Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Trip to Srinagar

The wife and I have a rule... We go out on our anniversary...Go out and relax....discuss the year gone by...make plans for the coming year (which mostly never work out) and basically just have a blast. Since we were in Delhi this time, we decided to make a trip to Kashmir. Also, we have a cousin in the Army who is currently posted in Srinagar, so basically the time seemed ripe to make a trip there.

I made use of my LTC and let the Government pay for my trip seemed right also. They were the ones unable to control what was happening there and so if I was going there at my risk (despite advices by everyone not to), I thought let them at least pay for it.

So we boarded the flight to Srinagar. The flight was short and sweet. Before the plane even started to take off, lunch was being served, and by the time the air hostesses cleared it, it was time for landing. Pity, i could not even complete the movie on the in flight entertainment system. The view from the plane was amazing. The snow covered mountains and the clouds seems to merge together. The most noticeable thing being that the mountains were mostly barren, devoid of any vegetation.

We landed at the Srinagar airport. Even before landing, one can begin to see the effect of militarization there. The airport is completely camouflaged and one can even catch a glimpse of air force planes stationed there. As soon as we deplaned, the first thing to hit us was the cold icy wind, followed by the realization that there seemed more policemen and guns than travelers and bags. It became even worse as our trip progressed. Apart from the Army, there seemed almost every para military force stationed there. I could not help wondering how all these forces coordinate among themselves and decide their area of operations.

We also realised another thing. All these years of militancy had taken its toll on Kashmir. That place is at least 25 years behind the rest of India in terms of development and infrastructure.

Anyway, now about the good part. That place is truly paradise on earth. We were not visiting during the peak tourist season, yet the beauty of the place had us stumped. Nearly every tree had a colour of its own and the flowers were still blooming.

We visited Gulmarg, where we found snow only after taking the Gondola (cable car) to the highest mountains. On the way from Gulmarg to Uri, we visited an orchid and saw apples on trees for the first time.

Uri, is another place which is not really frequented by tourists, but actually is a beautiful place. We visited the Kaman Setu, which is the bridge from which the Bus to Pakistan crosses over and also is used by the trucks carrying out trade between Indian and Pakistan. We saw a few Pakistani trucks and they seemed really funny, all decorated with mirror work and fancy paints.

On the way we crossed Baramulla and Kupwara which saw major action during the Kargil war. These places see infiltration on a daily basis even today. In fact just a month before Major Suri had lost his life in an operation in Bandipora, and this happened while his wife had come over to Kashmir to celebrate his birthday and was waiting for him in a guest room in Gulmarg. Hats off to these Army guys. Believe me guys, one has to go there and see what these guys go through to understand the Army. Listen to this. These guys man the forward bunkers all through winter. They are cut off from all civilisation for four months. All rations are stocked in advance. For four months, about a handful of guys in a bunker....snow all around. No TV, no cells, no hot food, no bath.....I mean basically no nothing. Get these guys to come and play Big Boss......

Salute U guys...each one of you. Just one thing baffles me. What motivates these guys. To protect us like this. To try and climb a mountain with an enemy bunker on top. He is sure to be killed. Why does he still do it. Love for the country.....maybe.....not too not....Fame....absolutely not...Does anyone know Major Suri???? Someone explain this to me please. We were lucky to meet Major's brother in Gulmarg. He had come to see the place where his brother served. Hats off to you too Sunil......

Well. another thing baffles me. How can three strands of a flower cost so much. Saffron.....yes. We visited the fields where these flowers grow. I plucked a few flowers. Will sell them someday when I am bankrupt.

We also visited Pehlgam which is also really beautiful and more like a conventional hill station with a Mall road and shopping. We also hung ourselves on an electrified fence, but thankfully Kashmir is still a part of India and the electrification was not working.

I also picked up some walnut wood furniture from Srinagar which cost me a bomb but people say is worth it.

So all in all it was a great trip, and actually an eye opener.

Authors note:- I dedicate this post to Major Suri and all the Army guys out there.