I’m not sure how to say this: In my last post I mentioned that I was looking forward to describing my trip to Kashmir. Well, now that I’ve actually sat down to it I’m at a loss for words to do justice to one of the loveliest experiences in my life! So far, when people ask me how I enjoyed my trip to Kashmir I say things like, “It was beautiful!” “We had such a fun time!” ” It was like being in an old Bollywood movie!” or “It’s so green! And there are so many lakes! Just being there made me feel at peace.” I know that those descriptions are pretty useless, so I’m going to try and relive my trip to Kashmir as best as I can.
It all began the Thursday before we left for our trip. My mother’s friends, Aunty Pamela and Maria Didi, were home for tea after work and Maria Didi was moaning about how the Chief Proctor of the University of Kashmir kept calling to ask if she would agree to be an examiner for the University’s Biochemistry exam. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to visit one of India’s most difficult places to visit! (Until we visited it for ourselves, Kashmir was a distant dream locked and inaccessible for having been turned into a war zone). I actually put my thoughts into words and said that had I got a similar opportunity I wouldn’t miss it for the world. So she told me to come.
Really??! Not only did I do a happy little dance to show that I accepted, in less than half a minute I was at the computer looking up the weather in Srinagar and the places we could visit there. But apart from the weather I needn’t have taken the trouble to find out more. Once we walked out of the airport in Srinagar we found that there was someone waiting to receive us, drive us to the University, and take us to our room. From the time we got there until we left, we were treated with such hospitality that we were slightly overwhelmed towards the end.
My first impression of Srinagar was that the weather was so pleasant and the air was so clean! It was so quiet, after having just come from Ludhiana. Unlike most other airports that I’ve been to, there were very few buildings. There were flowers everywhere! And there were just the right amount of people – not too many like there are in Delhi, and not too few like there are in Gothenburg, Sweden (where we actually asked where all the people were!)
Once we were in our room we found that we were very exhausted. Maria Didi was in a rush to get to the university where the students were waiting for their exam to begin. But Abhilasha (Maria Didi’s friend), Nandita (Maria Didi’s two year old daughter), and I, freshened up, had lunch, and then fell into a coma until Maria Didi called at 4.30 to say that the university had arranged a vehicle to pick us up in 15 minutes. Someone would be coming to takes us to and show us around the Mughal Gardens that evening.
Before I say anything else, let me mention that many of the Bollywood movies up until the early 80s were shot in Kashmir. These days actors prefer to dance in Switzerland.
One step into the Shalimar Mughal Garden and I was transported into an old Bollywood movie in which I was the heroine. (Beautiful things have this effect on me. It comes with having too vivid an imagination). Looming mountains wrapped in cloudy scarves were the background. The pathway was divided by dark red flowers that reflected prettily on the water which they seemed to guard. We were informed that the cloudy mountains were the source of this sparkling stream. On both sides of the foot path were lawns of the greenest grass and interesting trees and bushes, many of which we don’t see often in the plains. It was a scenery out of a picture book, but better because it was real.
We also found out that the government of Kashmir has taken strict measures to preserve the Chinar trees, to the extent that even an uprooted tree is not allowed to be chopped, used or sold without government permission. In the above photo, you can see part of a Chinar tree that was uprooted in a storm.
Our next stop was the Nishat Mughal Garden. It was already dusk when we entered. We thought it a pity, because the Nishat Mughal Garden was even more beautiful than the Shalimar Mughal Garden! If only we’d have had more daylight.
The entire state of Kashmir is a valley surrounded by picturesque mountains that turn menacing by night, as we found out that evening in the Nishat Mughal Garden. In the Shalimar Garden the pretty flowers had captivated our attention. In contrast, the dark blue grey mountains of the Nishat Mughal Garden brought to mind the Mountain from The Hobbit. They filled the mind with gloomy and frightful impressions. But like some things that are frightening beyond words, they also inspired awe.The eerie silence contributed to making the mountains even more foreboding in the late evening light.
I am beginning to think that perhaps it would be a good idea for me to describe my trip in bits and pieces. This post has turned out to be longer than I expected and further descriptions will only make it longer. In my next post I will try and describe other experiences that enhanced our trip to Srinagar, including Gul Marg, the pretty hill station that overlooks Srinagar.