By Maham Shah

Covering a distance of 574 km was indeed a welcome to the lush green fields, fresh and juicy fruits, blooming flowers and freshness in the air that Kashmir brought with it. Kashmir is one of the most beautiful and captivating sights on the world known for its natural beauty and heavenly attributes. After getting free from First year exams, I decided to travel and explore the world of dreams! The disturbing stories of violence along the line of control has always been a bitter reality to all of us but the faith that no matter what our army is there to protect the beauty of Kashmir is an idea that soothes the mind and soul.

We were 7 of us travelling to Azaad Kashmir in September 2012 from Islamabad. With a trip of 4 days we decided to explore the maximum beauty and inhale the freshness of the air there. Travelling to Muzaffarabad which took us around 3 and a half hours, I kept thinking of all the stories relevant to Kashmir and how we have been always living with the fact that the issue of Kashmir is the most disputed issue among Indians and Pakistanis. Muzaffarabad gave a feeling of welcoming us to the other side of the world where chaos reduced and serenity took over the atmosphere. The people of Kashmir were very different from the ones we witness in our daily grind in cities. Kashmiris are very straightforward, outspoken and focused lot who struggle to earn a good living and raise their families. After having something to eat from the busy local markets of Muzaffarabad, we drove o the breathtaking place of the whole of Kahmir, the Neelam Valley. Neelum Valley is situated in the north-east of Muzaffarabad, at an elevation of around 4000 meters (13,000 ft.) above sea level. The valley is almost 144 km long bow-shaped valley in Neelam District. We visited Sharda and heard stories of the temple of goddess Sarasvati on the banks of Neelum River. The uproar of the waves of the water flowing between the both sides of the valley has a touch of calmness in it. Despite the continuous disturbance it creates, its sound has always brought a special message for the people near it which talks of peace and tranquility. One cannot disagree with the fact that Neelam Valley is a gift for the people of Kashmir as it takes you to another world where only love and happiness exist. The second most beautiful place we visited in Kashmir was Pir Chenasi which is a tourist spot located 30 km east of Muzaffarabad on the top of the hills at an elevation of 9500 ft.  it is famous for the ziarat of a famous Saint Pir. Located on top of the hills, it is a mesmerizing sight and people who love to climb up the mountains will enjoy the most.  We visited Khari Shareef which is famous for housing of sufi saints Mian Mohammad Baksh and Peer-e-Shah Ghazi. Visiting tombs and shrines requires the visitors to take off their shoes in respect of the place and I was encountered with an unfortunate yet memorable incident when I found my shoes missing when I returned back to where I had left my shoes. The shoes that were expensive and dear to me were now someone’s need and the mere thought of fulfilling someone’s dire need satisfied me. On our journey we witnessed long groups of Nomads who walked miles and miles with their sheep and goats moving from one place to the other. Carrying their basic belongings with them, the old and the children were seated on animals while the men and women lead the whole troop. They used to convey their message to their animals through a particular sound made by them which seemed quite professional and was always understood by the animals. Kashmiris had a very straightforward and realistic approach towards life, they never dream of more and are always contented with what they have believing strongly in the philosophy of returning to the creator. While our stay at Kashmir, we had a conversation with one of the lady nomad about how they manage such long travels from one place to another with family and belongings, continuously living a life of a traveler who has no permanent home. To this she responded, “When this world is a temporary place so why to make a permanent home. Food, water and few clothes is all we require. We don’t go for luxuries like you people do.” When asked about how they manage baby births in this continuously travelling scenario, her response was cold yet very realistic,” We don’t mourn deaths neither celebrate births. This is the cycle of nature that if we are born we die. If a woman is pregnant, she conceives the baby during the journey, we don’t celebrate and if someone is destined to die, we burry them in this soil. It’s the nature’s cycle, to be born from the soil and to return to the soil.”

Four day trip to Kashmir was indeed a magical experience leading to the lane of strong, fair-minded and peace loving people who even living in a state of unrest still have a positive outlook towards life that beams from their smiling faces.

Published in Young Nation magazine on September 10, 2016