Bhutan In Kashmir

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Kabita Kharka

Diary-Author-PhotoI had always heard about the beauty of Kashmir. Snow-capped mountains, lush green forests, fresh meadows and a variety of flowers is how I used to picture Kashmir. Beside this, I was also aware that Kashmir is an active conflict zone.

Before coming here I tried to find Kashmir in Google maps. I just wanted to get an idea about its geography etc. Then I clicked to check the picture of the place. But to my surprise, hundreds of pictures with men wearing Pheran popped up. The pictures included Indian army men roaming in civilian areas. There were endless pictures of common people who looked traumatized with terror. Then onwards, I started to picturize Kashmir in a way which I had never before.

However, Google could not change my decision of enrolling for a master’s program in Kashmir University. And my speculations about the place changed completely once I landed here. The heavy deployment of men in uniform and continuous strikes welcomed me during my initial days.

Being a resident of South Bhutan and having travelled the Indian border highways throughout West Bengal and Assam, it was not an unusual scenario for me.  There were many commonalities. I found myself relating my experience in Assam to that of Kashmir.

Months passed and we got into a busy schedule in the department. Soon the autumn came and trees started to shed their leaves. Chinars started glowing with its beautiful red and golden leaves. The entire area around KU was lit with golden and yellow trees. It was that time of the year when I would just sit under a tree and immerse myself in the beauty of nature.

Soon days became colder, and before the chillakalan finally arrived, we were back to our country for a month long vacation.

In Bhutan, people would stare blankly when I would tell them I am pursuing a master’s program in Kashmir University since last one year. One person asked me, “How are you even alive? Did they not shoot you?”

It was difficult to stop them from looking at Kashmir through the prism of security. It is time to break the stereotype. I thought, one has to die first to see the heaven. People need to visit Kashmir at least once to understand the place.

Author alongwith other South Asian and native students at one of their friends’ home in North Kashmir’s Sopore in summer this year.

Author alongwith other South Asian and native students at one of their friends’ home in North Kashmir’s Sopore in summer this year.

Despite such breathtaking natural beauty Kashmir’s tourism industry is suffering. There is no infrastructure for tourists. Even the basic amenities are missing. I guess 26 years of conflict has taken a toll on tourism. Media can play an important role in creating a positive image of the place. It can help in breaking the stereotypes.

In order to understand Kashmir and its people, one must visit a Kashmiri household. My visit to native friends homes is always memorable. I love the way my friends’ mothers kiss and hug me  before letting me in their homes. In my country such warmth is only shared between close family members or blood relations.

Reading books and a little research about Kashmir helped me to understand the place in a better way. I understood that Kashmir’s geographical location has made it an important link between South Asia and the Central Asia.

Many religions and sects like Shaivism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sufism flourished here without any problem.  To this day one can find Sufi shrines all over the valley, which draws millions of people throughout the year. Same way Shaivism flourished in the Valley. One can relate it with the Amarnath Yatra, which begins from the pristine valley of Pahalgam, drawing millions of Hindu pilgrims each year.

However, I was interested to understand Buddhism in Kashmir. So I travelled North to Ladakh. To my surprise when I reached Leh I found that it was just like Bhutan.

There are hundreds of Stupas, Monasteries, Goenpas, Palaces built in Tibetan architecture, by mighty Buddhist kings. The great King Kanishka (78AD-114AD) had built many temples and monasteries throughout the Indian   subcontinent including Ladakh.

Kabita Kharka, a Bhutanese, along with her other South Asian mates in Gulmarg in 2014.

Kabita Kharka (Third from right), a Bhutanese, along with her other South Asian mates in Gulmarg in 2014.

Holy Buddhist texts, scriptures and relics were carefully preserved in Leh Palace and Thiksey monastery.

Huge statues of guru Padmasambhava, Lord Buddha and many other deities, gods and goddesses are still found inside those temples. Buddhist schools are located in various parts of the city, one could hear monks praying and reciting the holy books. I was immediately taken back to my country where I would visit any monastery and sit silently for hours listening to those hymns.

After talking to locals I found out that due to religious affinity and cultural similarities Ladakhis are very warm towards Bhutanese. They circled me and started asking about Bhutan and its people.

I met a few Tibetan refugees who have now settled in Leh. They speak Tibetan fluently which I could understand almost entirely because Bhutanese also speak Dzongkha, which has basically originated from Tibetan script.

For a region which has so much to share, history, culture, religion, and language, it is very important for us to connect with each other. Though borders have divided us, one needs to have indivisible connections to link with each other. Our history, our past needs to be instilled in us and passed on to generations to come. Who would have thought I would find a mini Bhutan in Kashmir!

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