My husband’s birthday gift to me, last year was a short trip to Kashmir, which included a bit of fishing for himself. We went mid September and though brief, it is on my list of special holidays. Our first time in Kashmir, we were very excited and a little apprehensive as we planned the trip based on comments, suggestions and advise given to us by well wishers.
A friend suggested we go to Sonamarg, the last major point in the Kashmir valley before the Zoji La pass into Ladakh for trout fishing instead of Pahalgam.
‘Golden Meadow’ the literal translation of the name, Sonamarg and finding via the internet a small boutique hotel, Rah villas clinched the deal. Kashmir was every thing I expected it to be and some more. … beautiful countryside framed by the hills, scenic little villages along the Sind river dotted with apple and walnut trees, warm friendly great looking people and a dreamlike atmosphere that lead the Mughal emperor, Jahangir to describe the place as paradise on earth.
I was quite surprised to see Paddy fields at such high altitudes, lack of cinema halls and after rambling about the quaint village near the hotel, grudgingly admitted to myself that charming as village life might be , its a lot of hard work, better to be a tourist and enjoy it for a little while.
Naranag was recommended for fishing and it lies in the foothills of Pir Panjal range. At the base, there are remains of an ancient temple built with large granite blocks. The monument looks fascinating with huge rock blocks resting over each other and is believed to be dedicated to Shiva. In the nearby area is a small village. There is a stream that flows besides the monuments, fed by glaciers .
A young Gujjar boy was hired to help locate the deep pools and as the avid fisherman cast his rod, I started to wander around admiring the old trees and taking pictures of interesting lichen patterns that had formed on the rocks. The beauty of Naranag lies in the fact that it is desolate, there is tranquility and even the murmur of stream vanishes at many places.The mountains are uninhabited, except for the local tribes called Gujjars who take their cattle to graze on the terraces. Their houses, built with mud and pine wood, jut out from the hills.
After an hour of us being there, the clouds gathered and rain hammered down. Within minutes we were soaked, chilled to our bones hurdled around a walnut tree.The boy with us indicated that we better get to one of the Gujjar huts that we passed by on our way down to the river, the rain showed no signs of slowing down.
We gladly gathered all our stuff and ran up behind him into the small hut which was divided in two parts, one for the family and other to keep cattle.
There were some Gujjar men bunched around a hookah , also seeking shelter from the rain. The owner of the Kotha , as these huts are called was sitting with her little daughter near a small wood fire boiling water in a saucepan. She made us some namkin chai ( black tea with salt added) and really soft tasty rotis.
Initially when we came in , we had our back s against the walls of the hut and slowly started moving towards the fire. We were there for about two hours, as no one wanted to leave the cosy warmth of the hut and dash all the way towards the car.
I looked around the room which was bare except for a few vessels around the fire and bedding rolled up in a corner. By now her son too had joined us and the kids were playing with their three pitiful little toys. I couldn’t help thinking of all the toys and games that my kids had to play with and the numerous gifts they were always getting from our friends.
Soon we all started conversing with each other, the Gujjars were equally curious about us as we were of them. Where we were from? What we thought of Kashmir? Why we had such small kids? Best season for fishing in Kashmir, etc.
“These Kothas have always been a part of our lives, If we would stay in the valley during this season then we would have lost our cattle, as there is no grass left there. The atmosphere is also pleasant here and we are happy staying here during this season,We only move down to the village for the winter months” said our hostess. Her husband along with a few others had taken their livestock high up into the hills crossing the range via the pass to fresher meadows that lay beyond.
This tradition of practicing the migratory live stock rearing as been passed down generations and can be traced back to Aryans of Central Asia who moved to the Himalayas around 1500BC.
Unfortunately Arvind recently broke his fly fishing rod while helping a friend unlock his car, so the next fishing trip will be a while away.