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Kashmir Tourism Campaign: Imtiaz Ali pens his story of falling in love with Kashmir

Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, who shot his films Rockstar and Highway in Kashmir, shares a teenage account of an unforgettable trip to the state when a local went out of his way for his family and won his heart.

bollywood Updated: Sep 24, 2017 14:12 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Imtiaz Ali,Bollywood,Kashmir
Director Imtiaz Ali calls Kashmir ‘the warmest place on Earth’, and reveals what makes him feel that he’s in debt of people there.

“If there is ever a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” This phrase often resonates in our minds whenever one talks of Kashmir and its picturesque beauty. But in the wake of tension at the border, Kashmir doesn’t always get the response from tourists it deserves. To negate this perception of Kashmir not being safe, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, on Saturday released a short film titled ‘Warmest Place on Earth’ aimed at promoting Kashmir tourism. The video beautifully showcases the hospitable nature of Kashmiris and how tourists don’t need to worry about their safety.

Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, who shot his films Rockstar and Highway in the valley, recalls his experience of how as a ninth grader, he was moved by the hospitality of a local in Kashmir, who went out of his way to welcome Ali and his family. Read on:

When I went to Kashmir for the first time, I was sure to be disappointed. I had heard so much praise that the real Kashmir could never live up to that. Even as a ninth grade student I knew that. Then I went to Kashmir. And it became the only place that was praised to the skies, and still turned out be better than I could ever expect. And now here I am, using the same age-old cliché to you – Kashmir is the Heaven on Earth.

But you have to understand – when they say that Kashmir is heaven on earth, they probably don’t say it because of it’s scenery, they probably mean the people. Because it’s always the people that make the place.

I have a battle going on in my mind about which experience to pick out to give you an example of what I am saying. Let me pick the first one that comes to mind. It’s from the first time I visited Kashmir.

We stayed in Srinagar at the Tourist Reception Centre. There was a clerk level young man there who was helping us make our plans in Kashmir. I think his name was Irshad. Irshad must be in his twenties. Dad interacted a lot with him and he, like all Kashmiris would, went out of his way to make our trip the best. And then he really went out of his way, as I later realized, all Kashmiris would.

Irshad invited us to his home for dinner. Dad reluctantly agreed because he would just not take ‘no’ for an answer. We were going to Sonamarg that day and in the evening we would go straight to the address that he had given us of his house at the outskirts of Srinagar. Mom was sure Irshad would be waiting for us at the bus stop in the area he had mentioned. What we could never predict is that Irshad would take off from work for a day and come all the way to Sonamarg to fetch us. It would take more than three hours one way by bus to Sonamarg in those days. Irshad was sitting inside the bus that he had booked us on. He thought it would be just a bit more convenient for us if he did this.

And when he said ‘dinner’ we did not know what that meant in Kashmir. Irshad and his poor family had organized for us about which we had no idea before – the waazvaan. It’s the most lavish dinner you will ever have. And they were a poor family. I can’t imagine how many months’ salary of poor Irshad went into feeding five strangers at his house. Strangers he would not, and did not meet again. His family flocked around us, feeding us, comforting us, thanking us for visiting them and eating at their home.

I never met all those people but I never forgot them. It is because of people like them that I always feel in front of the people of Kashmir that somehow I am in their debt.

If there is heaven anywhere on earth, it is here. It is the warmest place on earth.

Imtiaz Ali

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First Published: Sep 24, 2017 13:44 IST