“It was strange how quickly my feelings were changing with every road we took and every field we passed by. One moment I’m admiring the greens and blues that surround me for miles and the next moment I see the presence of red that has stained this valley over the years.”
So a day has already been passed since I began this journey with 9 other people with whom I will be travelling to exotic places for the rest of this month. You know, how we look for that person in your travels who you think might be a good partner who will make the journey memorable and complete for you. I saw that partner in Udit and Sumi. After reaching Jammu, I shared a cab with Udit and Altamash. It was a pleasant drive with music being blasted in the car and it kind of worked as the background score for the journey.
Little surprises of life: I came to know that Udit and I had worked on the same project, while being in different agencies, and it was the first work for both of us. Soon after, we both had quit our jobs. And now I get to know about this strange coincidence in this trip. I look forward to more. I also came to know that Sumi was a copywriter in an agency in Mumbai who had recently quit her job. I have a very good feeling about this journey that we’ve embarked upon.
We drove through bad conditions and narrow roads, crossed broken bridges – to get to a village called Chatpal. We reached there in the dark of the night and soon w all retired, all tired from the long cab ride. But, next day we woke up to a paradise, we were in the middle of a valley, staying in a wooden bungalow resting on a lush meadow, nestled between undulating range of mountains I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Three days ago I had to make a hard choice between my career and my dream. I was sitting in front of my laptop and staring at the screen blankly. I was very happy with my work, my colleagues, my boss. I had a perfectly satisfying job. Do I really want to risk all that for a road trip, I wondered. After all it’s just a road trip to the Himalayas, for just one month, with a bunch of like-minded people. Sure I’ll get an opportunity like this again. Do I really want to do this? I certainly wish to…No, I have to do this.
So, I did.
I write this sitting under a pine tree, sheltering myself from the rain, overlooking the valley transform from green to grey and white as it pours like crazy. Listening to the sound of the river going wild, I smiled, I looked at the tiny ice crystals of the hailstorm around me and I laughed. As the ground beneath me started to get wet I began walking down the mountain and realised that it’s not a regular rain, it’s a storm.
All the mountain trails, which I took to get there, had transformed into mini rivers. There’s a road a little ahead, which has about 6 inches deep water gushing down. It almost looks like the river. I slipped, fell and tumbled several times before I reached the riverbed. Covered in mud and slush I realised I’m far, far away from the bridge and the path which was dry ground some thirty minutes ago, was now a fast flowing stream. I had to get to the higher ground to find the bridge and luckily then I located the tree that stood beside the bridge and followed it. I could barely see anything in the dense rain but I somehow managed to take a few pictures of this misfortune. I followed a couple of goats who lead me up to the main road, about 500 meters away from the usual path but at least I was on the path. I met a shepherd there who then warned me about this weather.
I returned home all drenched, disoriented and relieved, complaining about my wet shoes, and found myself in the middle of a harmonium jam session going on in the living room of our bungalow, conducted by the caretakers of the guest house. This is too much of a turn of events but I’m loving it!
Today was full of contrasts. I crossed the most picturesque fields, most heavenly mountains, I walked among the clouds and photographed the most vibrant flowers. Then I heard stories of violence and bloodshed that have been haunting the inhabitants for decades now. So much so that you can read it on their face, hear it in their voice, see it in their smile and read it between the lines on their face, the fear they have lived with and still live with.
It was strange how quickly my feelings were changing with every road we took and every field we passed by. One moment I’m admiring the greens and blues that surround me for miles and the next moment I see the presence of red that has stained this valley over the years.
One moment I see the happiness in the people’s smiles and the next moment those smiles look like a temporary relief from the scars of their tormented past. The people are still unsure and wary of the strangers who step into their land. One moment I run free under the open skies and the next moment I am not allowed to step out of the car. I have never seen such a contrast anywhere. Both heaven and hell have had their time here. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. Although this place has made peace with time, there is still a cold numbness here that has enveloped me.
Today is Eid. I have never celebrated Eid before. And for the first Eid of my life, in a strange land among strangers, I got a beautiful Phiren for myself. Excitement was consuming me. I immediately wore it and it made me feel so pretty. The people here were astonished to see us outsiders trying to blend in even though they smiled in amusement and silent appreciation.
With every stranger passing by, I felt an unfamiliar gaze on me. I wasn’t sure about the nature of this unfamiliarity but it felt like it’s from someone I could know. Like a friend or a stranger with whom you could form a connection simply through eye contact.
Today was all about connections and love in the purest form. I learnt how to hug. How to hug like you mean it. How you transmit all the love you feel for a stranger in just 5 seconds of physical contact. Why did a stranger’s hug leave me in tears and made me think I’ve been hugging people wrong all my life, or even worse, I haven’t hugged anyone all my life!
And then there was an unspoilt, untouched, unbelievable beauty in every face I saw. How can the stunning beauty of the people here can be hidden from the world, I wondered…I wanted to capture every face there, talk to everyone of them, and get to know their lives, their past, their present and their future. I felt like I could be one of them or maybe, I already am.
I went to a village today and was invited for tea by a family. Seeing their uneven wooden houses from outside, I could’ve never anticipated the symmetry the house displayed inside. Their kitchen, carpets, windows and structure all looked like a pattern thoughtfully arranged to achieve perfection. Their love towards a stranger like me was overwhelming. So much warmth and love in every word they say, every smile they share, every look they give.
The kids from the entire village encircled me curiously staring at me, my clothes, my camera and my hair. One of the girls, Aabiroo, was very outgoing and immediately started to chat me up and I noticed she has a great sense of humour. All the women and the girls were so pretty and had red apple like cheeks. In that room, sat the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my life.
The kids took me to a meadow just a little hike up the village. More kids joined as we walked our way up. The kids were whispering in each other’s ears, and coyly looking at me as were walking. Later they warmed up to me and even danced and sang, all the while demanding for pictures to be clicked. I took about a hundred shots of them playing in the meadow, jumping around from one rock to the other and basically having crazy amounts of fun. But soon it started to rain and we ran down to Aabiroo’s house again and had more tea and met the rest of the family members including the men of the family. members that is. The older men of the village, don’t speak much to women. The younger ones are very shy. I met two boys of the family who were shy at first but slowly got comfortable talking to me. Both had a lot of questions about my life in the city, my career, the culture etc. Their father offered me a ride back to the guest house as it continued to pour heavily. They came by later in the night to show us a video of the trek to the seven lakes across the valley when I met one of the older boys again. His name is Aadil. We talked a lot as he told me all about the treks. We connected really well and talked for hours. He’s a wonderful, wise and the most handsome Kashmiri boy I’ve come across.
It’s our last day in Chatpal. We’ve waited for the sun to shine for the past 5 days but today we’re admiring the monsoon because we’re so in love with this valley already. Nostalgia is consuming us. There’s a sadness that’s enveloping me. I want to see more of this valley. Spend more time in the rain. Sit on the steps in the night just smoking and looking into the endless nothingness of the distant mountains against the dark cloudy sky. Feel the moisture on my skin, smell the freshness in the air. Meet more people, see more places.
I waited for the rain to stop but it didn’t. So I put on my rain jacket and shoes and decided to go for a run in the village. Me and the girls were talking about Aadil, that how much of a heartthrob he is when Sumi spotted a guy in white, standing with a horse near a wooden house in the vast green meadow and almost yelled out “Is that Aadil?”. I turned to look around and yes…It was him! We started jumping up and down waving at him and screaming his name like a bunch of school girls “Aadil…Aadil…Aadil”.
As he appeared out of the rain, his eyes shy and sparkling, his face glittering with the tiny droplets that the rain had left, his hair shiny and wet, his cheeks red, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How cansomeone be so gorgeous, so pristine, so humble and so good, I wondered. He radiates so much goodness, so much light and so much love that it was beginning to melt my heart. We talked for a while and he couldn’t stop blushing. His cheeks grew red and I left him with the girls and went for a run. I ran across the bridge to another village and met the kids I saw earlier at the school. I smiled at every face I saw on the way. The villagers had a very confused look on their faces which quickly transformed as soon as I greeted them. They must be wondering why is this girl running all alone in the rain. I ran back to Aadil and we walked our way back to the guest house and hugged him tight before we said our goodbyes.