Indian Kashmir has been experiencing unrest for quite some time, but we were fortunate to visit it shortly before troubles and violence became so bad that it was no longer safe to visit. Not long after we were there, fighting between the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir increased as did demonstrations and government reprisals, making the area a no-go place, so we were really lucky to visit when we did. We stayed in a nice houseboat on Dal Lake in Srinigar where the first refreshment we were offered was not tea but hashish.
A typical houseboat where we stayed.
Walking around Srinigar was quite interesting but very annoying, since if you even glanced sideways when passing a store, a man from inside would quickly run out and try to pull you in to buy something. Women from the mountains dressed quite differently from many who lived in the city, since it is just not practical to have your face completely covered when walking in mountains.
We traveled to Pahalgam in the Lidder Valley few days later, the scenery of which reminded me of Switzerland with its grass and trees, but of course the inhabitants had no resemblance to the Swiss.
There were quite a few sahdus there for an annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters. Thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage every year, although there are many deaths since many are not prepared for the altitude or weather.
On a long hike up the valley to the start of Kolahoi Glacier, we passed a few simple stone huts and a bunch of friendly kids, one of which proudly displayed her doll.
The homes of the valley’s inhabitants were built of stone and into the sides of the mountains.
Hike to Kolahoi Glacier
Back in Srinigar, we had an extraordinary encounter. We were having dinner in a restaurant in Srinigar when the own came by and asked whether we liked the food and service. We had a short talk, and he mentioned that there was an article in a German magazine about him. Would we translate it? We agreed, but he did not want to talk further about it then, but suggested that we come to his house the next day. It sounded like a good opportunity to see an Indian family at home.
We were tired the next afternoon, and it was raining on top of that. We decided not to go, but then felt guilty because we had promised. We got our raingear and headed off. After a bit of difficulty locating his house, we were let in by a small boy and left alone in the living room. We sat there for quite a while and were getting impatient and even considered leaving. He finally arrived and apologized for taking so long; he had been washing. After some preliminary talk and tea, he told us not to confuse him with his restaurant. That was something else and not important.
With Basharat Saleen
He then took out a copy of the German magazine Geo. There was an article on Kashmir, and I skimmed through it looking for a part on restaurants. I finally saw our host’s picture on the last page.
Our astonishment was immense. His name was Basharat Saleen and he was none other than the direct descendent of the Moslem prophet Yuz Asaf, whom some people claim was really Jesus Christ.
In 1887, a Russian scholar, Nicholas Notovitsch, was studying manuscripts in the monastery Hemis in Ladakh. They reported about a holy man by the same of Issa. Notovitsch became convinced that this man was Jesus and published The Life of Saint Issa in New York in 1890. He maintained that Jesus came to India when he was thirteen years old, studied Buddhism and only returned to the Middle East when he was thirty. Indeed, there is nothing in the New Testament written about Jesus’ life from the time he was thirteen until he was thirty.
Later, an even more radical thesis was developed. It stated that Christ did not die on the cross, but rather returned to India and was the prophet Yuz Asaf. According to the theory, the herb aloe was brought in quantity to Jesus’s grave, a herb well known for healing at the time. It would explain the sighing of Jesus in Damascus 40 days later; he was on his way east. A Persian text, Ransatus-Sofa, tells of a pilgrimage of Jesus, his mother Marian and the apostle Thomas. And of course Thomas is the apostle who went to India to found the first Christian churches there. In addition, a grave has been discovered in Pakistan call the “Grave of the Mother Maria”.
A lot has been written about this (just google it), and I have no idea of whether there is any truth in it, but it certainly makes more sense than a lot of the other accounts.
We left Srinigar soon after, traveling east to Ladak, but that is another story.