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   With the National Conference and Farooq Abdullah... (March 10, 1996)

With the National Conference and Farooq Abdullah returning to Kashmir, it does look like we can take a holiday in Srinagar next summr. I would like to very much.

Fly to Delhi, then take a bus to Pathankot, through Ambala, Ludhiana, past fields waving with wheat stalks, little red tractos chugging in fields and rattling along the highways, doubling as family cars. On the way, stay for a day at Amritsar, visit the Goldern Temple, drink creamy Punjabi lassi, eat at the dhabbas. Then, through Gurdaspur to Pathankot.

From Pathankot, I would like to hire a private taxi. Never mind the expences, after all, I would be visting Srinagar after 40 years and only of the second time in my life.

First through the plains to Jammu, then into the mountains, the temperature gradually dropping. I would take a night halt at Undhampur. The last time I did so, I climb up a hill and into a serai, a large room filled with dozens of families on their charpoys, children crying, women cooking, men questioning me, curious but friendly.

The following moening, in a lovely Kashmiri dawn, climb up to the Banihal Tunnel, a gaping hole in the mountainside, like a mouth with a missing tooth. And, on the other side of the tunnel, the still beautiful, though now tortured and bleeding, valley of Kashmir.

It would be descent thereafter through Chennar woods, weeping wilows lining the roads, like a guard of honour at a funeral. And, in the distance, winter snow still clining to the mountainside.

Srinagar, I understand, has not changed much. It is like any North Indian city, dirty and squalid, gutters overflowing, wet roads, damp buildings, narrow lanes that lead to suffocating little houses. And the people, dressed in many folds of musty clothes, wrapped in equally musty blankets, some of them still carrying their mobile fire.

The beauty of Srinagar is in the beholder's mind, not what he sees in the city. I have always thoughts it grossly presumptuous to compare it to Switzerland, even in a tourist brochure.

But there was a tourist side to Srinagar. Shops with the kind of odd names that you find at British seaside resorts, a sprawling maharaja's palace covered into a hotel, the Dal Lake with its shikaras and houseboats. The trouble with the houseboats is that they do not move around the lake. If your idea is to hire a houseboat and travel up and down the lake, looking for new camp sites each night, you will be disappointed.

There are, of course, places outside Srinagar, Gulmarg and Palgham, like vast mountain meadows, sheeps grazing among gold players. But I am told these have been damaged and scarred during the strife. If will take many years to bring them back to their natural glory.

And it will take many years for Farooq Abdullah to revive and restore Kashmir as a tourist destinations. On second thought, I think, I will once again go to Mahableshwar next summer.

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