Sitting in our hotel room overlooking Lal Chowk the main square in Srinagar, I try to comprehend how different people’s lives are here in Srinagar, Kashmir. Peering through the window from my chair, I can see two armored Humvees, two sandbagged pillboxes with machine gunners and dozens of army personnel armed with sub-machineguns. In the corner of the square, an old cinema tries to stay upright. A relic of the uprising in the mid-nineties, that was bombed-out, filled with sandbags and the brick walls riddled with bullet holes. Where the roof once was, there are now a few poplar trees growing up reaching towards the blue Kashmiri sky… a reminder to people of their recent history, fraught with a conflict that does not really seem to be theirs…

It is the third day of the people’s general strike, and the third day of the Government’s undeclared curfew. Many shops have remained closed as the community is mourning the loss of a revered shrine (Dastgeer Sahib) that caught fire early on Monday morning. Others seem to be closed out of fear and uncertainty of what could happen next.  Some shops are open, vendors smiling, selling goods, tobacco and fruit to people on the streets.

 

Here I am standing mesmerized in one of the markets before the strike (on last sunday).

When we first arrived, Srinagar was a colorful and bustling city of 2 million people. There were people trading goods, fruit, nuts, spices, tea, street food, carpets and tapestries. The ally-markets were abound with wild array of goods …a shop that sells decorated rugs and carpets, another sells copper teakettles engraved with Koranic scripts, a confectioner with a huge smile serving mixed candies, dried fruits and nuts to a family, the next displays bags of colorful spices, roots and herbs unknown to me, and across the way, a shop that sells modern appliances or cell phones… But, one thing common to them all was a good smile from a bearded shop keeper in traditional Muslim dress, or a passerby in western clothing, whom shakes our hand and asks where we are from with an intrigued smile.

Unlike the first day of the strike, where the colorful and bustling city of Srinagar was turned into a ghost town with metal grates pulled down over shop windows and the streets void of people, today there are a good number of people out and about. Throughout the last few days, although quite, there is a general sense of nonchalant-laxity. This is life here… The curfew, the strike, the uncertainty, the power outages, the paramilitary presence on the street corners, the razor-wire, broken glass… This is life here… The protests, the neglect, the protests and the young boys throwing stones at police, the police firing their machine guns back at the young boys… this is life here…

It makes me wonder… the things that can happen to people. What transformations are undergone and what customs and traditions people cling too… Looking out the window again at the shelled cinema… What it would have been like to see your peace-loving community “pick up the gun” and defend itself after 30 years of pursuing diplomatic and political action against a violent occupying force. And then, to “put the gun down” after 7 years of even worse bloodshed. And to realize that your community stands presently in what seems to be the same place it stood before… That is, in the middle of someone else’s violent and raging chessboard…

Since emotions have been running high in parts of Srinagar and due to the general strike, we have spent most of the last few days confined to our hotel (if anything we want to respect the communities mourning of the lost shrine and avoid getting caught in a protest. There is really no animosity towards westerners here). But, like most of the people here in the city, we venture out into the streets in the early evenings to go stretch, get some fresh air, maybe some food and socialize with people around town. A block away from our hotel there is a bridge where we have been going to watch the sunset. It is a beautiful spot on one of the many rivers in Srinagar, where people come to escape the buildings and dust to get a bit of fresh air. Talking to the people we meet on there on the bridge, it seems like nothing but an average day in Paradise…

Here is a picture from the bridge…

I have been taking many more photos but since the connection is slow up here I can’t put too many in posts. I will try to do more next time though.

Peace,

Alex