NEIL ARMSTRONG’S DAL CONNECTION
Moon ‘Conqueror’ Was Fascinated By His Namesake Houseboat
ARIF SHAFI WANI
Srinagar, Sep 10: Reflection of the moon makes Dal Lake shimmer and gives infinite depth to its unmatched beauty. And the first man to land on the moon had a great admiration about this world famed lake here which houses his namesake houseboat: Neil Armstrong.
Though the moon ‘conqueror’ Neil Armstrong who passed away last month could never make it to Kashmir, he remained in constant touch with ‘Paradise on earth’ through letters and postcards to his spirited Kashmiri friend, Muhammad Yousuf Chapri, a Dal dweller. Chapri named his houseboat after him for “fulfilling centuries old dream of mankind to land on Moon.”
Described by the US Government as “finest tourism ambassador,” 72-year old Chapri carries on his nearly 140-year old family legacy of hosting tourists and has launched a campaign to save ‘Moon of the land’ Dal lake for posterity.
CONNECTION WITH ARMSTRONG
When Armstrong landed on moon on July 20, 1969 Chapri like people of all countries was elated. “The very next day I registered the name of my houseboat as Neil Armstrong. It was my honest tribute to Armstrong who fulfilled desire of people to conquer moon. His first words on moon that one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind still holds true for every work we do,” Chapri said.
Chapri says he made all efforts to contact Armstrong and even extended him invitations to stay in his houseboat. And on June 25, 1972 he received a letter from Armstrong thanking him for the invitation.
“Dear Mr Chapri. Through the good offices of Mr Stephen Schneider of NASA we recently received your invitation to Professor Armstrong to stay on your houseboats if he ever visits Kashmir. Professor Armstrong has asked me to thank you for your very kind invitation. However, he has no plans to go to your country in the foreseeable future. Please accept the enclosed photograph with Professor Armstrong best wishes for success,” Ruta Bankavskis the then secretary to Armstrong wrote to Chapri.
HIGH PROFILE GUESTS
Named after first man on moon, Chapri’s houseboat gradually became an attraction for tourists including ambassadors of many countries and celebrities including Tensing Norgay the conqueror of the Mount Everest, US Postmaster General Anthony M Frank, Heinrich Harrer tutor of spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Robert Fleming a prominent anthropologist, Oleg Polunin a botanist and author of Himalayan flowers.
“Every guest at my houseboat would ask me why I named it after Armstrong? I told them that from childhood I was always fascinated by sight of moon and wanted see it closely but couldn’t. Armstrong gave shape to dream of every human being including me,” Chapri said.
Chapri said he used to frequently gift traditional Kashmiri souvenirs to Armstrong. “And he would acknowledge and appreciate my endeavour through letters. He liked the gifts including paper machie items. It was a privilege for me,” he said while showing one of Armstrong’s letter of gratitude.
“Professor Armstrong had asked me to thank you for your kind letter and gift. Your thoughtfulness was appreciated,” Elaine Moore then secretary to Armstrong wrote to Chapri on November 18, 1976.
Chapri said that the US Postmaster General Anthony M Frank who was a frequent visit to his houseboat, told him that Armstrong was down to earth person. “He told me that despite achieving the great feat Armstrong lived as a common man and wanted to do more for welfare of mankind. According to Frank, Armstrong was so shy to take qualms about this popularity world over,” Chapri said.
On July 20, 1989, then US president George Bush and Postmaster General Anthony M Frank dedicate a stamp in honour of 20th anniversary of the Lunar (Moon) landing. However according the Postmaster General, Armstrong “broke his rule” of not giving autographs until he was told about the popularity of the houseboat in his name in Dal.
“Dear Mr Chapri. Today I had the unusual opportunity to dedicate a stamp in honour of the 20 anniversary of the Lunar Landing. During that ceremony, at which president Bush spoke, I had the opportunity to get the autograph of all the three astronauts, including Neil Armstrong. While Mr Armstrong does not give autographs, I told him the story of your houseboat, and he broke his rule in order to sign the enclosed program,” writes the then Postmaster General of US, Anthony M Frank to Chapri on July 20, 1989. On reading the letter Chapri joys knew no bounds. “It was a proud moment not only for me but every Kashmiri.
As Chapri heard about Armstrong’s demise last month, he was shattered. “His death is irreparable loss to the world. He was not only a great astronaut but a good human being. My biggest tribute to him will be to restore the moon of the land Dal Lake to its pristine glory. The Dal should be so clear that even moon will feel jealous on seeing its reflection in the lake,” Chapri said while gazing at billboard of his houseboat Neil Armstrong. “He is my inspiration. If he can conquer moon why can’t we save Dal.”
Lastupdate on : Mon, 10 Sep 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 10 Sep 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 11 Sep 2012 00:00:00 IST
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