided to have the all India convention in Srinagar in early Sept. '07 for they declared it a safe destination. And so there we go...

A rather unimpressive flight from Delhi to Srinagar save for befriending a fish....more about that later! Touch down...check out, your at altitude 5000 ft. plus and then we drive into the city, scenes not palpable. Its one large military check post at the airport...and lots of surveillance as we drive on.. another check post and another check post, god its a military town. You would find just too many C.R.P.F (Central Reserve Police Force) personnel with auto rifles ever so vigilant. Hmmm quite nosy they are when they see a bunch South Indian faces. Anyways we have a reason to be there. Ofcourse its time for yet another all India convention of Tourist Guides of the Govt. of India. And here we are the largest group from S.India (30 pax. +) in a convoy of 6 vehicles (by the way thats the way your advised to move out of Srinagar). Its a good half hour drive into the main town and along the most fashionable thoroughfare of the city the Dal Lake Road and further on to the Air India run hotel thats the Centaur Hotel (the locals call it Santoor), on the banks of the Dal Lake, a beautiful promontory, yeah prime property reclaimed for they filled in that grand old man made lake to make the hotel and that was a mistake.

About the Hotel:
The Centaur, is a pretty sad story. A lot of karmic effects right from the day the govt. of Cashmere decided to encroach upon the Dal Lake (the views, the vantage, the position it gave) and put up a 5 star hotel more than 30 years ago and till these days when the same govt. decided to close down the profitable hotel because of its same view, vantage, position that caused many a militant strike. Apparently he who holds commands over the Dal Lake and today its the turn of the Indian Army to have its command. And this convention was one reason to spruce up the hotel in more than 10 years, interestingly we landed there on Krishna Jayanti and that evening the Army camp sepoys had organised bhajans that evening and me the usual self discovered this as I kept loafing around the campus much to the chagrin of the army sepoys who were only keen to advise me not to stray around too far. That apart the environs in and around this hotel complex makes excellent space for bird watching ofcourse the king fishers – two varieties of them, common kingfisher and another one with some pale white features, and the eagles here made an excellent watch early in the morning. The day after we (thats me with Anupama, a peppy reporter from IE who was to covering the event) did some bird watching while taking an early morning stroll along the Dal Lake.






About the Conf...
Ah well that went on as usual, with our maami's and mama's in their best attire to impress the man behind the 'Un-tied Kingdom'. Oh yes he admitted it partially Ghulam Nabi Azad, the chief minister of J & K presided over the convention and at least warned us that he hoped not to mix up his speeches...ofcourse we all remember this was the man, the former Toursim Minister, GoI who while addressing the doyens of the UK tourism industry got them all glum and blushing for having addressed the entire gathering like this perhaps..."Ladies & Gentlemen, Good Evening to all those members of the travel and trade industry of the Un-tied Kingdom.....India and the Un-tied Kingdom for long have had a great relationship and today with the opening of the Indian economy we sincerely hope the Un-tied Kingdom would make use of this opportunity to invest in India. You are perhaps aware that the Un-tied Kingdom is second largest trading partner with us....so on so forth" little did minister sahab realise that his stenographer has mistyped the works 'untied' for 'united'.

That apart we spend a lot of time moving around various parts of Srinagar one day...to one of the oldest mosques which apparently was a temple converted and we were prevented from having a closer look at this one by a fanatic..rather strange he was...he suddenly started abusing our escort in foul Cashmeeri and then began yelling at us all and lo we thought it wise to move away, the next pit stop was a nice dargah (a spot where some holy man is believed to have been buried), which we were allowed to visit and snap all over (just as any other dargah allows) and the jumma masjid, the largest, most famous and a very fine specimen of Islamic Cashmeri art, which incidentally also had so much of Hindu elements in its Islamic construction and another day t0 to the gardens and beautiful is not just the word for these gardens are aplenty. And from atop the elevation early evening you have a wonderful sight of the lights across the lake...the Hazratbal shrine.








Amidst these was an afternoon to the house of a friend, a fish that was befriended in the flight, Shahzeab Khan, invited me home, he his family hosted me for lunch I never felt important ever before....a lovely vegetarian meal with so many dishes and oh my god the sweets...am still drooling...and i can never forget that.....they simply made it lavishly vegetarian for I had warned that I don't eat dead bodies..:)

A day after we arrived the plan of action was to visit Pahalgam. Now as I said earlier we are to travel in convoy, miss being part of a convoy and your stuck for hours in the traffic jam or line up that builds to be a part of the next convoy. A convoy here would be a long line of vehicles getting either out or entering the city of Srinagar. And when they let go out of the city, they block the traffic on the NH - ...and let go a convoy. Then block the traffic of the outgoing city traffic and the next convoy of the NH goes and the 2 alternates go on. This apparently is the safest way of travelling as the possibility of a militant attack is never ruled out and when your part of a convoy the logic is it definitely is comforting. Enroute were 2 temple sites along side the Jhelum.


My me what a picturesque drive along the Jhelum, the water here is milky white, hey is it froth or just the effect of the silt it washed down off the Himalayas, whichever way, it reminds me of the streams of milk that historians quote on India...and moving on along the stream we pass through some walnut groves. Oh my god, we just stop by and pluck some walnut fruits, and try our hand at reaching the kernel inside the shell, we loved it all. Trust me in this part of the world walnuts cost you peanuts, apples cost you like bananas and bananas come for a price.....a pretty heavy price...ever dreamt of paying a handsome Rs.5/- for a tiny plantain (ofcourse this is not big given the inflation, well well we are talking here of Sept. '07 when the GoI was pretty happy on having contained inflation while rejoicing the bull run). By noon we reach this long lost paradise, hill station around 8000 ft. above sea level and after a long bus journey whats on your mind...FOOOOOD....wow and this was awesome....nan's, rotis, cashmeri panneer....ooh la la am still drooling on that sumptuous lunch we had at this resort...... And then for a stroll along the banks of the Jhelum, this is nostalgic as you stumble across the rocky river bed, with the guzzling cold water and all its greenish and white colored water....at the most proximate well thats after you step into the waters of the Jhelum and look into the water its sparkling clean....time for some photo sessions along the banks of the Jhelum, splash...splash ...splash...its a lovely chill... gosh I love it all and wish to relive it again and again. Later that noon on our way back we get to see some of cricket bat factories. It is rather interesting to note that they make willow bats that is primarily used for playing cricket with tennis balls! Guess thats not surprising for the cricket enthusiasts but for me whose so far away from the game yup...it is!! A quick round of the factory, these are small cottage industry factories that have grown over the past years, to be a flourishing cricket bat business. The best part of the whole thing is name it and you have the brand of cricket bat, well now I can guess thats where most of the fake bats with the top brand names come from, name it you have MRF, RBK, and many more. Of course the maami's and maama's did not let go the shopping opportunity and me too joined the crowd for the souvenir bats.


1 comment:

varunshridhar said...

looks like sweet await ur presence in all parts of the nation. nice post mate.