We need to find God and
He cannot be found in noise and restlessness.
God is the friend of silence. See how nature grows in silence;
see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.
We need silence to be able to touch souls.
~ Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa
I have perhaps been in love with nature ever since I can remember. Apart from my closest friends and my immediate family, the only time I think of Kashmir is when I remember the riot of a million tipsy tulips in summers. I also miss the slow waltz of snowflakes in winters. Our trip to Kashmir -- this time – was packed with a nature trail.
On a particular crisp blue morning we set off for -- a car trek -- up the mountains of Pahalgam. The name Pahalgam is comprised of two Kashmiri words: Pahal – which means Shepherd – and gam – that stands for village. It has been a little virgin valley of herdsmen for centuries. Perched in the lap of burnt sienna mountains, this God’s glen is beautifully tucked away from the daily bustle of humankind.
We – my mates and me – played soulful music, stopped over to snaffle the roadside snacks and took turns to drive to the Southern most tip of Kashmir. Salus pulled over at a rather pictorial spot on our way. The Lidder river skirts along this secluded, anonymous place. The scent of the pine trees here is absolutely heady. A sudden blessed feeling engulfs you, as you take out your clothes for a quick dip in the brook. Petite pocks of the gentle breeze kindly tease your exposed toes, as does the glacier cold water of Lidder. At an altitude of nearly 7200 feet above sea level – Delhi, for example is only 706 feet above sea level -- you know that joy in comprehending is one of God's most beautiful gifts.
A lonely gun-wielding army man saw us throwing water at each other in the stream. I thought the gentleman was lost in his own private dreams. The sound of water hitting the formless little boulders makes you go soft in the heart. Must have been 22 degree C – at broad afternoon. A prompt smile flickered across his now-poetic, not-the-least soldierly face as we whizzed past. Proximity to nature, perhaps, does that to you. “Why don’t they withdraw troops from Kashmir now, Sam?” Raj asked nonchalantly. Who would wish to tear one-self from this place? I responded in chummy jest.
A quick decision over lunch hovered about what we do next. Rafting – was the unanimous choice. How friends think alike! Pahalgam is a rafter’s delight and even an amateur can catch a raft and glide down the rushing streams. The Lidder has excellent fishing beats for rainbow and brown trout. Imagine rafting in fish-filled waters. Ten people – two couples, two instructors and us – got into a raft. The swirling water in Lidder is especially suited for river rafting, the instructor told me. I wasn’t listening, for once.
Rafting is jollity. Like its ferocity there is also gentleness in Lidder. The beauty of the river is that at places it's so quite. The icy heights of the Himalayas are the source of some of India's mighty rivers. Fed by innumerable streams they race along tortuous boulder strewn beds, cutting deep gorges and breaking into silvery white rapids. Lidder flows through a myriad colours of rocky gorges, forests, flowers and high mountain villages. You just wish to go on. Fish plop as you raft.
We were asked to follow the instructor’s call – Get down – signifying: Jump to floor of the raft -- swiftly -- in case of a very strong current. This helps them negotiate the fast torrents, they explained. A subsequent – Get back – call would be a signal to get back to our places -- along borderline of the raft. Now both couples were a little scared – girls anyways are! – of the rapids. Taking a cue, Wasy -- with his sense of mischief clearly intact -- decided to add to their misery. Many times over he shouted – Get down -- and the poor folks would immediately jump to the floor. They mistook it for the instructor’s call. The instructors seemed to love the prank. It was so much fun.
Driving back on winding roads -- on a clear, starry sky – amid dense forests and pygmy villages with old chimneys happily piping out smoke is the stuff you can only doodle about in any big metropolis. At 706 feet.