'Kashmir grows on you, like vines'

As soon as I reached Srinagar on a late December evening, me and my family rushed in a tourist’s frenzy for the first pointer on our checklist. Once on the shikara, the world seemed to move in smooth ripples.

There were few tourists around and our shikarawala Yousuf informed me of the reasons. “We are busy in election boycott”, he said, alluding to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Elections that later concluded with verdict against the National Conference-led government.

But electoral results hardly mattered, as Yousuf aptly expressed. The city that wore a seemingly serene visage had seen the most unimaginable hardship recently that kept out the tourists away and the locals trying to get back to normalcy.

The talk and traces of the September 2014 floods; that had inundated up to two storeys of houses in several parts of the city, were everywhere.

As my thoughts wandered, Yousuf bhai tried to stir in our imagination, the sight of floating vegetable gardens and market, and the early summer morning humdrum at that spot. I heard echoes of azaadi slogans in my head instead, perhaps an impression from a documentary footage I had seen last year.

My mental amble was interjected with the sky turning a bold orange in slight patches, taking my focus towards the brown-spined fres or poplar trees to form an alluring scenery.

Yousuf bhai pointed to a building in the lake and shared some trivia, “That’s where the scene showing Salman and Salman was shot”, referring to a sequence of the characters of Haider, a recent Bollywood film set in Kashmir that dwelt upon many of its political and resultant sociological complexities. It felt ironical as he spoke about a film in ‘the country without a cinema hall’.

As the evening grew quite chilly, we halted for some kahwa and the vendor offered us his kangri, the indefectible traditional radiator. Such warm treatment was also extended by Imraan bhai, who chauffeured us through our visit.

On finding out that we were a family of vegetarians visiting a place that boasted of the best spread of meat delicacies, he surprised us with a fine dinner of Chaman tamatar (cottage cheese and tomato), nadroo (Lotus stem cooked in spinach) and Haaq (local greens); all prepared by his wife. After the shikara ride I drank in the view at  Boulevard road.

At the end of my visit, I stood at the same road eyeing two closely hugging Chinar trees and made a solemn promise to come back, as if to a new-found lover.

The tourist in me paid a visit to Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg but the traveller had barely walked through the fish market at Amira Kadal, eaten masala outside Hazratbal, visited a kandur (baker) for the morning bread and strolled through the noontime bustle of Lal Chowk; when time went up. Kashmir is called the paradise on Earth. It is a strangely poignant paradise that grew on me like vines, in five days. 

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