A beautiful mizzle greeted me as I slowly ambled across the little distance from the Boeing to a pine wooded arrival lounge at the Srinagar airport. Must have been 1300 hours on June 2 but I had no ways to know. I didn’t have a watch on me and my cell was purposely switched off. It felt timeless, anyways. A curious look towards the wispy sky filled me with everything I had left behind – the famous nip in the air, blush of hollyhocks, the muted silhouette of the elderly mountains. It all came rushing back.
The rain wiper in -- my buddy -- Salus’ car was furiously clearing the view in front of us. An old world charm galloped ahead of us. Simple folks with fair skins. Old men with grey beards. Little children with angelic eyes. Shy damsels with lost eyes. Handsome hawkers shouting their wares. The tall popular trees lined on either side of the turnpike stood in their forever grace. Occasional army men manned the pockmarked road. Life is like a comely action-replay in the valley. This is Kashmir, I thought. Incredulously believable.
Expectedly people were sowing the rice crop. Hip to hip. In sing-song fashion. Heartening. And Day-2 was again rain. Though it stopped towards the afternoon, the north sky was tenderly overcast. A fiesta awaited us! Kashmir is rich in its gastronomic traditions. The food is fed to spoil you. Twenty-six courses minimum, as Rushdie subtly puts it in Shalimar, the Clown. You indulge in the mastery of the head-chef. You don’t even mind licking your fingers over and over again. It is a thousand calories raised to the power 26 but the crazy Atkins diet can take a guided walk on the greens. In the land of musk deer the senses run wild and you effortlessly absorb the assortment of spices, which give out an aroma to die for.
The local gossip never seems to stop. It comes in regular intervals and everyone seems to have it. With all business establishments closed by 5pm and markets completely shut by 7pm, the juicy gossip-factory is never short of the clothesline. Though you don’t quite relate to it, you still participate. The old wives tales. Familiar biases. Exaggerated accounts. Pauses. Effects. The theatricals. It is hilarious. The most common past time. Sample this: If you look at the Wular lake for a few minutes continuously, you develop suicidal tendencies. That is because the lake is mostly gloomy. It has an ancient kingdom already immersed in it.
The funny chitchat shall continue.