If Kerala, the south western strip of India is called God’s Own Country then Kashmir the northern most part of India surely deserves to be called God’s Own Canvas. God has definitely put in immense time and effort in her strokes. Now, I’ve done some fair bit of travelling across the world to very discerningly say that Kashmir is simply ‘heaven on earth’. Nothing compares to the beauty that is Kashmir. No wonder it is coveted so much that man is ready to do anything to possess it. A beautiful pearl in it’s oyster!
I had the privilege of accompanying my son and his friends for a holiday to Kashmir recently. In a short span of three days the place left an indelible mark on my heart. Kashmir has been an enigma to the rest of India. Do we truly understand the history behind Kashmir? After all they have been cut off from us for over 60 years. Yet, Kashmir always manages to remains fresh in our minds with its special status being repealed, under Article 370 recently, in 2019. Reorganized into two union territories Jammu & Kashmir to the west and Ladakh to the east. Else to us it’s always been the troubled state of J&K, the huge army presence, the constant battle between the separatists and Indian army, the woes of the Kashmiri Pandits, the border issues with Pakistan in the West and China in the east. The list is endless.
I too went with many questions in my mind before my visit to the state. One builds up so many preconceived notions based on what one reads and knows. It simply doesn’t prepare you for what’s in store. I am not talking about just the beauty, which is world famous and well spoken off. That is, in any case, anticipated. It is the many unique and unexpected experiences I had, which will stay with me forever.
Given the background one least expects to feel safe in a place like Kashmir. Yet to my surprise a tourist like me felt safer in Kashmir than any other part of India. One would fathom that the sentiment of the people would be antagonistic towards their fellow brethren from other states. However, I was pleasantly taken up by their hospitality, right from the common man on the street to our hosts.
We were invited for a traditional Kashmiri meal and the head of the household brought with him the Tasht-e-Naari to welcome us. Tasht-e-Naari are a pair of water jug and basin. They are used to wash hands in. Imagine my astonishment to see the head of the household carry out this ritual with his guests. A most humbling experience truly encapsulating ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. Mind you our driver was given the same treatment and ate his meal along with us at the table. Now how often does that happen?
I could sense a strong sense of community and was told that weddings and deaths were a must for the entire village to attend, no matter what your status, caste or profession. And for some reason if you missed, there would be a no show at your next celebration. This is the real fabric of society, strong and united. I also observed none or little poverty in the state. It appears that most Kashmiris are self sufficient. Everyone owns a house and grows their own vegetables and grain. At least apples and walnuts for sure.
The village we visited had a population of only 4000 but graced a degree college. Can you assess the level of education here, I was stumped. We met four women that afternoon one a doctor, two post graduates and a doctorate. This state just didn’t reflect the rest of the country. Further interactions with them reveled another interesting facet. Women prefer to marry and stay in villages as they find urban people to be commercial, insecure and not well educated. So much of an antithesis of what happens in other states.
12 lakh people as per the GOI census of 2011 and 600,000 troops. Kashmir deserves much needed peace and a deeper interaction with the rest of the country. I came away totally blown with my visit, in my mind’s eye “Picture Perfect” in every sense.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah
Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.