Hamid Ansari: Indian Prisoner in Pakistan/ Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


Screenshot Hamid hearing Nov1,2017.jpg
 

Hamid Ansari: Indian Prisoner in Pakistan/ Kashmir Images 
“My son committed a mistake, not a crime”: Fauzia
Hearing on November 1, Parents pray for mercy 
Rashmi Talwar 

Close on the heels of the forthcoming hearing in Indian Hamid Ansari’s case in Pakistan on November 1st, Fauzia Ansari, devastated mother of incarcerated Indian prisoner Hamid Ansari, pleads fervently to warring countries -India and Pakistan, to have mercy and release her innocent son.

“He committed a mistake not a crime”, Fauzia says in a broken voice to this correspondent soon after Ravneesh Kumar MEA spokesperson answered a query regarding the Indian Government’s efforts on consular access and the release of Hamid, in a press conference.
 
Hamid, lodged in Mardan Central Jail in Pakistan, had spent nearly five years in a Pak prison on framed charges of espionage. MEA in response at press conference stated “India had taken up the matter of Hamid with Pak government and expected an update on it soon”. The hearing is on Wednesday, and I pray for my son’s release to each set of governments. “He is innocent, repeats the distraught mother, a Hindi lecturer in a college in Mumbai.
 
The recent recovery of abducted Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shehzaadi (24) on October 19 has enflamed fresh hope for the release of Hamid. The Pak journalist was instrumental in tracing Fauzia and Nihal Ansari’s son Hamid in Pakistan. Zeenat’s investigative journalism led to admittance by police in Pakistan of being in custody of Hamid. In January 2016, Pakistan Police told Peshawar High Court that they had detained Hamid Nihal Ansari in 2012, and handed him over to intelligence officials. Four years later in February 2016, Hamid was deemed guilty of espionage and awarded a sentence of three years by a Pakistani military court.
 
Fauzia recalls – “I was in Mecca, holding the Kaaba for hours, seeking Blessings to find my son’s release, when I was persistently called on the phone. On calling back, I learnt it was Zeenat Shehzaadi who wanted to help me to locate my son and I promptly felt she was an angel who came as an answer to my prayers.”
 
Zeenat’s activism ruffled a few feathers. She was detained by ununiformed men and grilled for hours after she spoke to Indian High Commissioner at a public event. A week later, on August 19, 2015, she was waylaid by armed men and disappeared in mysterious circumstances during a rickshaw ride to work. Her disappearance had a shattering effect on her family, with her younger brother committing suicide in 2016, pining for her. She was released two years later recently on October 19, 2017. Her abduction had devastatingly shaken up Hamid’s family too.
 
Meantime, in Pakistan most journalists I talked to, felt that Hamid was innocent and only the two countries bitterness have mashed him between the wheels. Beena Sarwar a prominent Pak Journalist and researcher fervently pursued his and the abducted journalist Zeenat’s case. Taha Siddiqui Bureau Head of Wion News in Islamabad calls Hamid’s case – “A love affair turned into an espionage story.”
 
In Peshawar district, Rakshanda Naz an advocate and human rights activist, dealing with Hamid’s case is anxious on the approaching date of hearing. Talking over phone from Peshawar -“Mein Dua Karti Hu Ki Iss Barr Mein India Jaon Toh Hamid Ko Uski Ammi Ke Hawaley Karne.” (I wish I go to India this time, to hand over Hamid to his Mother). Fauzia tells me that Hamid’s lawyer Qazi Muhammad Anwar, from Peshawar, a Nishane-Imtiaz (highest civilian Award) Award winner and Naz didn’t charge them a single paisa for fighting the case of Hamid. A scared Fauzia after Zeenat’s abduction is terrified for their safety too.
 
Naz had met Hamid the first time he was produced before the court and many times thereafter with permission from authorities. “When Naz first met Hamid three and half years after his clandestine arrest, I asked her if he was wearing spectacles, she said ‘No’ and then I told her that he has a 6 and 6.5 number in both eyes and cannot see things even at a three meters distance. Naz and Anwar sahib got spectacles made for Hamid on their own, after I sent the doctor’s report to them,” Fauzia inserts and further says –“ Each minute of Hamid’s two and half days in Pakistan as an illegal entry, is accounted for and on record, how can he be charged with an espionage case? Even the fake identity card was given to him by his Pak Facebook friends prepared in ‘Pakistan’ who had lured and promised facilitation to Hamid to cross over from Afghanistan to Pakistan without any travel documents, as the border is porous. Soon after his two day stay with one of the FB friends, he was uncaringly deposited in a hotel in Kohat, Peshawar and tipped to the police by the same friends about his illegal entry. The police arrested him an hour after his check in at the hotel. Then, when did Hamid indulge in espionage activities? My son is not in government security services and has a clean background, well accounted for, then why aren’t Pakistan’s own citizens (friends) being probed, investigated to reach the truth?
 
Naz had filed an affidavit to shift Hamid to a more safer jail after the Indian was attacked in Peshawar jail- “The deteriorating relations between India – Pak proved heavy for Hamid when a Jail Havaldar of Kashmiri origin from Pak Administered Kashmir attacked Hamid in fury over situation in Indian side of Kashmir-“The Havaldar has been suspended and shifted from the jail. While Hamid was also shifted to Mardan Central Jail”, Naz filled in.
 
Naz says “I feel as a mother for Hamid who is innocent of the charges. Mein pur-umeed Hu Ki Hamid Ko Rehaa Kar Diya Jayga’ (I am fully hopeful that Hamid would be released).” And further adds- “Hamid’s name is recorded in the list of prisoners. I have access to talk to him every Monday on the phone. Whenever I meet him, I carry some eatables for him with permission from jail authorities and in return Hamid had created two beautiful beaded Karas (bangles) and a handbag for me. He intends to make more for his Ammi and Naani Ammi.
 
This February when I travelled to India, I carried a prayer cloth (Roomali) that Hamid gave me for his mother and handed it over to her.” Fauzia on her part has carefully put the unwashed-cloth wrapped in polythene and secretly sits with it to smell the fragrance of her son, denied as she is any visa for a visit to Pakistan. “No one knows about this little piece of my son’s body fragrance that I keep with me to feel him from afar”, Fauzia cries painfully on the phone. I just pray for his return every waking and sleeping moment of time”, she talks in a broken voice.
 
“Sushma Swaraj the External affairs minister has assured me in my six meetings with her mostly in Delhi and one when she came to Mumbai. I firmly believe her. She dealt with me like one mother to another. She takes up visa cases for terminally ill patients from Pakistan and I have full hope she will do her best for her Indian son.”
 
Naz on her part is scheduled to reach Mardan central on October 31st, a day before the hearing, and would pass on a letter to Hamid written by his mother Fauzia. I ask her what she plans to carry for Hamid – “It maybe – Shunwari Kabali Palao, Dor Pranthas, Anar or Milak powder milk. Let’s see what I can do, plus an English dictionary, newspapers and magazines, with permission from jail authorities”, she says.
 
On an earlier occasion, when asked about who would she want to be released first -Hamid her son or Zeenat Shehzaadi the Pak journalist? Fauzia had unflinchingly said – “Zeenat”, as I feel morally responsible for her abduction”.
 
Honey Trapped: Hamid Ansari’s surreal story
 
Hamid’s story involves the core country triangle of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fauzia, describes her young handsome son as Mumbai-based MBA and an I T Engineer, a Rotary Club president 2012, before he proceeded to Kabul on November 4, 2012 for a job in Afghanistan’s Aviation sector on a tourist visa.
 
“Till November 10, he was in touch with the family via Tele no. +93707295124 and expected back on Nov15th”, she adds. Alarmed by the lost connection thereafter and Hamid’s non-arrival on the appointed date, the family went through his Facebook account. “Hamid had not logged out from Facebook on our home computer and therefore we became privy to his entire conversational details”, says Fauzia.
 
“His Facebook account revealed- Hamid was in regular contact with Pakistani friends Atta-Ur-Rehman, Saba Khan, Abdulla Zaid Khatak, Humaira Hanif, Dr. Shazia Khan and a tribal girl of Kohat, named Nadia.” Based on conversations, Fauzia believes Nadia was more close to him, and revealed to him that she was a victim of “VANI”- a prevalent social evil by a Jirga (council of village elders ) who had ordered her into a forcibly marriage as punishment for crime committed by her male relatives. Hamid, determined to save Nadia was egged on and coaxed by other Pakistani friends to cross over from the porous Torkham border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Did he possess a visa for Pakistan?” “No”! The mother replies- “Hamid had no legal documents for travelling to Pakistan.”
 
“Among Hamid’s Pakistani friends Atta-Ur- Rehman, kept Hamid in his house for two days and on the third day Abdullah Khatak deposited him in Palwasha Hotel in Kohat from where he was whisked away in an hour by the Pakistan police. This account was according to a young Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shehzaadi, who investigated Hamid’s case. She came in touch with his case, through Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, an independent non-profit organization, which was seized about the matter of Hamid’s case. “It was clearly a case of honey-trap,” Fauzia says, on learning about sequence of events, mostly from Zeenat.
 
Zeenat who regularly updated her status on social media Facebook, last updated her post on August 18, 2015 and has vanished ever since, claims Fauzia.
 
“Zeenat came in our contact in May 2013. She filed habeas corpus petition on my behalf (as mother) in Peshawar high court (w.p.#1082/2014) and also registered an appeal in Supreme Court of Pakistan, Human Rights Cell which promptly formed JIT to investigate the case. The petition was last heard in Peshawar High Court on 13th January 2016. The Court ruled with ref to wp/1082/2014 based on the report by DAG that Hamid my son is under military custody and being tried. Hamid was tried in military court and got sentenced for 3 years imprisonment for the alleged charges of espionage.”
 
Holding back tears, Fauzia says –“My son has been incarcerated for a period of more than four years (Nov-2012 to Nov 2016) in Peshawar Jail. In March 2016, I filed a mercy petition for clemency for the period spent in custody to be considered, but my plea was dismissed.
 
Our visa applications to visit Pakistan to see my son were rejected, I appeal to Pak government to release my son Hamid on compassionate grounds as he has suffered enough for his innocent fault”.
 
A flicker of hope in humanity came from people like Qazi Muhammad Anwar and Rakshanda Naz, who didn’t charge me a single rupee for handling Hamid’s case and I am eternally grateful to them.” And adds –“Till my son returns home, my cup of woes will be full.”
 
Hamid has already filed a petition seeking commissioning of his sentence to include the period he was held under custody, that completes his jail term of three years which would move the wheels of legal process more swiftly, for his release orders. It has yet to be seen how Hamid’s case shapes up during the forthcoming hearing on November-1st.
 
Amritsar based writer is an Independent Journalist and can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
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Tral bursts in Bhangraa in Kashmir’s militancy hotbed / Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images 


Screenshot JP Wedding Tral Kashmir 30Oct17.jpg

Follow Up

Tral bursts in Bhangraa in Kashmir’s militancy hotbed /

Rashmi Talwar

Wedding venue at village Dharam Gund of Tral district sounded terrifying. Tral, in Pulwama District of South Kashmir, a hotbed of militancy, raised not just worried eyebrows, but a verbal outrage in my family. Tral was home to militant commander Burhan Wani, whose house was merely 8-Kms from the wedding venue, and who’s killing by army triggered mass protests and brought several more to their graves, in a bloody aftermath since July 2016. Tourism to Kashmir remained at a standstill, ever since. The region was reporting armed militant-army encounters almost daily in the media.

However, the ‘Open Invitation’ by Jatinder Pal Singh (JP) a Facebook friend, had stirred senses. The Invite, encompassed entire FB world seemed- daring, lofty, imaginative and unimaginable.

Bashir Damna, an adventurer of Jammu-Kashmir expressed on JP’s FB wall “Open Invite has gone viral and become the talk of the town. So many guests will create law and order problem and authorities were thinking of imposing restrictions.” To Which Drcm Seth, a friend, jestingly wrote “JP has invited everybody including militants. For three days militants can enjoy marriage party and then can start their routine activities.” The last comment was not so funny anymore.

But the thought of a -‘village wedding’, virgin landscapes, living a part of village life, to participate in quaint rituals and the ‘Bhangraa in the Mountains’ was extremely enticing. JP had loftily assured all security, but it had to be experienced yet. Call it divine-infused guts with an open mind.

Throughout the flight, apprehension gripped, till final touchdown at Srinagar airport. The weather was lulling and the last of autumn flowers bloomed all over in the city of the Dal Lake and Shikaras. “Though the weather seemed to calm my frayed nerves, but the flowers – got me thinking – ‘Maybe I too shall become the last of the autumn blooms!’.

Srinagar to Tral

Bundling into a waiting vehicle, we zoomed alongside rock quarries of Pantha Chowk onto Awatipora.

On the way, enormous ruins of Awantiswami and Avantishwar Temples, a kilometre apart built by King Awanti Varman (AD 855-883) glorious specimen of rich Kashmiri Architecture, described as in colonnaded peristyle, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu respectively, fascinated me. In a gesture of folded hands I prayed for safety and peace in Kashmir as well as in my home, even as antics of dolloping Jhelum River in serpentine cuddles, flushed with Chinars and pines on its edges, tried to charm me.

My mind remained occupied with thoughts of shootings and bombs as we neared the venue village Dharam Gund, 50 Kms from the airport. Passing through Tral Township, someone pointed out – “That’s Burhan Wani’s house!” and I turned my face away, not to look at the home of the poster boy of militancy in Kashmir, and instead thought about this beauteous region that had seen immense suffering.

Countryside

Glowing sunlight turned soft as we arrived in the countryside. ‘Aa gaye Gaon’! The driver exclaimed and I noted- Kashmiri Sikhs call it Gaon not Pind as Punjabi Sikhs refer to villages. Dharam Gund spreads across 60 hectares of rich walnut belt and tilling fields. “Trees here touch skies at above 70 feet, and produce choicest walnuts”, I am told. Cutting through fields flush with ripened Dhaan or shelly or rice crop, I was to see – tiny charming traditional haystack-barns called Goyen (Kashmiri) Thipree (Punjabi Kashmiri) or Musal in Punjab field-scapes, dotting the charming Tral countryside.

The harvested fields, sentried by Wasturvan Mountain range of Himalayas, through which silently flowed the Lam Nallah, a vast spread of river fed by snowmelt and rainfall, bringing in the charming scenic romance. It seemed the busiest month at harvesting, threshing, drying, stacking, rolling to make Giddis and Thiprees to stock grain and fodder simultaneously. Families pitch in, tiffins seen arriving from home, feeding sinuous homeworkers and women bulwarking the threshing. The Gaon is charming, a hamlet of about 500 souls sheltered in 94 homes.

Traditional Welcome

We reached JP’s home through an incredibly beautiful tree covered village and the scene changes – the groom’s grandmother rushes to the door, grabs a fistful, circles it around my head and let the sweet sugar-coated gram fall in a shower over me, hugs and announces – “Jee aya nu” – “Welcome In!” Seeing my surprised look, someone comments- “This is sweet stone-pelleting Kashmiri-Sikh Ishtyle.” And a round of laughter makes me a warm part of Jatinder Pal Singh’s wedding. The welcome ritual – is a sadka of keeping evil spirit at bay. It was one of the most beautiful welcomes, warming the cockles of my heart and served to successfully banish the hesitation and family teasers back home.

My family fatigued over not making me see sense in travelling to Tral had alternately tried a different tactic – “Begani Shaadi Mein Abdullah Diwana” and another –“Praii Janjh Ehmak Nachey” a refrain oft used in North India, meaning: Getting upbeat or crazily cherry in the wedding celebration of an unknown person! Indeed, I had ventured for the Wedding celebration- at an unknown place, of an unknown person, among unknown people and add to it -an unknown fate.

Traditions and Rituals

During my stay, I learned that many traditions among Kashmiri Sikh community are a mixture of Kashmiri and Punjabi culture. However I gauged, that village rituals and customs had a unique depth. Anticipating new life from conjoining a new couple the wedding rituals seek to blend the Human with the Glorious Creator through the medium of Mother Earth, praying for newlyweds to lead a life intertwined with environs and its values.

At dusk, the dhol beats resound through the mountains ushering a call. A signal and everyone hurries. Ceremony of Mitti Khodna is about to begin. At the wedding home, the groom JP- a software engineer, is himself creating the traditional basket with tinsel and LED light strips around it and a matching tinselled tiny spade. Someone comments –“Get LED lights for Shivala di pagri!” (Groom’s turban) everyone breaks into giggling merriment. Incidentally, Punjabi Sikhs refer to the groom and bride as Laraa and Voti, among Kashmiri Sikhs the couple is referred as Shivala and Boti, while the sarbala– young boy accompanying the groom in Punjabi weddings, is the ‘dost’ in Kashmiri weddings.

Dharam Bhen, walnuts & rituals

Dharam Bhen’ or sister by faith- Komal GB Singh with another friend Inderjit, lifts the LED embellished twinkling basket filled with walnuts, on her shoulder leading a procession near village Gurdwara. Soil is dug and put into a container with crimson Gulal water. Alternately, five walnuts are placed into the dug soil and covered. “It is an offering of walnuts to Mother Earth to succour them to sprout. Somebody shouts to the walnuts- “Tuhade vicho ek zaroor phutna chaida hai, Changa!” (One of you walnuts should sprout, Ok!) Hinting at fertility of the newlyweds, drawing chuckles around.

Boisterous Bhangraa follows and I am surprised to see Muslim families too join the dance. The procession then proceeds to the Gurdwara and Sikh symbol is written on a foundation wall using the Gulal soil with a twig, seeking blessings for the wedding. Basket is carried to a lower room where again the Sikh symbol is written on a placard with dates and names of the couple as a keepsake called Chappa –hand impression.

Rajbeer Singh, pursuing his PhD in Folk culture, explains to a curious me, the significance of some rituals- “In case of a mishap for groom or the bride, the Dharam Bhen or Dost are bound to take on the mantle of spouse of the survivor.” He also explained another mysterious ritual –“When a Bhabhi or brother’s wife applies Surma to the groom’s eyes, she indicates to draw a line of black, henceforth breaking all jesty relationships with her brother-in-law to emerge as an equal owner in the household”,

Teaser beats

As the deep tangerine sun vanishes behind the bluish mountain line, it leaves streaks of orange hues blazing on the greying skies. JP’s house twinkles with strings of fairy lights, and the Shamiana or Kashmiri tent, shimmers. The two Jammu Dholis start teasing with niki niki (soft, soft) beats, the boys step in, beats take on vigour, and the Bhangraa starts. Women rush to the in-lines of the Shamiana, to reserve the place with the best- view on the carpeted floors. The Bhangraa now is in full steam, rips and rattles, moves and shakes and women are pulled in, with whacky Punjabi bolis and tappas, to become one joyous night.

High sex ratio

In Sikh faith, women are known to participate in work and pleasure equally alongside men. So is the scene here in Tral, where 88 residing families out of 94 are Sikhs. Even the six Muslim families assimilate and happily join in the Punjabi dance with equal heartiness. Religious taboos are less visible. It is not surprising that Population Census 2011 boasts of high gender ratio with 930 females to 1000 males, in Sikh dominated village Dharam Gund. Boys in the village are increasingly shunning Dowry offers, thus creating an equal playground for the female gender. The work coordination amongst genders is equally distributed.

PS: Its night and we need to return in groups- reason: “If not the militants, you can surely be mauled by a Bear attack, if you venture alone in the dark,” a stark second biggest threat in this tree laden valley.

Sunrise and plentiful

I open my eyes the next morning, in the beautiful house of Ishpal Singh, an orchard landlord, agriculturist and a teacher, his lively wife Dali Kour, endearing daughter Kiranpal and son Rajbeer are my lovely hosts. Theirs is one of the most enviable homes in the village. A home with a fabulous garden outlined by a rivulet of pure spring water encircling, a quaint little cow-shed and home entirely self-sustaining with umpteenth vegetables, apples, pears, vegetable oil, milk, ghee, butter and even home produced honey with indigenous earthen honey-hives on its terrace and of course loads of walnuts.

The host allows me to pluck the day’s apples, and choicest vegetables- Collard Greens, Brinjals, green chillies. The house is already stocked with pickles, onions, potatoes, garlic, and a host of unkeep-able list of stocks including dried vegetables from last season. In less than half an hour delicious dishes of Haakh, Bringals and Achari Allu with special Kashmiri walnut and radish chutney are ready. Noon Chai or salty tea is a preferred concoction to ordinary tea.

Paani and Kangan

Today is ‘Pani Bharna’ ceremony and water is filled in a Ghaggar– earthen vessel, also titled as Garooli rituals in homes of Punjabi Sikhs. The groom bathed with this water drawn from the Gurdwara considered nectar, is applied turmeric paste for an extra glow. Kangan ritual performed with the groom worn a Gold Karra gifted by bride’s family.

The bride in her home, simultaneously is undergoing the same rituals with her multiple braided hair being un-braided with a lilting song – Mera Siraa na kholyoo mindri, mera ehi kunwariyaa da bhes” (Do not untie my braids, this is my unmarried appearance) apprehensive to enter into the married life of responsibilities and duties. She too is worn the Kangan or bangles, Jhumkas and Chunari – earrings and veil, gifted by the groom’s family.

A Chawal-Giri Prasad (soaked uncooked rice and nuts food offering) is distributed to all guests, while in Punjab Karra Prasad is the norm made from semolina-wheat ghee and sugar.

Public Reception

Earlier, a huge reception lunch is hosted for the entire village and outstation invitees. With music of hit Punjabi numbers belted out by a DJ arranged from Jammu, synchronized with Dhol beats, Bhangraa troops in full blast. Close family menfolk lovingly serve a sit-in Wazwan or the Wedding treat, in individual thalis or plates to baraatis, contrary to Kashmiri Muslims weddings – where Tramis – a large plate shared by four, is used to serve Wazwan on carpeted floors. Special guests are given the sadka welcome with modern candies or fistful of dry-fruit as in Kashmiri Muslim weddings.

Missing Wanwun

However Wanwun or Kashmiri songs for auspicious occasions are missing. These songs to the accompaniment of folk instrument Tumbaknaer or the goblet drum of Kashmir are sung at auspicious occasions in Kashmiri Muslim and Pandit households including in weddings. Somebody tells me-“In recent times the Wanwun seems to be sullied, sung as it was for funerals of killed militants”.

Militancy & Education

The thought of Wanwun, brings back the topic of militants. Shobha Singh, a village elder, also the village’s pride as first matriculate in 1960 and first engineer of the village in 1964 from Kota, Rajasthan, on a query, as to what do villagers do if militants forcefully seek shelter in their homes, tells me- “Militants enter homes of sympathizers or someone they know and feel secure in, they never enter Sikh homes or villages with Sikh population. Also, at every 6-8 Kms is an army camp which is also a source of strength for us. Basically Sikhs are peace loving and self-sustaining and hardly pose any threat to militants even though Sikhs are traditionally a martial race.

Sikh population abounds in Chattogam, Saimoh, Ladybal, Basantpora, Gulshanpora, Gaddpora and of course Dharam Gund among the 24 villages of District Tral,” he adds. On the side, Shobha Singh tells me, there was never an incident of civilian killing by a militant in the village. This bit of information, gives me a huge reprieve from the fear psychosis.

However, I notice, migration is evident. Many Sikh families have built homes in Srinagar for job convenience and easy access to educational institutes. Many young ones have taken flight due to education in other states and subsequent jobs in big cities. – Surprised over many village children pursuing higher studies, Shobha Singh who started the trend, nods – “Literacy rate of the village is an impressive high at 71.2 %.”

This is true, although the figure dates back to Government Census 2011; a high literacy factor is soundly legitimatized, as any girl-boy from the village, I meet, is pursuing Masters, MBA or PhD. It a comforting feeling of villages getting educated, yet migration arouses deep concern.

Mehandiratt – Night of the Henna

Turning back to celebrations, the same night ushers in the celebration of Mehandiratt or Maanziaraath or Night of the Henna, a tradition, amazingly followed by all hues of Kashmiris- Muslim, Hindu, Pandit or Sikh although with slight difference. Among the Sikhs here, the groom is applied Mehandi or Henna on hands and the impression is left on the keepsake. Then he is publically applied Mehandi on hands and feet with a large currency garland around his neck. The shagun or gift of rupees is stuck on his pagri with pins, by relatives and friends. This ritual is hardly seen amongst Punjabi Sikhs and moreover considered feminine.
Boisterous Bhangraa again follows and this is the third night of Bhangraa that shows no sign of declining, rather being the last night, dancing carries through midnight. Interestingly, as we walk to the wedding venue in the dark with our mobile torchlights, the group knocks on all enroute doors not only to go together as a bigger group but also due to the larger fear of bear attacks and not militants.

Wedding

On the fourth day the wedding procession or Baraat heads for Srinagar in a cavalcade of cars, with select people. The groom’s car is decorated and reaches the Alluchabagh Gurdwara. Except for dhol no music band plays, no mounting the horseback. With milni or hugging introduction, of close relatives from both sides, the wedding ceremony of Anand Karaj begins and is a solemn affair. The couple circumbulates the holy Sikh book Guru Granth Sahib four times and after offerings, the couple is announced man and wife.

Shobha Singh tells me of the times of his grandfather –“In Kashmir during my grandfather’s times, the Hindu Pandit used to perform Sikh weddings with circumbulation around the holy fire to the chanting of Sanskrit Shaloks, decades later, Sikh tradition of Anand Karaj was brought into practice”.

JP’s take on the open invitation

JP’s idea for an Open Invitation was -“To bring people who want to visit or love Kashmir, on an all paid visit. I offered to host as many as those who can traverse and dare to come for this ‘cultural -adventure’.

Call it a service for my Kashmir which has hardly seen any robust tourism, as it used to be. Lately, tourists of most hues are mortally fearful of visiting Kashmir, affected by adverse reports in popular media. However I am happy 13 friends and 70 more outstation baraatis came from different areas including from parts of Jammu, Kashmir, Delhi and Punjab”.

Last Take

JP’s grace didn’t let him single me out but among all invitees, I was the lone unknown face. Days in the lovely valley had banished fears of militant attacks.

The scenic charm of the countryside was something to die for. Lofty mountains like guards over rippling riverside, running hens and roosters, grazing horses, climbing high on the trees and shaking them for a walnut shower, lolling on the boulders near the waters, trekking along the waterways. Each one those times became so special.

On the way back, holding tight memories and bags of walnut gifts, one by a poor domestic help of Ishpal’s home lovingly called Begum Fikri (One who is gripped by worries) whose dimpled smile and ever ready dancing, showed no signs of any worry, I felt, a part of the Gaon clung on to me, complete with its warmth, its love shower and its sweet stone pelleting.

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Independent Writer, can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com 
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Kargil-V Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum, A Walk Into The Past/By Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images


Screenshot Munshi Aziz Museum Part VDATELINE KARGIL PART V

Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum, A Walk Into The Past 
Rashmi Talwar

The sun became milder taking on a tangerine halo. As we returned to Kargil, I was to learn a Hill-folk jugaad- Reversing the vehicle deep into a waterfall on the road, gave a fabulous car-wash! The trade through silk route was etched along waterways and rivers; Munshi Aziz Bhat was one such towering Silk Route trader, a pioneer, visionary, social entrepreneur and above all a collector.

Sarai- a treasure trove

Along the gushing Suru River, Munshi Aziz Bhat built a Caravan Sarai in 1920 and a wooden bridge over the raging river. The three storied Sarai besides serving as an Inn for travellers and traders from Kashmir, Tibet, China, India and Central Asia, had seven shops set up by Bhat. The ground floor used as stable for rest and feed to transport animals and a comfort zone for exchange of goods, cultures and news. Rich and precious wares along with commodities were bartered or bargained. A treasure trove of these collections was accidently discovered by Bhat’s grandson Ajaz Hussain Munshi. “We were about to raze the old Sarai building but ended up curating its treasures into –‘Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artefacts’.

The story went like this – “A mason chanced upon a sizeable turquoise in the Sarai building and informed us. My father, who was ill at the time, told us about many such possessions and goods lying in the basement of the Sarai. Around this time a researcher Jacqueline Fewkes came looking for us, she had letters in her possession from my grandfather. That was a turning and starting point of the museum set up in 2004,” Ajaz, its curator tells us, and adds “ In 2005 the museum that was then supported by India Foundation for the Arts and Roots Collective, attracted researcher Latika Gupta to Kargil as its curator. The result was a building designed to look like a thriving old market, above our home!”

Walk into History

I walk the trail to the museum, which is just a few steep steps ascending, shadowed by leaves of fruiting ripe apricots and still-green baby grapes. The view from here is spectacular of mountains overlooking the Suru River.

The museum proved an exceptional glimpse into the Indian and Central Asian trader-culture of 19th and early 20th centuries. Collection of artefacts and mercantile, exhibit the enormous range, apart from services, jingling their merry ways, on many maritime and overland trajectories of Silk Route, by traders. Adding on to the story –“The traders were as varied as their buttons ! – Punjabis and Kashmiris, Afghanis and Persians, Chinese and Tibetans, Spaniards and Somalians, Egyptians and Italians rubbed shoulders, broke bread and bartered and bargained for goods with Dardis, Argons, Baltis, Bohto, Purkis, Tajiks and Uzbeks. One can imagine the loads and varieties of goods that arrived here.

Many such items were stored in the Sarai. We found some 4,000 pieces dating back to 1800s, and set up the exhibits along with my brother, Gulzar Hussain Munshi as Director and Muzammil Hussain Munshi as its outreach programmer,” the Curator of the museum fills in.
Interestingly, “Munshi Aziz Bhat, was once the official petition drafter for Maharaja of Kashmir, before he ventured into trade which was mostly then controlled by Punjabi Sikhs and Hoshiarpuri Hindu Lalas. Kargil Khazana, Resham Raasta and the Sarai, encased the narrative of life in Kargil- a melting pot of trades.” Ajaz explained –“Kargil is a nodal point, equidistance from both Leh and Srinagar, in addition to links with Tibet, China, through Gilgit-Baltistan to Afghanistan, gave it an enviable position in Karakoram ranges lower than Himalayas comparatively being an easier passage for traders,” Ajaz pools in, while showing us horse saddles from British times, bridals, drapings, camel trappings, horse foot nails from ‘Mustang & Sons’ and equine accessories of yore. Besides polo sticks and balls, helmets and gloves.

Plant that preserves

I lift up a dry twig, placed in every glass enclosure of artefacts, clothing, paper testaments -everywhere– “what is this?” “It’s dried Khampa twig to prevent critters, moths, beetles, termite, silver fish and every other bug”, and I learn another hill folk nuskha – prescription.

Memorabilia

The mercantile turned memorabilia is an enduring peek into lives of merchants, horsemen, herders, pilgrims, artisans, nomads, travellers and farmers that despatched and received essentials and the luxurious. Besides this, the path saw many a wayfarer, besides potters, weavers, jewellers, blacksmiths, cooks, porters, even pimps, prostitutes and Princes. “The overland and sea silk routes were famous during the reign of Alexander the Great and Han Dynasty in China and became a transcontinental thoroughfare for goods transported using horses, mules and donkeys, to camels and yaks, besides on foot”, feeds in the curator.

I am completely astonished by packets of chemical dyes of Batakh brand from my hometown Amritsar, from late 19th century, the brand carried through 60s and 70s too.
Munshi holds one of the three jade pieces –“This is a ‘Zehr Mohra’ cup that detects any poison by changing colour of the brew.” Then removing his ring, he pulled a whole yarn of Dhaka Malmal’- one of the most prized fabrics produced in Bangladesh, and made it pass smoothly through the ring.

A gramophone of 1905 by Columbia, a lantern dating to year of Indo-China war of 1962, German petromax lantern, huge stone cauldrons and giant ladles used during festivities, samovars and bukharis from Bukhara, a pair of colourful socks from Yarkand, opium snuff-boxes from all over and their dainty cases are all here.

“We even have documentary proof that the King of Hapur in Skardu owes 6,000 in silver currency to my grandfather,” Ajaz laughs showing us a rare Russian 100 rouble that made its way to Kargil measuring 48 sq inch rectangle.

The artefacts range is extensive, Nanakshahi coins and currencies of the world, jewellery, carpets, hosiery, utensils, clothing, armoury to paintings and manuscripts. Assorted caps – Kashmiri, Karakul, Tajik, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Mangolian, Turkish, Balti and Glass Shades from Yugoslavia, Germany and England too are displayed in the Museum.

Trends and Happiness quotient

Many types of merchandise set up trends for the elite. If one was to serve Hookah, Yarkand ones were considered the best. If rugs were to be bought they had to be the Kashgar ones, thus silks from Khotan, buttons and combs from Italy, “every item hides a story of its travels” the museum director Gulzar Hussain Munshi believes. Similar were the inclinations for food- as in salt from Akshai Chin, spices from Hind, Rice from Kashmir. It was thus fashionable to serve Tea from Tibet and Apricots from Skardu.

Kargil’s large heartedness is evident in their hospitality, in not over-charging tourists and visitors, their Happiness quotient thus, is high, which manifests itself in the fact that many additions to the museum were free contributions from the local populace, for instance, a recent gift of hand-written Koran along with precious Tibetan manuscripts claimed by owner to be about 600 years old. Ravinder Nath and his wife Madhubala the lone Hindu family of Kargil gifted the family’s prized possession – a “Passport” issued to Ravinder’s grandfather Amar Chand – which reads – Lala Amarchand resident of Jahan Kalan, Hoshiarpur, issued by the order of ‘Her Majesty Counsel General at Kashgar’- British Subject by Law”. It may be one of the rarest of passports. Once the museum attracted attention, the tourism department too promoted it and along with that came the trust. Thus, locals who were suspicious of antique proxies started contributing voluntarily. “No one has ever asked me for money,” Ajaz beams with pride.

Photographic memory

The photographic display of Italian geographer and explorer Giotto Dainelli taken in 1904, of rows of caravans of camels, mules and horses – carrying traders along this historic route, did set the stage for documenting the precious history of the bubbling cauldron of trade. This is amply supplemented by Rupert Wilmot’s collection -‘The lost world of Ladakh Early Photographic journey 1931-34,’ as a feast, to draw and delight generations.

On Heritage track

The incredible wheel of trade may have been clogged by war-boundaries, but the trodden paths have left in their tracks, a treasure chest of exquisite heritage that Kargil sits on, waiting to be explored and showcased for the world.
The scorching heat melts, dipping into light cirrus clouds, the smouldering light of the morn, curls and spirals into a dramatic sky theatre before curtains call. Unquestionably, tomorrow is just a wink away when silk rays will again draft a new Horizon; every snowflake will reveal its story. To inquisitive tourists, descending upon this region to peek into Kargil’s glorious past of Emperors, Kings and Queens, of palaces and forts, sculptors and faiths, savouring its surreal tales and exquisite beauty.

Rashmi Talwar, is an Amritsar based Independent Writer, can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL:http://dailykashmirimages.com/Details/149180/munshi-aziz-bhat-museum-a-walk-into-the-past?

Photos : KT Hosain Ibn Khalo

Kargil–IV: Preserving History above 8000 feet- ‘Unlock Hunderman’ /By Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images


Screenshot Hunderman Museum corr Part IV.jpgDateline Kargil –IV

Preserving History above 8000 feet- ‘Unlock Hunderman’

Rashmi Talwar

If history be the subject, Museums blaze a trail of past.

August-September are scorching months in #Kargil. Yet people wear full sleeves, even winter attire, unresponsive, unmindful of weather changes or probably wanting to lock the heat and save it for seven months of icy winters. They draw apart curtains and soak in the sun, its warmth succours weary bones from the onslaught of frosty temperatures dipping to -40° C.

Leaving the sizzling sun of the valley, ascending along the hopping Suru River- a tributary of the Mighty Indus, we head to India Pakistan’s LoC (Line of Control), to the first museum in a ‘ghost’ village of ‘#Hunderman Brok’. The ribboned road along menacing cliffs, which once heard and heeded to war clarions, ominous evacuations, sirens, bombs and displacement; manoeuvres a taxing steep gradient to the village.

“Drive along the mountain or we’ll get blown away”, I shout remembering the Sydney skywalk with a handcuffed hand and the chain moving along a railing keeping one safe from being blown off. The hill-folk guffaw at my fears. Suddenly, signboards appear-“Mine Area – Don’t move away from road edges”. It is explained as –‘When India captured these heights occupied by Pakistan in 1971 war, the departing army laid mines’. Deep below, along the river, snakes a thin track of the ‘old silk route’- that connects Gilgit-Baltistan, Yarkand, Tibet and China. It was once a bustling trade route traversed by Kafilas – caravans of horses and mules, Bactrian camels (double- humped) and donkeys that fetched treasures, bartered or bought.

Nearly at the top, we come across MTS (Maggi & Tea Shack), a sure-shot sight in any mountainous remote area of interest. This MTS is different; it has four pairs of binoculars and acts as a guide to peek at LoC peaks and a Pakistani village. No one can stamp the validity about the topography, however, excited tourists spend more than an hour discussing ‘which one’, ‘this one’, ‘that one’ till the fragrance of freshly brewed tea and Maggi instant Noodles wafts from the shack and suddenly everyone is famished. The shack owner knows it.

Just a few yards ahead, village Hunderman Brok, the last forward post on the LoC, appears like pigeon-holes beaded into the mountainside. From 1947 Partition to 1971, the tiny hamlet was under the control of Pakistan, and wrested by India during 1971 war. Many villagers fled to Pakistan, while few who were visiting other parts of Pakistan could never return. Having never seen a moment of tranquillity, a sizeable population from what was left, shifted to upper Hunderman.

According to Muzammil Hussain, co-founder and president of Roots Collective (Non-Profit based in Kargil) who collated oral histories to bring the war-locked territory into the limelight with -‘Unlock Hunderman—Museum of Memories’, people here call themselves ‘Samgrongva – belonging to three places – as they came from Poyen and Karkechu in Kargil town and habituated to Hunderman. Estimates put Hunderman, to be 500-year-old Purgi settlement; however its inhabitants believe it to be older than British and Mughal empires. The village in ruins lays out the perfect foreground to the museum, of life of villagers on the LoC before 1971.

Manipulating a steep trek descending and then ascending, I wish there was a rope bridge slung across to connect the two mountainsides to give tourists an added feeling of ingenuity of mountainous regions. A café added with village preparations and a shop-let to sell indigenous produce, something to bring back home, could be an additional attraction. Setting aside my thoughts we make our way balancing on thin mud tracks built over skeleton of tree trunks beneath, and hunch to enter the dwarf-doorway of the private museum. It looks like a museum within a museum, curated by Muzammil Hussain and co-curated by Ilyas Ansari in Ansari’s ancestral home. “The initiative and support for museum comes from Roots, and CEPT SWS University of Ahmedabad’, Ansari answers our query.

But before the entry, framed prints of a letter in two languages-English and Urdu, penned by Ghulam Hussein, Ilyas’s uncle, to his family, slung with jute strings, catches ones eye. It’s homage to a lost one. Hussein was not in Hunderman when it was conquered by Indian forces. Stuck in Skardu, capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, when all roads to his village were locked, one night, he died a lonely death in 2005 pining for his home and family. His only letter to his sister Hamshira, written in April 1985, from Brolmo village – a mere four kilometres apart, from Hunderman arrived years later. The letter is a pointer of poignant stories of pain of many families of this village, torn apart by war.

The museum itself is a rediscovered story woven with artefacts and memorabilia of a life of two big families before many fled during war in 1971. Ansari takes us outside and points – “You look at that poplar tree; it became our demarcation line for adjoining homes of two brothers who first set foot here and their families spread out in parts of Hunderman and Brolmo, now divided by the LoC. There were then about 200 people within 10 homes. The village has witnessed four wars in 70-years with hundreds of skirmishes and inconceivable moments of horror.

The exhibits are incredible with time wrapped around them, with the background equally fascinating. It opens with a ‘shangkulik’ a unique locking system to ‘unlock the Hunderman’. In the 1960s, Ansari’s grandfather worked as a porter with the Pakistani army. Displayed are-an army helmet for porters, blue-lined white metal cups in varied sizes, a diesel metal canister, an army belt and an all-purpose belt for long hauls with pouches to hold water, dry-fruit and tobacco, along with a kerosene lantern.

Recreation through Stuakpachi – played with twigs and pebbles, Michou-played with cattle bones, along with a hookah, were their indigenously crafted games and pass times. Routine things like painkillers, eye drops, matches, soaps made in Pakistan, and an expensive bottle of perfume evokes wonder. “A Polson’s tin of French coffee was such a prized gift that it remained sealed for years. A coral necklace, unfinished embroideries, exhibited the hurry in which the flight of inhabitants took place,” Ansari describes.

Pakistan manufactured Cobra and cherry blossom boot polish, shared space with army trunk, battle shells, shrapnel, and a tiny box that reads- ‘100 detonators for high explosive’ of Thistle brand, made in Great Britain. Indigenous stone slab and pestle to ground oil of apricot nuts, agricultural tools and clippers, kitchen utensils, spinning wheel shuttles, knitted caps and garments, wicker baskets, wool balls, horns, a large and medium churner and vessel for preparing lassi- sweet buttermilk and butter, large stone cauldron, are aesthetically displayed in nooks, walls and corners of the tiny rooms. An Avlet safety razor made in England, malachite crystals made in Germany, a foot-powder from Karachi, a bow, quiver and indigenous arrows are notable. A tight mashaq – water pouch and a wooden cask stand near the hearth. “It looks Roman in design”, Ansari shakes his head in a ‘I-don’t-really-know’.

I noticed the strategically carved out skylight in each room. “These provide natural light in summers and are used as spouting holes for bukharis – indigenous heaters, in winters”. Pointing to an hidden elf-door within the room, Ansari shows –“This was used to house tiny and new-born kids or billies and lambs to save them from winter’s snows and dropping mercury. These babies were also used to hug for warmth and served as natural Hot-water-bottles,” he laughs.

A number of identity cards of people who once lived there are displayed including Ansari’s grandfather’s first identity card issued by the Jammu and Kashmir government that reads “Permanent Resident of Protected Area”. “Even today, for the small number of villagers left, agriculture, animal rearing is domestically sustaining however portering remains most popular and well-paying. Loyalty to the Indian armed forces is strong. While in 1971 they fled, few who decided to stay, found caves that proved to be bomb shelters. “During later exchanges and especially during Kargil war in 1999 we set up homes in the caves, while our boys rendered portering services to the Indian army”, Ansari explains pointing to caves far away in the mountainside.

Wars and a Major

During the 1965 war, for a period of four months Hunderman was virtually cut off, and assumed the status of ‘No Man’s Land’ owing to a standoff between the Indian and Pakistani armies. The Pakistan army returned to the region after the Tashkent Agreement- when both countries agreed to pull back forces to their pre-conflict positions.

The scarred and scared villagers, who had heard stories of Indian forces impaling children with rocks; when they actually encountered one Major Mansingh of Gorkha Regiment of Indian army, were comforted by his kindness. He is believed to have said –“We are no devils, we are also humans like you.” On the following day, free rations of rice and kerosene were distributed. “Villagers who were agro-pastoralists and provided portering services to the Pakistan army till then, saw and tasted rice for the first time”, Ansari tells us excitedly. “In honour, the village suffixed Mansingh’s name to the village, changing it from ‘Hundarmo Brok’ to ‘Hunder-Man’ Brok. A road in 2005 and electricity in 2006 with medical clinic, school, and aanganwadi centre, sealed a lifelong bond with Indian armed forces for this village, neglected under Pakistan,” the former resident adds.

Dry pit and stadium

Few Hunderman women gathered near the small rivulet between the crags were too shy to talk. However when I pointed to a place, they said it was a dry pit. The toilet is spread with a sandy soil mixture and has a hole below which is a three-walled enclosure. On the excreta, a soil spread ensures faster decomposition and six months later before sowing, the decayed excreta matter is spread in fields and around trees for a lush harvest.
Interestingly, The ascending houses become a virtual stadium as cricket shots resound during winters when the lower field is filled with snow and is flattened, hardened by trampling, turning it into a cricket pitch complete with jeering clapping and applause.

Rupee note

A “one rupee” currency note, in the museum is astonishing for a layperson. “Most such notes are called “Over-Prints” because Pakistan did not have its own Mint in 1947,” a top RBI officer told me once.

The note holds three countries together, it has –“Government of India’, ‘Government of Pakistan’,-‘Hukumat-e-Pakistan’ in Urdu and a stamp of ‘George VI King Emperor’. Interestingly, the year mentioned is 1940 on it, when Pakistan didn’t exist. The explanation goes –“The note was probably minted in year 1940 and superimposed in 1947/48 in Pakistan. These notes consist of Indian note plates engraved (overprinted being a misnomer) with the words ‘Government of Pakistan’ in English and “Hukumat-e-Pakistan” in Urdu added at the top and bottom, respectively, of the watermark area on the front only; the signatures on these notes remain those of Indian banking and finance officials.

#IndiaPak Watsapp group

Families in Skardu (Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan) and Hunderman and other border villages in India and Pakistan have kept in touch through a Watsapp group “Hum sb kb milenge (When will we all meet), that serves as a lifeline through an erratic internet. Founded in 2014 by Skardu-based journalist Musa Chulunkha, members converse mostly in Balti language”, Hussain Ibn Khalo Editor of local cable channel ‘Kargil Today’ a Balti himself adds with a smile. “I too am a member of the 110-strong group”.

PHOTOS: Hosain Khalo KT Hosain Ibn Khalo

URL: http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/preserving-history-above-80…

Kargil-III Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans/By Rashmi Talwar/Kashmir Images


Screenshot Aryans Part III.jpgDateline Kargil III
Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans

Rashmi Talwar

(CONTINUED)

Road to Double way traffic

• The traditional pastoralists have given up on rearing goats and sheep, and now seek employment in military services; thirty percent of them are still into farming, which spells huge economic dividends for the population, owing to the road network. Since 1947 Indo-Pak Partition, army gradually developed an outpost which provides income opportunities to villagers. Many villagers are increasingly opting for education and have taken up jobs in Kargil, preferring to remain within the state or in neighbouring Punjab. Tsering Dolker has applied for a police officer’s job. Another girl, by the same name Tsering Dolker, has done her Masters in a Miranda House College of Delhi University and is a headmistress at ‘Rigjung Public School, Kargil’. Tsering Sonam Garkon is a teacher in Kargil.

• Telecommunication is the poorest here; a lone satellite connection works with assistance from the army. One Tsering Sumphal Garkone (65) and his son Sonam ferry local artists and others during cultural festivals in Kargil, Leh, Delhi and elsewhere and organise festivities in village during visits of important guests. Brokpa villages are famous for scenic splendour, ensconced greens and colours amidst menacing rocks, combined with a unique sense of dressing and quaint tradition and culture. Both Men and women wear colourful hats embellished by joyous looking flowers earning them the sobriquet of ‘Flower People of Ladakh’. It is this very unique culture that fascinates the world and their cultural exhibition has become a huge tourist attraction. They are seen to join in festivities and occasions in Kargil as well as Leh due to road networks.

• Road connectivity has given a fillip to local economy in a big way. While in ancient times Apricots were mainly bartered for salt from Changpa nomads brought from Chang-thang and Aksaichin in Tibet. Now, lucrative trade fetches around Rs 35,000 annually from each apricot tree. Besides apricot fruit, over-ripe apricots are dried and sold and those that fall to the ground are soaked, cleaned for nuts to be consumed or used for extraction of pure apricot oil. Walnuts, apples, grapes, pears besides vegetables especially tomatoes and barley are its other produce, supplied to outlets in Kargil, Leh and Srinagar, apart from fulfilling home needs.

• ‘Payu Pa’ owned by Tashi Lundup is a guest house in Garkone while in both Dah and Hanu villages, few guest houses and home stays are available as tourists are welcomed.

Purity of the Pure

Many scholars have been fascinated with the deep obsession of Aryans with purity and purifying rituals. Tsering Sonam says –“We Aryans adhere strongly to the concept of purity and feel cleansing oneself with the smoke of a smouldering juniper as the ultimate purification. When the home needs to be purified, it is smoked with juniper. Utensils too get the boiled water juniper douse especially on the occasion of ‘Gunla’ or when new agricultural cycle or livestock is sent to pastures as also on ‘Losar’ or New Year festival.” For Aryans, certain trees, flowers and animals which inhabit higher regions and some particular colours are symbols of purity.

During New Year celebrations not only individual homes but entire village is cleansed with the villagers carrying burning juniper torches to cleanse the atmosphere. So much is the obsession with the cleansing and properties of juniper that when I asked about few old ones having very dark faces, I was told it was due to the ancient practice of not washing the face with water in fear of losing barkat or original charm, but purifying it with the smoke of smouldering Junipers. This has however been forsaken and many vibrant faces of women can be seen.

Women when sexually neutral in old age are considered pure while men are deemed pure throughout life. Women are forbidden from approaching the juniper shrine at Dha Brog.The priest who takes fruit and flower offering to the deity or sacrifices and brings these offerings to the village for distribution has the power to enhance purity. The shepherd who comes down from the pastures is seen as imbued with purity. The sweet smelling flowers from higher valley are saturated with purity and deemed to purify. Whosoever goes to the pure regions of mountains and glaciers acquires purity as well. Achieving of higher purity is also through anyone completing six cycles of ‘Losar’ (each equivalent to 12 years).

Though cremation of all corpses is outside the village, at the lower end or impure part of the valley, worship of ancestors takes place within the village. A crevice in the rock is made called ‘Munal’ where the bone of the ancestor is placed to which offerings are made in the ‘Mamani’ festival devoted to ancestral worship and food and juniper rituals are performed. I saw many Munals with blacked rocks and was told that juniper is burned beneath the crevice to purify and every household possesses its own Munal.

Purity factor is dominant in households and social customs carry it forth, hence, it was a custom of holding a smouldering juniper over the head of an outsider, before entering the village and no outsider was allowed to approach the hearth, no one was allowed to cross over the chimney in fear of causing impurity to food. So much so, no one could carry back rations from a journey back into the village; food meant to feed other communities was brought from the kitchen and served in the receiver’s own utensils. If one were to meet someone in the village, he would call out his name and meet him outside the village. This was considered the wish of the protecting deity of the village.

Locals tell us- “In 1955, The German Hindukush expedition was reluctantly allowed into the village with all purification rituals’. A daughter too has to follow norms – A married daughter cannot sit on the left side of the hearth in her natal home where the women sit. She must sit near the central pillar where grandparents who are sexually neutral or children with un-reached puberty sit, and must thus maintain lineage and ethnic purity. To maintain purity about 80% of the marriages are conducted in their own village and 20 % from other Buddhist Dard villages.

However many of the customs are forsaken now and many are relegated to be observed during festivals only.

Environment, Culture and Traditions

• Aryans worshipped Lhamo goddess before converting to Buddhism and partly to Islam, now Buddhism is dominant among them, seen from Buddhist prayer wheels and temples while still retaining their ancient culture, rituals and traditions.

• Married women support braided hair. Few old ones have dark faces; it was due to the ancient tradition of not washing the face with water but purifying it with the smoke of smouldering Junipers.
.
• Sattu (barley), yak butter, yak cheese, apricot oil are extensively used in traditional food like Kholak, Papa, Marzan, Popot, Thukpa. Now most homes make vegetables in light curry and Rice. Momos are new additions, along with packed commercial packets of chips, Maggi, etc.

• The villagers make a variety of wines – ‘Chhangg’-Barley wine, ‘Gunn Changg’-Grape-wine and ‘Bras Changg’– Rice wine.

• Generally abstaining from eating chicken and eggs, Aryans eat meat mostly of goat during important festivals. They do not drink cow’s milk and milk products though they do own cows, bullocks and yaks for agricultural operations. Goat’s milk is used in tea preparations. Buddhist Dards observe the custom of not consuming cow meat. It’s a taboo; hence neither the flesh of cow nor its products are consumed. Traditionally, goat milk is used to make salty pink tea. However, at present cow’s milk too is being used in villages along with butter, ghee and curd.

• I saw no monkeys or dogs in the village; neither did we notice flies and mosquitoes.

• Terraces are used to dry apricots and rocks used to dry grass for fodder.

• Aryans use a dry pit for a bathroom spread with sandy soil with a hole, called ‘Chakraa’. Faecal matter collects in a three-walled enclosure below the hole. Soil is continuously added for faster decomposition. After about six months, before the sowing season, the matter is lifted and mixed with animal manure and spread in the fields. Each household uses its own ‘chakraa’ for its own fields.

• The custom of marriage is also unique, where the groom pays the bride price and women have rights of divorce. “We are free to seek divorce, but must return the husband’s property which includes silver jewellery. There is no taboo on changing partners”, says Dolker.

• Every year Losar, which is a New Year festival, is celebrated on the first day of the luni-solar Tibetan calendar, which corresponds to a date in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. On its seventh day the children prepare a feast for elderly of the village. The elderly in return sing hymns to the children about evolution of the world.

• Aryans’ flamboyant head dress, “Kho” embodies their spirit, studded abundantly with flowers and exotic rows of coins, some even antique, with bright ribbons or wool strings. Married women wear the Monthu Tho in their head dress and support multiple braided hair, signifying marital status. They also adorn themselves with silver ornaments. Traditional Goncha– attire of Brokpas is made of sheep’s wool. The signature flower hat of Brokpas is considered a prized possession and is not for sale.

• Brokpa villages were divided when Kargil became a district in 1979, Garkone and Darchik thus fall under Kargil, Dah and Hanu come under Leh district.

• The world’s obsession with Race as a marker of identity and nobility, and an additional promise of an Aryan experience, sees tourists from all over the world flocking to these villages. Tashi Lundup, owner of ‘Payu Pa’ guesthouse says tourists from France, Iceland, Austria, Japan, Korea, Poland, Israel and of course Germany visit these villages.

• Located deep in the valley along the Indus, the Aryan villages remained safe during the Kargil war 1999.

Last Word

Seeing, optic cables being laid on the way from Kargil to Aryan villages, I pondered, about the double onslaught of road construction and high end communication of mobile connectivity and internet, of the modern world on their lives, how long would Aryans remain an elusive people?

Much as their quaint existence and practices fascinate, it is not long before inter-marriages would take a leap in numbers, with children seeking education in mainland towns and cities and intermingling with the outer world. Soon the Pure-Aryan gene pool, if ever there was one, is bound to pass into eternity. The little village children are already adopting western wear of Jeans and T-shirts and reciting ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Time is not far before they fly into the world and make their own decisions about careers, marriage and lifestyle. Customs of poly and group-marriages, free sex may also become things of the past owing to Education.

However, I am comforted by their ancient ways for sustainable living, agricultural practices and their lands possessing divinity for fertility. Human Faecal matter is one of the best soil nutrients, I had long ago learnt in my Bonsai class. The value Aryans attach to their vibrant cultural heritage including their signature glorious flower-nest hats, resplendent attires, musical hymns and splendid festivities has already become their ‘Unique Selling Point’ for world tourists. From average, it will soon assume a greater earning avenue. Being bang on the LoC, military services come to them as a geographical choice.

A recent article in India Today –‘Aryan wars: Controversy over new study claiming they came from the west 4,000 years ago’ by Razib Khan -a blogger geneticist at UC Davis, quoted recent research, wherein the ANI (Ancestral North Indian) DNA is quoted to be different from earlier studies. However it’s the treasure trove of a unique culture of Brokpas which would ultimately define their inimitable identity and live on for eons on the wings of time beholding an astonished world, as long as they hold on to the many colourful threads that make them matchless.

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Tashi, Hero of Aryans and unkempt promises 
If Tashi Namgyal had not blown the whistle on intruders in the mountainous heights, the Kargil war of 1999 would have had different connotations for both warring neighbours India and Pakistan. On May 2 1999, Tashi Namgyal went up the mountains to Banju Top to search for his yak. He owned two, out of which one was lost. Using binoculars he combed the mountainside and saw about six people moving rocks and making bunkers. “I kept scrutinizing for nearly 10 minutes and then rushed down to my village Garkone to inform people, including a teacher Tsering Sonam Garkon. We went together to inform the army post in Batalik. The officer there was astounded and retorted –“Tashi if your information is incorrect- you and your family will suffer” he said menacingly. “But if it is correct, action will be taken and you shall be rewarded.” But Tashi stuck to his stand, three soldiers accompanied him to the heights and were stunned to see the activity as Tashi vividly described it.
The army men suggested calling for reinforcements to neutralise the intruders. Tashi and Sonam declined being part of active offense, but assured provisions of food and water to troops as well as logistic support.
Sonam believes the intruders hunted at least 10-12 of their yaks for food. During the Indian strike on the intruders, Tashi mobilised villagers to help in carrying ammunition as well as food and water to soldiers. “They carried everything in hind-baskets. The village also helped to bring back injured and dead bodies of Indian soldiers. “At least 4-5 bodies and about 20 injured were brought by us.” Tashi remembers vividly about helping to retrieve the body of Major M Sarvanan, of 1-Bihar Regiment, and was hailed by top officers.
“In 2002, I found the body of a soldier of 1-Gorkha Rifles on Kukarthang ridge, which paved the way for compensation to the martyr’s family”. Displaying pictures of his parents with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and his own pictures with Minister of Defence George Fernandez, Tashi remembers “I was overjoyed to receive Rs 50,000 by the Div Commander of 8-Mountain Regiment soon after the war. The Div Com in Batalik told me that my name has been sent for a National award and my children would be provided government employment. But 17-years later all promises lie broken. I have educated my children and pray for help in getting government or army jobs for them to improve their lives. This is all I ask for rendering service to my nation.
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PHOTOS : Hosain Ibn Khalo and Tsering Sonam Garkone 
KT Hosain Ibn Khalo 
Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Journalist, can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL : http://epaper.dailykashmirimages.com/10920…/newsdetails.asp…

Kargil-II Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans / By Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images


Screenshot Aryans Part IIDateline Kargil –Part II
Glimpse into the life of Pure Aryans 
Rashmi Talwar

Looking at the stars I wonder how many souls would have passed this way, a hot-bed, a melting pot, of central Asian trade, the mysterious silk route that carried communities, seeds, men and material; animals and stuff and forked them to mainland. A land where finest of caboodle, made their journeys, yet some remained unalloyed, basking in the glory of their embryonic purity for thousands of years. Indeed the prospect of meeting ‘Pure’ Aryans remained overwhelming.

Snuggled in our tiny car we set on a 70 Km tour, zooming past village Apachi to Hamboting-La pass perched at 13,202 feet, falling in Kargil’s North-East. Dearth of oxygen cohabiting wind chill, nearly gives me a head-swim. Through astonishing rugged stonescape, protruding rock-hills seemingly scratched by giant paws, along lilting streams, deep gorges, leads us to Batalik sector, bang on LoC ‘Line of Control’ between India and Pakistan.

Amidst serene mossy banks, River Indus (Sindhu River) careens along in hopping waves, like an excited child jumping along an elder. Pockets of greenery lie hidden with contrasting greens hallowed by light coffee coloured rockeries as valley touches fresh glacial melt of freezing sapphire waters of Indus below, lending a romantic aura.

Seeing us, Tsering Gamphil, a ‘Brokpa’ – Brok- mountains; pa- inhabitant; meaning a highlander-approaches, his triangular turquoise earrings bobbing on loose lobes, blue eyes glinting in scorching sun, his heavy moustache lifts to flash a toothy smile. He juts out a rough hand in recognition to my friend Hussain-ibn-Khalo, Editor, Owner of Kargil Today, a local TV Channel, accompanying me. I smile, at the 65-year old Gamphil’s black cap embroidered with “BOY”, and notice a single safety pin holding a bunch of dried flower buds. “Yes I am in Garkone- the professed Pure-Aryan village!”

A cluster of four villages claims to hold a bastion of pure bred Aryans—presumably pure, the last, un-muddied, un-adulterated by outside gene pool. Gamphil, a Surna artist, Surna-musical instrument likened to-Shehnai, is invited to every festival to play to melodious hymns and rhythmic dances of Aryan Brokpas. “I even played Surna on J&K Tableaux on 26th January Republic Day, parade in Delhi,” he tells us. There are seven other artists in this tiny village inhabited by more than 1200 people.

Darchik and, Garkone are lesser known, falling in Kargil sector while Hanu and Dha Aryan villages nestle in Leh- are more frequented due to air connectivity and a greater tourist inflow.
At the confluence of rivers Shyok and Indus in District Kargil, village Darchick claims- “Welcome to the Abode of Red Aryans” emblazoned on a semi-circular gate flanking the entry. I wonder if ‘red’ was a sign of caution! Gamphil tells us –“Some outsiders were refused passage in Darchik recently. They followed their ancient tradition”.

However Garkone village ventures us a welcome with a large swirling Buddhist prayer wheel in midst of the entrance whirled by two young giggly girls. Foreigners are presumably disallowed or allowed only by special Inner Line Permit (ILP) from District Commissioner, in this highly militarised zone. On the way, we see, the battlefront, a portion of Batalik post was wholly destroyed in Kargil war of 1999, there now stands a Mata Rani Mandir and an Evil Subjugation Stupa, built by army on local beliefs of divine call for warding off aggressors. Inhabitants of these Aryan villages are known as ‘Dards’, local parlance – ‘Brokpas’.

Garden of Eden

Garkone, with its splatter of grey rocks flecked with black spots, along pathways and gnome doorways, is a welcoming hamlet, visible as a virtual oasis amongst dull rugged cliffs. An artistic rockscape slanting across as the river meanders between and beneath, enhancing its beauty as swathes of fertile lands break the severity of rock to croon a melody for colours, music and dance, like a mysterious merry ring.

Like Garden of Eden, a stream of crystal clear water swaggers through the village, overhanging grape bunch’s criss-cross branches, constructing natural green tunnelled pathways that run along a stone trail, flanked by rockeries on one side, that hold elf-doorways to elusive homes and habitats of Aryans. Alongside, running rivulet swings lush fields of barley and assortment of luxuriant vegetables. “Our Tomatoes are the reddest”, says Londhup Nawang Dolker owner of ‘Payu Pa’ guest house. “It seems to be a garden of bounty”, the gardener in me responds admiringly.

On the sides of the fields, trees stand laden with ripe orange apricots, green apples and unhardened soft green walnuts. It’s a riot of colours, predominantly orange hues – symbolic of colours of dawn-dusk, the carrot shade of perennial Monthu Tho adorning doors, finds pride of place in Brokpa hat-nests of flowers and the tangerine light of apricots. Garkone is a fertile, warmer, water surplus area, ensconced in lower rock crevices, in an otherwise rainless Ladakh. Primarily being agro-pastoralists they own yaks, goats and sheep, harvest world’s most luscious apricots, varied vegetables, extract oils and seemingly remain uncluttered.

Brokpas

The Brokpas, believed of Indo-Aryan stock, descendants of Dards, settled along Indus River, centuries past and are an enigma for the world’s imagination. Their claims of pure Aryan descent are of deep interest to anthropological research, ethnologists, scholars and backpackers. A popular belief carries of Brokpas as progeny of remnants of the army of Alexander the Great that came to the region over two thousand years ago.

Another strong belief traces their descent from Gilgit (Pakistan).
University of Heidelberg, Germany’s seminal research by Rohit Vohra on Aryans in his book ‘The Religion of the Dards in Ladakh’ and ‘An Ethnography – The Buddhist Dards of Ladakh’ quotes Roman Historians Curtius and Justin who claim invasions of Alexander the Great, along Kunar river in Chitral (Pakistan).

Interestingly, he notes –“The Kalash of Chitral have Caucasian features-sometimes with blonde hair and blue eyes-which gives some credence to their claim, that they descended from five warriors in Alexander the Great’s army. There are only about 4,000 of them and they have remained pagans- religion based on reverence of nature, including origins, history, rituals, and devotions- despite being surrounded by Muslims in Pakistan. The Kalash, relate a story of Alexander’s bacchanal with mountain dwellers claiming descent from Dionysus. They worship a pantheon of gods, make wine, and practice animal sacrifice.”

Aryans, settled along Indus meandering through bedrock, claim to be inhabitants of Gilgit, a region close to Chitral, sharing much of its history and culture with Gilgit- Baltistan in Pakistan. There are numerous similarities between the Kalash and Aryans, including the latter’s facial features, pagan traditions, despite having majorly converted to Buddhism, they have retained their ancient roots. Both communities have prominent blue eyes, colourful attires; once pagans making wines, the concept of animal sacrifice is common to both. The Chaumas festival of Kalash is learnt to be very similar to the Bonanah festival of Aryans, including the finale of spiral dance bidding farewell to the Deity.

Vohra writes- “One of the early migrations, about which there are oral traditions, relates to the arrival of brothers Dulo, Melo and Galo in Aryan-land”. During weddings, the door of the bride’s home is knocked and the wedding party announces “We are from the family of Dulo, Melo and Galo”, who locals believe were from the army of Alexander.

That they are settlers in regions of one of the oldest civilization along the elusive froth of River Indus connected with Indus Valley Civilization, adds sheen to their claims of being ancient Aryans. Incidentally, Dards or Aryans, their pedigree known from the ancient Sanskrit and classical Greek literature, draws besotted German Women- to seek Brokpas for racially pure progeny. Germany has a chequered history of Hitler’s obsession with racial superiority and the master race of Aryans.

Tsering Sumphal Garkon (65), an elder in the village with two sisters as his wives admits-“I know of seven German women, and out of them at least five were thus impregnated by Brokpas to carry the presumable elusive Aryan gene pool to their country.” Munching on a biscuit with his tea, he adds, “The government has banned the practice but still smitten German women pilfer in present times, seeking an elusive pure Aryan seed,”

Film: The Achtung Baby

Indian filmmaker Sanjeev Sivan made a documentary in 2007- “The Achtung Baby – In Search of Purity”. In it, he investigates stories of German women seeking to impregnate themselves with what they consider pure-Aryan sperm in Aryan villages of Ladakh.
Andrea, a German girl in the film, feels she is doing it as a gift for her grandfather who studied Aryans and hinted at an organized system behind the transaction. “I’m paying for what I want.” A village Darchik Aryan- Tsewang Dorji, her paramour, an apparent simpleton claims to have impregnated three German women thus, and is hoping his children would seek him and take him to Germany someday.

Sex is Pure

According to marriage statistics for three subsequent generations, average of 80% marriages were from within Aryan villages. Only in exceptional cases, inter-village marriage in Garkone, Darchik, Hanu and Dha were seen as recent as about 10 years back. “The types of marriages amongst Aryans are numerous, -Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, endogamy but also group marriages of varying form”, reveals Vohra. “The most common group marriage was of two brothers marrying two sisters where all partners had access to each other”.

Quoting Goldstein: 1971, Vohra writes “An exceptional group marriage was of a father and son sharing a wife. Such were in Katangpa and Auduz households; or an uncle and nephew sharing a wife. Also, if a mother died prior to the children’s marriage and father took a wife then father and son shared the wife and this was a bi-generational marriage.”

Opening up to the world however has brought new connections and about ten Aryans of this exclusive pure population have ventured to marry beyond the Aryan boundary. “Where even Leh Buddhists are least preferred as spouses, Garkone’s Paskit married a Muslim from Nubra Valley; Yangay married a Hindu Nepali driver who converted to Buddhism”, revealed Tsering Dolker, a Garkone girl of marriageable age.

Ajaz Hussain Munshi, curator of ‘Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artefacts’, a virtual encyclopaedia on Aryan’s ways says –“Since many of the Aryans converted to Buddhism, they were able to retain their culture, practices, rituals etc. While, those who converted to Islam, lost their heritage as Islam is a forbidding faith for music, singing, dancing, idol making. Hence, ancient pagan rituals of Buddhist Aryans are still intact and are followed.

Among Buddhist Aryans sexual rituals are freely exhibited at Bononah festival (Big Harvest Festival), celebrated annually, each time in a different village. The celebration in Dha is followed by Garkone and then in Ganoks (Pakistan) but after the conversion of inhabitants of Ganoks to Islam, the celebrations there were discontinued, thus the year of Ganoks’s turn falls vacant. During festival, a barley (sattu) wine brew (Changg) from still green grains holds a vital place.

Strong Sweet- smelling, flowers Thizim Kaliman being the most essential, are brought from pastures to decorate hats of men-women and hymns of the origin of the world are sung to melodious music, following the second crop’s harvest and threshing. Additionally, it heralds the return of shepherds from glacial heights.” Huru, a dish made with roasted barley or Sattu cooked in hot water or namkeen (salty) chai to form dough with yak’s butter, has an intoxicating effect when fermented for a day.

During Bononah, dances in memory of ancestors are performed and along with hymns of happiness, prosperity, bounty, are sung hymns with sexual connotations and accompanying amorous dances. Singing competitions are held between group of women and men and obscene questions-answers are exchanged.

Men kiss women they like and the husband or father is not to take offence. The festival is closely guarded; permitting no outsider into the village during the celebration, as the village is purified. Free sex is practised. Sexual hymns in riddle form are sung between groups of men and women. These are supposed to release forces and heighten the atmosphere of the festival. Dances with sexual movement heighten the same effect. Hymns of sexual connotations are sung addressed to Aryan deity Yanding along with dough figures, decked walls, balcony & pillar drawings as a part of fertility cult. Corresponding Hymns and songs are a secret not to be revealed to an outsider…… ( TO BE CONCLUDED )

PHOTOS: Hosain Ibn Khalo & Tsering Sonam Garkone 
Amritsar based writer can be emailed at : rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/glimpse-into-the-life-of-pu…

Amritsar Based writer can be contacted at email: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

I- Kargil: War-town, at Peace / By Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


Screenshot Kargil 1 Communal harmony 9sept17.jpg
Dateline Kargil Part I
Kargil: War-town, at Peace
Rashmi Talwar

As I awkwardly pose for a selfie, in old Kargil bazaar, I notice, shopkeepers peeping, smiling, looking at each other and smiling some more. I pick up a little Kargil girl, swirl, put her down, and whisper, rather loudly -“Mujhe yahaan achha lagta hai” (I like it here!). Someone pops a question -“Aap idhar kitne din bethoge” (How many days will you stay?) and lets out an -“Ohhh! Kuch din betho na yahaan bhi” (Stay here too, for some more days,). I merrily wave and wonder about this apricot country and its infectious sweetness.

Of mixed racial stock of Aryans, Dards, Tibetans, Mongoloids; of Brokpas, Baltis, Purik, Shinas and Ladakhis; of its colours and multi-cultures and faiths – Buddhism, Islamic, besides Bonism, Dardism, Hinduism, Sikhism, perched at a threshold of alpine mountains of Himalayas, Tibetan Steppe and cold deserts of Central Asia.

Predominantly Muslim, 65% Shia compared to Sunni, this war-linked population communicates in almost seven languages Purgi, Balti, Dardic, Ladakhi, Zanskari, Sheena, Urdu/ Hindi. A silky white taffeta stole is placed around my neck in homes, a traditional welcome for guests, and a timeless charm seals the warmth of old stone houses groaning under ancient wattle and daub. Homes, now wilting, giving space to newer homes, hotels, resorts for eager tourists, mountaineers and scholars; apart from, droves of political, bureaucratic paraphernalia, popping-in from Srinagar and Leh.

The town, a view of charming markets, inviting, attractive, vivid – a salivating sight of virtual food-floods, laden with every kith and kin of summer veggies and fruit.

The town once battered by bombs, explosions is on a merry track, of being a coveted tourist destination. Syed Tawha Aga, Additional Director Tourism, in his infectious enthusiasm, lists out almost 22 heritage sites for my three-day itinerary. Spots of magnificent sculptures, people, forts, palaces, built in Central Asian architectural stream, gleaned from Turkish, Arabic and Iranian styles. He can add more and must be deeply pained to omit trekking, mountaineering trails, adventure and bouldering sites, aside from hundreds of lesser known hideouts with virgin views.

Kargil, in popular consciousness concomitant with war, has within its multiple-community cross-links, a strong socio-ethnic amalgam, where minds and hearts lie at peace. The habitation has experienced horror, dreaded war clarions, but down the years the momentum of harmony envelops every layer of its social makeup. Easy banter, frolic-teasing, between communities over issues with potential to become flare-up points, are taken in a jolly stride.

Enmity, animosity, faith-linked or otherwise has not crossed this trek. “No communal outburst was ever heard or seen among the 1.40 lakh populace sprinkled around 127 villages with a solitary Kargil town as Axis”, smiles the 72-year Karan Singh, a former Principal of Suru Higher Secondary School, his family, a witness of every milestone of the town’s chequered history.

Harbour of Communal Harmony – The Balti-Street

Down ancient Balti Street, rows of homes clutch each other, as the lone binding lane lends simply a cart-road space reminiscent of a trade melting pot of yore, to passers-by. A few steps ahead, the spire of Hanfiya Mosque, shoots tall, standing parallel to a Nishan Sahib-symbol of Sikhs, of more than a century-old Civil Gurdwara, and share more than a wall.

Balti Street retains and exhibits its strong flavours of friendliness that once claimed a niche expanse of Hindu-Sikh migrants from Baltistan (Pakistan). Interestingly, according to 1981 Census, 69.38% of them conversed in Balti language. Kargil, carved its district identity in 1979, subsequently, Census 1981, placed 77.90% of Kargil’s inhabitants as Muslims; Buddhists constituting 19.49 % and Hindus at 2.26% – as 3rd major religion in the district.
Census 2011, held Hindus totalling 10,341, with an urban populace of 3139; Sikhs numbered 1101 with 321 in Kargil town.

A sizeable population then, nearing extinction now, the two minority communities have moved, presumably to mainland, for no specific reason than economical more than fear of wars or otherwise.

However, Balti Street still stands home to 40 Sikhs, compared to a Hindu family of four- the lone remnants of the once sizable faith, with Muslim neighbours around. But then Kargil – a melting pot, trade point of ancient Silk Route has always been on the flow. “Remnants of several faiths, communities, stamp their cultural and artistic footprints and move.” Tsering Sonam, a Buddhist from Garkone hamlet – famed for retaining the Pure Aryan race, inserts.

“Where we see the world brokered over faiths and regions, mines and mights, ours is special,” Karan Singh, elected Chairman of State Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, from civil Gurdwara Kargil, and resident of Balti Street, contends. “Special?”- I query. “Our Sikh families settled more than century ago; continue to be part of this remote chunk. Soon after India gained Independence and was partitioned simultaneously, Kabalis backed by Pakistan fired and looted our shops in 1947; a decade later in 1965 war, infiltrators sat on high peaks overlooking Kargil, that eventually were wrested from them. After 1999, many assumed Kargil was War or a Military Operation not a Town, less, a district.”
Folding his hands and looking up, in Shukar– (Thanksgiving)–Karan Singh utters- “Despite being in abject minority, we are special, caring for us has become a virtual culture here. In my lifetime there isn’t a rude word from any community exchanged in Kargil! During a ‘Swatch Bharat’ Abhiyaan, Muslim brethren swept our Gurdwara, while Sikhs and lone Hindu family cleaned the mosque and the Imambara. On Baisakhi and during our founder Guru Nanak Dev ji Gurpurab, the Nishan Sahib- is changed and entire Kargil remains in participation.

The warmth of these gestures has assumed the status of tradition, encouraged by society, as if, a sacred duty. Even political, bureaucrat, attendance comes naturally.” Smiling as he stretches out on cool sheets laid over carpets.
‘Once having a sizeable Hindu population are there any temples?’ I ask. ‘There was one Mandir, but since community migration, it remained in shambles and was eventually razed.”

Vividly recalling a recent incident, Karan says- “When our Mother-Balbir Kaur, passed away in February this year, it was the peak of winter, much of our family had gone neeche to Jammu. Only we two brothers were here with her. Kargil, that lovingly addressed mother as – Amaa Bir, organised the cremation at Shamshan- near army headquarters. Kargil women undertook the Gusal- last ritual bath, as no family women were present due closure of roads, and the entire town observed a shutdown in mourning and respect, thereafter”.

“Just a Few days back, a Kashmiri entered the Gurdwara and offered Namaz. When I pointed out the masjid next door, he responded –‘I didn’t realize when I came here- Khuda ka ghar ek hi hai’(Almighty’s house is one only), I was moved by the comment. This is my Kargil. Common walls make for cohabitation but loving hearts make for lifelong bonds”. Hussain Ibn Khalo, Editor of a local cable channel, a majority community Shia Muslim, sitting nearby, with arms around a bolster in Karan Singh’s home, nods in agreement.

Lone Hindu family

Going down Balti Street, almost at crossroads stands a shop “Amar Chand Dev Raj’. The lone Hindu family resides just over the shop. Ravinder Nath (55) and his wife Madhubala have a cosy little dwelling. Ravinder is a rich merchant, having wholesale and distribution rights of Britannia, Dairy Milk, green tea, CGI corrugated Sheets for roofs.

Offering the choicest salty tea, he says -“I have been living here with our family all my life and we have always been traders.” Learning about my Amritsar roots, he butts in –“We get our green tea from Amritsar and I often visit your Golden Temple.” Pouring me another cup, Madhubala, is a beauty, like her namesake cinestar Madhubala of yesteryears, enhanced by red kumkum bindi. –Do you always wear a bindi? I ask Madhubala. ‘Always!’ she smiles. Looking at me, peering at the tea cup in my hand Ravinder comments – “It’s from Yarkand,
My grandfather Amar Chand, was one of the foremost in trading circles in Yarkand and China during the times of British and the trade through the old silk route. Much as I have inherited from my family my prized possession is a “Passport” issued to my grandfather Amar Chand- it reads – Lala Amarchand resident of Jahan Kalan Hoshiarpur, Issued by the order of ‘Her Majesty Counsel General at Kashgar’- British Subject by Law”. It maybe the rarest of rare cases of a passport, I revel.
“My grandfather brought gold and finest silks in the central Asian trade. In fact, the route taken by my grandfather was marked to lay the Manali-Leh road,” claims Ravinder. “My life, my being is Kargil, people are most loving. During my childhood about 25-Hindu families lived here. Like Karan Singh’s family, I have attended almost every occasion of happiness and pain in this place. I wish to die here and know that after me, no one would carry forth the mantle of our faith anymore. But Kargilis are more mine than my own relatives. Yahan ka Pyar-Mohabat duniya mein kahin nahi- (the loving-love here has no second in the world) I can call upon them 24×7, what more can I say?.”

Together in wartimes

Humans are prone to be more united during distress, calamity or war. Sitting with nephew Karamjit Singh, a co-owner of a local TV Channel and his bhabhi Charanjit Kaur, Karan Singh, recalls -“During Kargil war 1999 shelling, Karamjit was a baby, I was the principal of Suru Higher Secondary School.

While targeting Iqbal bridge to cut off the lone National Highway to Leh, our school was battered by bombs. Close-by army’s ammunition dump too triggered-‘We heard ammunition blasts for nearly 32 hours! My coat buttons flew off with the impact, just as windows burst, children defecated and urinated in their pants and were laden with sticky mud. It was macabre spectacle. People, pooled in, to rush injured, to help hide children in safe spots, one teacher was killed, one had her jaw blown off, and one was hit by a sniper shot but survived. When Gen Arjun GoC visited the school – he was stunned to know there was only one casualty. With people’s participation tents were pitched, in Karnoor and Minji on Kargil-Zanskar highway about 6 Kms from Kargil town and school restarted. Only the following year, the school was rebuilt. Many of the teachers were army personnel wives.”

Woman who broke glass ceiling for girls’ education

We traverse our way to meet another icon of the town Fatima Nissa Begum (75) a close friend of Amaa Bir, who opened the doors for education for girls. She is the only surviving educated woman of the 1950s, who studied in Kargil against all set norms of girls’ education. Her home has the bestest Geranium flowers, cheerful in old tins and assorted containers gleaned from the kitchen granary, – a cheerful Fatima, serves a feast of chicken, salads, buns and namkeens with rounds of typical pink salty tea, that I am getting used to – and says- “Two others, who were educated at my time, were from other places, -One, from Skardu in PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and another Simla educated, both passed away.

And added- “Education for girls was forbidden, in our Islamic culture, but I studied till class 5th in Government, Girls High school. My father, despite being a much respected religious scholar supported me. In lower classes, I alone possessed a bag, pencil box and books in a class of 5-7 girls. Girls came, listened and left. This was the education we received. I often shared my books with my classmates, but soon they were forced to drop school.
However, with much diligence, I finished 5th standard in 1955, competing with boys, as girls hardly appeared for exams.

I was nearly ostracized-‘Don’t play with her, don’t look at her! Etc etc.. Fatima trails off. “Those were hard times, but my father’s support minimized all hurdles. After primary my father was at a loss, as high schools were only for boys. Seeing my enthusiasm, an old teacher offered, and taught me at home. No sooner had I completed class 8th, a teacher’s job fell vacant in Baru village about two Kms away. On my father’s insistence, at the age of 14, I took up the job, crestfallen over my loss of education. The first princely amount of 100 rupees for my services thrilled me endlessly.

My spirit however didn’t die; I finished matric, and slowly started into the forbidden domain of girls’ education from home to home, along with the job. “How?” I butt in. “I started by teaching Koran to select girls then urged parents to send them for Koran lessons in school and imparted education in all primary subjects.” I notice the glowing face of Fatima and sit in wonderment at her ingenuity and pluck in those times and at that tender age. Today on retirement Fatima receives a pension of Rs 20,000. With her own savings has performed pilgrimages- Haj to Mecca Medina, and is widely travelled in Iran, Iraq, Dubai, Syria, UAE, and plans to go to many other places in the world, that feat, no woman in these parts can yet compete.

Footnote

Returning to my hotel Jan Palace, I learn about the Kargil’s Mamani festival rooted in pre-Buddhist religion of Bon, in peak winter of January snows, that pens togetherness in the endearing town, when traditional meals are shared amongst all. It reminded me of calling upon each other during times of distress. It reminded me, that the world needs more people to build up other people, instead of tearing them down. It also reminded of mobile phone and internet being dead slow here; pushing forth the fragrance and flavour of inter-personal communication in varied tongues and dialects, that clasps the absolute key to kindness. Holding umpteenth packets of dried apricots from warmth of town homesteads, I knew I was taking back seeds of sweetness, the treasures of peace of the apricot country.

Photos : Hosan-Ibn- Khalo

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Journalist, can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
URL:http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/14…/kargil-war-town-at-peace
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