Safarnama-e-Kashmir

From valley to mountain peaks, 

Water to snow ,

Wooden panes to shattered windows,

Flowering buds to firing shots,

And from cold feet to heated beds…  

Here are a few glimpses of my Kashmir diary–

Scene 1

A Fauji friend who has been posted near the LOC in Kashmir, for the last three years has been repeatedly inviting us to visit him. Everytime he calls, we raise eyebrows, ask each other,”KASHMIR?”, glance at our girls and unanimously echo,”NO!!’

A few months ago, he called again and informed that his posting from Kashmir will be over in 2 months and we HAVE to, HAVE to visit him and that he is not taking a no for an answer… 

And as they say, chalo bulawa aaya hai, mata ne bulaya hai; we say, Major ne dhamkaya aur hum chale aaye… “You are EXACTLY where you are meant to be, TRUST LIFE!”

Scene 2  

Itinerary finalised, flight tickets booked, hotels booked…   

Just two days before our journey, 

News flashes across all channels — Floods in Kashmir; Highways closed ; Roads blocked; Stone pelting in Kashmir… 

We call Ishfaq bhai, our driver companion for the trip. Sensing our fears and doubts, he reassures us to be sure to visit his valley, takes our details and says, “Aap “Hindustan” se aane wali flight me ho na? Aapka intezar rahega.” (” Will you be in the flight coming from India ? We will be waiting for you!”)

The word Hindustan which was only of lyrical importance to me and probably heard of, only on Independence Day and Republic Day, suddenly is much much more potent.  

I am still not sure of what his sweet sounding ‘aapka Intezaar rahega’ meant… His words just linger and play in my mind on a loop.. 

Scene 3

We check in at our hotel Taj Srinagar and each one of us is happy doing what we enjoy doing the most! While I can’t stop capturing the majestic mountains with snow covered lofty peaks on one side of the hotel and the peaceful Dal Lake on the other, my girls have gone crazy running around. They are counting the number of shades of tulips all around, and husband is peacefully enjoying his warm cup of Kashmiri qahwah – our latest favorite beverage (I am not disclosing how many boxes am I carrying back home with me)   😛

Scene 4

We go for the shikara ride on the Dal Lake with the most handsome and talented singer. (yes, the Kashmiris are the most beautiful people- deep set light eyes, rosy cheeks and the nazaaqat bhari aawaz! )  He not only shares interesting anecdotes but also entertains us with some lovely renditions.

It’s just been a couple of hours and we have already seen hundreds of police and army men around us, but we are falling in love with Kashmir, slow and steady. The crisp air and the tranquil atmosphere is simply refreshing and welcoming.  

Scene 5

It feels like heaven. It looks like heaven..Yes, it INDEED is heaven!!

The tulips all around in various colours, shapes and sizes are a sight to believe. The occasional sweet smell adds to the romance drifting in the air…

I can’t help being filmy and run around bringing out the singer in me (and it’s not just me but everyone around, including the otherwise quiet husband!)

While Suhaani wants to take all that she can, in the camera, for her friends back home, Ishaani is busy clearing the ground by collecting little stones– they might hurt the pretty flowers, she thinks! 🙂

All in all, we are in one beautiful paradise!  

Scene 6

You are never too old to be young  ~ Snow White   

I see this quote come alive with white snow all around me. The kids, shrieking with joy, are busy making snowmen and throwing snow balls at each other but what catches my attention are my mother’s twinkling eyes. The white snow reflecting in those eyes, make her face even more vibrant. The happy smile adds to the glow and though I am shivering, I sense a feeling of warmth inside…  

As I sip on my cup of hot qahwah back at the Khyber hotel with plush wooden brown interiors, surrounded by the white and green canopy of snow and Chinar, I feel pure bliss! 

Scene 7

I feel weary as our driver decides to take another route on our way to Kupwara from Gulmarg. The usual route is unsafe due to stone pelters, he says. 

There is silence and a sense of apprehension as our car moves along the crooked lanes and by-lanes , lined by beautiful houses and apple trees. There are very few vehicles and even fewer people.  

I watch the smooth pebbles, the hues of green and shades of blue to calm myself… The meandering stream of water running alongside all through the way, seems to echo my wandering thoughts.

My heart aches at the sight of the dilapidated beauty all around. 

Scene 8

The fauji friend has come to receive us halfway. I see him from a distance and take a while to recognize him. His  serious uniformed demeanour adds to the aura of the place. His presence is comforting. I look at the other army-men around and just smile and wave at him… yes, no hugs, no jokes, no laughter! 

We switch cars and move ahead in a convoy of three cars. I am sitting in the middle one and all I can see is armed men next to me, in front of me, behind me and around me!  

All along the way, my friend very patiently answers my array of questions, some of them very irrelevant. The quiet journey from just a few moments back, is already sweeping away.

Scene 9

We reach our destination, the army guest house, full of awe and wonder.  

Here, just a few kilometres away from the LOC, amidst all the chaos, the jawans warmly welcome us with juices and snacks. They serve us with the most humbling hospitality. Glimpses of Srinagar and Gulmarg run through my mind and I feel shallow and embarrassed. I have a newfound respect for our army personnel.  

Scene 10

I am holding the AK-47. It not only feels heavy in the hand but in the head too. The heart is beating faster and the sound of the firing shot echoes through the mountains and the mind alike.  

I fire 5 shots. I can hear everyone around laugh, clap and say they were accurately shot on the dummies kept around 25 meters away.  

Do I feel a sense of euphoria? No, I feel dizzy and nervous. a sense of heaviness engulfs my heart.

I realise the sense of responsibility each army man carries with and within himself.  

The dizziness lingers…

Scene 11

I am standing alongside my friend to click some pictures. As I try to imitate him and stiffen myself, he reminds me to go easy. I laugh. He laughs. I see him laugh whole heartedly, probably for the first time in two days. A thousand memories flash before me and I laugh harder. I can see everyone around laughing. I am glad the innocence and emotions are not lost completely. 

Scene 12

I look out of the window as I am travelling back to Srinagar. The view of the changing terrain through the shattered and cracked  window defines Kashmir for me.  

I reflect upon my rendezvous with the tourists, the Kashmiris and the jawans here~ some strong opinions, some vague views but all different from one another.  

This trip has been a revelation of sorts and I sincerely hope against all hopes that this heavenly valley finds some peace soon… 

  Until next time, duaaaon mein yaad rakhna!