Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Guns and cherries- Kashmir-1

Lengthy post with lots of pictures ahead...*warning*!

Another hiatus. A short vacation that turned too long to my pique. A travelogue was long over due. The troubled valley is an enchanter and I still remain in her vice like trance, wallowing and mooning over her beauty. The lush green paddy fields, the flowing willow trees, sparkling streams, bushy cherry trees laden with bright reds fruits, glowing yellow lilies, fragrant roses and above all, the blanket of snow piling along the winding hilly roads- Kashmir is an Enchantress. The bewitching beauty had been pulling me like a dark tunnel. This July, I fell for her- hook, line and sinker.

Travel to Srinagar by air is the most preferable mode and I 'discovered' this after a three day/night chugging from my hometown to Udhampur and a further 12 hour bumpy ride from Udhampur to Srinagar by taxi. Reaching Srinagar on my birthday, late in the night, without a bath or a new dress, nor the customary cake was offset by a wonderful dinner- Kahmiri wazwan! The flavor of lamb succulent and aromatic with Kashmiri spices is indeed a treat. A shikara ride in the tranquil waters of Lake Nageen at night, with the moon glistening through the darkness and the mighty mountains looming behind is a memorable experience. Top it with a peaceful night in a houseboat- a perfect end to a confusing day. 

Our 9 hour ride from Udhampur to Srinagar turned into a nightmare with traffic snarls in Ramnagar and Qazigund, courtesy Indian Army. Trust me, Kashmiris have no privacy whatsoever, with troops breathing down their necks, every single moment. For every Kashmiri living in the valley, we have deployed 50 soldiers. The movement of army trucks in hundreds on a single day left me wondering...why this kolaveri? Being Yatra season, the valley was cloaked in military green. We can see native people wary of the State Police more than Central forces. 

The next morning dawned with chirping of hundreds of birds and a soothing sun washing the curtains with hues of orange and yellow. Jumping off the bed, as I scooted to the deck of the houseboat, a breezy, colorful Nageen lake greeted me. Kingfishers fishing, water birds swooping down, shikaras floating by peacefully, the morning transports us to a mesmerizing haze of waterways and mist. That is when incessant hawking starts. Shikarawallahs selling junkies, trinkets, Kashmiri Kehwa, shawls and what not come sailing to your houseboat and market their wares. 
A lone shikarawallah in the morning

Flowers and seeds sold in the Dal

The lone tourist by the lake

Women with their lily leaves- fodder for the cattle

Golden yellow lilies- the lily garden

Bottle gourd field in the lake
The harvest!
An hour day dreaming and drooling at the lake, we get ready for a ride on shikara to the Dal lake. Shikarawallahs, taxiwallahs and ponywallahs are the lower rank of a coterie of tourism that thrives in the valley. You pay them what they demand, at any cost. End of story. Our shikarawallah was stubborn and refused to even smile at us, till we thrust his 300 bucks at his nose. The ride through Dal is a never to miss opportunity. Cruising through hundreds of houseboats, charmed by the lily garden and lotus garden, we made our way to the floating market. The lotus blooms were hard to find, but the lily garden, a part of the lake- lush with golden yellow flowers looks almost ethereal. 
Floating market, Dal

Kesar Kehwaaaahhh!
Dal and the soaring balloon

The son water boarding in Dal :)
The tiny gardens of bottle gourd and tomatoes along the waterway, women collecting lily leaves for cattle, women washing clothes, men tending to the bottle gourd crops, small traders selling flowers and seeds- the shikara ride is a dream come true. The Dal thrives on tourism, floating market is its star attraction. Shawls, sweaters, hand made Kashmiri jewellery, embroidered handbags, clutches, groceries, name it, floating market sells it. A ride gazing at the spread and sipping kesar kehwa is a luxury! If you are adventurous, you can have your adrenaline pumping, by water surfing, water biking and ballooning. We alighted the shikara and drove down to a timeless beauty over a hill top- Pari Mahal, complete with its haunting stories of ghosts and queens...

Come back for more...