The Shell-Shocked Meadow That Now Explodes With Secrets, Stories…

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When the ice melts on the meadows of Tosa Maidan, the morning brings back birds singing their instinctive songs setting a signal for nearby village dwellers to spend their summer on the most pleasant meadows of Kashmir.


Abdul Ghani Shikari, 55, who lives in Sita Haran parish of central Kashmir’s Budgam district takes his family along with his cattle away into the meditative silence of the mountains and spends his summers on the meadows of Tosa Maidan. His three sons are already married and the fourth one lives with him.

Some 40 kilometres away from Srinagar, Sita Haran is a serene pastoral pocket located at the foothill of the majestic Pir Panjal Range.

I arrived late on a reporting trip, and stayed in Sita Haran for a night and slept in the differently-abled silence. The next day I went for a trek to Tosa Maidan. 

I saw a golden jackal running away from me and then looking back and then running further away. Didn’t seem on any survival mission at all, I tried to follow him but he disappeared and that’s what I believe happens to all exciting things — they all disappear. 

Peace of mind amid peaks and pines. / MI Photo by Zaid Bashir

After hurdling across rough mountains my head reached just above the tip of a rough meadow and just over it was a sight of some bewitching beauty. The breeze with a chemical scent rustled beneath my earlobes and just in between came a blow, resisting my motion. I played with my motionlessness against the strong winds and tried to fly but the breeze came back strong.

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I felt the confident winds nurturing my frenzy: I screamed in excitement and winds responded amplifying my voice. I was full of vigour and the breeze controlling the skies, up above were birds dancing and gasping. Nearby, a man was setting his first summer steps with his family hurrying into his Doka.

It was just about meadows – clouds – and beyond the horizon snow patches announcing the eye-seizing sight. An eagle flying over the open meadows seemed so majestic yet ordinary. 

And then there were some wooden houses on the slant of one of the mountain – scattered – yet in order. A couple of horses were leashed around one of the Dokas.

In the lap of nature. / MI Photo by Zaid Bashir

Tosa Maidan has been in the fray of politics, often portrayed as the place where unexploded shells alter its existence. The meadow managed to come out of the 50-year-long military control around 2014. The artillery drills had bled and disabled the villagers over the years before the shrilled ‘Save Tosa Maidan’ campaign came to its rescue.   

“This is our fourth day in Tosa Maidan and my heart is not accepting leaving this place tomorrow,” Asif, a local tourist, said. 

“But we’ve to leave, although we wanted to visit many places around but such a place with lofty meadows and unfathomable height is not that easy to tread up to the edges, yet we visited many beautiful and tidy places like Khalkat, Kadlibal, and Gujjar Maidan which I think will remain with us for the rest of our life. Besides that, we didn’t see any unexploded shell as many say Tosa Maidan is a dangerous place.”

The next morning I was invited by Abdul Ghani Shikari for a breakfast. He seemed in joy with his hookah. I could only look at the plumes of smoke he created. There was a two-barreled gun hanging on his wall.

He bethinks himself in a time when he would go hunting and find so many animals hopping in the nearby jungles. 

Time to sunbathe. / MI Photo by Badar Bashir

A long time back, said Shikari, “I shot a leopard in the neck and took out a tiny bone to hang that as an amulet on my elder son’s neck.” 

It’s believed that the person having a leopard bone hung on his neck at his baby-age doesn’t fear anything afterwards. 

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“He loses all the fear and cowardice,” Shikari said making his hunting past known, for now, he tends some sheep, chickens, horses in his summer camp of Tosa Maidan.

Shikari in those days would find animals in abundance like bears, leopards, lions, wolves, markhors, deers and also the birds, the ones native to the land like Wanni Kokur and Haam which looks like “an ostrich of about 5 kilograms”. 

Now that Shikari doesn’t hunt, his whole time spends in looking after his livestock. His son moves over the lushes to tend the sheep and when the need for money arrives they sell their sheep in ones and twos.  

Dotted landscape. / MI Photo by Zaid Bashir

A decade ago when Shikari went back to Sita Haran on the onset of winter, it was the night of fresh snowfall and “we all were preparing to sleep but a shrill voice, so thin and horrid, rattled us and our whole locality came out with fire lighting our clubs. She was forest-witch [Rantas] and after seeing fire she flew unseen.”

The legend has it that the ‘wild-witch’ knows the names of the people where she intends to visit and then she calls the name of a person whom she wishes.

“If a person opens the door,” Shikari says, “Rantas attacks him and takes along that man alive but if it’s a woman, the forest witch kills her. I heard her that night. It was like she was in front of me. She made some strange noise, and that was a petrifying moment for all of us.” 

Twosome awesome. / MI Photo By Badar Bashir

I couldn’t disbelieve what Shikari had just said. I went out in utter thought of astonishment and lost myself again in the beauty of the land. I wanted to run to the extreme left, there, where the dark grey cloud is conferencing with the top of the meadow or to the extreme right where the sun was enlightening the white of the snow. It was a sweet confusion and I stayed in the middle – stunned. 

With that rattled mindset, I bumped into Firdous Ali, who conducts seasonal summer school every year for Bakerwals, Gujjars, and nomadic tribes in Tosa Maidan. There’re around six seasonal centres. Every centre has a roll of around twenty students and each centre is run by two teachers.

“We’ve around 120 students getting schooled from our centres every summer,” Firdous said inarticulately. “Their family comes here to pasture their sheep and their kids come here to learn.” 

Where golden fox prowls. / MI Photo by Badar Bashir

I walked more into Tosa Maidan. I don’t know how many times should I say lushes, but in the lushes, the deadwood didn’t seem dead at all but the ornamenting objects and within the ornaments were termites. How unfortunate for termites that they don’t eat grass. In Tosa Maidan, I felt, everyone should eat grass, even humans. 

Firdous has an avid understanding of flora around the place and while walking to the eternity of lushes, he decided to talk about the common herbs which grow in the land. 

“Besides the livestock that is scattered all over the place, we also have many greens, sometimes we cook them and sometimes we scrub them on our skin. This place is more like a Pandora land. You walk a mile further and you get another herb. You climb a mile farther a different herb is met,” the summer camp tutor said.

That living room painting. / MI Photo by Zaid Bashir

They mostly cook Pammi Haakh—a vegetable green and Dod. It looks like beans. Another thing they look forward to in their meals after a low or a high day is ‘Sheed Khar’, an onion-like vegetable but smaller in size. It’s used to control blood pressure. There’s another vegetable that looks like ginger, it’s called ‘duph’ and it’s used to control stomach gasses.

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Pam chalan, another amazing vegetable which urbanites can’t even imagine of having in their proximity, is used as a vegetable and cooked mostly but is also in vogue to cure the injuries,” Firdous explained. 

“We dry it, grind it into fine particles and layer it over the injury and just after some time, injury disappears. It’s not magical but in here where hospitals and first-aid treatment is a distant dream, it works like magic, just in some days.”

Home atop hills. / MI Photo by Zaid Bashir

Firdous was limitlessly walking into the free space. The sky was far and near and then meeting the sea of meadows. Such is the beauty of Tosa Maidan. A place where the land seems woven with sweet green by angels themselves and the stars brought smoothly into the grey of night artfully, differently, in a refined motion, unlike other places. 

We walked like small creatures in the midst of meadows and wondered how big the world could be. Has ‘nothing’ made anyone wonder? It hasn’t. Yet there was ‘nothing’ and we wondered.

Some natives interacted and told me stories. The stories were thick and exaggerated but the taste in them was original.

Showket, a young chap from Sita Haran, who comes to Tosa Maidan in summers to rear sheep, said, “Once Ashraf Khan, a resident of Zogo village, Arizal, came to take back what he had forgotten in the stone-grinder mill and to his astonishment found a forest-witch grunting inside in frenzy. He being agile lifted his club and hit her on her head. She died just there. Her appearance was adequately circulated to every corner of the Arizal village of Zogo. We heard that her skin was enveloped in fur and her toes were facing backwards.”

The daily walk of life. / MI Photo by Zaid Bashir

Some stories created imaginations about the animals who come from the immediate mountains. These natives talked about them differently altogether. 

They say they’ve not hurt anyone till now. I thought how could they have? Their instincts wouldn’t have allowed them to mar a soothing place with the wild threat. They want to give themselves a break, come out of the wild for a vacation to Tosa Maidan. 

But while humans never think of animal vacations, Tosa Maidan does. 

The soothing beauty has shaped humans too. I don’t think they talk. They just look at each other and feel good: maybe.

I saw an old man talking to sheep and the sheep responded in their own paralanguage. The old man smiled as if he understood something. Then I saw the sheep fighting with each other behind the old man’s back. 

Smiling at strangers. / MI Photo by Badar Bashir

Crows sunbathed over the deadwood – imagining ways to be more beautiful and eternal. But would they be? In some cities, their crowing only warrants a rumour. People say imminent is an earthquake and flounder their name to make their wishes sound more authentic.

Here in Tosa Maidan, they’re respected, by none, but aren’t hated either. They live in a serene grasp of beauty endowed with an anxiety-free environment to ponder over their past mistakes as to why their name is brought up with bad omens.

Some horses playing in the middle of meadows missing with one additional feature on their nose – horn – but they were real horses, running and charming.

But while unicorns are just imaginary hype, real world seemed an unforgettable memory and yet not so real.

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