Agar firdaus bar rue zamin ast hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast! (“If there be paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!”) – Emperor Jahangir
I remember quoting Emperor Jahangir in my tweet last month when I was in Srinagar. The quote, I first came across in an advertisement of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism. I still remember it. It had a shot of Shikaras flowing in slow motion at the famous Dal Lake and a heavy voice saying these lines as the cameras panned across, Gulmarg and some beautiful Kashmiri gardens. I had always seen the darker side of Srinagar, in photographs or in movies, with all the crying, killing and bloodshed, but all the darkness was erased and this echoed in my mind as I admired the beautiful green chinar tree with the exquisite Dal lake in the backdrop from the window of my room at The Lalit Grand Palace, Srinagar.
I hardly had the time to explore the city. We had to leave early next morning for a four hour long road journey to Dras (Kargil) , but I somehow managed to squeeze the very little time we had to visit the famous Shrine of Hazratbal.
While on our way to the Shrine, our driver, Imran Khan, briefed us about the festival, followed by the excerpts from his experience at Kargil, when he was there for a month with the famous Indian Journalist, Barkha Dutt, who gained prominence for her reportage of the Kargil War. “Haven’t you heard of the famous driver Imran Khan on NDTV ?”, he asked proudly, when he saw the astonished look on our faces.
“Aaj Bhi Mere Kaanon Mein Bombardment ki awaaz gunjti hai” ( the sound of bombardment still echoes in my ear ) sighed Imran Khan, as he parked the car near the Shrine.
As we dodged our way to the Shrine, I saw a whole new variety of street food. There were shops selling huge deep fried breads, locally known as Parantha. Not the regular north Indian Parantha, but a real big version of Punjabi Bhatura. These terms might sound alien to you if you have no connection with India, but you can always Google them and even find some recipes to make them in your own kitchen.
Apart from the variety of food, there were friendly faces asking me to click their pictures, cute little children shying away from my lenses when I picked up the camera and beautiful eyes of women wearing Bhurkha. There was all other common stuff that you find in every small town festival in India. Small shops selling bangles to cosmetics to some lotion to fix joint pains or private problems. Colorful scarfs for women and designer Taqiyahs ( Muslim Caps) for men.
We reached the entry gate where we were asked to move to the backyard of the shrine where everyone were assembled.
The first thing that caught my eye was a person showing something in his hand to the group of assembled people. He was the Head Priest showing Moi-e-Muqaddas (Holy Relic of Prophet Mohammed). It is displayed for public viewing on ten occasions in a year, which includes Meraj-ul Alam. After looking around I saw a sea of women standing with their hands joined in prayer, gazing in the direction of the old man with the relic, asking for blessings with tears falling from their moist eyes as they kept staring with devotion.
They remained in the same position for quite a long. They were not even bothered with me trying to click their pictures from many different angles. After the priest went away the crowd settled down with their families to enjoy the food that they had bought with them on the soft grass and we moved back to the Hotel for a movie screening and dinner.