Canadian Premier shows why he’s ‘Justin Singh’/ By Rashmi Talwar / Kashmir Images

Canadian Premier shows why he’s ‘Justin Singh’

Rashmi Talwar

Seemingly unmindful of Modi-led government’s half-hearted response to his visit, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today visited Amritsar, enthralling the locals in a big way.

It may be recalled that Justin Trudeau’s visit was in a way, downplayed by the Union Government but his Punjab connection undoubtedly made it a memorable one.

If Justin Trudeau is sometimes also referred to as ‘Justin Singh’- it is not without a reason.

The Canadian Prime Minister, who has more Sikhs in his cabinet than his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, today showed how close he is with the Sikh community when upon arrival in the holy city he straight away drove to the Golden Temple.

Attired in an embroidered Kurta-Pajama with a saffron ‘Patka’ on his head and accompanied by his wirfe Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in lime green Kameez Palazzo, and two of his three children Ella Grace and Xavier in Punjabi ethnic wear, the Premier was received by Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, and Navjot Singh Sidhu, State Minister for Tourism, at the Amritsar airport. Trudeau was received at the Golden Temple by former Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and Akali Dal President Sukhbir Badal and taken around the ‘parikarma’ or circumbulation of the holy shrine by the office bearers of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) including its president Gobind Singh Longowal.

The visiting Premier prayed at the Sanctum Santorum of the temple during an almost hour long visit to the shrine. Trudeau and his family also tried rolling out ‘rotis’ at the Guru Ram Dass Langar Hall, where pilgrims undertake voluntary kitchen chores for feeding other pilgrims. They greeted devotees with folded hands while scores of visitors could be seen holding their mobile phones to take pictures and videos with the Trudeaus.

A thick security blanket was in place in and around the Golden Temple with SGPC task force making a human chain to keep pilgrims at bay at the Temple premises. Trudeau was presented a specially crafted 24-Carat Gold plated portrait of the shrine and a gold plated Siri –Sahib (a small six inch sword) along with a ‘Siropa’- a robe of honour by the SGPC.

In the visitors book Justin Trudeau wrote-“What an honour to be so well received at such a beautiful, meaningful place. We are filled with grace & humility”.




“Super”- Dr Daljit Singh of Amritsar / By Rashmi Talwar

“Super”- Dr Daljit Singh of Amritsar

Rashmi Talwar

Other than the Magnificent Golden Temple and stimulus to the Freedom Struggle of India- the Jallianwala Bagh, much of world knew Amritsar as the place of renowned ophthalmologist Dr Daljit Singh, the inimitable surgeon and researcher who revolutionized eye care for the world.

“Being true to your Profession is the Biggest Patriotism!” Dr Daljit Singh believed, and followed this focus throughout his glorious innings.

True to his words his children Dr Ravijit Singh Dr Kiranjit Singh completed their surgeries while Dr Indu and Dr Seema prepared Dr Daljit Singh’s body for his last Journey, to join in, when he quietly passed away, after being in coma for a week.

This amply exhibits the dedication of this family towards a lofty mission of attending to the suffering, keeping all else on hold, before proceeding to their various tasks and toils.

Dr Ravijit Singh took the mike on the last condolence meet of the Bhog Ceremony of his beloved father Dr Daljit Singh- “Every father is a Superman for his children”, he started.
“My father too was a superman for us!”

As a boy nick named Ghuggu since he spoke nearly a year after his birth on 11 October 1934, Ghuggu became Daljit Singh, born to Sahib Singh, a Sikh academic of Sikh literature.

In the eyes of his children, he was a ‘Super Son’ who served his parents through their long illnesses.
Ravijit extolled, peeling away bit by bit to share hidden glimpses of the life and memories of his father, before a crowd of nearly 5000 people gathered, to pay respects to Amritsar’s Lofty son Dr Daljit Singh.

Our father was a – ‘Super Student’ making sketches of his teachers who often shunted him out of their class and like Aamir Khan of Three Idiots – a born learner, who would sit in the library and score more marks than the best of them!

A ‘super husband’ who had a love marriage in such times as in 1957. Dr Daljit wrote in his fiancée Sawarn’s gifted diary– ‘Professional competence is the best Patriotism’ and stood by it throughout.

A ‘super sportsman’ wherein his sons couldn’t beat him in carom, chess, table tennis or Billiards. A city club etched Dr Daljit Singh’s name twice as a Billiards Champion.

A ‘Super worker’ who worked 16-18 hours a day and rose at the crack of dawn.

A ‘Super Innovator’ who picked up a liquid from a dentist’s table and used it to create his revolutionary first intraocular lens.

A ‘Super Ophthalmologist’ who needs no introduction suffice to say, he won the Padam Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, in 1987. A Dr BC Roy Award credited with isolating three new genes causing congenital cataract and invented “plasma scalpel” for glaucoma and cataract surgery and pioneered a number of innovative and revolutionary surgical instruments.

At the same time a ‘Super instrumentalist’, who played the harmonium, the Tablaa, the flute and eventually left the world trying to master the elusive saxophone.

A ‘Super Techno’ who mastered every new technological innovation that emerged– “He would tell me my laptop or mobile needs upgradation, which meant that he was going to pass on his old laptop or phone to me to buy a new one for himself,” Dr Ravijit inserted with a smile.

A “Super Wi-Fi” with a super antenna to connect to people, track a needy, and help him without boasting. Keeping a Thursday free OPD for poor patients, since years. Also, helping hundreds of Kashmiri boys with pellet injuries who came in droves from trouble torn Kashmir valley. Many a times the family encouraged victims towards the path of education instead of a pointless future in stone pelleting. No wonder, on the sound of my hometown being ‘Amritsar’, many Kashmiris pounced on – ‘Do you know Dr Daljit Singh?’, during my many trips to Jammu and Kashmir. Dr Daljit Singh’s crowning glory was however restoring vision of 11 children, who had lost their eyesight in LPG cylinder blast at Independence Day celebrations in Orissa in 1986.

A “Super photographer” who bought new Cameras with each of his monthly salaries and took perfect shots- “We found his cameras in drawers, cupboards, every nook and corner of the house.”

A “Super Painter” who even intended to take a hobby course in painting towards the fag end of his life at the local Thukur Singh Art Gallery and painted 30 water colour landscapes in a go, along with a repertoire of hundreds of sketches, he left behind.

A ‘Super Author’ who penned over a dozen books on ophthalmology, Dr Singh wrote two poetry and three anthologies of essays: “Sach di Bhal Vich” (In search of truth), “Dooja Passa”(The other side) and “Badi di Jarh” (The root of evil) to educate rural masses about national and international issues. Noted Punjabi author and close friend Kulbir Singh Suri, son of late legendary Punjabi novelist Nanak Singh, said- Dr Singh wrote a book titled ‘Naroi Akh’ (Healthy Eye) in Punjabi decades ago. His three poetry books —‘Dharti Tirhai’, ‘Sidhre Bol’ and ‘Babre Bol’ have been translated into Urdu, English and Hindi.

‘Super Simple’ with no clue of his shirt matching his trousers or turban; often a red socks synchronised his step with a blue one.

And towards the conclusion when I and many amongst us assumed that the last Super-lative by Ravijit would be “Dr Daljit Singh was a ‘Super-Human!”, Dr Ravijit surprised us by adding –Our father was a “Super Teacher” – One who loved teaching, spreading, sharing his vast knowledge in the most simplistic way with everyone including on topics as diverse as economics, politics, finance, anything.

It is not every day a true human is born, with all his fullness, feelings, faults and fallacies.

In 2007-08, Dr Daljit Singh made noble efforts to set up a speciality charitable eye hospital in Nankana Sahib Pakistan along with a university to be named Guru Nanak Dev University in Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of the founder Sikh Guru Nanak Dev along with his Pak friend Prof TH Kirmani. Even offering to send Indian doctors to tutor Pak doctors and bring excellent eye care to the sacred land of Sikhs. Lamentingly, the agreement fell through. The demarcated land donated by a local resident Fazal Rabbani was occupied by Pak army and relations soured, over the years between the two nations.

At another juncture, Dr Daljit Singh, the surgeon, with as sharp a wit and forthrightness as his invented scalpel, remained unmindful of anyone’s stature or status and therefore couldn’t successfully win the diplomatic and flattery-ridden field of politics as an AAP candidate.

Alternately, he snatched 80,000 votes, a clean sweep by many standards as a greenhorn in politics, during MP elections 2014, from political heavyweights Arun Jaitley- and Capt Amarinder Singh- who went on to become Union Finance Minister and Chief Minister of Punjab, respectively. Dr Singh intended to bring clean governance from a political platform but couldn’t be manipulated to tell lies, half-truths or stoop to briberies.

Even though holding abhorrence for the political climate of our country, I became Dr Daljit Singh’s Media Manager, solely because he was a father figure to me. And I landed an opportunity to relive some times of our childhood days with him. In the late 60s and early 70s, Dr Daljit occasionally bicycled to our home from the Government Eye hospital opposite our house.

As children then, we lined up to see his bicycle with gears, a rare contraption those times, that held contiguous fascination for me for a long time. Sometimes he even took a shot at our Table Tennis table and once took multiple close-shot pictures of my sister’s hazel eyes, ever since, he focused they possessed rare blue specs in them.
“Fer Chaa piyao!” he would say on a rare chilly evening, while visiting home. And merrily slurp his tea, savouring every masala and mazaa of it.

On a closer note Dr Daljit told me – ‘Tu acha likhdi hain’ that sounded in present times like the Dangal ‘Shabaash’ of Mahavir Singh Phogat to his daughter Geeta winning the gold. And in return – ‘le meri kitab par’ and handed me a number of his books written by him originally in Punjabi.

Dr Daljit Singh’s family -Dr Ravjit Singh and Dr Kiranjit Singh – and daughters-in-law, Dr Indu R Singh and Dr Seema Singh, form a formidable team of eye surgeons.

On my visit to Dr Daljit Singh’s home after his passing away, I could sense that the home still held his warmth of touches, thoughts, his genius, and ensconced his family most lovingly.

I wish, I could bring that warmth in my home with one of his paintings, to get inspired by the Master by his Master strokes, never saying adieu to him.

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:

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.


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.


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: 

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.


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:


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


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


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.

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.
PHOTOS : Hosain Ibn Khalo and Tsering Sonam Garkone 
KT Hosain Ibn Khalo 
Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Journalist, can be emailed at

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