A personal travel tale by Reetwika Banerjee
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After Pahalgam, we next headed towards Anantanag, the third largest district of our newly reformed state of Jammu & Kashmir; although during our visit Article 370 was still applicable. Till 1979, Anantanag comprised of the entire valley of South Kashmir which later split into Anantanag and Pulwama districts.
Bye Bye Pahalgam
We had hired a Tata Sumo for direct drop to Srinagar via Anantanag. The riverside road via NH501 was very scenic.
Road Trip to Anantanag via NH501
We stopped our car almost midway near a rafting point, as a mere watcher though. As we feel more comfortable being a watcher than an adventurist, like many others, we also posed for selfies with the rafters. Two buoys embarked in front of us. The ride seemed so scary to me. Thank God, I did not try it.
Our stop at Rafting Point
We traversed like 60 kilometres on road from Pahalgam which took us almost three hours to reach Anantanag town, the oldest district of Kashmir. The road trip included intermediate halts at Mattan and Martand Temple. The shrines were little inside from the highway which justifies the additional kilometres and time taken.
Highway drive to Anantanag
The place derives its name from a Sanskrit phrase – ‘Ananta’ meaning ‘Infinite’ and ‘Nag’ in Kashmiri language means ‘Water Stream’. Surprisingly, there are innumerable springs even today in and around the epicentre of Anantanag, the most significant being there at Mattan.
Driving through Mattan
A relic of antiquity, the district of Anantanag owes its etymology to the very spring that gushes out from a thin limestone rock fissure towards the northern side of this temple. Lots of fishes are reared in the accumulating water.
Anantanag Temple and Holy Stream
Another historically as well as religiously important village is Bawan where one can visit the Indernag Temple. It is often referred as Shri Raghunath Temple by local devotees and is presently maintained by the Nagbal Prabandhak Committee. The form of Lord Shiva worshipped here is five-faced Indernag to which the temple owes its name. Apart from the main shrine, idols of Vaishno Devi, Lakshmi Narayan, Lord Vishnu, Nav Durga forms of Devi Shakti and Bharat Mata holding Indian tricolour can also be found here.
Shri Raghunath Temple
Various shrines at Raghunath Temple
Bharat Mata Idol
Some 10 kilometres from Mattan, there is an ancient Sun Temple from the 1st century AD, popularly known as Martand Temple. This colossal edifice is believed to have been built by the famous Pandu King Ranaditya I. Earlier it was referred as ‘Pandu Koru’, which means the abode of Pandus. Located at the finest position in Kashmir, the ruins of this temple are mythically highly noteworthy which is also proven by its mentions in Mahabharata, Rajatarangini and many Hindu Puranas. Even in vestiges, this site still boasts of all the existing relics of Kashmir grandeur.
The architecture comprises of a lofty stone structure with eighty four pillars, pyramidal roof, a centrally located prayer hall, couple of side chapels and a narrow disconnected wing on both sides. The even numeric figure 84 is held sacred by the early Hindu kings, being a multiple of seven (number of days in a week) with 12 (number of zodiac signs in astrology). The shrine is housed within an ornamented quadrangle surrounded by porticos and trefoil headed adjournments. The architecture is so scientific that throughout the daytime, sunlight falls on the Surya figurine.
History reveals that in early 15th century, Sultan Sikandar Butshikan tried to destroy this temple but the construction was so strong that it took him more than two years to damage it substantially. Majority of it has sunken into depths of time and earth, leaving hardly a forty feet perennial wall in ruins. But its stone walls and bold facades, towering over the grooved pillars of surrounding colonnade, establishes the structure’s daunting presence.
Centuries ago, when Mughal governor Islam Khan administered the Kashmir region, had built a beautiful garden at Anantanag. Later he also changed the name of the town to Islamabad in his own honour. According to our driver, though from the times of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad the old name has been reinstated, yet the local Muslims still prefer to call it Islamabad. As a testimony to his statement, he also showed us a few hoardings which clearly mention the place as Islamabad. Even today, there is a huge controversy whether to address this piece of land as Anantanag or Islamabad.
Islamabad inscribed hoardings at Anantanag market
Unlike Jammu, since Anantanag is primarily a Muslim dominated region, the temple seemed to have additional military protection right from its entrance. Also, it being an archaeological site, special protection is enforced by the authorities. However, the local market place was as busy as any of the other Indian district towns. However, the bright logo of J&K Bank was the most attractive visual in the entire market area.
Anantanag Central bus stand and surroundings
It was very close to the Anantanag central bus depot. Parking our car near the entry gate, we walked inside. The entrance was very simple compared to its historic existence. As we kept entering towards the inner complex, we observed numerous bunkers inside the premises, with vigilant military officials keeping a strict eye on the temple entrants. In fact they were allowing limited visitors at a time by locking and unlocking the temple gate every time any civilian entered or exited through the main entrance. Photography too was very restricted within the campus. In fact, that’s quite usual of its type in whole of Kashmir. What amazed me more was an army Jawan guiding us inside the temple. We were allowed to click photos only around the ruins of Martand.
It took us almost an hour to complete an intimate round of the heritage site. Coming back to our car, we had to trouble ourselves to locate its driver as our normal prepaid connections were blocked in Kashmir. By the time my husband could find him, I purchased a couple of Kashmiri shawls from a Muslim hawker at the temple gate who seemed to offer me genuine discounts.
It was close to 1pm when we resumed our drive to Srinagar. On way we crossed the world famous Green Tunnel. It’s a two kilometre stretch on Jammu Srinagar Highway comprising of an array of green poplar and chinar trees along the main road.
Though we heard that of late, the density has gone down drastically due to massive axing of the matured female trees causing serious pollen allergies, but the view of green flush was truly eye-catching. While passing through the Green Tunnel area, our driver took a tea break at a roadside dhaba. We also utilized the time to lock the stunning landscape with our camera.
Way back, as I offered the holy prasad of Martand Temple to our driver, he accepted it with such a warm smile that I could not imagine him to be a person from other religion. As he shared his business card with us at the end of our trip, we got to know his name – Abdul Sheikh. Our journey with him was very enjoyable, conversant and equally pleasing. An overall unique experience made our Anantanag visit truly memorable.