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I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband 

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I flipped through the dog-eared pages of a slightly worn journal, rubbing my thumb on the ink smudges left behind on thin paper. It was a prized possession – my mother's travel journal – loaned to me after I had found it whilst cleaning her attic one day.

My mother was quite the traveller in her day. Before I was born to her in Kashmir, she would traverse its snow-laden valleys and jot down notes about the places she visited.

My mother's travel journal brimming with cherished memories

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

An old picture of Dal Lake (c) Airbnb

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Back home, as I flipped through the pages, my heart strings tugged at the vestiges of my memory of my first home. I was just 11 when we left Kashmir. I didn't understand why we had to leave all my friends, my school and my beloved goat, Daisy, behind. But slowly and steadily, my parents succeeded in setting a life up for us in the lively city of Mumbai. Initially, the whirlwind of all the activity had me lost and slightly intimidated. However, I settled into my new life after a few months.

Now a thoroughbred city person, I felt a strange pang of nostalgia as I read about vast meadows and meandering streams where we used to play as kids. Impulsively, maybe in a subconscious attempt to relive my memories, I booked two tickets to Kashmir – for me and my husband. But after my hasty decision, I realised that I had not picked an accommodation.

I pondered over several stay options, all of which seemed to have the same look and feel, and the same sterile atmosphere. After an hour of nervously biting the remnants of my fingernails off, I turned to Airbnb. My spirits lifted as I browsed through quaint houses in the valley. I wanted to pick a place that would allow me to re-live my childhood, something that had the old world charm and the warmth of a home.

I researched for a while, and ended up finding two places that I instantly fell in love with. I spoke with the hosts, and finalised one in Srinagar, which was my mother's favourite place in Kashmir, and the other in Pahalgam, where we lived before we had to leave the valley.

Photo of Srinagar by Neeti Chopra

The scenic Nigeen Lake which our houseboat overlooked (C) Vikas Panghal

Photo of Srinagar by Neeti Chopra

A few days later, Abhay and I were on our way to Dal Lake from the Srinagar Airport. It was his first time in Kashmir and I couldn't wait to make him see the place through my eyes.

My mother had filled a number of pages in her journal describing Dal's beauty, almost in a poetic, prose-like way. Her connection with the place jumped out at me and I therefore decided to pick a houseboat as my first Airbnb. On reaching our houseboat, we were ushered in by our host. Steaming cups of kahwa – green tea with almonds and saffron – were served. One sip took me back to the cold winter mornings where ma would wake us up with a warm cup of kahwa.

As we walked around the boat, the tapping noise our feet made reminded me of another childhood memory. I bent down and put my ear to the floor where I could hear the lapping sound of the water. I pulled Abhay down to experience this as well. As the boat rocked, both of us felt a wondering sense of calm.

Our cosy bedroom with plenty of sunlight making the room bright (C) Airbnb

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

(C) Airbnb

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

We spent the following days in Srinagar checking off all the destinations that my mother frequented while travelling here. We went to the grand Mughal Gardens, strolled through the lanes of Boulevard Road and even picked up a few trinkets. My favourite though was the shikara ride. As I sat down on the boat, gently rocking to the waves, I understood why my mother had called the Dal Lake her personal heaven.

Throughout our time in Srinagar, I narrated stories of my childhood and the hazy recollections I had of this beautiful city. There were a lot more people now and many more shops but one thing that still remained the same was the appeal of the Chinar trees. I remembered playing with its fallen leaves as mom clicked pictures. Abhay listened to everything with a smile on his face.

Chinar trees with their dazzling shades of amber, mauve, yellow and red (C) yaochengi

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Nature's play of colours during sunset (C) RachelTara

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

On our last night in Srinagar, we requested for a traditional meal at our Airbnb, which the host was kind enough to provide. The menu offered rice, haakh (collard greens), mutsch (Kashmiri meatballs) and a traditional sabzi. One bite and I was transported back to my mother's kitchen as a child. This was Abhay's first experience of Kashmiri food, so I asked him to sit down cross-legged on the floor, just like we would as children to get the authentic experience.

A plate of homemade, soul-satiating Kashmiri food (C) Anita

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Our next stop, and one of the most intimately described places on my mother's journal was Pahalgam. It was the place where my parents got married, where I was born, and where my mother spent a lot of her time dreaming. Pahalgam was home.

We drove towards a charming wooden cottage named Brown Palace B&B that we had booked on Airbnb. It was warm place, furnished with Kashmiri carpets and sofas. Our room had a wooden bed that reminded me of my own bed, where mom and dad would tuck me in every night.

The charming wooden cottage with an earthy, rustic feel (C) Airbnb

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Our cosy room with views of lush greenery outside (C) Airbnb

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

After checking in, we hastened down to the bank of the Lidder river, another place that featured prominently in my mother's journal. She had described her fishing escapades at the river in detail and I remembered having fish for dinner several times a week when we lived here. I wanted to try my hand at it too.

We borrowed fishing lines from our host and then placed ourselves on the banks of the river. We planned on catching a trout for dinner but after an hour all we were able to catch was a tangle of weed. We laughed agreed on spending the rest of our time admiring the view.

The deliciously cool water of Lidder with residents like the rainbow trout! (C) Satirtha Ghosh

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Abhay trying to click a picture of me

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

The next morning, we decided to take a day trip to Chandanwari, a snowy paradise which my mother frequently visited with my father. In fact we used to go there even after I was born. Dad and I would make snowmen as mom watched on. Abhay and I also tried making one and we did a pretty good job, dare I say.

Trying to figure out how to build that snowman

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Our masterpiece which we were very proud of

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

After completing our masterpiece, we traced our steps back to our Airbnb, where we walked inside to a warm, crackling fire and a piping hot meal of rice and Rogan Josh.

We retired to our rooms late at night and as Abhay went to sleep, I sat drinking a cup of kahwa and reflecting on what I had experienced. The valley had changed from the hazy memories of my mind and my mother's descriptions. While it was definitely bittersweet to watch something beloved change with time, it was heartwarming to see its people and places welcoming me back with love. This homely environment and friendly people are the very spirit of Kashmir.

Filling in the blanks in my mother's journal

Photo of I Re-lived My Childhood As I Followed My Mother's Journal To Travel To Kashmir With My Husband by Neeti Chopra

Back home in Mumbai, I sat down and stuck a few polaroid pictures on the blank pages left in the journal. The sense of belongingness that I got from this trip and my Airbnb stays, have made me eager to plan another trip to my hometown soon.

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