Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Baltal to Jammu

15th-july-2010: Next day we got up little late around 7.00 am from our sleep. Meanwhile when we were getting fresh at outside of the pilgrim camp we met Ganesh and Doctor Ashok who were looking for us at the entrance gate number 2. Now we all got relaxed because we had already completed our yatra successfully without any loss or damage. In the next one hour we were ready to move. Again we took few group photographs there. Then we walked towards the makeshift bus stand that was working near the huge parking ground outside the pilgrim camp. Soon we booked again a 12 seater Vehicle Tata Vinger. Driver name was Shafiq and he was from Ramban (Jammu region). He charged us Rs. 800/- for each member from Baltal to Jammu.
Actually as per our itinerary and schedule we had to stay at Srinagar and visit few places nearby. But the condition of Kashmir was not so good at that time. There were curfews applied at too many cities of Kashmir including Srinagar. So it was better for us to move Jammu directly. And we booked Shafiq’s vehicle for Jammu. Later on Shfiq informed us there were reports of bomb blasts, Firing, and stone pelting on Yatris buses. There were troubles expected during our return journey, because we also had to cross few disturbed cities like Gandarbal, Srinagar, Pampore, Khanbal, Avantipore etc, so we got little scared. But we had a hard faith on our Lord Shiva and on my Guruji. Here at bus stand I made 2-3 calls by a telephone booth to my mom and wife to inform them for our successful yatra. We were total 10 people so Shafiq was still looking for 2 more people for his vacant seat.
After some time Shafiq found 2 more passengers and came into the Jeep and switched on the engine. GHOON... GHOON... the background got filled-up with the engine sound whenever he presses the accelerator. After around 5 minutes of GHOON... GHOON... our jeep began to move. It took it around half an hour to come on to the main road that goes towards Srinagar; such was the vehicular jam in the bus stand. Once on the main road the jeep picked up some speed and began moving towards Srinagar via Sonamarg. We were excited and happy. Kunal and Ganesh was regularly getting snaps from out of jeep window. Outside the bus the weather was shiny with yellowish sunlight. After some time the driver stopped the bus near a highway restaurant (DHABA). We were in relaxed mood so we came out of the jeep to have some meals. We ordered meal for 10 people and trying to gather some information about the route and situation ahead with Dhaba owner and few drivers coming from Srinagar side. Then one driver informed us that the route ahead has been cleared. So once again our bus began to move. This time our jeep was moving as a part of a large procession of vehicles.
Many Buses, Cars and Jeeps were seen moving with broken windscreens. We were all feeling afraid. To ensure the safety of the vehicles moving in the procession an army truck was leading it. Thus after some time our jeep reached Srinagar. Here we were moving around the Dal-lake. We could see shikara without any tourist in the Dal-lake from our jeep. The Dal Lake is a famous lake in Srinagar. It is connected to a number of other lakes of the Kashmir valley. It is well-known for its approximately 500 Victorian-era wooden houseboats, originally built as vacation homes for British administrators during the Raj. The lake covers 18 square kilometers, and is divided by causeways into four basins, called Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. Lokut-dal and Bod-dal have an island each in the centre, known as Rup Lank (or Char Chinari) and Sona Lank respectively. Along most of the shore of the lake is a boulevard, lined with Mughal-era gardens, parks, and hotels. During the winter season the lake sometimes freezes over. The lake has some interesting flora and fauna. The flora includes lotus flower, water lilies and water chestnuts. Notable birds are kingfishers and heron.
The road was totally empty due to curfew. All shops were closed. But we saw few people at some places in Srinagar, they seemed oblivious of all incidents running around because, as we could see them from inside the bus, there was no tension on their faces and their body language was also very casual. Our bus did not stop at Srinagar. As we left Srinagar we could be able to see a fear on Shafiq’s face, because now we had to cross most disturbed cities like Pampore, Avantipore, Khanbal, Bijbaira. He was driving his jeep with speed of 90-100 km per hour. 
As we entered into Pampore city we were found a huge number of securities around highway. While crossing this city suddenly at one place one young boy near about 15-18 yrs old thrown a big stone towards our jeep from left side of road. But thank god, he missed his target and we were safely crossed that point. The scene was very frightening. All of us were now thinking; WHAT NEXT is going to happen. Oh God please save us. But our driver Shafiq was very courageous. He did not flee. After going some distance ahead the jeep reached a spot where he saw 2-3 shops of dry fruits open. He stopped jeep there for some time to get company of 4-5 more vehicles. In the base town of this holy place one very young Hindu shop keeper was enquiring us, "Does your state also has these kinds of disturbances that we fear day to day?" The longing for peace was melting the heart. Oh Lord, Preserver of Justice, let there be not disturbances in our state or in this person's state or in any part of the world. Let there be peace, peace, peace everywhere which enables the minds to enjoy the bliss of Thy Holy Feet!! Actually this land is a very emotive and historical issue in Kashmir.

The Government of Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of independent India) had enacted a very myopic law in the year 1949. This law is known as Article 370 in Indian constitution. This law says that an Indian citizen who does not belong to Kashmir cannot be an owner of any property in Kashmir. I do not know what was his logic behind enacting this law at that time. But it is due to this myopic law that, I think, Kashmiries still feel themselves psychologically separate from the people of other part of India. Because they do not get much opportunity to interact with people outside Kashmir. If this law was not enacted, then the normal churning of population that is gradually mixing the populations of different parts of India and helping in making India a stronger nation would be also present in Kashmir. Now Kashmiries have become very emotional about this Article 370. Because they think this article protects their identity.

When 3-4 Army truck and 2-3 more yatris vehicle crossed us then suddenly Shafiq started jeep and took his jeep behind those vehicles. Now Shafiq kept moving our jeep till Qazigund. We safely crossed Avantipore, Khanbal and bijbaira cities. At Quzigund our jeep stopped at a place which seemed like a local market. We had also stopped here while going to Pahalgam on our first day journey from jammu. It was an open area and there were many shops selling Dry Fruits and Cricket Bats all around. This place is famous for dry fruits. There was a big DHABA (Low standard Restaurant) in this market. We all went into this DHABA to have tea. Here Ranjan and Ajit prepared Sattu drinks for us before Tea. After sometimes, Shafiq blew horns to attract our attention and signal to catch our seat in the jeep. Slowly we all came inside the jeep and again began to move. My daddy had been very restless all through this journey. He didn’t have full meal since last 3 days. But at that place we were unable to do something for him.
Soon, the frequent shaking given to my body by the moving jeep induced me into sleep. Yes, everyone now and then some jerk would jolt me out of sleep or when the jeep would take some sharp turn I would briefly get awake but soon I would go into sleep. This way the jeep reached near Jawahar Tunnel at Banihal. Now again we were getting afraid, because we were running late by 3 hrs. As we expected on the time of departure from Baltal, we had to reach Jammu by 9 pm, so that we will be able to book a room for us at Saraswati Dham Dharmshala. When we reached nearby Ramban, Shafiq showed us his two owned houses. Actually it was his native land. When we reached at Ramban market he stopped the jeep and went somewhere. Obviously after waiting some time for him to return we became curious about his where about.

We got down from the jeep to pee and to find out that where Shafiq went. At the break of dawn Shafiq returned and began driving the jeep again. Actually at that last stop he had gone to visit his house, to meet his kids and to change his cloths. Now it was getting dark, so we were little furious about our room booking. After 10 pm we would not be able to book any room at that Dharmshala. Anyhow Ranjan get contacted to his one of friend Karan residing at Jammu itself and asked him to book a room for us at that Dharmshala. We were feeling hunger when we crossed PatniTop, so asked Shafiq to stop jeep at any good Dhaba. And he stopped his jeep at Udhampur near a Dhaba.
Time was around 10.30 pm. Within an hour we finished our dinner and again started for Jammu. Ranjan was trying to contact again with Karan for room booking confirmation. After sometime we got a call of Karan and he informed us about room. He had booked a big hall for us but it was not in same Dharmshala it was in Shankar hotel nearby station.We reached Jammu station at nearly 12.45 am in the night- at least 4 hours late than our expectation. When we reached to the room booked by Karan in Shankar Hotel we found it very dirty. But we had no choice at that moment. Our body was too tired to allow us to go to some descent hotel. So we took this room. There were common bathrooms in this hotel which people staying in different rooms could use. We took bath in one such bathroom. Anyhow we spent that night there.