Jammu & Kashmir can be divided into the Islamic east– Kashmir, and the Buddhist west– Ladakh. The little town of Mulbekh is the divide between the two halves. This is where Buddhism ends and Islam begins.
The next town on our path was Kargil. What is essentially a quiet, dreary village became synonymous with the war with Pakistan in 1999. The ultra-wide, neatly done road (there is usually just one road going thru these villages) contrasts sharply with the diminutive character of the village. It's funny how it took a full-scale war to spur development.
We could feel our proximity to the Line Of Control with Pakistan. Heavily armed guards are present on every road, bridge or any mentionable form of infrastructure. It took us 30 mins to get a chance to make phone calls from a public telephone – the place was swarming with army guys. Oh, and they hate cameras in these places.
Next up was the LoC. Those were some of the most amazing hours of the trip. Beas (or Sindh?) thundered right next to the road, and on the other side of the river was Pakistan – nay, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The road bisected the slopes studded with bunkers and artillery pointed skywards. There was an unmistakable air of aggression and tension.
Just to make us feel at ease, a signboard read "You are now under enemy observation". Notice the word 'enemy'. Not too far from here, we have guys who play cricket, meet up occasionally to boost the Indo-Pak bhai-bhai sentiment, develop feel-good Confidence-Building-Measures… bullshit! Hypocrisy is the name of the game… absolutely nobody has the balls to speak out the truth sans all the sugar-coating and diplomatic gas. The media feeds us deceptive stories and loads of lies that comfortably shield us from reality. Kids coming for surgeries, musicians, actors, cricketers, diplomats, politicians giving out well-rehearsed lines… it's all such a messy farce. The mutual distrust is thick in the air. Infiltration is clear and present, and it's a very real danger to our country. The fear and suspicion in the eyes of the army men is unmissable. How can we shamelessly accept these lies when our army men live and die in fear?
The worst part is that there isn't a hint of an end to the terror, and to the problem itself. Men are going to die, suffer deep mental scars due to the perpetual fear and suspicion, Pak Generals will be extended warm receptions and taken to the Taj Mahal, not long after orchestrating a bloody war which claimed thousands of lives, Indian Ministers will meekly cry at the need for an end to terrorist camps in Pak, shamelessly begging for some western power to help them clean their mess, cricketers will play series after series after series and hog media-space like they were building peace-bridges and laugh all the way to the bank… and people just sit back and watch on… oh, and where is my pop-corn?