Saturday, March 31, 2018
We approached the middle aged man, a bearded Muslim at the reception if we could venture out, if it was safe. He was offended. Have you heard of any harm being done to any tourist? Tourism is our bread and butter. It is absolutely safe. Media reports nonsense. You don’t worry.
It was settled that an auto driver known to the hotel, would take us to Shankaracharya that noon, at about 4. it would cost a mere 100 or 200.
We rested in our room for a while and then started.
Soon as the climb started, right at the foothills of the Shankaracharya hill, there was security checking. Needless to say, this lone but important Hindu religious seat surrounded by an Islamic state was under threat and was heavily guarded. It was a wonder that through centuries of political power struggle, and through the almost complete genocide and exodus of Hindus and Hinduism from the state, this had survived unscathed.
Yes they had changed the name of the hill to Takht-e-Suleimann. But it wasn’t in use. The hill was known to all as Shankaracharya hill.
The uphill climb was a very pleasant tour. The road was well maintained, smooth; there were trees on both sides and a canopy above. Through many an opening in the thicket, you had beautiful views of Srinagar below, of its picturesque dwellings, of the Dal lake,, of the thousands of shikaras and houseboats floating on it. All you needed was a good camera and a patient driver who would stop whenever you wished.
We reached a landing close to the top of the hill. There were a dozen security guards, men and women. They were housed in a little building to the side with all their paraphernalia - metal detectors, scanners, lockers and all. Women were taken to the inside of the building and checked. We were stripped of our cameras, belts, mobile phones.
Next to the security building, the climb to the temple began. The path was laid with uniform stone steps, well maintained.
There were parapets on both sides of the steps so you could rest as often as you needed to. It was just a few hundred steps and the climb was easy. The temple was quite simple, humble. What was overwhelming about it was its age. It had been standing there for close to 1400 years. There was a little shaded garden around it, some benches to sit on, and a few small buildings that looked like the dwelling places of the priests. The sanctum was reached through rather steep stairways, two of them, to be sure. The visit to the sanctum was a quick one. I purchased a post card having the picture of the sanctum on it.
We ambled around the garden for sometime and climbed down. The tall red and white telecom tower behind the temple reminded you of the movie Mission Kashmir, in which the bad guys blew it up.
During the auto ride downhill, there was no hurry and we had many stops. As we came close to the foothills, the views of dal lake and the shikaras on it were inviting, though we had initially kept the shikara ride for the following day, we decided to go for it the same evening, since the sun was a long way fro setting and the sky was a clear blue...