I was thinking of proceeding to Uri as the office there was due for inspection when Ghulam Mohammed dropped in. He used to be the staff car driver of the Director’s office. I used to think that he was somewhat stand-offish. He, however, became very attached to me after I got his pension authorization in three days time from Kapurthala – the seat of our audit office. More about him later.
He asked me whether I was thinking of going out of station, if so, he said, he would come along to drive my car. In those days we at the field level had no official vehicle. We were left to our own devices – either one’s own vehicle or use of public transport. Since Ghulam offered to come with me I thought he would be a great help. I rushed the plan as we had to take Inner Line permits for everyone, including Ghulam, a thorough-bred Kashmiri. to enter Uri. It was not open to the public.
Along with Gjulam and Ramesh, my PA, we left for Uri one very fine morning. It was a well built road and the journey was pretty smooth. As we reached the check point I had to stop the vehicle. I kept it at the extreme left from where I could see the man waving the flag for vehicles to move on. Soon I found the man looking at me and waving his flag. I started off and was cruising at a decent speed. Even despite the noise of the car we could hear the Jhelum River going down a gorge in frothy turbulence. Soon we reached Chandanwari and got into the guest house. Seeing a garage right in front with its gate open invitingly I put the car in and the PA tried to shut the heavy doors but couldn’t as there was nothing to hold them together.
Having refreshed ourselves, all three of us walked to the office. It was around one kilometer away and the road was along the river. After about 500 metres there was a bend to the left and right in front was the Haji Peer Pass at a fairly high elevation. I understand it is more than 8000 ft high. Hajo Peer, as is well known, was captured by Indian force at great cost of lives in rge 1965 War but was returned to Pakistan under the Tashkent Agreement. We had won back our own territory which was illegally seized by Pakistan, hence where was the question of returning it; but such are the inexplicable ways of the politicians.
Uri at one time was important as it connected Kashmir through the Jhelum Valley Road to Rawalpindi. It also connected Kashmir with Poonch. Nonetheless, it was like a one-horse town. Across the river the mountains were in illegal occupation of Pakistan.
After about three hours I finished the inspection and we commenced our walk back to the Chandanwri rest house. It was pleasantly cool and one felt like walking. Arriving at the rest house I checked the car and was happy to find it safely in its shelter.
Next morning we commenced our drive back for Srinagar. This time it was Ghulam who was driving. It was uneventful until we came close to the checkpost around 50 yards from which two jawans vigorously waved us down. They led us close to the checkpost which, in fact was functioning from a tent. They said they looked for my car all through the previous day; they even had gone to neighbouring villages as they couldn’t locate it in Uri. They said I had gone past the check post without getting the necessary clearance. They asked us to wait till the Captain who was manning the post was free.
While waiting outside the checkpost I surveyed the surroundings. Kashmir’s beauty was really unmatched. In the midst of this beauty there was this ugliness of the guards who were manning the post. They were rough and harsh with the passengers in a bus who apparently did not have the permit to go out of Uri. Some of them were pulled out of the bus roughly, thrashed and were, quite clearly, left high and dry. The army was Indian and it was also of the Kashmiris and hence perhaps those who defaulted could be treated more sensitively. But there was a flip side. The Army had to to be rough as this was also the route for infiltration from Pakistan.
Soon we were called in. As I entered the Captain, who was a young handsome Sikh asked where we had disappeared in Uri. He also said that his boys went all over but couldn’t find the car – a prominent looking car of flashy red colour. I handed to him the permits and gave our identities saying that I was in Uri on Central government business and that the car was in the garage of Chandanwari rest house where we spent the night. He seemed to be amazed and perhaps a trifle foxed. HAE asked again about the car and whether the garage was locked. I gave him the facts. It was then that he seemed to go ballistic and let loose a barrage of choicest Punjabi expletives directed at his soldiers.
While he asked me to push off he held back the guards for perhaps some more slamming in the privacy of his tent. It was an anticlimax for the Army boys who perhaps never expected a dressing down and that the table would be turned on them. Of course, we were not privy to how actually things panned out.