Bandipora district, Kashmir
Sitting, under a walnut tree, in the garden of my friend’s house, I suddenly expressed to her my desire to visit Moses’ grave, rumoured to be situated not far away from our present location. I confessed to her the difficulty in obtaining directions to this grave. The locals are fiercely protective and refuse to divulge details.
My friend who has travelled a lot, in these parts, instead encouraged me to visit a place where Jesus was last sighted. The place: Athawatoo, Bandipora.
This, I had never heard of. Not even in all the writings and research that I have read and that are related to Jesus’ time in Kashmir. My interest was immediately piqued.
A few days later and I found myself, sitting in a vehicle, being jostled right and left, on the road to Athawatoo.
An hour and a half passed. Then, I was walking past a hamlet (where we bought some sweet offerings) and a local school, and crossing a tiny bridge over the Madhumati river. A short trek through another hamlet and we found ourselves on a spring meadow with a herd of sheep. A pretty scene, to say the least.
I could imagine Jesus standing at this very meadow and delivering a sermon to the people here. I could see the people listening to him in rapt attention. The sheep grazing by in calm rhythmn.
There were some shepherds huddled together in a group. We asked one for the way to the Pir Baba’s (Holy One) shrine. We had been expressly warned, earlier, not to make any references to Jesus.
“It will be of no use.” my friend told me. “They will just clam up.”
So, we trekked on. Unlike every other shrine or public place I have visited, this shrine is so silent that it can be unnerving. To the extent that one is a little lost as to what to do. There are no signboards and no instructions. There are no people. We later learnt that there is a caretaker, from the hamlet nearby. But, at the time of our visit, she might have been attending to other duties.
And so, I finally saw the place where Jesus, according to legend, is said to have meditated. After scattering the sweets for the monkeys, we burnt incense sticks and sat down to soak in the calm and the silence.
Visitors tie cloth to symbolise a favour they have requested for.
On the way down, there was a perceptible difference in everyone. We were quieter, more contemplative.
The government rest house at Athawatoo, on the banks of the River Madhumati.
What stands out about Athawatoo is its total lack of commercialisation. And the locals’ fierce refusal to accept any legend, other than their own version, associated with it. I’ve been told it’s because they’ve had bad experiences, with story hunters and tourists, in the past.
And yet, if the experience is meant for you, it will come to you.
A few weeks later, in a surprise move, I shifted out of Kashmir.
I can’t help but wonder if it had anything to do with our visit to Athawatoo.