Finding heaven on earth in serenity of Pahalgam
I was already ruing my impulsive decision. Commandos togged up like space travellers, airport personnel, anonymous and ominous in their billowing personal protection kits, black menacing cameras whirring down at us from every conceivable angle, reminiscent of a disapproving Big Brother, sniffer dogs that somehow managed to single out our innocent luggage, Srinagar airport eerily resembled the sets of a Korean zombie film.
It had taken a while to convince my daughter and a friend to visit Kashmir last week, but stepping out into the harsh sunlight, my heart was beating an uneven staccato as incidents of previous disruptions and terror attacks came to mind. The strange sight of rows of tables for rapid Covid-19 testing, the unfamiliar sing song dialect of the locals, the numerous paper checks and questions by gun-toting security further added to the feeling of unease and apprehension.
Wearing our masks and insisting the taxi driver don his despite protestations that “there is no Covid in our beautiful valley, madam”, we wove our way into that heaven on earth that is Pahalgam! As the gushing waters of the Lidder river came into view, we watched in awe and hushed silence, the splendour of the tall pine trees, perfectly positioned like sentries clad in various shades of green, the imposing Pir Panjal range standing like a fortress behind them, while an azure blue, spotless sky cast its shadow and gave colour to the rocks and whirlpools of the singing river as it continued on its tireless journey to join the mighty Jhelum. The many-hued slanting roofs of charming little cottages looked surprisingly akin to Swiss chalets, while the herd of sheep and goats skittishly running around completed the picture-perfect postcard like landscape.
The township of Pampore came into view and though it wasn’t the season for saffron, I could visualise the infinite fields of the Crocus Sativa flower, blooming in all their glory, their vivid gold competing with the sun, waving their magical powdered anthers and dispersing the scent of saffron in the cold, pure air.
Soft-spoken with a shy demeanour, the Kashmiri people win your hearts with their hospitality and warmth. I wondered aloud as to why we didn’t see more women in public places and was told quite frankly and unapologetically that their women folk usually stay at home. Sampling Wazwan in a typical village home, we relished the astounding variety of lamb and chicken dishes, finger-licking fermented breads and of course, the mandatory and delicious finale to every meal, Kahwa, the aromatic Kashmiri tea.
The locals were delighted with the influx of tourists but reticent on their personal views regarding the Government of India’s policies on the status of their state. Our garrulous cook opened up a little to proffer that politics were best left to the big leaders in Delhi and all that the general populace desired were conditions conducive to a peaceful and harmonious existence where they could earn an honest living, educate their children and envision a secure future for them.
Is that too much to ask, I wonder? As for my fear and hesitation, it vanished at the sight of this most serene and exquisite place, touched by the very Hand of God, where surely nothing bad can ever happen. email@example.com
The writer is a Jalandhar-based freelance contributor . Views expressed are personal.