Celebrating life as a picnic in scenic Kashmir
Srinagar: A picnic basket, children playing cricket while elders watch indulgently and, in the backdrop, rolling hills and a gurgling stream. The idyllic scene may seem an anachronism and at odds with Jammu and Kashmir`s bruising two-decade insurgency, but bonding the old-fashioned way is still a way of life in the Valley.
Far from the madding crowds and the world of mall footfalls, Kashmiris still get together for simple picnics and walks in the park. Living up to the description of `paradise on earth`, Kashmir surprises you every moment with its serene beauty that unfolds in the backdrop of its volatile history -- insurgency claiming the lives of 40,000 people, including civilians, security forces and terrorists. Unofficial estimates put the figure at 80,000.
A walk in the gardens of Srinagar transports you to a different world. Families sitting on mats under the shades of chinar trees, carrying their Sunday brunch and `nun chai` or `namkeen chai`, discussing everything under the sun - events of daily life, inflation, movies, kids...
Scenes that are confined to just a few pockets in metropolitan cities of India, with weekend outings for so many limited to mall hopping, pubbing and watching movies.
Not so in the case of the people in Kashmir Valley.
"This is all we have got, isn`t it?" asked lawyer Narjees Nawab, referring to the values rooted in the Kashmiri culture.
"Today you don`t know what will happen tomorrow. So, why not live life today? We have accepted this and we live with this fact," Nawab told IANS.
So, people here are happy to derive joy from simple pleasures, shorn of glitz.
It`s a lifestyle which is quite old school, yet something that one yearns for in the concrete jungles of big cities.
"In a way, we feel blessed for not having swanky malls, because they don`t go with the old world charm that the valley still has," said Nawab.
One must thank the Mughals for not building tombs and forts in the city but banking on natural beauty and building several gardens, popularly known as Mughal gardens, that the city is so proud of.
Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, boasts of gardens like Harwan, a much loved picnic spot, Shalimar Garden, Chashme Shahi, Nishat Garden and Pari Mahal -- all meticulously maintained.
The trimmed decorative trees, roses in different hues, a variety of flowers, chinar leaves on the sidewalks and the `chashma` -- a small water canal -- are sight for tired eyes.
Beyond Srinagar, 90 km away, is the quick getaway of Pahalgam. It is where people enjoy their brunches amid majestic mountains and the crystal-clear Liddar river flowing nearby.
"If we are looking for a more interesting picnic, where we can cook, make fresh tea, we head towards Pahalgam with our stove, food items and other necessary things," said Samina Habib, a homemaker.
"Kids get their cricket bats and we are joined by some friends or relatives and it is a day well spent," she added.
In the flowing water of the Liddar, women and children clean up the utensils.
In the small waterfalls of the Mughal gardens, couples unabashedly throw water at each other, children plead for some more leisure time and grandmothers discuss their old lives. They make for a picture-perfect scene, all too rare in these busy days.
As the day nears an end, the sky changes colour. The illuminated Hari Parbat Fort here merges with the sky and darkness slowly takes over. And people return to their bases after a weekend well-spent, a succour for their not-so-easy lives.