Category Archives: Kashmir

Motorsport in Kashmir II

Published / by Jehangir

Half a century after the adventures of the 1931 Citroën-Haardt Trans-Asiatic Expedition, Motor Rallying proper was introduced to Kashmir in the 1980’s when JK Tourism and Maruti-Suzuki jointly sponsored a local team for the 1st Great Desert Himalaya Raid.

I attended the trials conducted by Rajeev Khanna on the track leading to the top of the Kral Sangri hillock. Rajeev Khanna (grandson of the founder of the Oberoi Group and one of the most famous rallyists in India) had been selected as Team Leader for the event. The track was rarely used and had been declared out-of-bounds for traffic that day. Rajeev and I were on timekeeping duty at the top of the hill when my brother Javid Bakshi started his trial run from the base of the hill. From our vantage point we could see a truck clamber on to the road from some side trail on course for a head-on collision with his car.

Rajeev jumped into the driver’s seat of my car and for some reason I clambered into the passenger seat. ‘Seat belt please‘ is the last thing I remember hearing. The rest was a visual blur. A wheel-spinning turn, smothering dust-clouds, the smell of burning rubber, and the screaming agony of an engine being tortured beyond its endurance are etched into my memory. Somehow we managed to stop the truck off the racing line. My brother qualified for the JK Tourism team but my fleeting drive as a passenger had convinced me that while I could drive fast cars competently enough, motor rallying required a much higher level of skill and courage.

The JK Tourism team performed very creditably that year, claiming 3rd National and 5th position overall driving a stock Maruti Suzuki Gypsy against highly-fancied opposition in the Great Desert Himalaya Raid. The rally had been flagged off on August 28, 1988 in New Delhi and concluded at Cheshma Shahi after covering 5,000 gruelling kilometers over 10 legs passing through Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaislamer, Jodhpur, Dehradun, Shimla, Manali, Sarchu,and Leh.

Next year the team again secured 3rd National and 5th position overall in the 1989 International Great Desert Himalayan Raid which incidentally featured another team from J&K (Aslam and Ashraf Goni who secured 4th position).

1988 was the first time that rally cars with their racing livery and free-flow exhausts had torn up Kashmir’s roads and they caused quite a stir. The irrepressible Zahid Khan, the navigator of the JK Tourism Team, used to drive around town in his Gypsy with a huge sticker that read RALLY DRIVERS DO IT SIDEWAYS. Irfan Ahmed, who drove the JK Tourism Gypsy, is the fastest driver I know personally. I was the only one crazy enough to ride pillion with him during our glory days – riding the monster Yamaha RD 350 at speeds I do not believe can have been matched on regular public roads anywhere in India.

I don’t remember how Rajeev Khanna fared with his famous Opel Manta.

Incidentally the first time I saw Rajeev (or didn’t actually) was when a red streak whooshed by at warp speed at a red-light crossing one late night in Delhi. The unforgettable whine of that finely-tuned Kawasaki Ninja engine got me addicted to MotoGP. A few years back my kids dragged me halfway around Delhi just to see Valentino Rossi‘s bike. Sometimes we fantasize about a F1/MotoGP track in Kashmir. ‘The Doctor‘ thrashing a ‘46‘ monster round Gulmarg would really be an experience to remember.

Javid also owned the first true-blue dirt bike in Kashmir – a Yamaha 175. That bike blazed a glorious trail from inacessible peaks in the Pir Panjal to the desert wildernesses of Ladakh. In winter we would do the Chinese Downhill – illegal night runs in pitch darkness down the frozen Poma lift tracks of the Highland and 185 slopes in Gulmarg – on skis (nah too easy), on ‘borrowed’ sledges (one biggish bump and you are history), and finally kamikaze runs on that never-say die Yamaha. Motorcycling Nirvana!

Imagine achieving these adventures after years of dull Jawas and Yezdis when the height of motorcycling excitement was fixing the YEZDI decal upside down so that it read IPZAH (Yup, that dull).

The 10th International Himalayan Car Rally was the last rally held in Kashmir in 1989 before the outbreak of violence in the early 1990s. In recent years motor rallying returned to the valley with the Raid-de-Himalaya Rally and the Mughal Rally.

In 2018 Abrar bin Ayub riding a Hero Impulse won the Alpine category of Xtreme Moto at the Raid de Himalaya marking the first time that a Kashmiri has won an Xtreme category at a major rally.

The local scene is nowadays quite established with regular tarmac, mud and snow events being held by off-road adventure and motor-sport outfits like Kashmir Off-Road. I only hope they prioritise ecological sensitivity while planning their events.

It May or May Not Last

Published / by Jehangir

This time around I have decided to give Urdu some time to heal and inflict my first translation upon Kashmiri poetry.

Roziya na roziya (it may or may not last) is a mystical poem by Moti Lal Saqi (1936-1999).

With the usual disclaimer that my knowledge of poetic Kashmiri is quite limited, here goes.

This evening of sorrow is a solace
which may or may not last
these curls in the beloved’s tresses
may or may not last

why this agitation
o devout one?
our breath till morning
may or may not last

my only boast-worthy possession
is your desire/well-being
the beloved’s gaze is a blessing
which may or may not last

i am an infidel
guilty of idol worship
this vision of the beloved
may or may not last

you are the sustainer of the universe
this world is yours to command
do i deny your bondage?
deliverance (from sorrow) is all i desire

one’s own heart is a guide to all destinations
it need not be beseeched or bribed
a shrine within one’s own self
those who know how reap the blessings

When the late Anjum Sadiq encountered Moti Lal Saqi during the 1980’s he asserted that he had dedicated the poem to her grandfather – Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. The poem has been referenced in an earlier post.

The poem was originally sung by Mohammed Khalil and party for Radio Kashmir.
The traditional version can be viewed here.
This is a more rocking Chakri version.


Serendipity in the Himalaya

Published / by Jehangir

After a lifetime of travel guided by Lonely Planet, I casually picked up a used copy of a Bradt travel guide at a second-hand bookshop in Ladakh.

In harmony with the mystical Himalaya, serendipity awaited in the natural history section of the book.

The timing too was perfect because my younger nephew was wondering whether his cousins were pulling his leg about the Birds of Kashmir website being a family effort.

The book itself is a highly competent travel guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. Here is an excerpt from the Bradt website:

Standing on the veranda looking down across Dal and Nagin lakes with Hari Parbat peeking up through the mist, the sunlight glinting on the water as a solitary shikara paddles by, brings a lump to your throat. If there is heaven on earth, can it be anywhere else but here?

It may be a cliché, but there’s something in Jammu and Kashmir for everyone. You can marvel at the views from the roof of the world at Khardung La, staring down on mountain peaks and glaciers; stroll through the Eden-like Shalimar Gardens, inspired by the Qu’ranic image of paradise; take a shikara ride with your own Kashmiri gondolier through the lotus-bedecked lakes of Srinagar; and join the Buddhist monks at Thiksey Monastery for early morning prayers or meditation by candlelight.

Adrenalin junkies can scale unclimbed peaks, trek along frozen rivers, heli ski at Gulmarg, raft on the mighty Indus River or paraglide above the forests and slopes of Pahalgam; holiday makers looking for a more relaxing time can read and watch the world go by from the veranda of a cedar-wood houseboat, learn yoga, shop for carpets and pashminas and indulge in all manner of culinary delights.

Encompassing a vast stretch of land from the lush Kashmir Valley in the west, to the striking mountains and epic wilderness of Ladakh and Zanskar, the area now covered by the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has long astounded visitors with its beauty. It was the favourite destination of Mughal kings, British bureaucrats and tourists overlanding along on the hippie trail: they proclaimed it heaven on earth, and we’re rather inclined to agree.