Two weeks earlier than we set out for Kashmir, some heartbreaking focused killings had disrupted peace within the valley. Worried about whether or not it could be protected to journey, we contemplated cancelling our long-awaited journey.
To assist determine, I despatched a message to our Airbnb hostess in Srinagar, asking concerning the state of affairs on the bottom. She replied, fairly astutely, that there’s hassle all over the place however solely in Kashmir is it continually reported within the media.
Others I reached out to in Kashmir had comparable recommendation. So we determined to take a leap of religion and arrived in Srinagar on a nippy autumn night.
I’m glad we did, as a result of over almost a month, I got here to understand that there’s extra to Kashmir than each – the overly unfavorable one-sided media narrative of “trouble,” and the overly constructive one-sided traveller narrative of “jannat” (heaven):
There are many layers to Kashmir
On our second day in Kashmir, we drove to the outskirts of Srinagar with an area buddy. He turned off the primary highway right into a by-lane, and drove right into a desolate, deserted army compound, with solely barbed wires and no signal of human exercise.
As my coronary heart skipped a beat whereas he parked, I started to listen to the faint strains of a guitar pour out of a Stalinist-style nondescript barrack. It turned out that we had arrived at considered one of Kashmir’s solely music academies, run by singer duo Irfan-Bilal! Over the following few hours, we heard aspiring younger musicians play the traditional rhubarb, and ladies from far-off reaches of Kashmir play the guitar to Sufi rhythms. The faculty is bringing a couple of renaissance of devotional Sufi music by making it extra interesting to the youth – who’ve seen years of turmoil within the valley.
Every single day in Kashmir, we peeled again layer after layer, of Kashmiri historical past, tradition, music, nature and politics – realizing how little truly makes it to mainstream information channels and journey blogs.
Fear, not hope, is the dominant emotion
Having learn a lot about Kashmir, I went in totally ready to anticipate army and police presence all over the place. But to see armed officers in bunkers and bushes throughout Srinagar and different populated cities, patrolling the streets in any respect hours, typically stopping younger males on bikes and scooters, is unnerving to say the least.
On a day journey from Srinagar, we needed to squeeze our automobile subsequent to a roadblock as an sudden convoy of army automobiles whizzed previous us. Hoping to create more room for them, our buddy took benefit of a brief hole between automobiles to squeeze additional on the left. But an armed army guard throughout the highway observed, got here to our window, and began scolding him aggressively. He tried to clarify, however that solely made it worse, so he apologised profusely, worry etched throughout his in any other case calm face.
Everyone has a narrative of their family members, pals or neighbors being picked up over the previous three a long time. So it’s no shock that for the strange Kashmiri, worry reigns supreme. I met businessmen, college students, artists, farmers, guides – and left with the sensation that worry, not hope, is the overriding emotion that drives their selections.
Yet there may be heat in most hearts for travellers – regardless of the place you’re from
We had some animated discussions with locals concerning the relationship between Kashmir and India.
And but, regardless of the complexity of feelings that Kashmiris really feel in direction of the nation, we have been obtained with unbelievable heat as Indian travellers. So many individuals, from cab drivers to Gujjar households, invited us residence to remain or have a cup of kahwa. Acquaintances turned pals went far out of their approach to join us with attention-grabbing locals, drove us to locations off the crushed observe and handled us to luxurious vegan meals! An area we met on Dal Lake messaged me on a regular basis to ask after my properly being whereas I used to be in Kashmir.
If there’s wherever on Earth I’ve felt the identical soul connection as Iran, it’s right here, it’s right here, it’s right here.
But sadly not all tourism is identical
For our first 10 days, we just about managed to defend ourselves from home tourism in Kashmir by advantage of the locations we picked to remain and discover. I continually heard from of us within the sustainable tourism area in Kashmir concerning the unwieldy crowds and the challenges of overtourism, however started to surprise the place all of the vacationers have been.
Then lastly, we landed bang in the course of them, in Gulmarg. I anticipated a shocking, quiet, pristine spot, however what we encountered have been countless queues of vacationers lining as much as take a gondola into the upper reaches to witness snow (so lengthy that we in the end offered our tickets and located different mountain climbing trails). We confronted fixed harassment from guides trying to make a fast buck, received irritated at boisterous selfie-snappers, and felt heartbroken for puny ponies being ridden by guests who have been completely able to strolling.
That’s after I realized that that is seemingly the one facet of Kashmir that many travellers get to expertise. The worry bred by media channels compels them to journey like an island, in taxies or tour buses, on the Gulmarg – Pahalgam – Sonamarg route, hardly interacting with on a regular basis life within the valley, and due to this fact leaving with the identical skewed perspective.
And that’s a disgrace as a result of travelling is meant to broaden our worldview and problem our pre-conceived notions of a spot and its individuals.
Autumn in Kashmir is like poetry
We spent many a quiet, contemplative afternoon in Srinagar – strolling, studying or picnicking underneath 400-year-old chinar bushes, watching their leaves slowly flip from inexperienced to orange and purple as autumn settled in.
Under the turning chinars, Kashmiri ladies and men go about their lives in pherans (conventional overdress), carrying a burning kangri (a basket filled with burning embers to maintain heat) beneath. University college students linger after class, chatting or enjoying cricket amid the chinars. Older males collect at pyends (raised platforms) to smoke hookah.
In forests surrounding town, previous Kashmiri willows and walnut groves flip brilliant yellow, giving the panorama a surreal glow.
With it, autumn brings the sensation that regardless of how everlasting issues appear, the instances will change, the colours will flip. That’s my hope for Kashmir too.
Welcome to my weblog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been known as a storyteller, author, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism guide and environmentalist. But in my coronary heart, I’m only a woman who believes within the transformative energy of journey.