JOURNEY M8 THE MAGAZINE
A little bit of research, through a 1902 American journal,
turned up the fact that he was noted Canadian-American
Indologist and specialist in linguistics (spoke Urdu, Hindi,
Sanskrit, read the Upanishads) who arrived in Gulmarg for
a holiday and died suddenly of Malta fever (brucellosis, that
comes from unboiled milk and less-cooked meat), a
very, very long way from home.
Standing at his grave, I could visualize that most
likely a funeral service for him was conducted at St
Mary’s Church, in the rolling meadow below, less than
a mile away, and his coffin was brought here in a pony
cart through the August mist.
The church, which is more than a hundred years
old, with stained glass windows, but clumsily renovated, has service only December 24 morning when
tourists, the priest and worshippers arrive from
Srinagar. The rest of the time, since it is located within the golf course, the church is locked up and deserted, although a caretaker is around. The caretaker
Mohammed Yusuf says that at night “sher” (
presumably leopards) and bears stop by.
The road from Gulmarg to Srinagar is dotted with
apple and cherry orchards, walnut trees, chinars.
Kashmir produces more than 1.34 million tons of
apples annually, according to last year’s official figures, in types you have never seen before.
At the orchard, where I stopped, I was shown tiny
green ones, light pink rosy ones, tart ones — the
names of the local varieties of apples musically trip off
your tongue, Amri, American Trel, Irish Peach,
Ambri, White Dotted Red, American Apirouge, red
Delicious, Golden Delicious, Hazaratbali Benoni,
Cox’s Orange Pippin. Five trucks of apples leave the
orchard daily during the season, I was told, and each
truck holds 400 crates.
Khanya, an older and more traditional area of
Srinagar, is the location of the Roza Bal Dargah, apart
from the once-imposing Dastagir Dargah, that was
burnt down in a mysterious fire.
As you enter the narrow lanes approaching this
dargah there’s a truck from Rajasthan unloading sheep.
Apparently there’s a shortage of mutton (goat meat in
India) and lamb in Srinagar, locals say. Goats are preserved for festive occasions and therefore sheep are
shipped in from Rajasthan where they have excess
and eat little.
Roza Bal or the Shrine of Hazrat Youza, a tiny green
mosque, panelled with green marble, is locked up. The
gates are locked, as is the building itself.
I raise my camera to take a picture and many people poke
their heads out of adjoining buildings and order me to stop
There are prominent signs in the dargah compound
directing that photography and videography are not permitted.
The 600-700-year-old dargah (its age is anyone’s guess) is
guarded from tourists because of the ‘myth’ that arose that
the dargah is actually the tomb of Jesus Christ.
Locals give you a few reasons why this confusion arose.
Namely, the details of the origins and life of the saint buried
in this dargah are obscure. Secondly, the similarity in
names between Jesus (also pronounced Yesu) and Youza.
Fearing that some believers might want to take over this
tomb, neighborhood folk began to guard it zealously.
Hence, it was put under police protection. Anyone entering
the premises of the tomb, including the maulana caretaker,
has to report to the police, locals tell you.
Research online indicates that members of the
Ahmadiyya sect of Islam sought to take over this shrine.
Ahmadiyya adherents, who follow the word of early 19th
century Islamic thinker Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, believe
Ghulam to be like a second Christ. It was Ahmad who is
said to have declared in 1888 that the shrine at Khanyaar
was that of Jesus Christ. But this idea did not sit well with
the dargah’s Sunni believers.
Srinagar is dotted with dargahs that have soaring spires,
pyramidal roofs, tiering and square structures quite similar
to temples in this area too. There seem to be many more
dargahs than mosques. Ample evidence that Kashmiri
Muslims have historically leaned more to a rich spiritual
tradition of Sufism.
Kashmir, in fact, has been known as Pir Waer or the land
of saints and Sufis and innumerable Sufi mystics wandered
through here, or stopped by for years at a time, from
Turkistan, Iran and Central Asia. This tradition continues,
in spite of the growing hold of the Salafi (Wahhabi) movement that disapproves of grave worship, which followers of
Kashmiri Sufi Islam counter by saying they visit these spiritual shrines to find the blessings of Allah.
Chhatti Padshahi Gurdwara is a sacred gurdwara of these
parts and worth a peek. The sixth Sikh guru is said to have
stopped here when he came as part of Mughal emperor,
However, it is the Kashmiris that make a trip to the
Within minutes of touching down in this scarred land —
and if you offer an ear, and an open mind, to hear their
troubles — you become aware of the total alienation they
feel towards the Indian state, the anger they feel towards
the present Omar-Abdullah-run government and the
Not something surprising.
But the depth/totality of it is startling for an outsider.
Also, the simple hope that that the poorer, less literate
Kashmiris have that their future would be much better if
Kashmir became independent. Independence is seen as a
universal panacea. Many of them have not travelled beyond
Jammu, and are not aware of how improbable that dream
is — they are often ignorant of the mainstream Indian
view and feel their hurt and bitterness is something
the rest of us Indians would understand.
The militancy that occurred 20 years ago, they
acknowledge, was something terrible that happened
and unfortunately young local boys got involved and
“bahut galti hua (it was a big mistake).” There is
regret for what happened to the Kashmiri Pandits in
Kashmir today has a sizeable young population who
have only vague memories of the worst days of the
militancy and are living very much in the here and
now. For them the most burning issue is the lack of
jobs and why prosperity does not come to the state
(650,000 youths in the state are unemployed, according to the latest figures). Electricity, jobs, good roads
are in short supply. The middle-class prosperity that
came breezing into many other parts of India, as evidenced by shiny malls, fast food chains and big
brands, did not really come to Kashmir and the terrain looks pretty different around here.
The stifling of their freedom — as they see it — by
the endless presence of the army is another cause for
anger (some estimates say that more than half-a-mil-lion troops are posted in the state).
But discussions of politics make little difference to
the friendly warmth and hospitality that is instantly
offered to The Guest to Kashmir.
It reaches right out to you on arrival. People want
you to stop by their homes. They insist. They meet
you on the road and invite you to their house. You
must come over for chai, biscuits, a meal. Kashmiri
cookies — they are something special and immense
varieties of them are made in bakeries all over the
state — are offered wherever you go; apart from tidbits of meat, almond milk, different types of tea, the
Kashmiri rusk bakarkhani.
They win you over in minutes with their affection
and happiness to have you and their polite almost
They are simple, emotional people.
My last meal in the state was at the home of the gentleman who drove me around for five days. His family was in
the handicraft trade. But when his father died suddenly of a
heart attack, Zahid lost the inclination — for now he says —
to take the business forward. He was too overwhelmed with
memories of his father.
Touchingly Zahid and his family pulled out all stops to
offer a special selection of sumptuous Kashmiri vegetarian
food — hakh (collard greens), diiferent varieties of Paneer
and eggplant — that I would not have gotten anywhere else
(given that Kashmir is famous for its Gushtabas and Rogan
Joshs), checking carefully way in advance if he could cook
this or would I like to eat this.
His home located on the outskirts of Kashmir was an
enormous two-storey affair and the lunch was laid out on
the ground on a tablecloth spread across a rich Kashmiri
And, of course, the meal was delicious.
One good reason to visit Kashmir is to take home a souvenir, something we thought we may never see in our lifetime — a boarding card that says: Srinagar.
But a better and more significant reason for all Indians to
visit Kashmir is to gain some understanding of this land
and to meet its lovely people.
‘In truth, the kingdom surpasses in beauty all that my
warmest imagination had anticipated...’
Old words. Still true. ;
Amid all the beauty it is actually the people of Kashmir
who make a trip to the Valley memorable.
A place all