Kashmir 1997

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The Kashmiri People: Impressions of A People Caught in the Crossfire

India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947, and Kashmir has literally been ripped in two. A third of Kashmir is in Pakistan; the other two-thirds is in India. Since I've been to Indian Kashmir, the so-called Most Dangerous Place On Earth according to Presidents Clinton and Bush (the first one), I've been asked several times what the Kashmiri people are like. What did they think of, say, the United States?

Readers might be interested to note that the Kashmiris that I met (which in almost six weeks was quite a lot!) looked upon the United States not with hatred or animosity, but with curiosity. They watched a lot of movies from our country, and wanted to know what life was like there. When one travels, one is, by default, an ambassador to one's own country, representing it for good and bad, and so I tried to paint a realistic picture, dispelling myths, confirming facts, and trying to be open as possible.

The people who ran the houseboats already had a pretty good idea of what the U.S was like, since a lot of tourists had come through Dal Lake prior to the tensions and military crackdown in 1990. Still, though, they were amazed at how expensive things were in the U.S. A common question was how much a house cost, or how much rent, food, clothes were. And sometimes, it was somewhat difficult to explain that although we made a lot of money (relative to them), we also spent a lot because the cost of living is also high.

Some of the Kashmiris really wanted to come over to the United States, just to see it with their own eyes, although many are really happy where they are, despite the tensions and violence. With a lot of people who live in India, including the Kashmiris, the United States has almost this aura about it for them -- "a good country", they think. Some think that Americans may be immoral, especially in regard to sexuality, but the ones I met in Kashmir didn't have any hatred towards the U.S. They just thought it was different. Many are in awe of Neil Armstrong because he walked on the moon, and the moon holds special significance for Muslims. There are rumors going around that Neil Armstrong converted to Islam shortly after he came back from the moon. To the best of my knowledge, this has not occurred.

I think, too, that Kashmiris are very very proud of where they live. It's beautiful, and they know it and take great pride in it. Kashmir is idyllic. It has lots of lakes, apple orchards, tall snow-capped mountains, flowery plains, waterfalls, trees, rivers, ski resorts, forests, and greenery. One Kashmiri farmer asked me, "Is it true that in America, they use cow dung as fertilizer?" Much of the ground in Kashmir is so rich that it can grow big red tomatoes the size of softballs with absolutely no fertilizer. Farmers just plop seeds in the ground around Dal Lake, watch them grow, and then simply harvest the crops from shikharas (small paddleboats)!! Great apples, too. Beautiful orchards.

Kashmiris are saddened by the war and the harsh occupation by the Indian Army, which has in part dirtied the lakes nearby Srinagar, pushed villagers around, demanding that they be fed. During my stay on the Ajanta Palace houseboat, the neighboring houseboat was boarded by the Indian Army. The owners of the houseboat was asked to put up the Army and feed them for free for a day. I also saw several Kashmiris being beaten over the head with sticks by the Army to shoo them out of the road to make way for a military envoy. When the Indian Army saw that I was looking at them, they looked surprised that a tourist was in the small village, and immediately stopped beating the villagers. India's government has now issued POTO, which basically means that the Indian military may conduct search and seizures in Kashmir without warning, warrants, or provocation. This unfortunately is not rumor, and has been substantiated by the international press. I was in Kashmir in 1997 during the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of India's independence from Britain. Needless to say, Kashmir wasn't taking part in the celebrations. All was quiet that day.

Based on the people that I met, if there is any animosity towards anyone in particular, it's directed towards terrorists or the Indian Army.

This picture I am painting of Kashmiris is not through rose-colored glasses. There were some pushy people, sometimes rather annoying. Not very many. The pushy people were most often the salesmen, peddling their wares from the shikharas to people staying on the houseboats. Still, though, generally nice. There are, of course, Kashmiri separatists and terrorists -- not necessarily one and the same. I didn't meet any of these people because I like to stay out of trouble. When wandering around the marketplaces in Srinagar, many of the women avoided eye contact, quickly averting their eyes. Sometimes, I would notice that the women would be staring at me through the mesh in their chardors (burqas), only to quickly avert their glance when they saw that I noticed. Most of the women that I saw did NOT wear full chardors, usually headscarves.

When I got to know the women, such as the ones in the family who ran the houseboat, I quickly realized that they pretty much completely ran the household, probably not a big surprise. They were often quite chatty and joked a lot. Although quiet with me at first, after getting used to me, they started joking with me a lot, too, asking me questions and so forth. We started getting a lot of really funny inside jokes running, the kind that you only get after you've hung out with people for a while.

There was one time in which one of the daughters was giving her father a neck rub because the guy was tired, doing manual labor all day. We played a trick on him -- I quietly took her place and started giving him the neck rub. I did this for a couple of minutes while the daughter and a couple of the other women looked on, trying really hard not to burst into laughter. When he finally figured out it was me, he joked, "I was wondering why the neck rub suddenly got so much better!!!"

I am the photographer of all these photos, including the photos of the alleged tomb of Jesus.  I have seen several of these photos on web sites without credits, links, or permission. If you would like to use any of my photos for your web site or any other reason, please contact me first.  Thank you for your kindness and respect.    -Ken

Villagers in Sopor, taking a break from weaving Kashmiri carpets. Sopor is a small village located along the banks of Wular Lake, several hours' drive outside of Srinagar. The people here are relatives of the Khuroos, the owners of the houseboat where I stayed for over five and a half weeks on Dal Lake.


My ancient childhood camera stopped working right before this trip.  I quickly bought a cheap Ricoh film camera just two days before my plane flight to India.  Regrettably, the Ricoh was faulty, jamming constantly and sometimes tearing film when rewinding.  If that weren't bad enough, the photos that didn't get torn were mostly distorted or out of focus in various parts of the picture, a result of the film not laying evenly. Still, though, I feel lucky that many photos still are intact.

Jhangir, part of the Khuroo family that runs the magnificent Ajanta Palace houseboat in Kashmir (Srinagar, Dal Lake). I was deeply moved by the hospitality of the Khuroo family, whom I now consider to be like my family.

The Khuroos, like most Kashmiris, have been deeply affected by tensions from the conflicts between India and Pakistan. Tourists have evaporated, and so has the money. There are scarcely any jobs. Most jobs are given to Hindus, coming up from the plains. Kashmiris must regularly bribe officials to gain entry into the university in Srinagar.


There is a very strong military presence all over the Kashmir region. I was searched five times within a hundred meters when departing from Srinagar. India has the second largest army in the world, but much of it is stretched along the border of Kashmir/Pakistan border and the Ladakh/China border.

While staying at the Ajanta Palace houseboat, a group from the Indian Army stayed next door, asking the houseboat owner to provide food and shelter for free. Everyone carried on as usual. I asked the owner of the houseboat if this happened frequently. He nodded his head in a very tired, exasperated manner.

Lotus flowers in Dal Lake, just outside the Ajanta Palace houseboat.

Kashmiris around Srinagar informed me that Dal Lake was once clean, but a lot of the pollution is from the Indian Army dumping pollutants and garbage in the river. Fayaz, one of the houseboat owners, sometimes is paid by the city to help clean up the lake. Jobs are scarce, but he tries to find work doing anything to make money, including building roads up in the Himalayan Mountains or picking apples.


I had an interesting opportunity to be able to witness a houseboat in construction. Here, one of the artisans is carving one of the wooden posts that will eventually become the posts for the outer deck of a super deluxe class houseboat. Many Kashmiris hold out a great deal of optimism for the future, thinking that eventually, tensions will subside, visitors will come back, and Kashmir will again be known for its natural beauty and hospitality, and not for its bloodshed.

.I joined the thousands, nay, dozens, of pilgrims who journey endless miles to reach the Michael Jackson houseboat. Regrettably, I failed to inquire as to whether this houseboat has a day-care center.

There are quite a few houseboats that have interesting names, such as "Neil Armstrong", "Jupiter", and "Holiday Inn".  I have plans to eventually move to Kashmir and open up my very own houseboat, the "Pamela Anderson". This will have to wait until the day that nuclear war between Pakistan and India doesn't seem imminent.


Shikhara vendors paddle from houseboat to houseboat, selling various items, such as the fruits and vegetables seen here. The vegetables in the shikhara have been plucked only hours ago -- extraordinarily fresh! Due to the extremely rich soil in Dal Lake, no fertilizer of any kind is needed to produce these extremely healthy and delicious vegetables and fruits. I saw huge, red, tasty tomatoes the size of softballs, erupting out of the soil.

A Kashmiri farmer asked me, "Is it true that in America, the farmers use cow dung to grow fruits and vegetables?"


This photo is allegedly the sarcophagus of the tomb of Jesus Christ (Khanyar Rozabal). It is believed by many Kashmiris, as well as many Biblical and Asian scholars, that Jesus Christ ("Yuz Asaph" or "Issa" to Kashmiris) survived the crucifixion and fled to India, and eventually to look for the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel in Kashmir, where he was laid to rest at about 80 years of age.

There is compelling evidence that not only suggests that this may be true. For instance, there is a strong connection between the Essenes and the Buddhists. Additionally, there is a great deal of written historical and physical evidence (including the Koran) to suggest that Jesus had already come to India between 13-29 years of age (the so-called "lost years of Jesus"), and then came back to India again after the crucifixion, and continued teaching right up until he passed away in Kashmir. Many places and towns along the road that Jesus allegedly took to Kashmir are named after him.

Entrance to Khanyar Rozabal, Srinagar, Kashmir.

There are quite a number of Biblical scholars in India, Kashmir, and the West who have found evidence in many ancient scriptures that indicate that Jesus survived the crucifixion and fled to India to rejoin the "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel. These books on this link are a small sampling of the multitude of books available on this subject.


"Jesus Lived in India", a book by Holger Kersten, outlines much of these theories in intricate detail, and is at the very least an impressive piece of research. It's a fascinating read, whether you believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion or not. Will we ever know the truth?

I have more photos of Khanyar Rozabal from my 2005 trip to Kashmir.  And I have a special page devoted to Khanyar Rozabal as well, including six more photos from 1997 not shown here.

This photo I took of Khanyar Rozabal (along with six others) can also be found at the Tomb of Jesus web site, site of author Abubakr Ben Ishmael Salahuddin, who has recently published a book entitled Saving The Savior.

Khanyar Rozabal, located in Srinagar, allegedly houses the tomb of Jesus Christ. According to author Holger Kersten and other Western and Kashmiri scholars, it has been a practice of worshippers to place candles around the tombstones. When the centuries-old layers of wax were removed some time ago, an incredible discovery was made -- a pair of footprints had been carved into the stone. This is a common tradition in Asia at the shrines of saints, but still, no one had known that these carved footprints were under the centuries of melted wax!

They also found a crucifix and a rosary next to the footprints . As the footprints were carved to indicate the identity of the deceased, like a fingerprint, these footprints clearly show the scars of the crucifixion wounds, even indicating by the position of the wounds that the left foot had been nailed over the right, the same as shown on the Turin Shroud. Crucifixion was unknown as a form of death penalty in India. The crucifix, rosary, and scars of the crucifixion wounds were a startling, unexpected discovery!

I was told that the tomb has been tended by the same family since AD 112, the position of tomb attendant being passed down in an unbroken line from father to son.

Takht-i-Suleiman, the "Throne of Solomon", on the slopes of Barehmooleh, overlooking Dal Lake atop Shankaracharya Hill in Srinagar.

In Tarikh-i-Kashmir ("History of Kashmir"), written in 1420, historian Mullah Nadiri writes that the structure, already a thousand-year old Hindu structure, was restored by a Persian architect during the reign of Raja Gopadatta (79-109 AD).

During the renovation, the following was inscribed on the steps in Old Persian:

Dar een wagat yuz asaf dawa-i-paighambar-imikunad.  Sal panjah wa chahar.
"At this time, Yuz Asaf announced his prophetic mission.  In the year 54."

Aishan yuzu paighambar-i-bani israil ast.
"He is Yuzu, the Prophet of the Children of Israel."

Mullah Nadiri further writes:  In a Hindu work it is said that this Prophet was in reality Hazrat Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus), the Soul of God - on whom be peace and salutations.  He had assumed the name of Yuz Asaf during his life in the valley.  The real knowledge is with God.  After his passing, Hazrat Issa was laid to rest in Anzimar (where Khanyar Rozabal is)  -from "A Search for The Historical Jesus" by Professor Fida Hassnain).

The inscriptions of the temple have been destroyed, but according to Prof. Hassnain, were recorded by other Kashmiri historians, including Mirza Haider Malik Chaudura, Mufti Ghulam Nabi Khanyari, and Pirzada Ghulam Hassan Khuyami, whose Persian works are preserved at the Oriental Manuscript Library, the University of Kashmir, and other libraries in Srinagar.

A pillar next to the temple was torn down in the early 1970s by the Indian Army to make room for military structures, and a Srinagar TV tower is perched on the top of the hill.. This temple was also re-converted to a Hindu temple at about the same time.

Sultan, the man who took me up to Takht-i-Suleiman, hadn't been up to the top of the hill in 30 years. When we got to the top, he looked around, puzzled, and pointed to the spot where the pillar used to be. Now, only a large circle remained, surrounded by Indian army military structures. Sultan looked at me, then away, and mumbled, "Why do they do these things?"

Muslim man, Srinagar, Kashmir.

The Khuroo family on the Ajanta Palace houseboat. Note the detailed walnut woodcarving. The world's nicest people...!

For a couple of years, he had sent mail, and I had replied. The mail had stopped arriving at the Khuroos. Fortunately, Fayaz has a friend with a computer, and we are able to correspond fairly regularly.


The Ajanta Palace houseboat, where stayed for over five and a half weeks, when not making road trips to other parts of Kashmir.

I created a web site for Ajanta Palace houseboat.

The living room of the Ajanta Palace houseboat.

As mentioned previously, the political unrest in Kashmir has caused tourism to evaporate, although when I was there in August 1997, it had been slowly increasing again. Due to the lack of tourism, prices for accommodations on houseboats have dropped dramatically. I stayed on the Ajanta Palace houseboat for a paltry US$6.50 per day, including three home-cooked meals!!

In 1997, many tourists generously tipped the owners of the houseboats a great deal since the prices were this low. This is largely due to the realization that many of the families are having great financial difficulties, and the extremely low rates that are now available, while wonderful to visitors, do not enable them to make much of a profit. The situation is now of course much worse. Tensions have been ratcheted up ten-fold. This is the land over which two wars in the last fifty years have been fought. As Fayaz says, "Everyone is afraid of war. You can see it in their eyes."

After 5 1/2 weeks in Kashmir, I flew back to Delhi and then to visit my cousin in Hong Kong.

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