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Zanskar Yatra - Part 1 (Srinagar - Lal Chowk)

Talked and planned over mails and phone-calls, I reached Srinagar a day before Dheeraj and company. I was expecting a VIP welcome at airport by a drive holding a ply card for me, as a friend has got booked a government rest house for me. But there was none, mobile network was down and there was no public booth near airport. All thanks to sh*thead insane Nakoula Basseley  who directed a sheer nonsense movie to hurt public sentiments, and to control any outrage in the protest-affected Srinagar, all the mobile networks were jammed. After spending about an hour there waiting for the guy, I took a taxi and planned to book a hotel at Lal Chowk, one of the few places I know well about the town.
As I saw the Heaven from the Sky
As we moved through the streets, I could easily see what I read before in a  Curfewed Night. Streets were mostly empty or dotted by a few people here and there. It was a sunny day with a pleasant atmosphere but without charm. Shops were closed, and all that could attract attention was gathering of small group of people around a preacher delivering speech while balancing on some streetlamp. It was the first time, since 1992-riots in my city, when I saw armed forces in such a huge number. Almost every circle was more of an army barrack. My driver was a young chap and his father was navigating, shouting ‘Vaar vaar” (probably slow, slow) every time we were crossing the crowd or army wagon. I requested him to leave me at some decent budget hotel at the Lal Chowk. Except for an army truck and guarded jawans, there were just a few commoners wandering around. I took a room, facing bazaar (market) in Hotel International opposite to a Hindu Dharmashala (Inn). It was really a nice place, with room heater and running hot water etc. The boy who escorted me in to the room didn’t take any tip. It was already post noon, when I went for lunch at the restaurant downstairs. After having that sumptuous vegetarian lunch, I inquired about visiting Dal Lake and HazratBal. Though Dal Lake was on walking distance, about 3 or so kilometres, for HazratBal I would be needing auto-ricksaw. My concern was safety on those deserted roads, and he assured me nothing would happen, especially at Dal Lake where no one harms tourists.

Lal Chowk
Lal Chowk was named by Left-wing activists inspired by the Russian Revolution as they fought Maharaja Hari Singh. It is a city square and has been historically political meeting point since the times of Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru ji promised Kashmiris to choose their future at this place in 1948,  and here only Sheikh Abdullah appreciated Jawaharlal Nehru and India in a Persian couplet saying “Man Tu Shudi, Tu Man Shudi, Ta Kas Na Goyed, Man Degram Tu Degri” (I became you and You became I; so none can say we are separate).

The Clock Tower of Lal Chowk
I left the hotel at about 3 PM, geared with my camera and a jacket. On my right, standing tall was the famous Clock tower of Lal Chowk. It was built in 1980 by Bajaj Electricals as an advertising strategy. It was never a political symbol, though in 1992 it came into limelight when the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi hoisted the flag in the company of soldiers atop the tower. He had to be whisked away in haste when a rocket fired by militants landed some metres away from the tower. Flag hoisting at the tower was discontinued in 2009. (more on Wikipedia)

Across the street, on the diagonally opposite corner were two army trucks and a few make-shift barricades with jawans behind. I could feel the chill. There were just a few people, most of them buying second-hand woollens on a roadside temporary shop setup on a foldable cot. I looked across and found all the shops closed with a sad smiles and boards written in English or Urdu. A ridiculously tall board on my left far end, across the small concrete garden, was written in all the three languages, including Hindi, and was aptly informing about a ‘Hindu Inn”.
A Curfewed Night at Lal Chowk
A little scared, I was, but filled with the sense that this is my country and these are just our own people, I started walking towards the main road (M.A. Road) that would be leading me to Dal Lake via J&K Tourist Centre. Walking down the street, I wanted to carry my camera in my hands and not in backpack, but couldn’t. There was a sense of ‘something may happen’, stopped me doing so. About half an hour of walk on empty streets, lifeless complexes, ATMs and a dead mobile phone I reached the circle from where I could go to Dal, Shankracharya Temple or Hazratbal. I chose Dal.

Walking through an alley
It was just me on the road...
I loved this product-name.... "Cement-e-Kashmir"
(Would soon be posting second part on Dal Lake and Hazratbal...a lot of heavenly pictures are waiting for you For a read on Dal Lake and Hazratbal and beautiful pictures Click here :) To know more about my entire Suru Zanskar 2012 trip, Click here )

You are so welcome to Dal Lake

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