Kashmir Diaries: I – The beginning of an unforgettable trip!
In a recent press conference when I’d asked Shah Rukh Khan whether or not his ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ would be able to provide the tourism in Kashmir with a new lease of life, the superstar couldn’t stop gushing about the place. Among other things, Khan recited Emperor Jahangir’s famous lines: “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast (If there’s a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.).”
Neither was the Mughal Emperor of the 17th century exaggerating, nor was Shah Rukh playing the beauty of Kashmir an iota more than what the place actually is. To be able to describe the beauty of the valley in words is an indomitable task… and once you’re on it, there’s hardly any way to turn back. It’s like a bottomless abyss; the more you describe, the more you’re compelled to describe. And even then, you realize that your grossly inadequate methods of painting the picture of Kashmir can actually do no justice to the breathtaking beauty.
One doesn’t go on a ‘trip’ to or merely ‘visit’ Kashmir. One goes there and finds themselves in the midst of a dream. One that sure has a beginning, but just no end. Whether it is the serpentine roads that don’t let you see anywhere else, or the cascading streams of crystal-clear water that reflect the rays of the sun so loyally, or the undulating range of mountains that keeps you mesmerised till you can no longer afford not to not blink your eye: Kashmir, in a single word, is paradisiacal.
So amidst the occasional uneasiness (it was only me and my father with an entire crowd of Bengalis for the trip), the twinge of sadness (half my family couldn’t make it to the tour) and a crazy, unconditional sort of happiness (my first trip to Kashmir!), I board the train to Jammu. A teary farewell from friends who’d come to see us off later, once we were on board the Jammu Rajdhani, all that clouded the mind was the fact that the next morning would dawn upon us in a new world altogether; one where normal prepaid numbers don’t work and where all you could care about is how beautiful each nook and cranny of the place was. An abundance of thoughts in the mind and the erratic arrival time of the train made way for almost no sleep on the train, and before we could even realize, a group of somnolent people – us included – alighted on the Jammu Railway Station.
Five in the morning. Dishevelled hair, bloodshot eyes and irritation at being woken up in the middle of an exceedingly pleasant dream. That’s what my insides complained of when I stepped on to the platform at the Jammu Railway Station. And no, that was just the beginning of the traumatic journey. Once outside, we had the herculean task of fitting ourselves in inside a hen-cage (I seriously don’t have any better synonym for that whatever-called-minibus), and off we went to the ‘bigger’ bus stand from where we were to leave for Katra.
Slowly, once we’d settled comfortably into the bigger buses at the ‘bigger’ bus stand, the first rays of the winter sun bathed the entire town of Jammu in golden light. Even 24-carat of molten gold would have cried out in shame at that mesmerising play of sunlight on the mountain-tops. Katra-bound, the group of us had no choice but to fight with our eyelids. The moment the eye blinks, something or the other is lost into oblivion; and on that stretch of road, one just could not afford to miss any little thing whatsoever. The fresh dew on the small leaves that flanked the road, the exquisitely pretty little flowers which one had to strain their eyes to notice, the ubiquitous phiran-clad men, women and children off to their daily morning chores, the many nameless streams of transparent blue water running down from the mountains: nothing, absolutely nothing could one afford to not see and appreciate. Every worry in the world seems to take a backseat when such scenic brilliance presents itself in front of the eyes.
After about ninety minutes, our bus chugged into the motel where we were to spend the next two days. And while the others in the group decided to take the course of their own fates and make a trip to Vaishno Devi, the reason Katra has now turned into a tourist destination, the father-daughter duo of us decided to explore the small town.
Writing about the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as by now one might have learnt by heart, is a huge task. And one that needs to rise beyond the barriers of word-limits. So here’s to my next piece; on Katra and Srinagar... Keep watching this space!