He Drove India-PoK Bus Till 1952
17 February 2005
The Times of India
Srinagar: With the news of resumption of the bus service between the two halves of Kashmir, it's flashback time for Gulam Nabi Bhat, 76, who drove a bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad till 1952.The announcement during External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh's visit to Islamabad that the bus service would be resumed from April 7 has prompted Bhat to take a walk down memory lane - on the road he once traversed between India and Pakistan. 'I fondly remember those wonderful days. I would start at eight in the morning and sometimes return before sunset. Often, we preferred to spend the night in Muzaffarabad. One essential duty entrusted with the driver of the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service those days was delivery of mail,' Bhat recalled. At 76, Bhat still drives the taxi he owns. Asked if he would like to drive once again on the route from here to Muzaffarabad, Bhat said, 'I will definitely do that if permitted. But the great thing would be if I am allowed to drive the bus from here to that place, be it purely for nostalgia sake.' He says the road from Srinagar to the north Kashmir Baramulla town, which formed a major stopover en route, was fairly good. 'But the road became a little tedious once the bus left Baramulla. The road went alongside the Jhelum River whose course became faster after the river left the Baramulla town. 'Once we crossed the 'Lal Pul' (Red Bridge) the road became gentler and wider. But all said and done it was an all weather road. No snowfall, no landslides, it remained open for the entire year.' Retracing the route, Bhat said the cultural differences became palpable once you crossed the bridge on the Jhelum River and went into the territory presently known as Pakistan- administered Kashmir. 'There was a total change once you crossed the 'Lal Pul'. From language to dress and food habits, there is nothing common between Kashmiris and the people living in Muzaffarabad. 'But there were no tensions. No wars to be fought for territory, no race for racial superiority. It was not because a bus drove from here to Muzaffarabad. Those times were generally better,' Bhat said pensively. There were many personal high points. The one commodity his friends and relatives often wanted from Muzaffarabad was the tobacco from Peshawar. 'Its aroma was unforgettable. It was a gift my friends loved,' he recalled. And the one adventure he enjoyed in Muzaffarabad was going to the 'Talkie'. 'I went into a cinema hall for the first time in my life in Muzaffarabad. It was some movie about a dacoit being chased by a hero. But the magic of the silver screen worked. I would always make it a point to enter the 'Talkie' whenever I stayed for the night in Muzaffarabad town,' he said. He has one grouse though. Why did India and Pakistan take so long to open a road that would bind hearts and remove bitterness. ' Chalo Der Ayad, Durost Ayad (Anyway, it is better late than never),' Bhat said on a philosophical note.