Part 1 of 3 – Srinagar
Part 3 of 3 – food that we had during the trip
This is a travelogue & the idea is to share our experience during travel & provide information on what we saw / heard / gathered from our experiences & conversations. We have attempted to give you a slice of rural life in Kashmir in this day & our travel stories. This is not an authoritative research paper on the Political, social & economic situation in kashmir
In a nutshell:
A 1000+ km road trip (including village roads, mountains, small connecting roads etc.) in Kashmir, from almost plains to 11000 ft height, village walks, eating lunch at a village home, chatting with kids & teachers at a village school, getting a peek into the daily lives of people through their stories, stunningly beautiful nature & most importantly, extreme warm people who were more welcoming than we could imagine anyone to be.
Address & other details:
JK tourism development huts
Disclaimer: All restaurants / eateries / Hotels / travel companies reviewed by YUMMRAJ were visited by YUMMRAJ himself & he has paid for the full Bill & tips also. http://www.yummraj.com does not have even one featured / sponsored reviews. YUMMRAJ believes in going to a restaurant in anonymity, as a normal guest, experience everything & give a honest account of the same to you.
Cost of the trip paid was paid by YUMMRAJ to Vana Safaris by UPI payment transfer. From that, Vana Safaris have paid all the expenses of the trip.
Each section of this post has headers, so that you can skip a section if that does not interest you. Here is a jist of all the sections:
- General observations & thoughts
- Better road connectivity
- Logically everyone here is a Nehru (pun intended)
- Ladies wearing Hijab in public places
- Young people we interacted with
- Celebratory crowds at all public parks
- Decathlon & cricket bats:
- River Jhelum
- Concept of Shrine vs Mosque
- Professional Sheep herding
- Collect, carry & save wood for the winters
- Whistles on the bridge
- Half widow
- Every village has a door
- Water or land
- An additional period of blackout & lockdowns
- Aapko Kashmir ke log kaise lagey?
- Political Turmoil, common people & safety of travel
- About Vana Safaris & their local partner
- Places we visited:
- Razdan Pass
- Dardi Village Bodagam
- Manasbal lake & temple
- Kheer bhawani temple
- Sand extraction from Jhelum
- Cattle market
- Achabal Mughal Gardens, roaming the markets
- Verinag – Source of River Jhelum
- Kokarnag – Botanical gardens
- JK Tourism chatpal property
- Morning walk in the village
- Mohd sultan gratta mill
- Gate-crash into Maulvi Aziz’s hut
- Thimran – Adil Hussain Koka’s village
- Adil Hussain Koka’s home
- Martand Sun temple
5. Traditional Buildings in Srinagar
General observations & thoughts
Better road connectivity – We heard from people at different places that they are happy with roads & highways in general & many excited about Chenab railway bridge
- Last 10 years since Pradhan mantri gram sadak yojana, many roads connectivity happened to remote villages & also from one point to another. We heard this in south Kashmir & saw it as well. We did not hear this as much in north Kashmir. Specially in gurez tulail area
- We repeatedly heard about the benefits of Banihal pass & another one – Earlier it used to take 3 hours to cross the mountain & each the other side. Now it takes only 10 minutes.
- The Delhi Srinagar highway was very well maintained in terms of infrastructure. We got to know (& eventually drove through there) that there is an air-strip on part of the highway. In this stretch, there is no road divider (for obvious reasons) & hence cars come facing each other.
- Unlike the numerous other highways in India that we have driven through, theis Highway had a VIP corridor (whether due to Amarnath Yatra or otherwise also, I don’t know).
- One lane would be cleared whenever VIP / Amarnath yatra buses would go. All roads joining the highway would be stopped for long. At one place we were stuck for 30 minutes at a stretch to get into the highway from a feeder road.
- We heard a bit of excitement about Chenab railway bridge, under last stage of construction – the highest railway bridge in the world.
Logically everyone here is a Nehru (pun intended):
We saw water streams everywhere in Kashmir – large ones, to waterfalls, to small streams that are ½ feet in width, the streams were everywhere. Near to most places we had been to.
The sound of water & chirping of birds were two great companions to us in the trip.
The ‘Nehru’s started using the surname Nehru due to their house being next to a nahar (stream). Their original surname was Kaul.
By that logic, most people in Kashmir can have the surname Nehru as there are nahars everywhere.
Due to the abundance of water in general, ground Water level is high – sometimes only 1.5 feet digging gets water.
However I was reading that drinking water is a problem in some urban areas.
Ladies wearing Hijab in public places:
Hijab (face cover for ladies practicing Islam) – During our 9 day trip to Kashmir, we observed that ladies who covered their full face with a veil was at most 15%. However we noticed that almost 50% ladies were wearing some kind of head scarf, with face open. We did not see too many girls wearing denims / trousers in the markets / other market places.
Young people we interacted with:
We saw hundreds of young couples in parks, restaurants etc. I asked ‘what is the trend for marriage these days’. I got to know that most cases, when a boy & girl decide to marry, the boy / girl tell parents / elder sibling & they go with a proposal to the other house. In general this seems to work, except in case of extreme social / economic disparity.
Unlike in large cities, the school kids were coming to talk to us & at times click pictures together. The boys wanted to talk about iphones & gadgets.
Celebratory crowds at all public parks:
All public parks that we went to, were full of school children, in uniform, mostly with teachers. Young college kids were also seen in the park. It seemed, everyone was out in the public parks to enjoy the summer, the winters being harsh & mostly indoors.
We saw many families who had set up picnic – they had spread out a cloth on the grass, set up lunch that they had cooked & got from home. The families were eating lunch together in the sun.
Some families had even carried stoves & LPG cylinders to public parks & were cooking / heating food.
In the botanical garden Kokernag, a family had set up wazwan where professional wazas cooked lunch for the group.
Sound of Children playing around, ladies singing in a corner, some people dancing to a tune in the park, on another side – all this was something we don’t see in public parks in large cities like Delhi & Mumbai any more.
In all parks, among the greenery, there would be a bright spot – kashmiri traditional dress on rent, for tourists to be photographed in
Decathlon & cricket bats:
We who live in large urban centers in India, have seen the monstrous decathlon stores. In Kashmir (multiple places), we saw Decathlon shop in shops – An area inside an existing shop/ café selling decathlon products, a branding of decathlon on the store / café window.
Kashmir willow is used to make cricket bats. We saw a series of shops & workshops making & selling Kashmir willow bats.
River Jhelum was once called a lifeline of Kashmir. Most freight & human transportation was thru this earlier. Now with modern road network, that dependence on Jhelum has reduced but the river is an important part of popular culture even today.
Concept of Shrine vs Mosque –
In quite a few places we heard the term ‘shrine’. I asked, ‘is it like a dargah’.
We got to know that shrines were memorials built in places where Sufi saints stayed, Prayed, rested during journey. It’s not a mosque but just a place to go & remember the man & also pray to god individually. No Namaz is offered in an organized manner, like in mosques.
Professional Sheep herding
This concept of professional sheep herding is traditional, need based & seems to be well oiled. This is a summary – Farmers across the valley & the mountains raise sheep, in addition to farming of crops / vegetables / fruits etc. The farmers who stay near the plains find it expensive to feed the sheep – they have to either buy fodder or they have to grow plants for the sheep to eat (missed opportunity of growing some cash crop).
So they hand over the sheep at the onset of every summer to the Bakarwals (professional sheep herder families, also a name of a tribe who are traditionally in the same profession), who come from areas like Rajouri & Punj, all by foot. The farmers enter into a contract with the bakarwals & hand over their sheep.
Owners of sheep give to bakarwals at approx ₹150 per month per sheep, to take care of them & feed them. This is 30 times cheaper than the cost of ₹150 per day for fodder, if the farmer keeps the sheep with him.
A family of bakarwals take approx. 1000-1500 Sheeps from different farmers (Lowest 700-800) & walk the sheep to the greener pastures of the mountains. An average farmer would have 30-40 sheep. So the bakarwal takes sheep from approx. 30-40 farmers. The sheep have logos of the owner (paint on the body or clips pierced in the ear) so that it’s easy to identify when returning.
The food for sheep is free in the ‘no man’s land’ in the mountains. This free mountain grazing happens for approx. 3 months, after which the bakarwals descend back to the plains & hand back the sheep to their respective owners.
In the process, the bakarwal family earns approx. Rs. 5-6 lacs (example 1250X150X3=5.6 lacs)
On top of the direct income mentioned above, the bakarwals also earn additional income:
- Bakarwal also gets the milk of the sheep for 3 months which they consume or sell.
- Thursday or Friday of every week, Bakarwals make a certain kind of very tasty cheese named ‘kalari’ & sell that in the nearby market.
- Nazrniyaz (tip) – Farmer gives 1-2 sheep while the bakarwal is going back after returning sheep.
Bakarwals live in shelters called dhog.
Bakarwals get grazing rights in parts of the mountains, but not ownership rights, from the government. This comes in the form of a documented agreement between forest department & the shepherd.
Most of the animals given to bakarwals are insured.
The bakarwals constantly keep a watch on the sheep. They also have pet dogs to take care of the sheep & protect them against wild animals.
Many farmers go for Domestic animal insurance. This is available at nominal charges. The insured animal is given an insurance tag that is clipped to the ear. The clipped ear of dead animal has to be brought by the farmer, to claim the insurance!!
Collect, carry & save wood for the winters
Throughout our travel in North Kashmir, we saw Ladies collecting wood from the trees fallen by avalanche & floating with water streams or just Fallen branches of trees in the jungle. Then the Ladies would carry this firewood, on their heads. This, they would do everyday in summer, to store for winter. The wood thus collected is first kept in piles in the sun, to dry. Every household has a pile which is marked. The keep collecting everyday & add to their respective pile.
Whistles on the bridge:
All bridges in north Kashmir that we crossed, were guarded by armed defence personnel. If a car stops, the gentleman on guard blows a whistle & asks the car to proceed immediately.
We saw guarded Bunkers on both side of bridges.
We heard about this unfortunate concept in the valley. It means that the lady’s husband is missing for years. No one knows if he is alive or dead.
Every village has a door
Onway to the mountain villages near the LOC, we saw every village has a door.
Water or land
According to Hindu mythology, in the current geography of Kashmir, there was a lake. The lake was drained by the great rishi or sage, Kashyapa, son of Marichi, son of Brahma, by cutting the gap in the hills at Baramulla (Varaha-mula). When Kashmir had been drained, Kashyapa asked Brahmins to settle there.
I also heard & later read that Fish fossils had been found here.
In case you want to read this in detail, you might read this – Sahapedia.
An additional period of blackout & lockdowns:
Like rest of us have covid lockdown memories, everyone here has a 370 story. We heard about life with no mobile phone, no landline, no letters, no internet, no connectivity with family members, no idea if the family member who was travelling at the time of the lockdown, is alive or dead etc.
During that time, the essentials shops initially opened only for 1 hour. People had to stock up. Poor people (Daily wage earners) were in trouble as they did not have cash to stock up.
Aapko Kashmir ke log kaise lage?
This is a question that we heard at many places, from many people, at different points in time, from people who were not related to each other. They did not ask how we liked Kashmir, but specifically how we liked the people.
Throughout Srinagar city there were sandbag bunkers manned by defence personnel with automatic weapons.
We saw armoured vehicles all around, at different places in city & on highways.
During one of the drives, we saw a convoy, of maybe 100 war vehicles.
Due to Amarnath yatra in few weeks, the roads & route was almost guarded like a fort.
In many places we saw that buildings vacated by Kashmiri pandits decades back, were being used by the defense personnel as offices. Read an article on the topic too – The hindu.
Political Turmoil, common people & safety of travel
Let’s get this straight – there is no doubt that there has been political unrest in Kashmir over the decades. Some still want a separate Kashmir nation, some others want Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan, some want to remain a part of India & be normally integrated with the nation while others are not really bothered – they just want a happy & peaceful life for themselves & their families.
There have been different phases of conflict which we have been hearing & reading about in the media for decades. It seemed to us that the general situation has changed vs. what we have read – throughout our 9 day trip, all the places we went to, we felt normal. People were very nice to us, tourists.
Yes, we could have been caught in a cross fire if some security breach would have happened. But such unexpected acts of violence, we believe, can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. So we still think that it was & is a great idea to visit & enjoy Kashmir.
Well, if you are eager to be surer & not just believe in our anecdotal observations, check out the macro data published by NCRB (national crime records board) – Kashmir stands at the bottom of the list of ‘crime against tourists’ – click here.
About Vana Safaris & their local partners:
So happy that Avijit Sarkhel, Founder of Vana safaris, suggested this trip as an option & then arranged it for us as well. Without Avijit, we would not have been able to put this trip together on our own. Read about our earlier trip with Vana Safaris here – Sunderbans, tribal regions of Odisha. Read more about Avijit & Vana safaris in our post on Kashmir trip part 1.
Our team leader for Rest of Kashmir was Sayyed Tahir. He has explored 90+ lakes out of about 120 alpine lakes in Kashmir. Alpine lakes refer to lakes that are 3300 meter+ above sea level.
He has done his Graduation in mountaineering. He treks every month & leads small & large groups regularly. To inculcate the habit of trekking amongst youngsters, he & few of his friends organize trekking every Sunday for no professional fees. The participants just pay for cost of travel etc.
He mentioned that as a kid he was banned from school picnics not because he was naughty (he was very quiet) but because he would climb up mountains & then the teachers would have a hard time finding him.
Tahir bhai is not an extrovert. He does not quickly open up. He thanfully did open up with us & we had a ball of a time. His insights about Kashmir, the people, mountains, nature were precious to us. I remember how he was mentioning ‘How to understand how high we are, when on a trek’- Highest point in an alpine mountain has only birch. Above that there would be only only rocks/ snow.
Places we visited:
Wular Lake :
The Sanskrit name of Wular lake was Mahapadmasar. Wular lake is huge – 16 km by 10 km. Contrary to most lakes that dry up in summers, Wular lake water reduces in winter because it does not get new water from mountains (mountain water freezes). So water level keeps going down till the time summer comes & fresh melting starts.
Wular is a part of Ramsar site for worldwide conservation.
60% of fish consumed in Kashmir valley comes from Wular.
Jhelum river also feeds this lake.
We saw Ladies collecting water hyacinth (waterweed) for animal fodder, in boats. We got to know that Water hyacinth absorbs heavy metal very fast. So in cities, cattle eating water hyacinth end up absorbing heavy doses of heavy metal.
We heard the incredible story of Bilal who started cleaning Wular lake when he was a kid – just out of his own, not prompted by anyone. Read the link to know more – Bilal
We stopped at Bandipora Chowk for lunch. This is a hub town that connects many remote areas in north Kashmir.
We saw a Model Town project by state government, started around 10 years back. It had School with good infrastructure facilities & Computer aided education for children.
As we drove out of town Bandipora, we saw work related to Kishanganga turbine project. The river Kishanganga starts from Pakistan & there it is called Neelam.
We got to know that we were travelling on a part of the silk route.
Bandipore is the last mountain stop for the hill folks, before entering plains.
This palce was like a picture postcard – mountains on all sides, beautiful meadows in the middle, sheep, horses & cows grazing, an occasional shepherd calling out the animals, an occasional sound of a car horn…..
Many centuries back, Gurez was an important hub in the north Kashmir & was an important trade route. Dawar was the capital of gurez. We stayed in Dawar.
Now Gurez is a tehsil with a population of about 50000 people. Gurez was opened for tourism as late as 2014. Till 2018, there was only JK tourism huts. In 2018 a guest house called Kaka Palace came up & now a lot many places to stay have come up.
I read on wikipedia that gender ratio of male: female in gurez is 6:10, literacy rate 60%.
Gurez gets cut off (road) from the rest of the world for 3 extreme months of the winter.
Due to heavy snowfall farming stops. Locals either move to places like Bandipora or they live 3 months indoors. Salute to our border forces jawans that they survive this winter when some locals born there also leave
Those Gurez inhabitants who decide to stay back for winter, pile up things from Summer – Firewood, vegetables, fodder, meat, dairy product, milk from own cattle.
During those 3 months, the Indian Army supports the people of Gurez by flying scheduled shuttle helicopters from Srinagar 3-4 times a week (on payment).
There is a medical clinic in Gurez with 4 doctors. However, in case of Medical emergency of public, they call the army choppers (on phone), to shift the patient to Srinagar. We heard while chatting with the people who stay here that in times of very bad weather, the choppers are unable to come & few times they had to return from Razdan pass.
The snow situation is so intense & the snowfall so high, that the roads in Gurez get blocked. Mechanized Snow cutting has been initiated in the last 3-4 years by the government.
Same is the situation in Kupwara & Wadhwan.
There is a lower court in Gurez Valley
One of the unmissable things in Gurez is the Habba khatun peak. This perfect triangle shaped mountain divides Gurez from Tulail
The peak is named after a poetess queen of Gurez, Habba Khatoon. She was the wife of the local ruler Yusuf shah chak, who defeated Akbar’s army twice, with a much smaller army, in late 1500s. Habba Khatoon was from a peasant family & she learnt to read & write from the village Maulavi. She used to sing very well. Oral legend has it that once when the Prince Yusuf Shah was passing by the village on his horse, he heard her sing, met her & both fell in love. They married much later.
After two defeats, Akbar’s generals invited Yusuf shah Chak to Agra to sign a peace treaty. Habba Khatoon warned him that this was a tarp but he still decided to go. Habba Khatoon was right – Yusuf Shah was imprisoned, moved to Bengal & later to Bihar, where he died.
Habba Khatoon left all luxuries after hearing this & started writing & singing songs of longing. These songs were so powerful that they are still sung in Kashmir, after 500 years.
We had plans to go to Sheikhpora village to meet members of the Dardi tribe. Ended up going to another village Bodogam to meet members of the Dardi tribe.
This is what I read about Shina – ‘The language spoken by the members of Dardi tribe is Shina. This language is very different from Kashmiri & is classified as a member of the Dardic branch of Indo-Aryan Languages. Historians have long attempted to identify the speakers of Shina with an ancient ethnic group known as the Dārada. Classical Greek, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese and epigraphic sources place the country of the Dards, or Dāradadeśa, in the Neelam/Kishanganga valley. Shina preserves a number of archaic linguistic features, including partial preservation of the Old Indo-Aryan sound system and a high percentage of cognates with Sanskrit.’
A small part of the Dardi tribe stay in Kashmir India. The rest are in Pakistan, not because they chose to migrate but because the LOC was drawn cutting their ancestral inhabitation into two.
We attended a musical performance in Shina language by a group of Dardi gentlemen. They were all in different professions but they come together to offer this performance to preserve the dardi culture. Below is a brief introduction to these amazing gentlemen:
1. Mr Fareed kaloo (Rtd Hoticalture officer) president HKCG
2. Mr Gh Mohiuddin Magray ( Headmaster)
3.Mr Bashir Ahmad ( Medical assistant)
4.Tanveer Ahmad ( M. Lib)
5.Talha Hameed ( M. A Tourism)
6.Zakir Hussain ( Msc Geology)
7.Tahir Mohiuddin ( Msc zoology)
8.Zakir Dar ( BA)
9.Jaffer Magray (BA)
10.kamaal Magray ( Teacher)
When they had sung a few songs, we said we really loved the music but could not understand the meaning. Fareed sahab & Magray sahab patiently explained the meanings of each song & the context. What an evening!!!
Onway to Bodegam, we saw the scenic beauty of Burzil nala & kishanganga river with habba khatoon in backdrop.
We saw a Tractor bulldozer for moving snow. These are locally assembled, almost 1/3 cost of a full-fledged JCB, we were told.
Electricity is a problem in Gurez. Government provides electricity for about 5-6 hours a day. The hotels run on diesel generators. Many houses had solar panels.
We stayed in a hotel named Kaka Palace. Hotel is good in terms of infrastructure but not great. The bed length is not adequate for a tall person. The choice of colours of curtains, carpets & blankets might not appeal to a lot of people. Since newly made, I believe the designing could have been made much better. Rooms in hotel do not have any fan. However, if you forget the physical infrastructure part, the people are mind-blowing good. The gentleman who served us food on all occasions & gave us towels & blankets was Oberoi standards. Food was always cooked after we placed the order. It was always outstanding. We would not hesitate even once to get back, only for the hospitality, warmth & local food cooked from scratch.
We met Haji sahab, a well-known & respected person in Gurez & also among people related to tourism in Kashmir. We heard that he was instrumental in getting the helicopter service to Gurez, in getting public toilets being constructed onway to Gurez, in easing of permission to get to Gurez, to promote tourism. In a conversation with Haji sahib, he mentioned a kashmiri kahawat – More the lamps more the light.
See a coverage of Haji sahib here
Adil gurezi, the famous Kashmiri, hindi & sufi singer is from Gurez.
All around Gurez, we saw unbelievable amount of deadwood falling off the mountains towards the base & most of it going back to nature, if not close to human habitation
In Gurez, Potato is harvested & kept underground for storage. That’s natural storage.
Meats eaten in Gurez are sheep, beef, poultry bred chicken (transported from the valley).
Dardi Tribe – Bodagam village
Travel to Bodagam village was memorable. The village with a small population of about 50 families I guess, was beautiful. Set in a valley between mountains on all sides, a stream flowing past, all houses were made of wood.
Avijit had told us to carry coloring books for children. We had no idea of how many is good. We took 10 of them & about 20 colored pens. We realized that we were in village school & the gifts vanished in no time. We should have carried at least a hundred gifts.
The School building was double storeyed, but the classes were being held only in the ground floor. The first floor was a residence. The entire ground floor was one large room – it served as the Dining hall for midday meal, as well as class for all students of all classes. Durries (piece of cloth) were laid out on the floor for children to sit & attend class / eat lunch.
We met 2 of the 4 teachers of the school. They had a table & 4 chairs for them, in one corner of the hall.
This school was upto class 8. After class 8, they move to high school which is on the hill, a walk of about 1 km.
A boy first came to chat with us. Just like that. Then more kids followed. Little girls came to chat & click pictures.
The school is shut during the winters for 3 months. So there is no major summer vacation.
We spoke to the elderly lady who makes mid-day meals for the school children. She showed us the mud chulha where she cooks.
Everything being grown in their gardens, we heard, was fully organic as they never ventured into insecticides, ferilizers etc.
A village shop also sells LPG cylinders. Many families have adopted LPG but this is not enough for full year. They still have to use wood, specially in 3 months of winter. At most 1 month the LPG lasts. They have to cover LPG cylinders with blanket during winters here & Srinagar also, to avoid the contents from freezing & solidifying.
Water tanks are also covered with blanket in the winters, to avoid freezing.
Construction wood is ₹250 per running square ft. in the village, vs. ₹1500-1800 in Srinagar, thanks to Government subsidises.
We saw Solar panels in may houses. We got to know that government sold these to local residents at 30% of market price. It charges in 2-3 hours for a day’s electricity consumption, when sunlight is good.
In many places in the middle of nowhere, we would see two or more men walking with light luggage. There is no cheap public transport, no bus, except for occasional share taxis. If share taxi is full, the man has no option but to walk for many kilometres.
Manasbal Lake & temple
Manasbal Lake is a freshwater lake in Ganderbal District of Kashmir. The name Manasbal is said to be a derivative of Manasarovar. A well-maintained Mughal garden, named Jarokha Bagh, was commissioned by Nur Jahan, on one side of the lake.
The large growth of lotus at the periphery of the lake will bloom during July and August, we wre told. The shikaras parked near the lotus plants added to the magic of the look.
The rootstocks of lotus plant (nadru) that grows in the lake, are harvested and sold – it’s a major part of vegetarian food of Kashmir.
In one corner of the lake, remains of a Hindu temple were found during restoration works undertaken for the lake. The temple is dated to 800-900 AD, during the rule of Avantivarman or his son, Sankaravarman.
Kheer bhawani temple
The most revered temple of Kashmiri Pandits, is kheer Bhawani. The residing deity is the Godess Bhawani. There was a temple at this place for about two millennia. However the current structure is about a century old.
The prasad of this temple is kheer (reduced milk & rice). A Sikh gentleman was in charge of the prasad counter. The rule was to eat the prasad & clean one’s utensils & return it back to the counter.
At this temple complex we met few Muslim employees. Outside the temple complex there were shops selling Pooja samagri – owned by hindus as well as Muslims.
Sand Extraction from Jhelum:
We saw the traditional way of sand extraction in boats, while driving past. So we stopped for clicking pictures. A couple who stay nearby, came to chat with us. Then they offered us to come home ‘it’s hot outside. Come home & have chai’. We heard that modern dredging machinery had been started here but it did not do the job well – some banks started to collapse. So people went back to the traditional method.
Pulwama was in news for a conflict with Pakistan in 2019.
At the municipality check post, we chatted with the person in charge. He asked where we were from. He said ‘aao chai piyo’.
Pulwama post office had a manned army bunker.
We stopped by an orchard to see Pulwama apples (many of these orchards around).
We also saw large scale farming of Bulgarian Apple in Pulwama – these were already red in June. It’s a hybrid variety. This Tree needs support (a bamboo structure). The local Kashmiri apples were now green, the trees need no support & they will turn red in august. Bulgarian Apple starts fruiting from 2 years. Local Kashmiri apple trees take 7-8 years to fruit.
We also saw a free range chicken farm – there are very few such farms around, said Tahir.
We saw a cluster of abandoned houses of kashmiri pandits.
We saw a structure in memory of Heemal Nagrai folklore of Kashmir
Onway to our drive to Pir Panjal area, we saw a cattle market. Villagers had brought their cattle from far, to sell. Reminded us of the cattle market we had seen in South Odisha, Onukudelli, a market by & for the members of the Bonda tribe.
Achabal’s main attraction is the Mughal garden. The concept of Char bagh (4 distinct square parts) was taken by the Mughals from the Islamic concept of 4 kinds of liquids in 4 pools of Jannat (heaven) – milk, honey, wine, water.
During the Mughal times the waterfalls in the gardens & the Fountains used to work on pressure of water & using smart physics. Now many of these use electric pumps.
It was amazing to see hundreds of school children, families & groups of friends playing, roaming around, laughing, singing, some dancing as well, in the park.
One of the interesting part of our stay at achabal was that we roamed around in the markets, interacted with people, bought local fruits & just had a great time.
The best part of achabal was the JK tourism hut & its caretaker .
He was a one man army – porter, chef, caretaker, served great food. Amazing guy.
Waterfall at Aharbal
I would not even attempt to describe it. Beautiful.
Mughal garden Verinag
The word ‘Nag’ means spring in Kashmiri. We were surprised to know that the river Jhelum flows not by melting glacier, but from an underground spring (located 1800m above sea level).
The spring was worshipped earlier. Mughal emperor Jahangir commissioned an octagonal structure around the spring with stone 400 years back. A century back from now, the local king restored the broken structure with brick.
Jhelum flows out of this spring into the plains. Other streams join Jhelum onway, to form the formidable river that we see in Srinagar.
Botanical garden kokernag
We have been to Kolkata botanical garden few times. There are two distinct differences between a botanical garden in a plain & the one here:
- There are many streams inside the garden
- Inside the garden there is a walking hill trek, it being a hilly area.
Lots of families had come for picnic, sitting on the grass, food spread out. Some families had also got LPG cylinder with them. Kids had come from schools in great numbers.
JK Tourism chatpal property
Chhatapal (also called Chatpal) is a very beautiful place with meadows, streams & hills on all sides. There are small villages that are fun to walk around in.
JK tourism has a beautiful property, located in an amazing location, in a meadow between mountains, a stream flowing past.
However we found that it was totally mismanaged & very badly maintained – both furnitures & fixtures & change-ables like towels, bed sheets, blankets etc. The wood had been eaten off by insects creating huge holes, washrooms not cleaned regularly, leading to permanent spots, walls cracked & paint fallen all over the floor carpet, torn, dirty & full of patches bedsheet, replacement bed sheets were even worse, one towel for two guests was super dirty – yellow & black patches, glass panels of room not cleaned, torn pillow covers, cobwebs on wall & ceiling.
The beautiful valley View from balcony blocked by huge bundles.
Tahir & Avijit immediately spring into action & got much of this resolved & we cut shot out 2 nights stay & moved back yonJK tourism hut in achabal.
We heard that this mess was due to change in guard. The earlier person was very good & guests loved his service.
The dinner they served was very good though.
Morning walk in the village
We just went out for a morning walk in the village. Sound of birds chirping & a stream flowing by were the only sounds for an hour of our walk. The view was stunning.
During our walk we met a forest officer. He walks around everyday to see if locals are illegally cutting trees from the forest.
Mountains are divided into territories for each forest officer. He said that in certain parts of the territory he has to go with his colleagues as there are bears.
Forest department can however cut trees, harvests walnuts, based on a certain logic & maintain detailed documentation. Every log cut by forest department is marked with length, width etc. These are then transported by trucks to depot for auction.
In pine trees there is a resin that makes it burn like candle. We saw villagers collecting those from the forest.
We were amazed to see log transportation skills – two men used common sense & an iron rod to load two mammoth logs on a tractor trolley.
Mohd Sultan’s Gratta mill
Mohd. Sultan built a hut with stones & mud, diverted stream water into the hut through a log cut out like a pipe, in order to turn a turbine, which in turn, turns a stone, to grind atta (flour) from wheat, rice, maize etc. No electricity needed.
People bring their produce to Mohd Sultan’s workshop & get the grinding done. They pay in cash or in kind (x% of the total quantity).
Gate-crash into Maulvi Aziz’s hut
While walking around in Chhatrapal, we saw a beautiful hut made of boulders & wood, walls plastered with mud. So we decide to go in & meet the people.
There was no one inside. So we looking here & there.
Then walked in Maulavi Aziz to his own home & saw 4 strangers. He just smiled at us & greeted us. We said we were travellers & came to see his house.
So he invited us inside his house & offered us to sit in his living room.
We sat there for almost 30 minutes & chatted with him. We got to know that he comes here himself & with his family every summer, from Chhatragul, a place in the lower valley, to graze his own cattle. He is a Maulavi (educated in Islamic studies & he conducts namaz for people in mosques). At the onset of winters they descend to less colder plains.
This 15 year old summer house we were in, was very cool in summers. There was no fan but the interiors were cool & enjoyable.
The curtain was actually a handcrafted kashmiri shawl.
The chimney of the house was made in such a way that the entire smoke goes out.
We were amazed to see how spic & span the house was & how organized the kitchen was. Later his wife joined in.
When we were leaving, they stepped out & waved us goodbye, as if we were leaving a relative’s place.
Thimran – Adil Hussain Koka’s Village
Near the entrance of the village was the Ration shop. FCI truck comes once a month to the village. Ration is distributed based on number of members of the family.
We saw the Primary school in Thimran village. Children were waving at us from the school. Secondary school is in the next village.
The main access to the village roads was made for the first ever time, about 10 years back.
During winter, snow dredging machine comes till main road entrance to the village. TO remove snow in the village, they still use the shovel.
Thimran gets snowfall till 2-3 feet deep in winters.
We saw the process of Livuan – a lady plastering mud water to the walls, to keep away cracks.
After kurbani, the villagers retain the sheep skin & dry it. In winters the fur side of the hide is used as a warm cloth to sit on the floor or to offer namaz.
We also saw Doong- a watch tower which villagers use in turn to keep watch on maize field. Else bear will eat maize. If bear spotted, then the man on watch raises alarm. More villagers come & drive away the bear.
We went to a carpenter’s workshop. They were processing large logs of wood manually. They patiently showed us the process & explained it too.
During our stay in the village for a few hours, we got at least 20 invites from families to come to their home & have tea. People came out of their houses to talk to us & generally chit chat. The people who were working on NREGA contract also stopped by to chat with us & offered tea. The warmth of people in the village will stay with us for a long time.
Adil Hussain Koka’s home
There is an inscription on wood above the main entrance of the two storeyed wood house. It mentions date of construction as 30th September 1985, Adil’s father, his uncle & his grandfather’s names are mentioned.
The old house made of boulders & mud. The floor of the first floor is wooden.
Of late, they have built a new house, made of bricks. However, this also has a wooden lintel & wooden ceiling. So we could hear people walking on first floor, when we were sitting in ground floor.
Adil went to secondary school & then he joined the family tradition of farming & sheep keeping.
He was very excited to learn to use the camera (from me). I taught him basics & he clicked a few good pictures. He learnt using iPhone as well.
We had an amazing lunch at his house, cooked by his sister – rajma grown in their farm, saag foraged from the forest, sheep Paya. Will share details of each in part 3 of 3.
The kids of the home came to meet us, one by one, after school. They were shy though & were just giggling when we asked them about studies. Adil told us that they are good at studies.
Martand Sun temple
We have been to Sun temples at Konarak, Odisha & at Modhera, Gujarat.
The foundation of the Martand temple is 18 feet deep, made of stone. The entire building is also built using stone slabs / pillars, stuck together by Interlocking.
In the middle, there is the main temple & on all sides of the rectangular campus are 84 small temples. There are 365 idols of different gods & goddesses on the base.
There are two Small temples on both sides of the main temple – The one on east is for rising Sun & the one on west for the setting Sun
The temples are constructed in such a way that each temple gets sunlight. One could see shadow & understand the time of the day.
Jalkot – a 35 km long channel was used to bring water to kund, a central reserviour. There was a process of filter sedimentation b4 it reaches kund.
On Solar eclipse, the full temple used to be washed with kesar & milk.
In the campus there are 2 chabutaras (raised platforms) in the front of the temple for puja & 2 at back for panchayat.
It being a sun temple, Sunflower is carved on stone.
In this temple area, 2-4 ft snowfall happens.
There was something at the top of the sanctum Sanctorum where rays of Sun used to fall & get reflected & those rays used to be worshipped!!!
Inscription in Sharda lipi provided historians with good amount of information about this temple.
This Vishnu temple was commissioned by King Avantivarman in 800-900 AD. In 1400s, during an earthquake, the ceiling of the temple broke. Historian Rakhaldas conducted excavations between 1913 & 15 and brought this temple back to Public memory.
There are 69 small temples in campus.
We saw an idol of lord Kamdev (the god of love & sex) at this temple – do not remember seeing his idol in any other temple so far, during our travels.
Another unique idol we saw was of King Avantivarman himself. This was also unusual in those days.
This is the only vishnu temple in Kashmir.
His son, Shankara varman was a Shiva devotee & he commissioned many Shiva temples.
Traditional Buildings in Srinagar
Centuries back, most house were made of wood. People still build houses in Kashmir with wooden structure, ceilings, roofs & walls. Wooden wall in a traditional building is believed to maintain moisture in the air & hence the temperature. Most people we met during our trip, felt that wooden walls are suited to this climate.
Wooden houses were & are still made by interlocking, not with nails / screws
Slowly the structure was made of wood but the walls were made with boulders, held together by a particular kind of mud found here. Mud walls keep the room cooler in summer & warm in winters.
After stone boulders, came stone bricks & eventually burnt clay bricks – but still the frame was wooden. Logic of wood pillar – the wall is made into compartments. Since Kashmir is in a high seismic zone, during earthquake only small sections of wall get damaged. The wood moves & adjust but do not break.
We saw a Dajji diwari house – The Building fully made of wood 3 storied. Walls had a mix of mud & hay.
Taak system of window – 3/5 sets of windows next to each other, made of wood, stuck to a wooden frame, often having carving on them.
Kashmiri native tree poplar wood is widely used for making houses.
Every house we went to, had wall to wall carpets.
We had known Mughal palaces to have Hamam – huge bath tubs. However, in Kashmir, Hamams are something else – heated rooms to beat the sever cold.
While building a house, the plinth (foundation) is made with stone, in every room. The plinth is then filled with boulders. In the room with Hamam room, boulders are not filled & hence a cavity is formed. On top of the cavity, stone beams are laid. This forms the floor of the room.
Fire is lit in the floor cavity. This keeps the room heated.
Usually hamam is made in sitting room, next to kitchen or any other room where members of the family spend most of the day. Earlier hamams were built only in masjids & shrines. Now hamams are built in homes too.
We saw hamam stones being extracted from quarry in Saderkoot area. One man was neatly shaping them with his chisel & hammer.
In a Place called Deethu, we saw a new building being made using soil as a binding agent instead of cement & sand. We heard that the name of this soil is Zenh & it has a good holding power.
Onway to Chhatpal, we saw traditional huts with thatched roof. A variety of grass called praji had been used for waterproof the ceiling.
We also saw a small traditional building called kuchh – for storing grains, next to a farm.
During our morning walk at Chhatpal, we saw Dhok – makeshift shelters made of log & covered with mud, made by professional sheep herders.
In Tulail village & Chhatpal , we saw wood planks used to make roof of hut
Midway, at Chhatragul, Anantnag, onway from Kokernag to Chhatpal, we saw an old building made of stone boulders (not shaped like a brick). We got down & chatted with people there. They said that this house belonged to Pandits, who moved to Jammu. Currently no one occupied the house. Till 2 years back this building was ok. Ceiling of the top floor broke due to excess snowfall 2 years back.
It was interesting to see that no one took away the heavy woodwork (real wood doors) – each would sell at ₹2-3 lacs in Srinagar.
Overall it was a fabulous trip
Hope we have been able to paint a detailed picture in your mind about the life & times of common people in Kashmir.