Around the time we were in Srinagar two artists from Gwalior also happened to be there. Both of them were reputed artists. One of them, who used to be a friend of my brother, decided to visit Shopian, probably, to take in the Pir Panjaals from closer quarters. We all decided to go in a group.
Shopian is a small town, now a district headquarters, situated south-west of Srinagar only 50-odd kilometres away. It is supposed to be an ancient town and was better known for its location on the old imperial road known as the Mughal Road connecting Kashmir Valley with Lahore. Emperor Akbar used it to conquer Kashmir in late 16th Century and his son Jehangir died on this road near Rajouri while returning from Kashmir. The road is being rebuilt by India as an alternative route to the Valley via Poonch in Jammu & Kashmir crossing over the Pir Panjaals at an elevation of higher than the Banihal Pass that is at more than 11000 ft. It will drastically cut the distance between Srinagar and Poonch.
We were in Shopian in about an hour and a half passing through the saffron town of Pampore and the ancient crumbling settlement of Awantipora. The town is in one of the numerous ‘apple countries’ of the Kashmir Valley. Nothing much to see except a good-looking Jama Masjid, we headed out of town towards the West in an elevated area where the local government had built a rest house. Shopian is around 2000 ft higher than Srinagar in elevation and gets a closer and unrestricted view of Pir Panjaals.
The Pir Panjaal range was shining bright in the sunshine with the blue of the skies for the background making it look majestic. Our artist friend, Rudra Hanji, got to work immediately. A product of Shantineketan, it was interesting to watch him sketching away with his felt pen. I found it amazing to see him work on ordinary paper and within moments he had sketched the likeness of the landscape in front with light deft strokes of the pen. Apparently it was rough work for him to be later finished with colour on canvas. He worked feverishly taking in whatever he saw in almost all the directions. The natural beauty of Kashmir is, after all, fabled.
A beautiful town with picturesque surroundings, Shopian, unfortunately, later fell victim of intense terrorist attacks from across the Cease Fire Line. Infiltration from across the Pir Panjaals has been continuing and off and on, apart from members of the security forces, even locals have fallen victims of terrorist bullets. The place seems to have become unsafe. But, back in 1957 there was no militancy, no infiltration from across the borders and life was safe, peace reigning supreme.