Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kashmir | Heaven on Earth

Fascinating and indecipherable, frail and forgotten, Kashmir is in danger of becoming a literary cliché, the projection of glowing descriptions of the books more and more blurred in the memory of the passengers. The winds of war do not help to reassure those who wish to return and discourage attacks on the remaining applicants. All this has led to a steep fall in foreign tourism, for some years virtually disappeared, and a substantial reduction of the Indian. But the written word betrays always the case and no narration fails to describe fully the seduction of a residence in the northern Indian state.

Along the road from Srinagar to Delhi brings you cross the northern Indian plains, vast expanses burned brown by the summer sun, then the rich farmlands of the Punjab, where vegetation does not even wilted under the scorching sun. The highest mountains are sights for the first time after the passage of Banihal, where it passes into what is perhaps the only existing road tunnel in India. The landscape changes dramatically immediately after the step, unfolding like a huge carpet of green and gold in a regular checkerboard of fields and meadows separated by a glittering network of ditches and waterways: the Valley of Kashmir.

From an administrative standpoint, the Valley is part of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir that rises in terraces on the plains up to include mountains, valleys and plateaus. To the south, the foothills, lies the district of Jammu. In the northeast tower instead of the peaks of the great Himalayas, which contain the wild beauty of Ladakh. For most people, however, coincides with the Kashmir Valley with the same name, surrounded by a magnificent amphitheater of mountains.

The Jammu & Kashmir was created recently by the union of various ethnic, linguistic and religious. As the Muslim-majority Kashmir, some of these groups have sought independence or union with Pakistan. For the minority of fundamentalist terrorism is the political tool to eliminate or remove all minorities who do not wish to break with India. There are several Muslim groups in the field, each of which pursues its objective, although not all have chosen violence as a means of struggle. It would be wrong to refer to events in Kashmir as a freedom struggle.
Similar to the Chinese shadow theater, understanding the recent events requires a deep knowledge of history, combined with a considerable dose of imagination. In this tragedy, the main actors are the governments of India and Pakistan along with some factions of the Muslim Kashmir Valley. The roles of Indian and Pakistani governments are quite clear. The Indian government is demanding the restitution of that portion of territory now under the control of Pakistan, but Nehru and successive governments have hinted that they would, alternatively, willing to accept the current cease-fire line as the international boundary. For its part, Pakistan would like the entire valley of Kashmir because it has a Muslim majority. The reason seems reasonable, because Pakistan itself broke away from India in 1947 preserving the Muslim regions. But in light of its wealth and established tourism industry in Kashmir this claim reveals other, more prosaic interests. India and Pakistan have fought four wars for control of the Valley: In the first, the struggle was limited to Kashmir. The second turned into a general war. The third began in the eastern part of Pakistan but was then extended to the whole Kashmir. The most recent war was fought by proxy through agents infiltrated Pakistan, started in 1989 and is still continuing.

Srinagar, the "happy city of beauty and knowledge," despite the current disputes and the consequent political instability, has been for centuries one of the most important cultural and philosophical Asia. The mountain passes through which they entered the invading armies were used both for winning and for businesses. From the high mountain passes came not just silk and spices but also new ideas. Srinagar stood at the crossroads of major trade routes between India, Central Asia and China, opening the Kashmir influences Greek, Persian, Tibetan and Chinese, as well as to those from the Indian subcontinent. The result is what made it unique Kashmir.

But there is much more, starting with the landscape: a lush valley carved by rivers and dotted with lakes at the foot of wooded regions in turn enclosed by ice-capped mountains. The unusual variety of trees, flowers and fruit from the Himalayas to china cedar poplar. The pale pink of almond blossoms in the spring. The lotus flowers that bloom in the warmth of late summer. Cherries, as precious stones, shining purple within wooden boxes. The cultivation of saffron Pampore that, in autumn, spread as far as the eye can see. And then there is the wealth of handicrafts, such as to evoke delicate tactile sensations: the feeling of softness of the famous shawls tush wool pashmina that slip through your fingers like butter, and the waxy smoothness of the boards of walnut , manufactures of paper, rough to the touch but beautiful to behold, and the violent contrast between the rough texture of numdah and the softness of a rug with thick knots. And then the food: lotus stalks curry, spicy vegetables and karam sag, fried pork chops, mutton cooked in yogurt sauce and spices, finely minced meat balls cooked in creamy sauce of cardamom, milk and broth, all mandate down with the help of cups of Kahwa, tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. And finally, the people, a mixture of races and religions by the Aryans to the Scythians to the Mongols. The beautiful melodious sound of the Kashmiri language. Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, faces and images closer to Central Asia to the plains of India. 'S plenty of historical evidence, the sober majesty of the temple of the sun at Martand, the formal elegance of Mughal gardens. These are the main attractions of Kashmir in India, there are other places that have some, but only in Kashmir and there are all these threads are woven with the experience of a journey through the Valley.

The creation Kashmir, wrapped in an aura of fantasy and mystery, is described by a legend. At one time, the Valley was a vast lake, deep as the sky "and playground for the gods.  But it was targeted by a demon that destroyed, looted the people who lived on the banks. In desperation, the people appealed to the saint Kashyap it will save them, things which he did by creating a depression west of the lake that emptied its waters. The demon was killed and the Valley was called Kasyapa, or Kashmir, in honor of his savior. Although it may seem strange, paleontologists have discovered at great heights in Kashmir fossils of corals and other marine animals.
Water is at the heart of the Valley of Kashmir, almost as important as faith. He hears the sound everywhere, given the abundance of springs, rivers and lakes. The Kashmiri word nag means snake that is the source: in ancient times, in fact, the worship of the serpent was practiced in the vicinity of the sources. The Kashmiris are a people of water in a mountainous country, completely free of cost. The waterways offer easier access roads to traffic and communications in a land of mountains made for one third and one-third of water. The main one is the Jhelum, the ancient legend Vitasta, whose waters were, from time to time, bearers of prosperity or disastrous floods.

One of the sources of the Jhelum is the charming source of Verinag in south-east of the valley. The Mughal emperor, Jahangir, built a garden around it at the top over the avenues of china. Originates from a deep octagonal pool the river that bends in a meandering arc from southeast to northwest. The Jhelum is navigable for almost 160 kilometers, starting from its eastern extremity of Anantnag, the addition of saffron fields of Pampore. The course runs right in the heart of Srinagar with a curved "S" upside down, then poured into the lake Wular and from there to the western terminus is located just before Baramula. The river, its tributaries and canals are alive, crossed by vessels of Hanjis, which have a lineage to Noah himself. Given their skills in boat building, this claim may well be true. The local boats include bahatch, a barge from the bow raised capable of carrying heavy loads, and Doong, smaller than the bahatch, a sort of aquatic dwelling made of woven reeds. The shikara, fine-looking boat gondola, is known for its use as a taxi across the lake from the float. But the most famous ship of all is the 'houseboat, the houseboat that serves as a hotel for most of the tourists visiting Srinagar.

The houseboat was the British response to an edict of the governor of Dogra that no foreigner could own property in Kashmir. Made of cedar season, the first houseboat were small and very mobile. They used to escape the summer heat of Srinagar making tow down the river into the lake Wular, at 'shade of Chinar trees. The hunting season began in the bright autumn days and lasted throughout the winter, when it opened the duck hunting in the reed beds of lakes and Wular Manasbal. The houseboat moored also Shadipur and even further down the river, up to Bandipur, from which we could send in the mountain forests for hunting bear.

Modern houseboats are too large to allow for such ease of movement. Are visible along the banks of the Dal and Nagin lakes, moored in a long irregular line, ranging from the sumptuous-looking and battered, though the basic shape is the same. A veranda protrudes above the aft keel large square and leads into a living room decorated with furniture made of walnut and inlaid carpet fabulous. Going beyond is the dining room, and still later, a corridor leading to the bedrooms. At a certain distance of the boat's cook, the source of all meals. The luxury houseboat are used to show off large quantities of wool embroidery, tapestry and richly carved furniture. Paradoxically, the style does not affect the warmth of hospitality and there is no experience comparable to stay in a houseboat.


Dell'houseboat part of the magic lies in the simple fact of being on the water and the resulting views of the lake and mountains. The stern is raised is the best place to taste the delicate and changing
bright shades of sunrise and sunset, admiring the birds gliding on the water surface. Shopping, as inevitable as day and night, reached the houseboat as a shikara loaded with goods and flowers. The Pasdaran craft lures with a simple and compelling strategy, pounding up the victory (or nausea), "Look only! Do not have to buy anything, but you'll make a special price" and the depth of the boats pull out shawls, silks, carpets , boxes of walnut wood or papier brilliant enamel.

The best way to approach is to climb on a Srinagar Shikara and track through the heart of the city across the canals adorned with shady willows, even under the old bridges on Jhelum. At first glance, the interior of the city has a ghostly appearance. The houses of mud bricks and wood and some protruding on the banks they look so dilapidated that seem about to crumble at any moment. Others are actually propped up by squat wooden pillars, cracked and covered with moss. But the impression of decay and disorder goes away hand in hand with the appearance of life. The river is a place where people live on, like the banks. Scores of boats are moored to the poles, as emerging from the mooring posts that dot the lagoon of Venice. The women sit in the bow, grinding grain or calling out. Like any major road at regular intervals the river is dotted with stairs giving access to a labyrinth of narrow alleys behind so connected to the streets to give rise to a steady flow of water and land activities. Grouped near the banks rise houses, shops, schools, places of work and worship: a diversity that is based on the same connective tissue. The hanging gardens and orchards on the fall river to touch the water and windows carved or trellis adds a touch of color. After an hour on the river, you realize that the ugliest buildings are just the modern, anonymous assembled with reinforced concrete and sheltered by a roof of galvanized sheet steel beam.


If the space on the lakefront is the privilege of a few, not so at the Mughal gardens of Shalimar, Nishat and Chashma Shahi. Here is all the splendor of royal Srinagar, where the imperial passion for creating gardens is enhanced by the beautiful views offered by the lake and mountains in the background. Shalimar The park is surrounded by an aura of peacefulness and relaxation. The regular rows of fountains and trees seem to recede towards the snowcapped mountains behind. On Sunday, the children play with water, by colorful balloons dance on the jets of the fountains between the chagrin of the surly caretaker. The garden is the focal point of Nero airy Pavilion, located at the rear of the highest of three terraces, graceful lines of which were designed for the delectation of the ladies of the court. If Shalimar is regal, Nishat has a theatrical aspect, with its flower gardens, ancient trees, the iridescent waters bubbling fountains in the carved gargoyles. The twelve zodiac signs that represent as many terraces in a gradual descent seem to merge with the lake.

The bridges on Jhelum are a point of view of Srinagar, the gardens another. But UNAVIA overview of the entire city, the better the Shankaracharya hill, also called takhi-I-Solaiman, the throne of Soliman. From here, you can take in the eye and the valley delJhelum mirarne the tortuous course. In the distance, the snow chain of the Pir Panjal shine with a pure white against the blue sky and south-east you can admire the hill overlooking Anantnag, where the clear waters of the rivers flow into the beginning of his simmering in the Jhelum navigable course. Further downstream stretches Srinagar nestled between the Dal and Nagin lakes with us assembled the houses, the sanctuaries (including the so-called "Tomb of Jesus Christ") and ancient mosques.

The view from the "Throne of Suleiman recalls that the landscape is dominated by the Kashmir valleys, lakes and mountains. Hidden from view are the waters of Wular of Manasbal and lakes Gandarbal. Far away across the wide valley where the heart is Srinagar, is the valley of Liddar whose upper end there is the mountain resort of Pahalgam, the starting point of a long and difficult path leading to the Hindu shrine of Amarnath. This pilgrimage attracts thousands of devotees every year. Another road leads to the peak of his form with Kolahoi sharp needle and the vast glacier below. In the north-west of the valley opens Lolab, a crescent-shaped plain populated by forests of cedars and pines and dotted with pale sorrel and violets. The Sindh Valley is on the road in Ladakh and its lush forests are similar to those that once roamed our Alps: a living monument to what we have lost.

Going up the sides of the valley are the pastures, vast expanses of meadows called marginal. The most prominent among these is Gulmarg, the "Prato Fiorito, a circular recess, which dominates the main valley of Kashmir. From Gulmarg a ski lift that part in a thousand feet of steep slope above the pine forest leads to the pastures. A few miles beyond, through meadows, forests and ridges, you will reach the snowy slopes of Khillanmarg. On a clear day, the view from the meadows of Gulmarg are superb: the hills blend with the valley of rice fields and walnut groves and bushes of wild blackberries. In the distance, the sun shines on the zinc roofs of Srinagar. With a little luck, to the north, the view sweeps over the great mountains of the Himalayas up to the highest peak of Nanga Parbat, which stands free and clear across the entire length of the Valley, more than one hundred kilometers away. Through the Valley, almost diagonally, is Sonamarg, the 'Meadow of Gold "at the point where the river Sindh plunges headlong into a ravine. Sonamarg is a narrow strip of grassy plains and embellished with stars and surrounded by huge mountain peaks on which the sides hanging glaciers shine. The sides of the mountains are covered with great forests of silver fir, sycamore and birch: it is one of the last outposts of unspoilt nature and magnificent. In less than thirty miles away is the step Zoji-La, the dividing line between Kashmir and Ladakh, beyond which lies a totally different world. But this is another trip.

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