Paradise Lost

Where is the Gulmarg that once was?
Paradise Lost

On a shiny afternoon on 27th of May, 2019, I boarded theSpice Jet plane for a visit to New Delhi. The airhostesses smiled and I triedto read a news magazine. An old man in his sixties sat besides me along withhis wife. The man donned spectacles made up of thick glasses, his wife wore atraditional Indian sari and drank from a packed mineral water bottle. Thetraditional boredom of a flight took over and as such I started to chat withthis man who spoke with touch sympathy about Kashmir. He spoke about thehospitality, the delicious food culture especially the traditional Kashmiridelicacies including the saffron flavoured Kahwa, the delicate nature of peopleand the treatment that had been ventured to them. But his expression alteredwhen he spoke about the places of interest especially Gulmarg. As a thirtysomething man he had visited Gulmarg and had found the experience quitesoothing and refreshing. The traditional Kashmiri breeze complemented the food,the cold grasses sucked out the heat from the feet and the air inhaled made theinner body pure and free from impurities. Now as an old man, he had thoughtthat something similar would still be available. He had embarked on this tripto Gulmarg in a hope that his youthful days would be repatriated and he wouldswing back to a thirty something man. But all the hopes were crashed when hevisited Gulmarg this year. The proliferation of hutments and hotels clearlysignified that the hill resort had been turned into a money making place, thepony wallas roamed around without any purpose, trash was thrown by everyone onthe road and in the meadows leading to further pollution and all in all Gulmarghad been turned into a hell hole. I asked him about the multi crore projectGondola and his experience. "Gondola is itself a pollution machine", he saidwith anger. "When you try to induce a non- natural thing into a natural place,cynical results are bound to come out". His wife who was listening all thiswhile joined in the conversation. She questioned the authorities and as to whyno serious measures had been taken to swipe away all the constructedestablishments in order to make Gulmarg free from these unnatural things. I hadno answer. Nature has bestowed you with immense natural wealth and your home isknown as the heaven on earth, she said. "It is an irony that this natural wealthhas been tampered with". I felt ashamed. I didn't know what to articulate, thewords hit me like a ferocious breaking news and shook me to the core.

Yousuf Shah Chak had visited Gaurimarg (former name forGulmarg) in the late 16th century accompanied by his poetess wife HabbaKhatoon. Chak was so impressed with its beauty, the meadows and its minisculemulti coloured flowers that he renamed it as Gulmarg- "The meadow of flowers".In 1939 at a meeting in London of the East India Association, Sir WilliamBarton, a retired official commented, 'In Gulmarg, the winter sport industryhas been initiated. Here is a very valuable invisible export…'

As an adolescent, I too jumped up whenever anyone mentionedabout a proposed picnic to Gulmarg. My mind would create images of the breathtaking meadows and the snow laden peaks. But now when anyone speaks aboutGulmarg, all I can think about is horse dung, marshes, Gondola, Dhabas andhotels.

Gulmarg supersedes all the places in natural beauty and isabundantly rich in flora and fauna with moors, forests, rivers, lakes, springs,mountains, lush green fields, birds and animals of variety, make the place tobe imagined as the Paradise on the earth. Even though it may not be like theoriginal Paradise but it is certainly as one of the most blessed spots on theearth. Gulmarg is compared with certain places in  the world particularly, Switzerland for itsbeauty and indeed certain places or resorts have many charms and manycombinations of lake and mountain scenery in which they excel Gulmarg, but theyare built on a smaller scale and have not the wide range of snow –cladmountains like Gulmarg.  Being 3,000 onhigher altitude, it is much colder and surely in summer, it is far morepleasant and in winter, it receives more snow and much earlier, making it anideal skiing resort. Khilanmarg, Al pather, Kangdoori, The Frozen Lake, are theplaces of proud which tourists yearn to see in Gulmarg. Some tourist resorts inthe world may be more developed with artificial beauty at certain locations butGulmarg is pristine in its natural beauty with everything in original eventhough encroachments and uncontrolled establishment of structures in the nameof infrastructure have created havoc on its natural beauty. Lovers of nature,philosophers, thinkers, rulers, kings, film makers from Bollywood and poetshave visited and praised beautiful Gulmarg for its beauty, soothing atmosphereand varied shape. Gulmarg has a brilliant sunshine, grand mountainous spots,lakes and streams with crystal clear waters and impressive snowy mountain peakswhich attracts and fascinates tourists all over the world. They have no wordsto describe the greater variety of natural scenery, of field and forest, ofsnowy mountains.  Gulmarg with its magicalbeauty is like a garden for holiday makers. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir and hiswife, Noor Jehan, would pitch their tents and camp for some time, collectvarieties of flowers and   cheer upthemselves in the lovely and charming atmosphere of the Paradise of Gulmarg.

We need to love and safeguard the paradise of Gulmarg andnot provide a chance to tourists to express that Times have changed, Gulmarghas changed. The authorities need to step up and do something or else touristswho once visited Gulmarg for some peace and calm will now stop visiting theresort which will break the back of Kashmir's economy.

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