Thursday 12 July 2018

Kashmir, A Piece Of My Heart : A Travelogue, A Memoir, Straight From The Heart

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I first went to Kashmir when I was in my tweens and was so enthralled by its unparalleled beauty that I left a piece of my heart there forever. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life and was ecstatic to witness this precious heaven on earth. I loved everything about it, the Dal Lake, the Shikaras, the Majestic Shalimar and Nishat Baghs, the floating market where I met a little boy probably six years old selling mesmerizing water lilies and who only knew three Hindi words - ‘ Ek Ka Do’.

Dal Lake

He was sailing a tiny wooden boat with loads of flowers and his image stayed with me for a long long time. Thus when I got married and ‘S’ asked me where would I like to go, I told him I wanted to stay in a houseboat in Srinagar. This was 2008 and I was once again here after about more than a decade but nothing has marred its pristine beauty. Though people’s souls were charred by multiple attacks of terrorism but their love for their primary source of income, that is we tourists, remained the same. They love you and take care of you like no one else.

 I stayed in Latif Bhai and his wife’s houseboat, "Qutub Minar' and ten years later today I still remember them for how they took awesome care of us more like their own family. His wife waited for us to wake up in the morn and made fresh kahwa for us. She also cooked yummy Kashmiri delicacies to our taste in lunch and dinner piping hot, made and served with extreme love and finesse. Their artistic sense was revealed by the way they have done up their houseboat and it is by far my most memorable stay ever. They made us feel like a king and queen in palace and pampered us every bit.

In the nights Latif Bhai used to take us on a stroll in his shikara to witness the charming Dal lake glittering with the reflection of all the lights in water. It used to be biting cold and we sat cuddled in the blankets his wife used to give us before we started. I am yet to witness something as heart-warming and picturesque as this in my life.

He also arranged for our day trips to Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam etc. and we found our cab drivers equally affectionate and caring though each one had a heart wrenching tale to tell. I often chatted with them for long. While returning from one such trip, I saw a young lad selling flowers in his small boat in Dal Lake and I felt he is the same small boy I met when I came here with my parents. I bought flowers from him without fail, both times.

Every single part, every nook and corner of Kashmir was more beautiful than any words of the universe could describe but each day we were happy to return back to Latif Bhai and his wife as if our family was waiting for us for dinner. For several years he even called us and we had promised him to return and again stay in his houseboat.

We still often remember them fondly as I conceived little ‘A’ within a month of my return from Kashmir and we really plan to go to Latif Bhai’s houseboat one day with our little sunshine.

Latif Bhai with my husband

I almost reached them this summer when I went for a Vaishno Devi Trip followed by a wonderful vacation at Patni Top. It was an extended family trip with safety being the prime concern and it was decided that this side of Kashmir was a bit safer. My heart felt shattered that I missed the opportunity closely. Though Patni Top and adjacent Sanasar had the same air and were as pristine and adorable, they made me nostalgic of my earlier visits to Kashmir, which still occupy the softest corner of my heart.

It is difficult for me to explain my bond with it in words. It is a strange connection I feel to this place. My heart cries remembering all the people staying their have gone through especially hearing it from their own mouth. I have cried with them as they told me how all their children and spouse and parents were all killed in one go by terrorists posing as Indian army, there are some tales I don’t even have the guts to narrate hear. They don't really know now whom to trust. Nevertheless, they still have the heart to smile and welcome us with open arms though the tourism industry there is constantly diminishing. 

I salute to their spirit and their love for their motherland. I wish and pray to the Almighty to please bless this most beautiful state of India with peace, forever and yes Latif Bhai I will surely come very soon and stay no where else but in your houseboat, I promise ♥️.

Copyright © 2014~2018 by Roma Gupta Sinha
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