10th June 2012:
It was an unique experience to be able to meet the family of our Shikara operator at their residence and be able to have a glimpse of the traditional houses in the secluded quarters. We were bidding good bye to Srinagar and were proceeding to Pahalgam where we intend to stay for two days. Our vehicles were being loaded with our luggage. Looking back, we had regrets for not having been able to visit many other places of interest and importance in or around Srinagar. The Shankaracharya Temple (Takht-e-Sulaiman), Tulip Gardens, Shalimar Gardens (Our group is to be blamed), Pari Mahal, A boat cruise in Jhelum cutting through Srinagar, The fort on the top of Hari Parbat and shrines of Sharika Bhagawathi, Hamza Makhdoom and the Gurudwara (Chatti Padshahi) are some of them. They called for a further stay of 2/3 days to explore.
|Very old picture|
Pahalgam is also a much sought after tourist destinations in Kashmir which is 94 kilometres South East from Srinagar. While making a move, we requested our driver to make a brief halt in front of the arched gate at the foot of Hari Parbat. The locality is known as Rainwari and the massive gate itself is called Kathi Darwaza. The vehicle stopped as requested and without wasting time I jumped out and went inside to have an appreciation of the inhabited area there. Once the Moghul emperor Akbar wanted to etablish a township in the fort precincts to be known as Nagar Nagor and a wall running round the hill was constructed. I was looking for some kind of centuries old ghettoes but the houses/buildings seemed to be of recent origin. The present settlement inside is supposed to be unauthorised but then they are not devoid of civic facilities.
I had to remain contended with whatever I could see, although there was a road which probably leads to the top of the hill fort. Getting inside would have entailed delays because of other inviting monuments in its precincts. After traversing through the narrow lanes we entered the highway within the city. There were many shops displaying colourful bowls and household utilities made of a kind of local reed. Farther ahead were shops selling carved stoneware. Shortly we were out of the city limits and were proceeding to our destination at optimum speed. We had also requested for a stopover at Avantipur, 30 kilometres ahead. I was on the look out and while passing through a small town, a ruined structure to our left made its appearance and immediately I asked for the vehicle to stop. The vehicle was already slowed down and the driver responded that he remembered it. Yes this was the Avantipur I had in mind. The ruins still majestic in appearance stood there. It was a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu built by a king known as Avantivarman during the 9th century CE which was destroyed by the non-believers as a part of their crusades in the 14th century CE. This deserves a separate post.
En route we came across several traditional houses in a state of disrepair and looked as if they have been abandoned. Some one amongst us also screamed “look at those houses, there is no life”. As a matter of fact I was so much engrossed looking at the beauty all around, I did not pay much attention. I remained oblivious of the fact that these were the houses of the original inhabitants of Kashmir, known as Kashmiri Pandits. Infiltrations and militancy in the valley made them to move out en-mass in 1990 leaving behind all their possessions. For a moment I was sad but then thought of diverting my attention. I requested the driver if he could take us through the country side so that we can have a feel of the rural life. Soon we came at a point where there was a diversion towards the right with a small hoarding which read “Apple Valley”. The driver was kind enough to heed to our request and leaving the highway drove through the narrow road. We came across a shepherds driving their flock of sheep for grazing. Our driver clarified that the name Pahalgam has been derived from these shepherds. Pahalgam means a Valley of Shepherds.
There were plantations of Walnut trees followed by Apple and Cherries. The fruits were either not visible or were too tender and small. Cultivation of Apples for which Kashmir was famous is now dwindling. The farmers have switched over to Cherries and Kiwis (native fruit of New Zeraland). The later largely gets exported to various countries. Then there were paddy fields as far as we could see. Women folk was engaged in transplanting operations in the water filled slushy fields. This sight was similar to what we could see elsewhere in India except that women here were well clad. There was a small village in between where they had good houses and some remnants of the past also existed. They were the wooden two storied houses since abandoned. There were similar structures where the lower portion had the shop and the upper portion was used as a dwelling. It seemed that the rural population is also fairly affluent. There were no traces of any poverty as could be encountered elsewhere in India.
After passing through few more villages, we were once again on the highway leading to Pahalgam. The Liddar river (originally Lambodari) on the way mesmerized us and we stopped on its banks to have a photo session with the beautiful views behind. This river is full of rapids and had we stayed there for some more time we could have had a rafting experience.
Finally we arrived at the main bazaar area of Pahalgam and had a late lunch at the Nathu’s Rasoi, one of the best in the town.
Thereafter walked through the streets window shopping. We were booked at Hotel Baisaran but due to some communication gap, we could not be accommodated there. After several telephonic calls to the Hotel Centre Point at Srinagar (they were the people who arranged the package) we were led to a nondescript (but good) hotel some where up in the hill. Probably the village was Ladipura. However the surroundings were scenic. We checked in for a night there, only to move out next day early in the morning to a central location.
|Father and Son|