It was a home call that I could not set aside and it appeared repeatedly in my mind despite my best efforts to distance myself from it. It was some 25 years now that I had not seen my home which I left in anguish on a winter morning in 1990. I just wanted to visit the unforgettable moments that I lived until a quarter century ago, something that my children, now grown up and proud parents to my grandkids, always reminded me about and I set out to track the beaten path that included visits to all the places known to me and in particular visit my home and my family deity Maa Raginya at Tullamulla, the Ganesha and Sharika at Hari Parbat and also take a shikara ride to Nishat Bagh from my home shores at Naidyaar that I often enjoyed. I knew I had no place to live there now but I ventured out nevertheless and decided to stay with my old friend and colleague living in Indira Nagar from where I could access all my favourite haunts. My friend had returned home despite repeated threats to his life and he never gave up hope that all would be well. Even as nobody accompanied me from my new home at Mumbai for the reason that they did not tell, I trusted the eagerness of my friend and returned to my roots without having to go and live where I always lived after having taken birth in the house that is now occupied by some strangers who were never a part of my family. I do not know why - but I had to do it just one more time before I closed my eyes for-ever.
So on a bright summer day when the summer heat at Mumbai was unbearable I took the direct flight to Srinagar which was uneventful to say the least.
A bright sunny morning in Srinagar and a Sunday was a perfect getaway time for a scenic visit to Nishat Bagh. We lived at Rainawari and getting there by boat was the obvious choice. We did have an alternate route which was a trek on foot following the centuries old track road that divides the Dal Lake into two segments called the “Bod Dal” and the “Lokut Dal”. It originates at Rainawari just adjacent to Chowdury Bagh. This is a perfect walk-way with no motorized vehicle plying on the track. The road is narrow and has seven bridges across that are not level with the road and carries a 24 inch diameter steel water pipe all through its length that takes water from the Harvan Reservoir to the city. This reservoir sits cradled within the cusp of the mountain gorge at whose base Nishat Bagh is located. We had little children in the group who would not like to foot the distance all the way for about four kilometers and still feel energetic to frolic around upon reaching the garden. We had to carry our food basket as well and could not trek on foot, so taking the boat was the only choice. It would be difficult to imagine not to enjoy the trip on a perfect warm sunny day as this was.
We had no advance bookings for a boat but could easily pick one that was available at the base of the Naidyaar Bridge. There would be scores of these to choose from. The boat ride would take us into the “Lokut Dal” route direct to Nishat Bagh in just about an hour if the boat was rowed by one man and a little less if we had two rowers which was the case most of the time. We would have the Bod Dal on our right as we progressed towards Nishat Bagh. And finally the Shikara boat we selected was indeed having two rowers and we rented it for the whole day asking the boatmen to bring us back in the evening. So we set out on the waters at about 11 am. This part of Dal Lake is less frequented as the main attractions are on the side of Bod Dal with Nehru Park and Char Chinar as the focus of attention and a scenic Pari Mahal nestled in the hills above in the background. And you have a view of the Boulevard Road all the time wherever you are in the Dal Lake. Well our aim was the Nishat Bagh and we had no way to wish for the other view or focus our attention there. But the ones who give extra attention to this part of the Dal Lake are the duck-hunters who in winter select this as part of their gaming ground. Their strategy is simple, lie low on an open boat with a gun pointing out and row with their open palms approaching the fowl without a sound, fire at them killing several in one shot. The poor birds are migratory and fly in all the way from beyond the Himalayan range in the North and as far away as Siberia to find a nesting and feeding place in harsh winters outside their freezing locale to which they belong. They usually prefer the Lokut Dal as it is not crowded during winter and has ample island like patches on the sides that they prefer for nesting.
What he said was his story that I was not familiar with as he never told me about it earlier. Like all other folks he and his family had moved out to Jammu in March of 1990 after having received life threats to vacate his house and leave the valley for good. He had spent all his money to build a beautiful house and had no heart to just leave it alone and uncared for. For 12-long years he stayed in rented accommodation at Jammu and had given up on making a return to his abode that he had unwillingly let out to the BSF who established a camp for its officers there. He did this to ensure that no miscreants burn down his home and get away with his belongings. All that he did was to retain two small attics on the second floor and shift all his belongings into a confined space. After 12 years when things started looking better he returned alone to his house and attempted to start all afresh. Only that his plans were being frustrated by BSF who seemed unwilling to part with the possession of his home. He ran from pillar to post to obtain his living rights in his own house and a struggle that ensued for months finally saw results when he was able to repossess the property. It took him nearly six months to set things right in his home and finally ask his wife to join him. His kids were not able to return as they had taken up jobs elsewhere and were unwilling to get into any fresh trouble.
Shri B.L. Dhar was born, brought up and educated at Srinagar. After getting his postgraduate degree in Mathematics, he decided to venture out of the state and seek an avocation more suitable to his taste. He joined the Civil Aviation sector as a Gazetted officer and finally retired as General Manager from the Airports Authority of India. He now lives in Delhi. He is an avid reader and has interest in writing. He has been writing for Shehjar for many years now.
Very interesting writing and excellent deposition of the emotion and experience . Keep it up and share more of these least one can love and live the moments when u read the story .
Added By Nikhil Kaul
A superb writeup embracing the past nostalgic reminiscences. Dhar Sb.has done full justice to his narrative but seems to be reticent in portraying the current 'Wahabi' and radicalized mindset that has overwhelmed the new generation that rules the roost there. God bless the author.
Added By Tej Munshi
These are the feelings that everyone has when they visit their homeland after such a gap. Superb write up that helps keep our nostalgia Alive.
Added By Deepak Ganju
I have been missing your stories for almost a year now and was wondering when you will write again. Thanks for a reflective perspective of the affairs in the valley and who does not miss the charms of homeland. Bless you Dhar Shri.
Added By PN Raina
When I read about the pain and anguish of my displaced KP brothers it pains me as well. They suffer for their exodus that was caused by our inhuman handling of the Azadi issue. Come back and we will take you once again in our arms and spoil you with our display of true love that we have for you. And please forgive all the young people of this city for not taking you seriously for they do not know you so intimately. The older generation knows the true value of a Kashmiri Pundit. Wani.
Added By Ghulam Nabi Wani
Appreciate these sincere feelings expressed by Mr. Wani. The images in this writeup are provided by Dr. Kuldip Thussu from Fresno CA who visited valley in 2013.
Added By Deepak Ganju
Excellent read. Got totally absorbed in the scene set by the author. Almost relived my childhood memoires and saw very clearly how beautiful those days were. One thing that I missed was in the mention about Oonte kadal that I find worth telling. As you pass under that bridge in a shikara you notice fresh clean water gushing from under the pebbly bottom of the lake. The water being clear at that spot you can see the live spring at that place. I used to love watching that spot.
Added By Balkrishen Dhar
Thanks to all of you who have posted their meritorious comments on this piece of writing but I am humbled by the concern shown to all KP's by our erstwhile neighbor Ghulam Nabi Wani. What more can I say to him other than the fact that the moving finger writes and then moves on. We only wish that they all together take care of our motherland and do not turn it into a zone of conflict like that of Palestine.
Added By BL Dhar