This is a post written by Arvind, a colleague of mine who recently spent a week in Srinagar, and I believe every word he has written as I had seen the fear and anxiety in Arvind's eyes just before he left for Srinagar. Arvind your words made me feel nostalgic and I feel like going back to the valley where I had the good fortune of spending a bit of my childhood.
On my flight to Srinagar from Delhi, a very apprehensive me pondering hard, what awaits me at the city. A city, which everyone forbade me to visit going by various press reports and the recent October earthquake which shook the entire State that was already in turmoil.
But I was proved wrong. It was a very pleasant sight to see a normal city going through the hustle bustle of daily grind at 12:30pm on a clear Monday afternoon.
On my way to the airport, I was greeted by people looking very cheerful despite the hardship they had to undergo all the years.
The wide and beautiful road that took me to the City center looked so normal and made me feel as if I was in a Delhi suburb. It was only after I saw security personnel every 100 yards, which made all the difference. Srinagar, a city that once was the toast of Bollywood producers and the honeymooners alike, today looked like a protected bride. The people, however made all the difference with their warmth and generous smile. Even the coldest winter in a decade (-6.5 degrees celsius temperature) could not take away this warmth.
On checking in at the Hotel, my home for the next 5 days, I was made to feel like I was the bridegroom visiting my in laws after many years. The hotel staff at the Reception were excited when I mentioned I came from Bangalore. Oh, you come from the IT capital of the world, they gushed. The hotel had all the facilities I could expect in a 5 star hotel, contrary to my expectation.
That night on Tuesday, December 13th at 3:15am I felt the experience of my life. The earthquake, which had an epicenter in Afghanistan, shook the city out of its sleep. When I came out of the hotel room, I was greeted by the hotel staff which ensured that all its guests were safe even at that time of the day. We did not dare rush out of the hotel as the temperature was lesser than -6 degrees celsius outside. If the God above us willed we will be very safe, is what the hotel staff said and assured us of safety in case there were aftershocks. Switching the Television on, we saw that the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale and this time, God did not will to take away any life. He had certainly heard their prayers! The years of turmoil and the earthquakes that shook this beautiful state, has certainly made the people very tough and they could face any trouble or problem that posed before them.
The next day I visited Dal Lake and was pained to see almost all houseboats with Vacant board hanging outside the majestic boats. A top tourist destination for years was reduced to this state. This was only due to unfound fears of people like me who now prefer to visit other countries than holiday in Kashmir. The state has everything to offer and can easily offer tough competition to Swiss locales which we see in Yash Chopra films. The place has people with large hearts and this makes a big difference when it comes to tourism. I could hardly see any form of terrorism or experience anti India bashing throughout the five days I was in Srinagar. Where dont we see terrorism in today's world... New York, London, Madrid, Paris, Delhi. Have people stopped going there? We have seen the terrorism of worst kind in Bangalore, a city which prides itself to be a safe city and the IT capital of the world, where a lady employed with a MNC company is raped and murdered by the company's own contract staff.
That evening I took a stroll near Lal Chowk, the city hub. I was enthralled to see the market place and the lively atmosphere. When the shopkeepers came to know that I came from a distant place, they took more care to offer the best service. This city demands better tourism facilities and the local Kashmiris want us to visit them. The general feeling of the people contained positive hope that the new Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad would take the State to its former glory. I could see that change happening. Almost all leading private air carriers flying to Srinagar, new International airport, wide and beautiful roads, flyovers etc. are certainly positive signs.
On my day of departure, I could clearly see the moistened eyes of the hotel staff who bid adieu to me. They wanted me to visit the place once again with my family.
Let us restore Kasmir to the earlier glory - The Crown of India. The Government should take positive steps to promote tourism in Kashmir and bring us closer to these wonderful people and the place once described as the Heaven on Earth.