I was walking through the botanical gardens in Srinagar last weekend during the Greater Eid holiday when a brazen local boy grabbed my fanny. (British definition… not American.)
I chased the kid and gave him a tongue-lashing to remember. Do you think he felt shame when I yelled that his behavior was appalling and sacrilegious? He hid behind a friend and looked embarrassed, even scared, so I think that having a foreign lady lob rage at him was good punishment. I hope he said a few repentant prayers as well.
I went to Kashmir with a friend and despite this opening drama, we had a wonderful trip. It wasn’t without slight incident though. Two young men reprimanded us for being inside a mosque, even though we wore head scarves and the guard at the entrance let us enter the central hall. My travel mate, Rani, pointed out that the mosque was built by the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan – A Woman. This didn’t seem to impress the youths.
At the Jama Masjid, the caretaker was worked-up that we were at the mosque because police had placed the imam under house arrest during Eid. The imam is also head of the Hurryiat Conference, a group of pro-Pakistan political parties. He was arrested to curb protests during the holiday, celebrated for three days beginning October 27th this year. This was the same day that Indian troops first entered Kashmir in 1947, the beginning of a turbulent 60+ years.
The US and other nations have active travel advisories for Kashmir and US state department employees in India are not permitted to travel there, except to the Ledakh region in the east of the state which borders Tibet and is largely buddhist.
I canceled my trip to Srinagar a few weeks ago after a scurfuffle between the Indian army and militants. There were a few deaths, including a bell boy at a hotel. The details of such confrontations are not always clear so I postponed the trip to see how things settled. Jim wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a renewed campaign to disrupt tourism.
There is a healthy influx of domestic visitors, but I saw only three non-Indian travelers. The residents of Srinagar whom we met wanted us to send friends and spread good word about the region. Everyone is exhausted from over-twenty years of militancy.
Kashmir is a complicated story. I offer one quick paragraph that doesn’t even scratch its knotted history:
Pakistan, India and China claim areas of Kashmir. A disputed election and other tensions in the late 80’s led to a Pakistan-supported insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir that sparked India to send troops. All these years later, Indian forces still oversee the region. The army and para-military police stand guard at intersections in Srinagar and are more heavily stationed in the old part of the city and the airport. Troops operate under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The act suspends the constitutional rights of citizens in areas where the government has declared a state of emergency. This generally means that under certain conditions, soldiers can shoot at citizens if they feel threatened and they can conduct searches without warrants, among other leniencies and intrusions. Many feel that the act is draconian and over-reaching, especially during these more peaceful times.
There’s also rooted Hindu/Muslim tension. And there are factions that want complete sovereignty in Kashmir, which means independence from Pakistan and India. However, talk to people in Srinagar and you will hear simple demands: access to jobs and education and technology.
But the beauty, The Beauty! of the place…. Enchanting. Srinagar is dotted with lakes and surrounded by mountains. I will go back with the kids the beginning of June when the wild flowers bloom and soft green blankets the hills; when the lake shimmers and birds celebrate the warm weather.
And we will take friends.
I am spreading the word – go! Go to Kashmir! Float on the lake in Srinagar, glide through the floating gardens, sleep peacefully on a houseboat, ski Gulmarg, drink Kahwa tea and eat lamb meatballs. Celebrate the hospitality. It’s all there, waiting for attention.
The boy in garden… what a silly misdeed! Maybe if there were more visitors wearing jeans and walking with girlfriends, I wouldn’t have been so much of a spectacle and he wouldn’t have been tempted to grab me.
Have a look:
And I know many of you have been waiting for a peek of Lala in her school play. I will edit video to share as soon as I clear my end-of-the-semester plate. I’m still having technical difficulties – I put the photos of Lala in the Srinagar gallery above so that you can enlarge them. I can’t figure out, despite changing HTML coding, etc… how to separate gallery photos from other pics. (Any WordPress experts out there?)
And finally, Halloween: