Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A different Sun shines across the Jawahar Tunnel

A different Sun shines across the Jawahar Tunnel
“If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here”.
We had heard this about the valley since childhood. I had mustered courage to visit the place of my fancied subdued dreams. (Under disguise to fulfill my family’s wish…) (the untold truth) I had tried and made bookings of everything that was in Kashmir as per my dreams developed through bollywood oldies. We had hired taxi from Katra and reached Srinagar to stay in a house boat in Dal Lake.

                                                  house boat
(House Boat in Dal Lake)
A row of houses built on big boats planked on the bank appeared. The driver stopped the car on one side and went down to one of such boats and knocked. An old man wearing the long overcoat – “phiran” came out and spoke something in dogri – a confirmation, I could gather through the face movement.
He came straight to us and greeted in Hindi with a broad smile. A beautifully decorated living room followed by well wall to wall woodworked bedroom.
We settled down. But soon the chill of the city started taking its toll. Apoorva, my son, started shivering. Richa, my better half, too pulled out coats and shawls. Before we could think any further – a lady in bright Kashmiri dress came in with hot water bag and Kangri, as if they knew that we were waiting for it.
She asked for menu of food.
The whole family seemed to be pressed in the service. (a true hospitality)
We were lost in the paradise. To add to it, the snow started falling. The glass window offered a magnificent viewing - the flakes of ice falling. Our first encounter with snowfall was a dream, come true. We walked out to the edge of the boat to feel the same, but could not stay for more than 2 mins. It was really chilling. I wondered how Kapoors used to dance in this. We rushed in and it took hours for our blood to move in veins again.
We got up early the next day and stepped out. The whole area was painted white. We couldn’t waste time sitting in house boat – so our first destination for today – Gulmarg. We moved out.
The car moved through the lanes. We could see only two groups along the road engrossed in their own discussions all along. Either the military or the residents draped in the long robe with a protruding belly. On tracking further carefully I could see more army men positioned strategically. A mysterious hush enveloped the city movement.
Apoorva wanted to have some chocolates.
I asked the driver to stop.
“Nahin Shab, Yahan pata nahin lagta kaun sahi hai kaum galat”. We would stop only were all tourists are stopping. ( I could hardly see any)
I looked at Richa. My doubts were seconded. Every group now appeared poking there eyes on us, suspicious & interrogating. The protruding of Phiran on the belly raised a thousand questions in our mind – (though it was mainly due to the Kangri which they kept to keep themselves warm). The atmosphere appeared morose, the bliss subdued.
We kept mum looking at each other. Our hand clasped each other’s. We made Apoorva sit in between us. Ecstasy gone …….  
(The Naked Truth. For a tourist the paradise is lost)
We moved silently to our destination. Stopped were others rested, ate were others camped, till we reached Gulmarg.
The place told for itself again.
A white sheet covered all, so soothing, so pure, so enlightening.

We forgot all and rushed towards the calling.
We walked on the ski, played with the snow, adorned the sledge and …..
The snow was warm, the aroma lucid. The sloping edge, the piercing leaves… all appeared pure and livid. We enjoyed the Strawberry field, the Shikara in Dal Lake, the handicraft shops along the lake, the beauty in Jawahar Park. It was really a paradise … it seemed. (An Eternal Truth .. Kashmir IS A scenic paradise and is ALWAYS inviting) but could not gain courage to stay in the house boat all alone now with the uncertain eyes around.
(The Shikaras in Dal Lake)
We shifted to hotel instead. At least we would be among the tourist, we solaced each other.
We felt safe and spent the next night in hotel room. But next day there was more to come. The TV said – the link to the valley is cut. It had snowed again the whole night. The road to Jawahar tunnel was blocked. Jawahar Tunnel, one of the longest tunnel-road in Asia, links Jammu to Kashmir Valley. This architectural marvel built at Banihal at a height of 2194 m and is 2825 m. long. This metal-road-tunnel through the heart of the mountain provided life to the valley and made possible to stay in touch with Srinagar even during winters – was blocked. And such blockades were san die.
All channels …. talked about this and only this. They had the breaking news. We stayed glued to the idiot box - hoping against hope the route would be cleared. Nothing appeared to excite us now. We talked to every taxi stopping at our hotel – if they had any better news. Nothing could be made out for certain. I could not stay any longer. Mobile had stopped working. No way to inform further….
Only solace - the sky was clear today. We decided to tackle the situation as per se en-route. We left the Paradise. Hardly had we left the city limit, saw barricades. Vehicles coming from the other side gave rays of hope. We waited - army and the “robed” gazing constantly adding to the discomfort. The wait would never end. It was 2.00 pm, I moved and enquired. Long queue of Cars and Trucks stood separately.
Cops tried to explain to us, “It would not be safe to go further. One of the two tunnels was still blocked. They are letting traffic from one side for a day. It would not be possible for us to go for two days as tomorrow happens to be normal day for incoming through the tunnel or till the other tunnel is opened”.
He gave the driver a good scold as if he was supposed to know all this as a routine event of this valley city.
We discussed again.
“There is a shorter route to Qazigunda (about 5 kms) from Jawahar Tunnel”, he said.
-“If we reach there and the route gets cleared we may get a chance to move out from tunnel today itself.” 
We had no other choice. I didn’t want to stay any further here. I wanted to reach the tunnel and stay near it, so that I could pass through as soon as it opened. All the euphoria of the Paradise was gone by now. The whole family was looking towards me as if I was a connoisseur to handle such situation. We moved through the link road. I had a sigh of relief seeing there were many others moving on this road - perhaps with the same idea. The car jumped and bumped. It was a road only to link, more of pot holes and grabbles than the pitch. By 5.00 pm Qazigunda approached and we passed by the small market. It was dusk, too. It seemed our fate was good. We continued moving. Hardly another km. and there was the long line again.
“May be a small jam”, my self-consoling thought.
But then some drivers appeared rushing in, shouting “wapas chalo” The police is coming.
- A bolt from the blue.
Some police vans were approaching, scolding the drivers to bring the tourist to this spot, knowing it would not be possible to pass through the tunnel today. We would be required to go back to Srinagar.
No point to ponder. 4 to 5 hrs and the link road, I was confused.
The driver turned the car and reached Qazigunda in flash. Advised to take a room here and spend the night as it would not be possible to reach to the city as it was dark.
But I was late in this, too. There were only a few shabby motels that too occupied. Families had been returning from the tunnel and taking the recourse here. I some how pleaded and managed to get one small room (8x8 with a charpai in it ) that too at an exorbitant 1000 bucks, above a restaurant. This opportuned us to avoid the choice of spending the chilling night in the car with all around people in long robes – belly protruding, talking in hush, gazing eyes, enquiring always. We put the cover around the three of us and slept. Our ears parked on the road to read the movement of the vehicles to start.
We got awake … there were sound of vehicles movement outside. The dark gave way and dawn approached. It was hardly 5:00. The driver was already waiting. We moved and reached again to a queue in waiting .The vehicles had started parking outside the tunnel since 5.00. But the tunnel opens only at 8.00, we came to know. This wait was bearable for us. We waited for the clock to strike 8:00. The sky was overcast. The valley still chilled.

(The inside of the Jawahar Tunnel)
The queue started moving and we entered the tunnel. In a few minutes we could see daylight across the tunnel. We crossed the tunnel.
(The world on the other side of Jawahar Tunnel)
A bright sun was spreading its warmth on the terrain outside. No overcast. No chill. A welcome sunshine it appeared. A different sun-shined across the Jawahar tunnel, I realized. A life flourished – with no long robe, no fearful eyes, no distrust heart or querying mind. (The humane paradise still needs to be established in the Scenic paradise.) (A wishful truth)

Aditya Sinha

Originally posted on My page on Sulekha about five years back :http://travel.sulekha.com/a-different-sun-shines-across-the-jawahar-tunnel_travelogue_3893

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