A paradise lost to guns, bullets and bombs
Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world.
SRINIGAR, India (CNN) -- When you first step on to a shikara, you immediately sense the delicate deal the boat has struck between floating and sinking.
You sway to keep your balance -- to keep from pitching into Lake Dal -- and then settle onto huge colorful cushions surrounded by gossamer yellow curtains. In the distance, mountains blaze with the fading light of the setting sun.
The boatman pushes off with strong melodic strokes. The needle-like bow of the 30-foot shikara parts the glass surface of the lake. We are off to the floating village, a journey of history, mystery and magic, much like Kashmir itself. We leave the contingent of Indian soldiers on shore.
Kashmir has always been the exception rather than the rule. The British conquered India but left Kashmir to be ruled by the Maharajahs. The task of ruling this land was too difficult even for a 19th century superpower.
When Pakistan and India separated in 1947, triggering one of the deadliest migrations in history, Muslims pushed west to Pakistan, Hindus went in the other direction. Kashmir was left in the middle, undecided. Its leaders were to later determine which of the two nations it would join. Kashmir is still waiting.
Pakistan wants Kashmir, saying its population is overwhelmingly Muslim. India wants Kashmir, claiming it as part of its history. India says it will never give it up. Pakistan says it will never give up wanting it.
As our shikara slips through a field of water lilies, gliding past huge houseboats that resemble wooden palaces, it is easy to understand why both want Kashmir. Who wouldn't want to have or hang on to paradise?
The boathouses all have huge "To Let" signs hanging from them. They beg for the tourists who once came here to get away from it all, and the movie stars, rock stars, authors and leaders. Their black and white pictures hang inside, in gilded frames that nobody sees.
The world tourists once came here to escape eventually made its way into the Kashmir Valley. In 1989, a vocal separatist movement suddenly turned militant. Guns, bullets and bombs slithered in to this Garden of Eden.
When tourists were killed, tourism died with them.
We paddle into the floating village. Other boats bump us as they nudge their way through narrow watery streets. A barbershop, a butcher shop, a general store, a floating exotic mall not even Disney could hope to duplicate. Here you can buy carpets, spices, jewels, maybe even time.
This seems to be a place untouched by the angst of modern day Kashmir. Of course, that's an illusion. These lush green canals dotted by jungle islands are a favorite hiding place for militants.
Dip, swirl. Dip, swirl. The boatman pushes us forward.
In Delhi, there is talk of stepping back from the brink of war. Tensions have been reduced between these two nuclear neighbors, and the world breathes easier.
Not in Kashmir. Soldiers still flood the streets around Lake Dal, much like the water that fills the floating village. War is always a possibility here because the climate that fosters it remains.
Kashmir is still undecided. For now, it simply hopes to be like the shikara -- perched upon the water, caught in a precarious balancing act between floating and sinking.
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