This summer vacation there was only one thing that was keeping me sane and enabling me to survive home and that was my trip to Jammu and Kashmir.
It began from Mumbai where I got on with my heavy luggage, over loaded with too many warm clothes and with hopes that I don’t pass out on the Bandra station because of the heat and humidity.
We reached Delhi where we had to change stations. And it was Delhi at the peak of summer, I was prepared. Drink water before getting out in the sun. It’s the simple basic rule that has been drummed into me since I was young, not much difference between Gwalior and Delhi summers. Anyway, before getting out I declared ‘each man for himself’ that got me some weird looks from friends and random people. But, I was right, I tried not to gloat, but yes, a few did faint, ‘I hate to say it but I told you, walk as fast as you can and get out of the heat, aur bate karo’. Alas, ignore the girl with the doomsday warnings.
We sorted out the fainted people. Got onto our next leg of the journey another train ride to Jammu. All the while thinking to myself, should have just taken a flight, would already be there instead of two continuous days of train journey, with annoying kids in the next compartment, that throw tantrums early in the morning, and yes, it’s usually the spoilt, ‘ma ka ladla beta’.
But in the end I was quite glad that we took the bus because the bus ride to Srinagar was one of the longest and most enchanting that I have ever been on. I just couldn’t get enough of the landscape. It was simply majestic, green mountains on all sides with rivers, the valley and dispersed settlements in between.
More than the scenery the other thing that I was looking forward to was the food! We have all heard about Kashmiri Rajma and so while on our way we stopped off at a local eatery and waited patiently for our rajma chawal and I can proudly and without arrogance say that when it comes to Rajma I know what’s good. The Rajma to say was of good quality but lacked the masala characterises it in the Delhi region. But anyway, it did have the mellow and simple taste of Kashmiri rajma, and it was definitely better than what I’ve had in Mumbai, the so called North Indian food in Mumbai well it just makes me cry.
We all waited patiently to get a chance to see the Dal Lake but sadly we reached at midnight and it was so dark that for a moment we all were like are we really there! So the next morning I got up early to get my first view of the dal lake from the house boat that we were living in. And when I stepped out that’s when I realised it was for the best that we couldn’t see anything last night because right there and then, I was speechless and the freshness and beauty of that morning was so strong that my senses are full of it even right now as I’m writing this.
So moving on, you know how they say that Mumbaikars are friendly or Punjabis are loud and warm-hearted I think Kashmiris would give all of them a run for their money. Here, I met some of the friendliest if although shy people. It was a pleasure to just listen to them talk, even though I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying the sound of their language alone was pleasing to the ear.
Of course one of the most unforgettable experiences of the trip was peeing in public. Yes, Im serious. In Kashmir, like Mumbai there was lots of travelling and during those journeys finding a bathroom was well hardly possible. We did find one in some restaurant once, there was a curtain sort of thing, and I was like well that’s better than somebody holding a shawl for you while you hope the wind doesn’t blow it up leaving you exposed. I stepped inside and well what do you know it was air conditioned without an AC. The so-called bathroom opened up to a whole field in the background, so you don’t really need any reading material as there’s a beautiful view outside, but here again just hope nobody catches you while walking through the fields.
I could write about the wonderful ride in the Shikhara where I could not really get enough of the landscape or the horse ride and the sledge ride where I fell off and so much more, but I think I have already run my word limit.
What I would like to end with is; I met a boy there of 17 years of age, he worked in the pouring rain without any protection, walked in horse shit without any care, just making enough to get through, and while I was leaving he asked me to just pray for him that he passes his exams so he could get a proper job and make something of himself. In Kashmir, there is curfew most of the times, where schools are shut and if schools are open the standard of living is low which requires young boys who should be enjoying their youth working rough hours to just make it through the day. It was at that moment I realised the hope that they have of achieving what is offered in the metros of this country and what is in turn denied to the people of Kashmir. A chance at a normal life.