“Oh! It’s a paradise on earth, if you haven’t seen it yet – you’re missing out on life.” Such was the regular recollection of my late grandmother’s early life in Kashmir. Tired of nodding my head to others’ experiences, I decided it was time to make my own. I packed my bags, booked my seat, and before I could contemplate, I was halfway through my journey.
It would be a lie to say I was unaware of the troubles this paradise had in store, but I chose to ignore it. Usually indifference is perceived as taboo; similar was the story of Kashmir. The never-ending disputes and political pressures hid the beauty this place held for years. Thirteen hours and 19 minutes later, there I was, finding it.
Srinagar is a magnificent place. No words could describe the sight when I first saw the sunset from my room, overlooking the frozen Dal Lake between ice-clad Himalayan ranges covered with Chinar trees. March is the best month to visit – the chilly winter has just passed, allowing Spring to break in.
Day one was all about sightseeing the Mughal gardens, the lake, and enjoying mouth-watering Mughal food. We met a beautiful Kashmiri couple who invited us for a royal dinner and a visit at their shawl factory.
Their courteous mannerisms are beyond ecstasy. It’s quite a metamorphosis from ‘let’s grab a beer dude’ to a dinner in a beautiful wooden carved house, with a four-course meal starting with a kashmiri sweet drink, ‘kava,’ which helps keep your body warm. We were served on a silver platter, with 15 small bowls filled with delicious food.
The security measures in Kashmir are very tight. Many things were restricted, like cell phone reception, or even a walk outside your home or hotel after sunset. There are military posts all over the city, including two that were outside our hotel. As we got to our room and switched on the television, blasts in some regions of Kashmir were all over the news.
The weather left me with a sore throat and a runny nose. I decided to stay in and sleep late with my cousin while my friends went to Lal chowk (the market) to shop. Suddenly, there was a huge explosion; it was so intense that it shook my room’s glass window. Scared to death, I peeped out of the window and saw smoke at a distance. I put my coat on and ran towards the gate but the military post wouldn’t let me go out. I was extremely worried about my friends. The whole area turned into a complete fiasco, with military everywhere driving people off the street. As I stood in front of the gate, I saw about 30 military vehicles rush to the spot. I had no other choice but to wait in the hotel lounge and watch the news. The transmission of the local news channel was stopped, and I learned that more than 20 people died in a car blast. I was praying for my friend’s safety.
I sat through the day with my sister, worried and hoping somehow I would get some news of my friends. Later that evening, a military van dropped three of my friends back at the hotel. Luckily, they were not present in that area but due to a curfew, they were detained at a military post. We informed our families and planned to get back to Delhi as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, for the next 48 hours we were not allowed to leave our hotel, much less the state. I still remember those anxious hours where we would sit inside our room and watch the news. After two days, tourists were asked to leave Kashmir immediately. While leaving, I felt a certain stillness in the valley, the collective fear among these innocent people.
But, this didn’t stop me from going back again. A few months later, when the terror attacks subsided, I went back to Kashmir. It was summer and colorful, bright and glowing. I still recall my grandmother telling me to bring her back to this place for a peaceful death. I always wondered why. I guess I have my answer now.