Kashmir- The vulnerably glorious spectacle

9th Jun 2019

Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar

Photo of Kashmir- The vulnerably glorious spectacle by Pallavi Sareen

The experience of visiting Kashmir for the first time is inexplicable. There is a fear in the minds over the political atmosphere and one expects hostility despite knowing that Kashmir has a zero percent crime rate against tourists.

But terrorists don’t discriminate and so when I visited Kashmir for the first time as an adult, not as a tourist per se but as a neighbor from the Jammu province, I found beauty beyond imagination. While crossing the Jawahar Tunnel, the main link between Kashmir and the rest of the world by road, I wondered how such a small tunnel could accommodate an umbrage of tourists that come pouring in during the winters for snowfall or during spring to see the gardens in Kashmir in their full glory.

My first encounter with the Dal Lake was during the evening and when my travel buddy suggested a tour of the Dal Lake after a long 8-hour road trip from Jammu to Kashmir, amidst traffic Jams, uneven curvy roads and shifting weather, I looked at him as if he had lost his mind.

(Important Information before you plan a road trip - Kashmir is located 276 km away from Jammu and on an average it should take one about 6 hours to reach Kashmir, even with small pitstops for tea and snacks. But considering that the Jammu-Udhampur National Highway is under construction and the Ramban road is the toughest one to travel upon, along with other hindrances of matching the time you leave Jammu with the travel advisories issued by the administration on when you can travel on the National Highway and when you can not. Just today, there was a landslide and the NH-44 was closed for all travelers.)

Upon little insistence, my curiosity won over my tired body and we were at the Dal Gate with me about to see what the hype was all about.

Let me tell you, readers. The hype is real. But the reality is much more glorious.

Day 1

The lit-up houseboats and glowing neon signs of restaurant and 5-star hotels look like commercialization, if done right can add to the beauty of nature. Their reflection on the water of the Lake looked like plethora of shooting stars. The water reflected the evening sky firstly in hues of orange and later in charcoal black as night fell.

Sunset view of Dal Lake

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Pallavi Sareen

Fortunately, the day I reached Kashmir was a Sunday and a Sunday market was open on the footpath near the Dal Lake. Small-time sellers sat on the footpath selling apparel, handicrafts and much more. But my eyes were on other tourists, the numbers of which had thinned after the Pulwama Attack. Couples walked together hand in hand. Families were seen haggling with the sellers, negotiating a lesser price for a commodity. It wasn’t too noisy but when I sat on the banks of the lake in one of the sheds, I could hear nothing but silence.

Tourists on the Boulevard Road

Photo of Kashmir- The vulnerably glorious spectacle by Pallavi Sareen

Sunday Market

Photo of Kashmir- The vulnerably glorious spectacle by Pallavi Sareen

Dal Lake

Photo of Kashmir- The vulnerably glorious spectacle by Pallavi Sareen

It was in those moments that a thought occurred in my head as my travel companion voiced out his thoughts. “It’s so serene. You can think a lot, write a lot here.”

And I responded, though only in my head, knowing all the scars that this beautiful piece of land and the people in it carried, “And weep a lot, if you think deep. And scream a lot, though just with ink.”

Day 2

This experience I am sharing is of the month of June, long enough for Kashmir to leave Pulwama as a mark on history and way before the revocation of its special status. So in the middle of these security and political tugs-of-war, I visited Kashmir at its most vulnerable time. The need for mentioning this is because when I saw the Lal Chowk’s famous Watch Tower (as everyone should), it was surrounded by barbed wires. It showed me the reality of the place. How naïve of one to think they could control the uncontrolled. That they could bind time and bend it to will.

Watch Tower in Lal Chowk surrounded by barbed wire

Photo of Lal Chowk, Srinagar by Pallavi Sareen

Lal Chowk is a both a famous and infamous place for all tourists. If you wish me to narrate tales of its Tulip Gardens, Chashm-e-Shahi and Nishat Garden, then this post is not for you since I never visited those places.

Day 3

Instead, I spent my time in Downtown, Srinagar, seeing the cracked windows. I had my dinner enjoying Kashmiri Seekhs called “Tujji” of Khayam Chowk.

A Kashmiri making Tujji

Photo of Srinagar by Pallavi Sareen

I was in Kashmir for 4 days and my days entailed plenty of non-touristy things.

I walked down the lanes of Habba kadal imagining how hard it would have been for the Kashmiri Pandit community to leave their homes. Such two-storey, three-storey homes that had wooden-carved windows.

Abandoned home of Kashmiri Pandit in Habba kadal

Photo of Habba Kadal, Srinagar by Pallavi Sareen

I entered, with much difficulty into the Dashnami Akhada which is like a fortress and along with security personnel is also home to a temple of Lord Shiva. It is the place from where the “Chadi” during the holy “Chadi Yatra” begins its journey towards the pious Shri Baba Barfani Amarnath yatra.

Dashnami Akhada

Photo of Kashmir- The vulnerably glorious spectacle by Pallavi Sareen
Day 4

I eyed the Jamia Masjid and waited for Azaan to begin so I could think of whether the Kashmiri accent had any impact on the sounds or they were the same as any other Masjid.

The experience was not all fantastic though. I got stuck in a terrible traffic jam with a punctured car-tyre near 8pm and failed to find a single puncture shop. Apparently they are hard to find after 6 pm in the evening. I tasted Biryani at the famous Mughal Durbar and hated every bite of it. Their Tabakmaaz was much better though.

Yet during my last night in Kashmir when I stood on the Zero bridge admiring its beauty along with the night view, I found it hard to be able to convey everything I would have liked about the place. I sat with my phone in hand, starting to write this travelogue. Yet, it has taken so long for me to finish it.


Photo of Jamia Masjid Srinagar, Nowhatta Kathi Darwaza Road, Nowhatta, Srinagar by Pallavi Sareen

Night View

Photo of Jamia Masjid Srinagar, Nowhatta Kathi Darwaza Road, Nowhatta, Srinagar by Pallavi Sareen

But in the end, when I left I ended up carrying more stories inside me than what I had made up inside my head before visiting.

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