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Kalari cheese, not to miss in Pahalgam

This Traditional Kashmiri Cheese Is One of the Most Unique in the World. A traditionally ripened Himalayan cheese indigenous to the state, Kalari is made of cow or goat milk and has a stretchy and dense texture, with a mild mozzarella-like flavor. This cheese is also called the milk chapatti or maish krej in Kashmiri. The picturesque town of Pahalgam also offers surprise culinary delights that will leave food lovers in awe. For all the turophiles out there, Pahalgam is a must-visit destination.
Home to a local cheese factory that creates traditional cheese Kalari from cow and goat’s milk, a variety of Himalayan cheese can be found in this scenic town. The pastoral nomadic communities rare the cattle and provide this milk to the locals, who in turn make the mozzarella-like Kalari. Kalari, or Himalayan cheese, is the specialty in Pahalgam and the cheese factory here attracts tourists and also food connoisseurs from across the globe. The founder, Chris Zandee from the Netherlands, and his manager Gulaam Hassan, have helped the Gujjars increase milk production and taught them how to maintain herd hygiene. This has helped raise the price of milk to respectable levels, economically empowering the shepherds who used to otherwise depend on loans to run their winter pantry.
The cheese comes in unique like walnut, cumin, mustard and black pepper, and chili to fenugreek. The other cheese dishes that are a must-try in Pahalgam are milk chapati or maish krej. One of the most famous dish is the Kalari Kulcha, it’s a cheese calzone in essence, except it’s a lot more. Kalari has a unique salty flavor that when eaten with vegetables, enhances the taste massively leaving you wanting more. It can be used in other dishes too and is a staple for all Kashmiris.
Today, the main ingredient for making cheese – milk – is still available in plenty thanks to pastoralists like Gujjars and Bakarwals. They are the nomadic shepherds of the Kashmir valley who move their herds of dairy cattle and their own settlements up and down the mountains based on the changing seasons.

Reversing a High Court Order at whims – easy for CEO PDA, SHO Pahalgam

Last year, the Honorable High Court gave a clear order to reinstate the tenant’s rights in the case of old RK Studio/RK Enterprises fire incident from 2006 in the Main Bazaar, Pahalgam. The CEO and the SHO followed the court directions and gave over the possession to Sh. Ravinder Kumar, an old-time businessman who has lived in Pahalgam for the last 60 years.
A new year, a new story. With new officers at the helm in 2019, and under what seems like undue influence, the local Pahalgam administration is bent on violating the order and is pressurizing Mr. Ravinder at the behest the building owner Shamima Shera and her brother Bilal Ahmed Shera who also happen to be total outsiders. The duo has the CEO PDA, and SHO Pahalgam exert undue pressure to reverse implement the judgment.
After a suspicious fire had torn down the building in 2006, the owner had requested permission for the reconstruction of the gutted building. One of the conditions laid out was that the grant of the permission would have no impact on the landlord-tenant relationship. However, the shop was not handed over to the tenant, and the tenant approached the Honorable High Court for justice. After the landlord indulged in stalling tactics for four years, last year the court came down heavily on all the concerned authorities and as a result, in the presence of a number of authorities, the shop was handed over to Sh. Ravinder Kumar. It included the CEO, the Tehsildar, the SHO.
In the last couple of days, the situation started changing back again. The landlord has forcibly occupied a portion of the shop and has laid claim to a significant portion of the shop, all with open support from the same authorities that only months back had helped implement the high court order.

RK Studio – Gutted in Fire in 2006

New officers in authority have changed their stand over a short period of time with no logic, no further court directive, but what can be nothing but undue influence in favor of one of the party. It is a travesty of hard-earned justice. Do the land’s courts have no other business but to hear the same cases again and again, and issue the same orders again and again, just because new officers simply choose to do it differently?
There is a lot going on in Pahalgam; the suspicious behavior of authorities that plays with the thin line between tenant/landlord relationships is just one of them. Especially with situations created by the kind of fires that may themselves have been suspicious in nature.

See coverage in press:

Pahalgam’s New Master Plan is still a Mirage

A new master plan was drafted and it is waiting for its implementation for the last nine years.
By MAJID YOUSUF ATTAR Srinagar, June 18, 2019, Originally published in Greater Kashmir
My hometown is a tourist’s delight. Guest is our soul. We sacrifice our comfort to make visitors feel home. But to my utter shock and disbelief, Pahalgam is not a virgin tourist spot anymore. My dad was a shutterbug. His frames are a historical archive to prove that Pahalgam had been married to nature.

My dear father, a veteran photographer is no more but his photographs are the real asset. Thirty years down the line, Pahalgam has lost its essence. In 2010, a PIL was filed in the honourable high court of Jammu and Kashmir to revive the 1980s master plan, full of loopholes, a new master plan was drafted and it is waiting for its implementation for last nine years. The elite and big guns from various corners of the valley have managed to build hotels and resorts while locals are being denied even minor repairs in their households. Roaring glacier’s with gurgling waters were the specialty of my place. Woods were akin to green carpet. Lush green meadows are naked now. There was no hazardous fencing around hotels and big bungalows. Why is it being done? And who is doing it? Why no action against big fish? Pahalgam was our pride but is gar ko aag lagi gar kay chiraag sai. The brazen violation and the loot in increasing ceaselessly under the nose of administration.

Established some 40 years ago with the sole aim to make Kashmir’s Switzerland picture perfect, Pahalgam Project Organization has completely failed so far. Renamed as Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) in 2003, the organization has much to answer. New parks were demarcated in the Master Plan and large tracts of agricultural land and natural green spaces were converted into parks. Every park was fenced and people were required to pay an entry fee. The idea of making artificial enclosures in the wilderness is unfathomable. It is like holding captive, God’s creation and handiwork. Like ugly smudges across a heavenly picture.

The rich authoritarian regime of PDA spent money on ill-planned projects and unnatural obstacles. They fiddled with woods. It turned disastrous for the environment. Not even single environmental engineer, urban planner, landscaper or a biodiversity specialist was consulted to draft the plan. I fail to understand why is forest land being fenced? Why is this contractor mafia turning once virgin spot a disturbingly ugly place? Why is district administration has maintained criminal silence over the years? Landfills can be seen on river banks. Open spaces are shrinking? The construction boom has mauled its beauty. There is no concept of Sewage Treatment Plant {STPs}. For this purpose, once pristine Lidder river is used mutually. Unnecessary concrete bridges have been constructed for unknown reasons. Not a single rope-way bridge is here. The worst hit is Betab Valley. Years ago the only access to the meadow was a fallen tree that acted as a bridge. Everything else was untouched. Today it is a man-made park with pathways and gazebos.

Another meadow called Baisaran, which lies in the deep forests (around 6KM uphill walk from Pahalgam market) has been again fenced. A huge concrete entry block sits like an eyesore at the entrance. Have we any idea what we are doing with nature? Every new year is hotter than the previous one and winters are much drier then they used to be. We are moving towards an ice age. Spring and autumn season is gone. We are still in deep slumber. Untreated sewage, polluted rivers, depleting fish, shrinking forest cover due to smuggling and forest fires, Pahalgam is losing its sheen. Almost 74 percent of the waste (12 metric tonnes monthly) is generated by hotels and restaurants according to a report by Municipal Committee Pahalgam. All of the waste without even proper segregation goes to a landfill which is on the bank of river stream near Ganishbal Pahalgam.

Even our high altitude lakes haven’t been spared. The Sheshnag lake (source of Lidder) is the worst hit. It receives tons of garbage during Amarnath yatra. In 2016 alone, tons of garbage was brought down from the Sheshnag base camp. The two-month long yatra brings all forms of pollution with it. It mercilessly defiles this land, it’s air and its waters. As this was not enough, we have the rumble of helicopters tearing through the silence every fifteen minutes. This highly politicized ‘pilgrimage’ has catastrophic climatic consequences.

The idea of Shiva as a God is one of calm reflection and serenity. Of purity and silence. This yearly cacophony of sounds and contamination must make his spirit restless. It must make him angry. It is time to mend our ways and to introspect. It will be wise for us all to remember: Lord Shiva’s wrath, his third eye. At this rate, the day is not far before Pahalgam becomes another concrete jungle in the mountains. Its beauty relegated to picture books and movie scenes. Its sight and sounds lost in the nostalgic stories that we will narrate to our next generation. For them, it will be fiction. What will we do now to preserve our legacy?

The Author is a Naropa Fellow-class of 2018-19.

When the brave-heart fought wild tides for the guests in Pahalgam – the True Story

By Zishan Amiri Posted on June 13, 2019 on freepresskashmir
As a homeboy growing up playing with wild tides of river Lidder in picturesque Pahalgam, Rouf Dar was the best rafter in town. This past Ramzan, fighting the same roaring river for guests, his tide ties snapped so suddenly that it shook his hometown and gave Kashmir a new fallen hero.

Just like any other Ramzan evening, Ghulam Rasool Dar on May 30, 2019 dialled a call back home from duty to check if his wife and children had done their iftaar on time. But the unexpected response from the other side of the phone line froze him.

His eldest among the two sons, Rouf Dar wasn’t home yet and his out of reach phone was quite a rarity. A tumour patient himself, Ghulam Rasool tried to ease down his wailing wife, Tasleema, in a way to assure himself as well: “Where would he even go? He has a well-built personality. He would fight hundreds. None could do bad to him.”

Hailing from picturesque town of Pahalgam in south Kashmir, Rouf was in his late teenage years when he first romanticised with his village’s native water body, famous for its rafting amongst tourists all across.

He would find peace playing along the dancing tides of river Lidder. He had been friends with its gigantic rocks and the ever-giggling white waters. Over the years and by 2019, he was looked upon as ‘the best’ rafter to have romanticized with the beautiful river. Perhaps, this must be one of the reasons Rouf decided to go against the tides, that day – May 31, 2019.

Having had perfectly mastered all the tricks and turns of Lidder, he couldn’t say no to the repeated requests of a group of tourists from Kolkata to raft them through.

Despite having warned about the upset water flow, the tourists were adamant. They had reasoned Rouf about their departure scheduled next morning and that they cannot fly back home without experiencing Kashmir’s famous white water rafting. And the ‘kind-hearted’ boy of river Lidder, just couldn’t have disappointed them.

It was close to 5:30 in the evening, an hour past the closing time decided that day by the rafter association, owing to the bad weather conditions. Across the entire stretch, it was only Rouf and his floating raft at the start point, as the group of five tourists and a guide accompanying them made their way in.

And in case of any mishap, a rescue boat had also been arranged to ensure tourists’ safety. With that, Rouf peddled his boat as the tourists cheered in joy.Back home, Rouf’s mother had been long-preparing his favourite delicacies for iftaar.

Every day, he would finish his work and reach home by 7:00 pm, and lend a helping hand to decorate the dastarkhwan, then to break the tiring fast with his wife, mother and his younger brother – all together sharing a sumptuous smile alongside the meat feast. This had now become a routine.

But that day, when Rouf did not return even after half an hour past the iftaar time, his younger brother tried to reason with worried Tasleema saying, maybe, he must have been busy with work.

As the leader of a union of rafters, 32-year-old Rouf was always a busy man.

During the 2014 floods in Kashmir, he and his associates had peddled their raft all the way down to Anantnag, where they rescued people day and night, returning back home only after six long days.

He knew his job in-and-out.

In 2016, a tourist raft had flipped after crashing with a wooden pole of a leftover footbridge. Rouf, who was luckily present at the area of the crash, pulled his raft and rescued all the tourists back to the safe base.

On the fateful day, Rouf had again found himself in middle of another rescue act.

A sudden cloudburst had spiked the water levels in the Lidder and the subsequent strong winds had upturned the raft entirely.

Moreover, as narrated by Javed Ahmad, one of the rafters on the rescue boat, the water fury was such that the two rafts had parted away and Rouf was left all by himself.

Soon after the crash, according to Javed, Rouf got himself up on the flipped raft, held it to a steady spot, and selflessly dived into the wild Lidder to reach out to the tourists screaming for help.

For the next half an hour, he was at it: easing down the once friendly, but now, a wild river Lidder, its ever-giggling, but now ruthlessly screaming tides, only to save the lives of his guests from Kolkata, all while more than 12 hours had passed since he had last eaten anything or sipped even a glass of calm water.

Back home, his mother Tasleema was still waiting for him to join her for iftaar.“It was sharp 8:08 pm,” Rouf’s father Ghulam Rasool recalls, “I had called my wife.”

While on phone as Ghulam Rasool was still trying to ease down Tasleema, Rouf’s younger brother got a call from the villagers. The bad news had arrived.

“Rouf sahab’s raft has turned over…”

Tasleema screamed on phone, Ghulam Rasool’s heart slipped a beat, as Rouf, away from his home, lost his grip and swum to the dark ends of Lidder, as its tides took him along, once and forever.

His dead body was found next morning at 6:00 am by his fellow rafters and the team of State Disaster Response Force alongside J&K Police.Rouf’s heroics earned high respect on social media. Some termed his act as the spirit of Kashmiriyat. But many simply called it an act of Insaniyat.

However, under the shadow of praises and monetary compensation from the state, the young rafter’s untimely death highlights concerning point that has gotten broadly overlooked.

While Rouf’s heroics must be surely recognised, the fact that the incident would have not occurred had the tourist not badgered him, should also be considered.

Several white-water rafting guidelines suggest that the tourist-trips should be timed to finish at least an hour before dark, while in the case of Rouf, the closing time had been declared 4:30 pm that fateful day.


But his father reasons that his son’s ‘kind heart’ couldn’t have allowed him to say no to the tourists.

Rouf was married only four years back. A BA and BEd degree holder, he had been long trying to apply for a government job to look after his tumour-ridden father, an ailing mother, a wife, and an undergraduate younger brother.

“Maybe, this was what his destiny had in store for him…” Ghulam Rasool concludes, in a way, making uneasy peace with his brave-heart son’s tragic demise.