Monday, April 25, 2011

I fell in love with the valley

Katra is a very famous place and one can find many pilgrims bound to Vaishneo Devi Temple here. Though I have heard a lot about Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), it is the first time that I saw and felt their presences. There were small shrines and there were the saffron flags all over the place. There were a large number of shops, both big and small selling the holy things of the Hindus. I wanted to buy rudraksha but did not want to upset the sister who was with us. I decided to try buying it from Kashmir.

It took some time for the driver to find out the hotel where we were to stay. The hotel was called Hotel Siddartha. It was a moderately big one. The receptionist did not know English and we had a very hard time trying to make him understand that we were members the tour group. Finally he handed over the key of our room. It was an ordinary air conditioned room. We spent a sleepless night as we were to find out who our guide was and who the members of our group were.

Next morning we woke up early and dressed up and with our luggage we went to the reception waiting for our guide. At 7 am he came and met us. He was a short, stout middle aged man with a paunch. He had a thick moustache and took a middle parting. He was a typical Hindiwalah who spoke Hinglish. Initially it was very difficult to understand his accent. He told us that our bus was waiting outside the gate. Jenny and I walked out of the gate and we saw the mountain ranges. I was seeing the Himalayan mountain range with my own eyes. It was ecstatic!!!!! I had learnt that Himalyan ranges were divided to the Shiwaliks, the Lesser Himalyas and the Greater Himalayas. I guessed it would be the Lesser Himalayas. I asked the guide and he was ignorant about it.

Around 8:30 am every one got into the bus. The guide introduced us as “two teachers from Kerala.” Immediately, every one wished us a “good morning”. Everyone treated us with very much respect. They had some sort of fear in talking to us. Majority of them were Brahmins and they were traveling in groups. There were two families from Chennai – two brothers and their family, a big family from Andhra Pradesh, a retired couple from Pondicherry and two little boys with their grand parents. The bus was quite full. The guide kept announcing what we were going to do the next ten days. He said we were going to take the NH 1A to reach Srinagar.

The bus stopped at a restaurant which looked alright from out. Here is the photograph of that highway restaurant.

As we got inside an equal amount of houseflies were displaced. That restaurant was covered with houseflies. Not knowing what to do, we decided to go for toast. When breakfast was served, we were waving off the flies with our left hand and eating with our right hand. I literally swallowed the food with water. Somehow it was not going down my throat. I managed to finish eating and got out off the restaurant. The entire place looked very dry.

After breakfast the womenfolk from Andhra Pradesh tried talking to us. They had a number of questions to ask us. Some of the questions are as follows:

1. “Aar you teachers?”
2. “Whaare aar ‘euyver’ husbands?”
3. ‘How many children ‘yeu’ have?”
4. “Are you not scared to travel alone?”
5. “Are you sisters?”
6. “Why yeu join at Katra?”
7. “Yeu went to Vaishaneo Devi for Darshan,ah?”
8. “Why you not go, there?”
It seems that they were told that we were joining them after our darshan at Vaishneo Devi Temple. When we told them that we were Christians, they were shocked. After that the Andhra women kept away from us. Their husbands were friendly to us and the women did not encourage their friendliness.

Again the journey started. As we were going uphill, the scenery was wonderful. We were told that there would be a military convoy to follow our bus once we were nearing the Kashmir Valley. The bus had to stop for over two hours waiting for the military convoy

On the highway there were a number of vehicles of the army and CRPF jawans patrolling. The long winding roads, the mountain terrain, the gorges, the fir and pine trees were breath taking. In fact seeing the Himalyan mountain range was memorable.

I remember my Geography teacher in school telling us that the Himalayas were Fold Mountains. Now, I know what a Fold mountain is. I felt really happy.

The journey was not very pleasant as many started vomiting. The women in front could throw up and soon start eating again. Their men were there to make a big fuss and would ask the driver to switch off the A/C. The stench in the bus made other passengers also throw up. This continued for days together.

We crossed the Jawahar Tunnel or the Banihal Pass. It is a 2.5 kms long tunnel which was dug in 1959 and it connects Kashmir with the rest of the world. It is dug through the Pir Pangal Mountain. As we entered there was a board welcoming us to the Kashmir valley. We had finally entered the Kasmir Valley. Our bus stopped for tea at the Titanic View Point. One can see the snow clad mountains from far and tourists are not allowed at to this region. We took photographs at this place.

We got to see the Kashmiris. The men were handsome and the women beautiful.

We reached Srinagar at 7pm. It was not cold as we had expected. It was only cool. We stayed at an ordinary hotel. I felt insecure at that place. They did not serve food there. We had to go out to other hotels for food. The restaurant near our hotel was a small place and was not clean. We had mulli paratha (radish paratha) with dahi (curd). I found a telephone booth opposite to our hotel. The owner was a typical handsome Kashmiri and asked us how we liked the place. I told him that I had fallen in love with the valley. He told us that it was the media who created the entire problem in Kashmir. Actually there were no many problems in the valley. There are problems like in any other state but the media exaggerated the problems in Kashmir. He was a very friendly man.

After dinner we went back to our rooms. Our Guide told us that we were to be ready by 9am the next morning as we had to go sight seeing. As we were very tired we went off to sleep early.
(To be contd.....)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My trip to Jammu & Kashmir

Ever since I started learning about the Himalayas and about Jammu and Kashmir and after seeing pictures of snow clad mountains, of wonderful gardens and beautiful people I wanted to visit Kashmir very badly. My husband always discouraged me saying that there was terrorism and our lives were at risk. Once we had planned to go there and at the last minute my husband backed out. I was thoroughly disappointed. I was sharing my sorrow with a friend of mine. She came up with the idea, “Hey Xina, why not we go there the next summer vacation????”

I readily agreed to it and actually I forgot about it until January. In January my friend, Jenny asked, “Shouldn’t we book our tickets for the journey????”

“Journey????? Which journey?????”

“Did you forget?????? Our Kashmir trip….”

“Oh yessss…” replied I

I told my husband about it and he did not object to my going to Kashmir with Jenny. Jenny is older to me by eight years and it was just three years since I got to know her well. She is my co-worker. I got close to her as we were of the same wave length and she knew good English. (Teachers who know how to speak good and correct English are a rare breed in our management).

Jenny and I made elaborate arrangements for the trip. We went to a travel agency and decided to arrange our trip with them. The trip was to start from New Delhi. It would take two days by bus from Delhi to Kashmir. They said that they would halt at Katra the first night which was close to Jammu. We decided to join the group from Katra. We booked our tickets for the Rajadhani Express up to Delhi. From there we had to catch the evening train, again the Rajadhani Express. According to the tour operator we had to carry heavy woolen clothing, shoes, socks, umbrella and so on for the journey. We went together for shopping. We were highly excited about it. We did raise many eyebrows when people heard we were going alone to Kashmir.

The D-Day had come and in the evening we boarded the Rajadhani Express bound to Nizamuddin. There were just two other men in our compartment. The first night we kept aloof from the other two co-passengers. It was only the next day that we started talking to them. One was an Air Force personnel and the other a journalist working in CNN. The journey in the train was okay. There were mainly two problems I faced – one, the catering staff knew only Hindi and I could not manage with them with my broken Hindi, and two, I am a coffee addict and they were not willing to serve coffee often in spite of offering them extra money. I was waiting for the journey to end as I wanted to breathe some fresh air.

After the 42 hrs journey I felt happy to get out. Once I was out of the train I wanted to get back into it as it was very warm and the air was not one bit fresh. It was a mixed smell of sweat, dirt and human excreta. I told Jenny that we should leave Nizamuddin as soon as possible if not, we could fall sick. We came out of the Nizamuddin station and there were cycle rickshaws. I never knew that it still existed!!! We took an auto rickshaw to the Delhi station. We passed across the India Gate and through many big roads and finally we reached the railway station. We were all ready to relax cosily in the air conditioned waiting room until evening.

The upper class waiting room was overflowing with people. The air conditioner was not powerful enough to cool the hundreds of people inside the room. There were people all over the place. There were no vacant chairs. Leave alone the chairs; there was not even space to walk. People were all over the floor squatting, sitting with their legs stretched out; while there were others sleeping on the floor with their heads rested on suitcases or bags. Jenny and I had to wait for an hour or two before we got a place to rest our bottoms. I am the type of person, who loves watching people. In the waiting room I was sick of looking at people. I could not enjoy that sort of a crowd with people from various backgrounds touching you every now and then when they walked past you. I cannot tolerate when people touch me especially outsiders. There was the smell of fruits, pan parag and all those intoxicating stuff. I wanted to get out from there. Over that, being in Delhi means one has to be extremely careful about other people and watch out for unidentified luggage. One can never know when a bomb could blast.

The most disturbing sight at the railway station was the beggars. I had gone to the railway canteen to buy lunch. After lunch as I was leaving my plate at the counter some wet hand pushed me and grabbed my plate. He was a filthy, sweaty man who gobbled down the left over from the plate. Though my immediate reaction was a big “tchee’, I saw the real face of poverty. I took a tissue to wipe off his sweat, straight went to the wash to clean my hands. Even when India boasts of great economic development, there were still many who were living on the left over of others.

The seven hours wait at the railway station were like seven years. Our next train reached platform no 1 and we boarded the Rajadhani Express to Jammu. Dinner was served immediately. Again my Hindi became a problem. I wanted salt and I kept asking the attendant that I wanted “namkeen”. He gave me the queerest look and walked off. Again I called for him and asked him for “namkeen” and he told me something in strange Hindi which I did not understand. Finally a co-passenger told me in English, “It is not namkeen, it is namak.” He told the attendant to bring a sachet of salt for me. Soon after dinner, I went off to sleep.

When I woke up in the morning, we were already in the Jammu & Kashmir state. The state looked very dry with no much vegetation.

. I tried calling home and it was in vain. One of the passengers told me that pre-paid connections were not allowed in Jammu & Kashmir. It was a big blow. I had taken my two phones….one with BSNL connection and the other with an IDEA connection. It meant for 10days it would be difficult to keep in touch with my family. I felt handicapped without a phone. I started getting restless. Jenny consoled me saying that I could se her phone as she a post-paid connection.

At the station, Jenny’s friend, a nun waited for us. She was the Principal of a school in Jammu. I saw policemen and soldiers all over the station. For a minute my mind went blank. Fear seized me. Did we make a mistake traveling with no male escort????? Then I thought in the positive….We had come from the southern tip to the northern most state and we should fulfill our dreams of seeing Kashmir. If worst comes to worst we could be killed in some blast or shoot out at some encounter. I didn’t mind dying but I did not want to be alive with my flesh ripped off from parts of my body to expose my bones. My thoughts kept wandering wild until the driver started the car. The people were different. They were good looking people – both men and women. The women were colourful. They wore many bangles and chains of various hues. There were flowers in front of every house, be it a bungalow or a hut and on the sides of the road.

The convent were we stayed was situated in a village. It was an hour journey from the railway station. As the car entered the convent gate, around six sisters came to greet us. They were warm people. One sister served us tea and asked us to freshen up before breakfast was served.

There is a community health centre and a school attached to this convent.

There were patients in the hospital. They gaped at us as though we were the aliens from outer space. I tried talking to them with my broken Hindi and they did not understand. The nun there told me that they understood only Dogri. So my communication with them was limited to smiles and gestures.

The sister took us to her school. The children were so cute. Sister introduced us as “two teachers who came from the southern most state to see and learn about the northern most state”. The children were very friendly. They spoke to us freely. They were so sweet that they even invited us to share their lunch with them. They had a number of genuine questions to ask us. They wanted to know which language we spoke, what we ate, how were the students in Kerala, did we teach the students in Hindi or in our mother tongue and so on. When they heard we were going to Katra that evening, they wanted to know if we were gong to Vaishneo Devi Temple. One girl spoke eloquently on her the trip to the temple and she added, “Aunty, you have to go there. It is a beautiful place.” We also met their teachers and spoke to them.

That evening, Sr. Principal took us to Katra.

On our way to Katra she took us to the Bishop’s Home in Jammu. There was a nice church in the Bishop’s House. As Jenny is a very religious person, we spent some time in the church. I was busy photographing the nice interiors of the church. We met a few priests there and had tea with them.

On the way we stopped at another convent as there were malayalee nuns there and they invited us over for dinner. The sisters there took us to the Talwar falls which is supposed to be a tourist spot. There was hardly any waterfall other than a small trickle.

After dinner we thanked the sisters at the convent and left for Katra.
( To be contd…..)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Someone please help


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Who will bell those cats?????

My alma mater, a college near the Trivandrum airport was a different place in the 80’s. It was a hip college where latest trends in fashion were displayed. The teachers were sincere and the knowledge I derived from them is unforgettable. The Principal then was a nun and she had a strong personality which students respected. She always had a cheerful disposition and I loved it. The memories of my dear college were fondly cherished until last year.

In May 2010, I went there and the atmosphere was completely different. The college office looked the same but the surroundings looked different. The attitude of the nuns was very disappointing. They were extremely sweet to well-dressed people whereas they were rude to the lower strata of the society. The Principal was a layperson. She was very different from the Principal of my times. She was not at all a pleasing personality. In fact she was a multi-faced person who could be very sweet at one moment and a devil in disguise in another moment. She can sugar-coat her words and try to mislead people. If you pointed out a mistake she can tell you very innocently that she did not know how to do things. I strongly feel that she is a misfit for that chair. (Wonder how she was appointed to that post!!!!!!). After all sisters want a puppet to dance to their tunes and she is indeed a puppet

I never remember the college authorities extracting money during our times. But these days the authorities are after money. They have different ways to extract money.

1) For attesting certificates a sum of money is taken. I think it is Rs.10. Why do they need this money??????? Are they charging for the ink??????
2)If students have to get their hall tickets again the students have to pay Rs.10…this is for the print out.
3) A common breakage fine of Rs.70 is charged from each and every student. No receipts are given for this. So it is a clear indication of black money or unaccounted money.
4) A certain sum of money was collected for the Youth Festival.
5) Catholic students have to pay a fine of Rs.125 for not attending 2 days of retreat. The sum is higher if the student did not attend for three days!!!!

A retreat was conducted for the Catholic students sometime in October or November 2010. It happened that particular morning the collector had declared holidays for students of all educational institutions due to incessant rains. Many students did not attend the retreat. The person who had come for conducting the retreat asked the students how many of them had come without any compulsion and only two students raised their hands. In that case….why is these nuns conducting retreats??????? Do they think that these young women over 18years will turn to a new leaf???????

Religion shouldn’t be forced into children. If Catholics are turning away from the religion it is mainly because the attitude of the nuns and priests. Aren’t we hearing about the stories of lust, murder and greed of many nuns and priests??????? If students turn away, I will blame it on the college authorities itself. They themselves are a very bad example to the students. They treat students like dirt. They seem to be above all rules of man and God…… Money is needed for the day to day expenses, but their avarice is sickening!!!!!! Nothing should be forced into the young minds. I strongly believe in that.
If they don’t conduct retreats, how can they collect excess money, right???????

A common fine for all students is charged every year. Isn’t that very unfair??????? Not a single soul will dare to retaliate and the authorities know that. If not, how are those parents giving money to children every time these people ask for money?????? No receipts are issued for all these collections!!!!! I think the Income Tax Department should conduct raids on all their institutions and then they will know the amount of unaccounted money in many religious institutions.

There are many illiterate people who still hold these nuns in a high pedestal and they think that they will be punished (by God) if they dare to protest against any injustice. The politicians will not dare to protest because they survive on religious votes. Taking advantage of this situation the authorities act like dictators. This dictatorship has to end. The question is who will bell those cats??????