Photo by Shome Basu
The flip side of Kashmir’s ever-turbulent geo-political status is its natural beauty. My first visit to the valley had been in the mid-80s as a young boy on vacation with parents and family. The initial experience was not great. Hill sickness and hours of bus ride from Jammu had made me quite ill. I had at one point blacked out from acute dizziness but fortunately my uncle, who was a doctor, was there to attend to me. Even while suffering a severe headache, when the battered bus pulled at the huge queue of the one-way traffic entering the Jawahar Tunnel (Banihal Pass), everything around looked like heaven.
It was an experience I will never forget: climbing up to the Shankaracharya, rowing in a Shikara at Dal, shopping at Lal Chowk, dad suffering frost bites at Pahalgaum, my aunt and sister getting themselves photographed in traditional Kashmiri wear, my first puff from a hookah—all permanently etched in my memory.
My recollections of a picturesque Kashmir, however, looked frayed against what I was witnessing now, during my latest visit after nearly two decades. I stood motionless amidst the vibrant physical beauty around me, in Srinagar city. Even though the place was as exotic as before, militancy had engulfed the valley and insurgency had left its stamp. Still, nothing would have me erase from memory the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s women praying on the hills of Srinagar, or Raghuveer Singh’s colour plates. I willed myself to see Kashmir through that lens but the environment refused to grant me that beautiful canvas. But here I was, amidst it all, to chronicle human life and human pain as it was, through my eyes.
(This photo essay is extracted from Basu’s recent book of photographs, Shades of Kashmir, published by Niyogi Books.)
A local tries to negotiate the snow-clad meadows in Gulmarg.
Some Kashmiris may nurture staunch differences with the Indian government but Bollywood still rules their heart. At a roadside saloon, posters of Bollywood stars adorn the walls.
Hamida is still looking for her husband, who has been missing for nearly 15 years. He left for work and never returned. Her daughter (left) has not seen her father except in a few photographs this poor family has preserved.
A Muslim boy with his infant brother live in the shadow of war, with the POK across the hills to the left.
Photographers wait for customers at Chasmashahi Garden, one of the Mughal Gardens. Due to rising militancy and sporadic riots, visits to these gardens reduced for some time.
At a school in Sopore, girls wearing headscarves play cricket during recess. The conservative Sunni Muslim society doesn’t allow them to be photographed.
During a street protest in Nowhatta, an old woman looks from her broken window, waiting for her only son who had been missing since morning.