Rashmi Talwar

When October kisses Gurez!

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Gurez Series- Part-II


Four kilometres short of Razdan enroute Tragbal, towards Gurez, sits Peer Baba’s Shrine. Low clouds float like thoughts overlook a spectacular view of the shrine sitting atop a mountain; and it compels one to spend a few moments in silence speaking to the winds; for silence needs no language and words are weightless. Peer Baba’s shrine, is a spiritual spot where one can witness the landscape in 360 degrees, of Bandipore forest ranges and tiny hamlets locked in mountains gorges. The mystical precincts of Peer Baba, where the wind sings and the fluttering green flags on poles, play a spiritual symphony.
The almost flattened top jutting out into nothingness is where Peer Baba – the inimitable symbol of shared faiths, rests. Peer baba’s Mazar is a symbol of India’s syncretic culture with symbols and figures of each faith housed in a single premise atop a mountain pass with an overwhelming view of an ever-changing unique layered mountain-scape. “All security forces crossing the Razdan, religiously offer prayers at the feet of Peer Baba, as their divine guardian angel,” the Commanding officer of Gurez Col Abhinav Goel tells me.
A tiny temple constructed by Army, shares space with a Dargah, syncretizing the spiritual aura of the Almighty. Within its premises, symbols, and pictures from all faiths adorn the pedestal. A picture of Jesus Christ in thorns, next to Baba Nanak with a deific halo, Muslim symbols of faith and Hindu deities embellish the House of God, collectively, adding the fragrance of inclusive culture of Indian ethos to the towering mountains.
Legend says Peer Baba came from Malsar (Pakistan) in 1933, and established himself in a cave at Durmat (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) at the age of 35. His religion, caste, and entity, were unknown; he was known to stay without food or water for months, spoke little, and was hard of hearing- popularly called ‘Nanga Baba’ in areas around; never refusing any alms offered by locals of Kanzalwan and accepted every offering with love. In February of 1940, amidst heavy snowfall, Peer Baba came to Razdan, where he breathed his last. His death came in the dream of his disciple Dilawar Malik, who sent men to fetch Peer’s body with help of locals. When they tried to move his body to Bandipore, they were attacked by a swarm of bees. Baba was then buried at Razdan Pass by his disciple Malik and the locals. In years 1950-1952, 8 grenadiers of the Indian Army constructed Ziarat at the spot of Peer Baba and believe that Peer Baba was their protector and custodian with promises of blessings for wish fulfilment. Several high-ranking army officers have installed plaques and epithets of their regiments as a mark of respect to the mountain saint and to receive blessings for protection for their country, men and material from the Peer Baba of Razdan Top.
Money offered at the shrine by devotees goes towards the welfare of locals and the education of children. Indian Army maintains the shrine with the help of a detachment that offers tea and prasad to pilgrims. Visitors are known to be satiated and free of all their worries, in this hallowed spot; where the panoramic scene stuns with the beauty of the Harmukh mountain peak and the elephant hills of Bandipore are visible. The spiritual point is gifted with a lavish green meadow, where you feel child-like, where you wish to run, where you wish to play tumble-down and spread the innocent laughter of a child to the Universe.

Kishanganga Blues

A wistful 39Km drive in the curvy mountains follows the descent from Razdan Top to the cobalt water bowl. Unmindful of bumpy, snow-slashed, rutted road, it lulls me to sleep, awash in dreams of free-floating birds.
In a flash, Like a Titanic! A colossal vista of turquoise bursts upon the windscreen, making me breathless with its splendor. The vast intense blue of the Kishanganga River–envelopes and kicks me wide-awake, awe-struck, mesmerized. Emerging like an exquisite blue-sapphire studded in a ring of mountains, the road around is like longish rows of baguette diamonds, complimenting the edges of the bejeweled design.

The vast span of 245 Kms of Kishenganga joined by glacial streams is hypnotic and thence onwards the river becomes a constant companion of the road, to the first township Dawar, the ancient capital of the Dardistan, the land of the Shina speaking, Dards. Dawar is embellished uniquely by a perfectly triangular mountain called the Habba Khatoon peak. Ensconced in the Himalayas at 8000ft, in Dawar, the river having left her adolescence of tumbling- toppling-slipping journey of the mountains enters a mature phase- relatively stable, soft, and serene. (Pic added).
Many alpine springs merge, including the natural spring of Habba Khatoon, intensifying the river’s girth and might as we enter the stunning valley of Gurez spread along a part of the ancient silk route; touched on one side by Kupwara district and the other by Ladakh.
Emerging from Krishansar Lake at 12,171feet in the vicinity of Sonmarg, the Kishenganga River meanders to the Baruaab valley of Tulail in Gurez, where she meets a tributary from Drass, side-melts to enter the fertile near-flatland of Dawar. The river is lush with aquatic wealth and is rich in the famed brown and rainbow trout fish. Alongside, the entire route, the tall walls of coiled concertina razor wires remind me of being in a border area that has seen its share of shelling and bombardments during and after the turbulent Indo-Pak partition.

October Colors

Adding splendor to Gurez, the nectar of Kishanganga feeds the herbal wealth of Gurez and creates magic in October, mirroring the autumn or ‘Harud’ shades of trees and plant life in her bosom. The mountains turn to daffodil gold, tangerines, oranges, and cherry shades gradually transferring the colors of summer flowers to trees and leaves, and Gurez shyly blushes, pregnant with autumn beauty- when every leaf turns into a flower. And as the overwhelming loveliness of the mighty 245 Kms of Kishanganga charmingly unfurls the fairyland of Gurez’s peerless beauty, I feel drenched in the shower of blessings of the Divine.
Kishanganga’s frolics
From India, Kishanganga sensually jingles along the LoC, teases awhile, and enters Pakistan crossing the border in wild abandon, unfettered by man-made boundaries from Kanzalwan. It merges with the Jhelum River near the Line of Control and is rechristened in year 1956 as Neelum in Pakistan. Her exquisite blue perhaps is the reason, the river is named Neelum or the Blue Sapphire’ by Pakistan.
For Gurezis, she is their universe. True to this adage, is a scene that is unforgettable of a tiny rivulet of the mighty river being hugged and harnessed with a quaint “house-bridge” in a mountain side before it merges with the river down below, at the last Check post of Chakwali in Tulail; where the pure glacial waters can be scooped up in a cup of hands, within the house. (Pic added). The blue cap calls out -“Your eyes look mushy? “Yes!” I answer hiding the utter passion for the scenic paradise of alpine lodges covered with fir trees, with lapping blue waters below. “Do you know…?” “What?”, “Where the road moves upwards towards a South facing LoC, is a strange name- ‘Dahi Nallah’, “So?” “It’s because it’s famed for its curds”! Papa laughs heartily through the cap, at his LS joke, and as my eyes open wide joining in his laughter, he merrily exclaims –“It’s True, Its True!” And then adds “Let’s go to Khandiyal Point”! We excitedly drive through Dawar market towards a petrol bunk, turn left, up into the winding hillock road to reach a hilltop, stand on a rock, and watch the most spectacular sunset. We watch the light crawling up the mountain, turning peaks to gold. Before long, I am sandwiched in star-lights on the crown and below the feet as the city bathes itself in twinkling lights. Even as the meandering Kishanganga gushes and plays her endless -‘rock and roll’ music, I long for some blushing pink Nun Chai to complete the painting.

Pics by author who can be contacted : [email protected]

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