Friday, January 11, 2008

Adventure 4: "Mission: Kashmir" (Continued)

[Edit - I had to take out some info... I hope you all understand...]

Yesterday I went to the border between India and Pakistan. I was only 30 yards away from Pakistan! I would never have gotten to see Kaman Post (which is what the post is called) if we were not staying with Brigadier Chief Engineer Ashok Bhutani.

We reached and stopped in Mohura, the location of the Indian army's last base before Kaman Post, around 11:00 AM. There, someone showed me bunkers of the Indian army (guns and all!) and other defensive structures and mechanisms. I've never been so close to a war zone (well, I was actually IN the war zone) in my life!! Nor did I ever anticipate being this close to one ever again. But the whole time my sense of pride in the Indian army grew and grew. I was so impressed with their crisp movements and bold enthusiasm that it made me want to join the army! Of course, I would have to join the United States army, and I would obviously be proud of that too, (America's army is awesome) but currently I'm in India and I don't think I will ever be that close to another war zone, whether it be an American war or not, so I was presently enjoying the sharpness of our Indian soldiers.

This gentleman became our navigator and tour guide, so as we navigated around the mountainous terrain towards Kaman Post, he explained what landmarks and historical sites were where. I took lots of pictures, and again, I apologize for not putting them up. But I will, as soon as I get access to my own laptop.

Now here's a little lesson on the Kashmir situation. In 2005 there was a massive earthquake (registering a debatable 7.6 or 7.7 on the richter scale) in this area where lots of Kashmiri households in the mountains were destroyed. The government provided them with relief and funds. This included rebuilding all of their houses (and improving them too), adding aluminum or tin roofing to hold the snow up when it falls, providing them with household items like blankets and food, and even giving them cash! The government essentially really helped the Kashmiri population that was affected by the earthquake. However, the Kashmiri people of this area started taking advantage of this help. They started to ask for more and more stuff, more money, and started complaining to the media that the government was not helping them out. In order to keep them quiet, the government had to continue to support them. They started to eat the government's money, and became lazy. Their taking advantage of the government reached such a state that some started destroying their own homes to receive aid. They threaten the government by saying that they will start helping Pakistan if they do not get more money/supplies (and the part of Kashmir that is in Pakistan threatens the Pakistani government the same way). They are living luxurious lives now and not doing anything! They do not work. Now, the army is doing some work in the area. However they need to recruit workers from long distances away because the locals do not want to work. They are living more luxurious lives than the army! And when the army appeals for funds from the government they get such lame responses like "our hands are tied" and whatnot. Why doesn't the government help the army but they keep spending on the Kashmiris of the area? Because the politicians in charge want the votes of Kashmir! So they fail to help the army, but provide a life of luxury for the local people. How sad.

So our navigator showed us all the major landmarks and historic sites along the way, and what a breathtaking view it was! We were surrounded by the Himalayan mountains and below us was the Jhelum River. We were on a path that was actually taking us into a protrusion of India into Pakistan. So as we got closer and closer to Kaman Post, on all three sides of us (not behind obviously) we were eventually surrounded by Pakistani lands! When we reached Kaman Post, we were greeted by a troop of soldiers. How unbelievably crisp and professional they were! I was so impressed. They gave us a tour of Kaman Post (I took pictures that I probably was not supposed to... so some of them I may not be allowed to upload, but most I will try). The Jhelum River right at this post is part of the actual Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan. We were 30 yards away from Pakistan! The guards were so vigilant, it was amazing. They said that if they ever let their guards down then Pakistanis would enter the area right away. They were always being watched from the other side. I was a little nervous at this point. I was shown the Pakistani bunkers on the other side, and I saw guns coming out of them. This made me really nervous. But apparently there was a ceasefire between the armies at this point, so I was assured that it would be alright. I zoomed in with my camera where a soldier pointed out to me that there would be Pakistani soldiers looking at me, and there they were, looking directly back at me. The soldiers told me that the Pakistani soldiers had already taken photos of me and my mom for their records. How exciting (and terrifying)! We were then taken up to a viewpoint and we saw even more clearly Pakistan's terrain. There were guards there looking at us, just like we were looking at them! Creepy. But this is what happens 24/7 over there!

Now, the LOC is so huge! This is why there are cases of Pakistanis sneaking across the border and wreaking havoc on this side of the border. What they used to do, before the ceasefire, was fire on the troops at Kaman Post, and while the Indian troops were retaliating, they would run across the border. Imagine the state of these soldiers, risking their lives for protecting the country, in a land where the people do not even hold true loyalty to their own country! Many Kashmiris want Kashmir to be independent, saying that they don't need India or Pakistan to survive. And Kashmir is milking both countries for resources and money, threatening to join the other side if they are not satisfied. But our soldiers are standing there protecting the country anyway, whether or not they are received well, because they are so passionate about their country! Seeing the soldiers at Kaman Post filled me with new zeal for India. After our tour and history lesson we returned to Mohura, where we ate lunch (at around 4:00 PM). Then the gentleman showing us around and I went to see the Datta Temple, which is completely in ruins because the local population is almost entirely Muslim, and they do not want the temple there, so it is not taken care of at all. In fact, almost all of the temples that I have seen here in and near Srinagar are in ruins or else they are targets of terrorist attacks. The Muslim conquerors of the past tore down all the temples in the area and built Masjids (Mosques) on top of their ruins. The few temples that remain (the driver tells me as we pass them that they are temples, or else I would not even recognize them) are pretty much ruins, and from what I have read, most of these remaining few are in fact survivors of attempts to bring them down, not too long ago.

So the temple that this gentleman and I saw is related to the ancient story of the Mahabharata (for those of you who don't know, please look it up, I cannot explain it all here). It is said that Bhima, the largest and strongest of the five Pandavas, used to drink from a large stone pot that still exists on the temple grounds today. What an amazing monument! Were this temple anywhere else it would be a major religious pilgrimage site! However, it is in an unreachable location. Even this gentleman, who lives right across the street from it (in his army camp), had never been there before until we both went!

Then we returned to Ashok Uncle and Anita Aunty's house at around 7:15 PM. We had been invited to eat dinner at another officer's house, so we changed and freshened up, then left for their house. After that party, we came back, and I went immediately to sleep. What a tiring day!

Today our plan was to go the opposite direction as yesterday, and see the origin of the same Jhelum river we saw yesterday. This origin point is called Verinag. We drove eastward, following the Jhelum, in snow piled high. The Safari (the name of the vehicle) we were traveling in kept fishtailing in the snow. But it was exciting! We first went to go see a Beacon (Beacon is the name of the project that Ashok Uncle is heading) site, that is a tunnel through the Pir Panjal mountain for traffic going across the mountain. This is the road that connects Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of India, so it is really really important!! This is an avalanche prone area, so it was nerve wracking to drive through it. But it was exciting anyway! I took lots of pictures again, so I'll put those up soon. We went into the control room of the tunnel project, which was a "restricted access" zone, but of course, being with the Chief Engineer's wife we were granted access everywhere. There is one picture of the door where it says "Restricted Access: No Entry Without Permission" or something like that.

When we went inside the control room, there was an officer who was there to explain the workings of the control room. He explained every little detail of the board and how it works (it's just like how you see in the movies!). I almost cried, because these people are working so hard with such little resources! He explained to us every detail of that control board with such enthusiasm, as if he were about to turn it all on and show us how it works! The enthusiasm that all these members of the army have, is just unbelievable. It is so touching to see how much they care about their country... I mean, they continue to work day in and day out in such a dangerous area to do what they can for their country with what they have been given. The government helps the army none at all, and still they stand their ground protecting their land from invasions. I cannot say that I have been more emotionally charged in my life.

After we saw the tunnel project, we went to Verinag. It is the place where the Jhelum River originates. You'll simply have to see the pictures when I put them up to understand the impossible beauty that I saw there. I now understand the saying that "Kashmir is heaven on earth." What a breathtaking site. The Jhelum River originates at a spring, that spouts 450 gallons of water a second. The original architect who built this spot was from Mysore, in southern India. He put a huge metal plate on the spring with little holes in it to control the unimaginable force that used to be the spring. This controlled force is now a reservoir (which is such a beautiful spot, I tell you) that then feeds the river. Stemming from the reservoir is a little waterway that resembles exactly the waterway in front of the Taj Mahal. It was constructed for Shah Jahan, the king who created the Taj Mahal too. He built this spot as a haven for himself, and he wished to be buried here when he died. But that wish was left incomplete. I leave it up to the reader to do a little more research on the history of Shah Jahan and Verinag, for I myself don't know everything. The site itself is absolutely beautiful though, surrounded by pine trees that rise up majestically on the mountainside behind it, and in this season they are covered in snow so it looks totally breathtaking. (Of course, I took lots of pictures.) I plan on coming back to Kashmir in the summer. Anita Aunty tells me that it looks like a totally different place in the summertime. I'm excited! However, I don't know if I will actually be able to come back or not.

When we returned from Verinag, instead of going home, we went shopping for some souvenirs from Kashmir. The market was so full of life, I was surprised where all these people came from. Since today is Friday, there was Friday Namaaz at all the Masjids, and it was such a nice day, so everyone was out and about. It was nice to see so many people again that were not soldiers. I did not actually buy anything for myself, though my mom did get a good amount of things (maybe something for me), but tomorrow maybe I will get some little trinket or something. We'll see. Maybe an item of clothing? Who knows! We later returned home to eat dinner and now I am writing this blog entry. Anita Aunty just handed me the recipe for Kahva, I'm so pumped to make it!

Tomorrow my mom and I are flying back to Delhi. I will have laptop (and hopefully internet) access there, so I will try to upload all my pictures and also the rest of my blog entries that are pending, from the flight to India all the way to when we reached Kashmir!


watersquash said...

hello love
it's really amazing that you're getting the opportunity to see all of this (wowowow)
btw, I dont know if i should tell you this, because i don't want it to affect your writing because it sounds like you're speaking it directly (and that's a good thing)...your english is beginning to take on a distinct indianess (word choice/verb order) haha too cute.

preethir said...

POOP, mine that is, is brown! i thought you would like to know amidst your crazy adventures.
Miss you!
crazy older sis
waffles say HI!

Anonymous said...

Subhanallah, bro your descriptions are scintillating! I cannot wait to see photographs!