As part of the Nature Exploring series, Free Press Kashmir presents the first story on the Sufi Trails. In this piece, the travel writer details his accidental exploration of an ‘unexplored’ route in Kangan—culminating at a saint’s mountain abode.
Some journeys should be taken on the roads less travelled, as they say. On one such road lately, I had a transfixed trip. The journey was astounding on many counts for someone who considers himself a travel freak and an adventure aficionado.
Traversing the valley of Kashmir after 2014 floods, I’ve understood that nature to me has been an answer to all the queries and complications that life throws at us.
There’s a point in life when we’ve no expressions and reactions to what’s going on in the world. Being apolitical is itself being political, but being close to nature makes you not care about politics anyway. As a nature explorer, I always quiz my state of mind. Perhaps being closer to nature has its own rewards for you.
So, what about the Sufi Saints of this vale? I often ask myself. What did they think and how did they perceive this nature around us? Why would a saint take the shadow of a tree far away from this city madness in the chaos of wilderness? Did they listen to the call?
A modern nature freak lives on the same lines and is termed as someone who has defied the odds of being normal and lives a mad man’s life.
It was same mad man in me who decided to follow the trails of such Sufi Saints of Kashmir through the tunnels of nature and mountains. And for that, I was soon driving around Kangan with a friend.
We left late afternoon towards Naranag in Kangan. Luckily, we took a left turn ahead of the one which we should’ve taken. Shortly, we found ourselves in a thick forest surrounded by tall snow-clad peaks. It was a new terrain for me. I had never ventured into such a place. We asked people around, if there was a way toward anywhere from there. Everyone greeted us with a smile and their fingers pointing towards the mountains.
The theory of Road less travelled popped in my mind and we drove straight toward it. Few turns, and we stopped, again, to enquire about the place we had stepped in.
“Baba Reshi,” they said.
I got confused, because Baba Reshi is a shrine of a Sufi Saint situated at the foothills of Gulmarg. So to put it in writing, we were driving toward North and had ended up in the West. This got me excited and intrigued. I enquired again, but got the same reply.
To clear the doubt, I told my friend to drive ahead and so that we can unfold the mystery ourselves.
After a drive on well dressed serpentine roads, we found ourselves at a dead-end. I went down and followed my heart which was taken by this beautiful, old-wooden roofed house situated on a mountain.
I stepped on a few boulders to get a clear picture. From a distance, a woman and her child was staring at me, as if, they had just seen a ghost erupting from the boulders.
The young woman murmured something, which I couldn’t understand. So, she signalled to her father—busy tilling the land above the ridge. He dropped his tool, and rushed down toward me.
We exchanged quick pleasantries. He was a tall mountain man with a sharp nose as mine. His eyes seemed as if they had seen all the purity within this world. His smile was that of a new born child’s, innocent. He was bearded and looked like a Viking.
I could feel the warmth in his way of talking — the way he smiled at us, the happiness that had engulfed his face.
“My name is Omar,” I introduced myself.
“Sher Khan, they call me Jinab,” pat came the reply.
“Sher, what’s this place?”
“This, Jinab, is called Chatergul, the village where Baba Payam-Ud-Din Reshi worshipped! He prayed here for years, before taking shelter in Tangmarg.”
His answer relieved me of the query, but not so much.
I asked Sher, would he come with us to towards the mountain. He agreed, and climbed with us.
“There’s a cave ahead if you guys want to see,” he said, smiling.
“Surely, we will,” I smiled back, while walking on stones with a stream underneath. There was something so pure about this place that it felt like a virgin meadow, hardly ever explored.
With these thoughts, we reached the cave. It was inside a monster rock boulder. “Sher, let me take your picture,” I said and he happily agreed to my request.
He knew now, what I was looking for. I had never met this guy ever before. But he looked me in the eye and said, “I know what you searching for, Omar Bhai. If there’re more people like you and me, this place would be filled with mad men.”
We burst into laughter and we, the mad men hugged.
“Sher, I’ll call you. You’ve to show me where he—the saint—lived.”
“Jinab, I can take you to the place where he worshipped and meditated for years up above this mountain,” he answered to my delight.
I looked above and there were clouds hovering around. I promised myself that I would return to this place and follow his trail. The trail of Sufis had begun that day.
Baba Payam-Ud-Din Reshi is said to have been born in 1411 C.E in Chatergul Ganderbal. His father was a nobleman in a court of a ruler in Ganderbal. As a young man, he joined the court of the prince as a minister.
Legend is, one day while riding a horse, he came across an army of ants busily carrying tiny specks of grain in their mouths to their home to store for the oncoming winter months. The scene struck him suggesting him that while these little creatures were making such preparations and were taking such pains for their future, he himself had not given any thought to the life hereafter.
He was so moved by the sight that he gave up his post in the court and came to Baba Shukur-Ud-Din Wular and stayed in his company for two years go get training in order to move forward on the Sufi path.
Before I could return to Kangan on the promised Sufi trail, Ramadan arrived, implying I couldn’t go out for any sort of outdoor adventure. It was something that wouldn’t let me be at peace.
You see, the thing with adventurers or explorers is that once they’ve set a summit in their mind, they’ll never be at peace, until they achieve it. Call it madness or call it the love of nature.
So, I left with a friend and his Beagle dog for the trail. We had reached around noon on a sunny day. I tried calling Sher, but couldn’t get through due to bad cellular network. We saw his daughter near his house.
“Father has gone uphill with his herd for grazing,” she informed us.
We started hiking and the dog followed us. I knew I would find Sher somewhere on the trail. The trail began with a hike over rocks, which had a stream flowing on them.
After hiking for some 30 minutes, we met Sher. He was elated at seeing us. Without wasting time, he led the hike to the unknown, wild place. An hour later, we had reached to this place where we would deviate from the stream.
“Farhaad Stream it’s called,” Sher informed.
It reminded me of the legend of Sheeri and Farhaad. But that place, I realised, had a legend of its own.
Once done with the rocky hike, we began climbing through a dense forest with thousands of birds humming at us. The sunlight was beaming through tall pine trees. The smell of fresh air and the shade of greenery around me was a spectacular view. We rested and mostly spoke about human intervention and how it has eroded the nature and the greatness of those who left their homes in search of salvation.
We were traversing a ridge to reach the shoulder of a mountain which had a meadow on top of it. The breeze made a strange sound there. It was, as if, the trees were singing to welcome the spring. Near the mountain, a window of immortality opened up.
After been to many serene places across the vale, I could make out that this was different. The breeze behind our backs, the humming of birds, the wild flowers at our feet and view in front of us, life had come to a standstill. Everything was forgotten. We were left transfixed. This only made the urge to see the meadow above more strong.
So, we climbed up the shoulder, and there it was—the unknown meadow, echoing with play and laughter of nomadic children in company of their flock of sheep and goats. They had God’s own country for a playfield.
Seeing us made them smile and laugh. It was for the first time that some outsider had come pay obeisance in this part of the heaven. I ran towards the edge of the mountain and could see huge peaks shining far ahead. There were waterfalls around. The whole thing about it was breathtaking.
We sat with the children and became like them for a moment. I had forgotten all the grief in my life, all that chaos around us.
We walked toward the place where the Saint had worshipped. The sight reminded me of Anton Chekhov: “These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.”
The sad part of the last climb was to see how humans have cut down the very trees where the Saint had found his shelter. I couldn’t stomach the sight of the brazen deforestation.
“See, how they chop down these trees for a few bucks,” Sher said. “They’ve no heart. No soul in them. Humanity is dead.”
I couldn’t agree more.
We reached a mountain top with a forest around its peak. There were red trees all around us. The sun was cooler there. The silence was meditative. A few pieces of a big mossy rock were surrounded by tall pines with ravens on its branches. The area has been enclosed with branches and twigs to mark it as a place where the Saint sat and worshipped.
I saw bangles, watches, votive threads, pieces of cloth tied to the branches of the trees around it. I sat down on my knees and tried to think: Why would a man leave everything and sit here for years without any human contact or basic necessities?
It just made me wonder and I still can’t think about an answer. This place was far away from every evil out there. The silence of the place was loud enough to make us think about our being on this planet. The birds never stopped humming and the water never paused to flow. The absence of the presence of our mind was overwhelming. I could feel my soul being touched. There we were in the revered company of the Saint’s abode.
These saints had one message: Spread love and respect the Nature around us.
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