Thursday, July 30, 2009

Of salad days in Srinagar and lingering summers in Leh

It was a spur of the moment choice that I decided to hoist my bags and head out to the Kashmir valley. I had a week's alloted vacation, no particular destination in mind and was nursing a loathful grudge against a certain visa officer who chose not to stamp my passport in gay abandon.

The flight to Srinagar took but a passing hour; the cab ride to town with a cowboyish driver, almost half. A hotel on the banks of the Dal Lake, lay roomed beneath a temple hill.

srinagar flower sellerSrinagar seemed so different from other Indian cities. Inherently pretty, the charm of a place still apathetic to the passage of time. The Dal Lake with its innumerous shikaras and multitude of boats, yet so peacefully quiet. The kahwah tea, with its cinnamon, cardomom and saffron scents, that I so fell in love with. The Mughal gardens, so serenly beautiful, wistfully reminiscent of a bygone era. The Shankaracharya hill with its all-encompassing views. The warm kashmiri people - never else across the country have I seen such care and affection for a wandering traveler. And finally, a choking military and police presence, a lingering tension in the air and in words, a smoldering war zone feel to an otherwise incredibly beautiful place.

And yet, Srinagar seemed so similar to other Indian cities. People crib about ineffective politicians. Autos and guesthouses fleece you, unless you bargain. People dump garbage everywhere on the street. People love watching hindi soaps on TV all the time. And all buses belong to the last century.

Gulmarg GondolaIn such a bus I made the trip to Gulmarg (and later to Leh). Gulmarg is a small hill-station, some 50 odd kilometers from Srinagar. The slouching bullock-cart of a bus sputtered its way to Gulmarg over a leisurely 4 hour period. Slow enough, for us to savor the white-daisy studded green meadows and the tall deodar trees covering the route.

Gulmarg has a two stage Gondola that goes all the way up to the snowline and to the edge of the Line of Control of India. The top was all snow, even in the summer heat. The LOC, an unseen border between two nations, with military huts on either side. The first Gondola stage is in fact, more pretty than the second, with lush green, horse grazed meadows and tall verdant deodar trees beneath the snowy mountainous peaks, as if out picked out of a pretty painting. Stood I, staring there, for many an hour.

... part I of the kashmir chronicles |
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