A Trip to Kashmir, The Paradise on Earth
by Deepika Srivastava
(Ahmedabad, India )
Kashmir-paradise on earth, home of the valleys and meadows; an artist’s, writer’s, cinematographer’s and perhaps every city dweller’s dream too; here is where raw beauty is at its best.
As we began our journey from Srinagar airport to Pahalgam, the cool winds, the clear sky, the mountain peaks covered by clouds made my heart, my soul, my mind seamlessly merge into one giving me goose bumps. The air seemed to be filled with an unknown aroma- an aroma which I fell in love with, in just an instant. As we halted for breakfast, I got to taste an ingredient of that aroma. It was saffron-Kahwa, the famous Kashmiri tea gave my body the much needed warmth and my taste buds the much needed satiety. The drive was particularly scenic, white rivers, huge rocks, mountains reflecting shades of brown, green, white and yellow. We also passed through several cricket bat shops and factories with the driver proudly telling us- “Virendra Sehwag’s bat was sent from here.”
Pahalgam, home to the Baisaran valley was our first stop. A seven-km long walk or horse ride is the only way to reach the valley. Most people go by horse, not due to the long distance but due to the steep and rocky route. We too, chose the popular route. Forty-five minutes to climb and forty-five minutes to come down; definitely not a daunting challenge. Well, we thought the same; only to be proven wrong in another hour.
Initially the idea of a horse ride was intimidating. However, the ponywalla was friendly and seemed experienced, so I hesitantly agreed. With the ride began our conversation with this beautiful town. It was like a date, the gushing Liddar river and the enchanting mountains inviting me in their realm. The bright Kashmiri sun glistened on my face, not to my respite as I expected it to be colder here and was packed in layers of woollens. As we rode, we passed through local shops, almost all the locals dressed in their traditional firang, the girls with scarves tied tightly to their heads carrying flowers in baskets over their shoulders and the men walking with sticks used to control the horses. Amid all this, I had realized one thing; the horse ride was going to be epic. The ponywalla, like any local, started the conversation with the question, “Where are you from?” Since we hailed from the land of the new Prime Minister, he enthusiastically told how everyone here was a fan and had high hopes from him. Many people passed by, some kids who were enjoying the ride to the fullest by speaking in horse language. Seeing them, a small smile crept on my face and my father who was just ahead of me was constantly looking back.
I learnt the basics of horse riding-how to stop the horse, change his direction or make him go faster. But the fun part was the language; it was amusing-“thuh, thuh, whistles....”, I felt like laughing. I had an urge to scream, “thuh, thuh....”, even did the lip sink a few times but my shyness didn’t let me scream out loud and also a twenty-year old screaming was not a good idea. There were general talks about other places in Kashmir, especially Gulmarg, “It’s awesome, a must visit,” he said.
I wondered what is there in Gulmarg; my mom, my uncle, the driver we met in the morning, and now even he; we will have to wait for two more days. After half an hour or so, we met the local shepherds, who encircled us, asking to get clicked with the rabbits in lieu for a small amount of money. Their innocent and earnest faces left me with no option but to oblige and I happily gave them the four bananas I had; they looked really hungry.
The tedious journey started, to halt again within no time; this time for rocks and fast flowing water, actually melted glaciers from the one of the world’s highest peaks. The pure white, icy cold water hitting over the rocks was a delight. Finally I got to sit on the rocks and experience the taste of the nectar-like water. After a few photographic clicks we again sat on the horse; it was a pain, climbing up and down, but was there a choice?
Now... the penultimate portion of the climb, the most difficult, the steepest part; all this while I thought that walking would have been a better option, but when I saw this route, I was glad to be sitting on a horse. Well, it was terrifying; I would let out child-like small screams now and then which made the ponywalla chuckle. The horse would speed up now and then only to slow down within seconds. My anxiety had reached it’s zenith and then, while I was still on the horse my emotional hight came down rapidly; we reached our destination, finally.
As I came down the horse and looked at the vast, green valley, I felt a 'nasha' which I hadn't felt ever before. I opened my arms and ran as if flying like a free bird; the bright yellow sun just then came up above the white clouds, showing its dominance and as if telling me that I am at the right place. (I hail from a town where the sun shines brightly everyday and I love it). After this moment of sheer, innocent madness, I strolled for some time with my parents capturing temporary plastic memories to show the world, as the permanent one in my mind just belonged to me.
Climbing down again was another adventure. The steepness slightly terrified even the horse, we were told by the ponywalla, his stopping to eat grass at the most critical junctions, the corners or the end of the road being the scariest part. We were back on the good road in sometime, thus beginning a new conversation, about education and career, “We all have done our matriculation; it was not easy, every kid walks nine kilometres one way to go to the only school. Career- well, we are drivers, photographers, shopkeepers, ponywallas or hoteliers; tourism is the only industry. Three months we are locked up in our houses due to the snow. That’s when all the embroidery work happens” I felt bad.
The latter half of the journey was the easiest, as I chose to walk.
The conversation ended and I was back in my hotel room with a bunch of memories and almost encyclopaedic knowledge about the village. I wonder how much I would have lost, had I chosen to walk. ***