Day 2, Sopore
After leaving Bijbehara, we are on our way to Sopore where we are supposed to put up for the next 2 nights. On the way I get the first sight of the ruins of Kashmiri Pundits’ houses! Half burnt, broken and shattered, more a haphazard arrangement of bricks rather than buildings, once used to be the shelters for families; those three-four storeyed buildings now look depressing and abandoned.
Overnight families were wiped off; the rest ran away to save themselves and their dependents. Those days appear like visuals in front of my eyes. Thoughts of what they must have gone through make me shudder. A strange melancholy sets in and I keep quiet, trying to engage myself with the view of breath-taking surroundings that unfold with every turn of the wheel. And yet, a voice inside wonders, whether all these trees and mountains could speak and tell me the stories of the bygone times! They seem to be the last and living witnesses of the atrocities, more than a part of the beautiful nature here.
I have had friends. Be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs or Christians. I never really had any strong religious views but somehow these images of shattered houses make me think! I have questions. And I’m not sure who has the answers. I look out trying to divert my mind and enjoy the beauty of the valley!
The sun is on its way downwards painting the sky with diverse colours. Passing through the green tunnels with Chinar on sides, clear blue sky and the changing colours of the setting sun makes the moment picturesque! A reality check is always there with army guarding everywhere. Every 100 metres there’s one army patrolling.
We are late. Sopore being a sensitive area, Bajee is rushing through to reach his friend, Hamid uncle’s house as soon as possible. Two days back mobile towers were blown up in Sopore and I can feel the tension everywhere. Hamid uncle keeps calling to know where we have reached. As we enter Sopore town, we are hit by the traffic jam. By now it is dark and Hamid uncle is tensed; the frequency of his calls has gone up. Stuck in the traffic, I look outside. Boys, middle aged and old men are all passing by, smiling, giggling, bursting crackers and in the mood of festivity. After all it this is the period of Eid!
Suddenly Bajee says there is stone pelting going on and that’s why the traffic. I panic! Now calls from Hamid uncle have started making me nervous. In a way I start thinking, it is a blessing that I don’t understand Kashmiri else I don’t know what all they must be discussing! Reading my mind Arun says that someone was just joking outside. I breathe relief. Bajee & Arun start laughing. Anyway, slowly as we move, Hamid uncle comes along with two of his friends and directs us to his place. Mehak, Hamid uncle’s daughter, has been waiting for us. We hug each other and I walk up to greet Rosie Aunty. Though it is my first time in Kashmir and my first meeting with Aunty, it feel I have known her for long! As we settle down, one of Mehak’s uncles comes by to see us. Bajee has a pustule which has started oozing and Mehak’s uncle sits there cleaning the wound and dressing it up. After a while Bajee starts chatting with Hamid uncle. That’s when I am told that actually stone pelting of a police van was going on and the sounds of crackers were that of tear gas! Stunned as I hear that but too tired to even react, I wrap up the night early.
Day 3, Sopore
This morning Arun leaves for work; we get ready early and Mehak comes along with us. As we start our journey towards Kupwara, I am in awe of the nature. We cross rice fields, apple orchards, snow-capped mountains and I wish for a never ending road journey.
After we reach our destination, Mehak and I chitchat happily like school girls enjoying the nature trip while hubby dear gets busy with his lists of to-do. Bajee too join us and the day seems to get over in no time! As we reach home, we are greeted by Mehak’s sisters and cousins. We go out again for a stroll to the bank of Jhelum. We stand by the mesmerizing beauty for a while and then head for home.
In the evening Hamid uncle lays out the Wazwaan for me. Typically served in silver utensils, there are eight types of mutton dishes spread on the table, which I am told is the minimum number to offer! The food tastes like heaven!
Next day we plan to visit the Lolab Valley, post Arun’s work.