The autumnal faces of Srinagar and Dal Lake in Kashmir mesmerize

Where are the spring songs? Ay, where are they?

Don’t think about them, you have your music too – John Keats

I visited the Kashmir Valley with a divided mind … there was the magnetic temptation of its ethereal charm that fueled my childhood dreams, and then there were those gory stories of the shattered valley disintegrated by terror and chaos. There were three consecutive bomb blasts in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, the day I started my trip from Kolkata (the capital of the state of West Bengal) on a package tour. So my mind was in a state of excitement upon meeting BEAUTY AND THE BEAST! My husband was upset with the front-page newspaper reports of the early morning butcher shop and tried to dissuade me from my impetuous resolve. I begged him to let me go as there was no safe haven on Earth these days and I thought he would return home …

It was autumn, the season “of mist and soft fruiting” … that was exactly what Srinagar’s silent morning voice whispered to me on the first day. In fact, as I drew the flowery curtains in my hotel room, I was spellbound to find the autumnal face of the flushed city that had not yet awakened from its cold sleep. My heart leapt as the gilded bronze Chinar trees, along the path, lit up, and the magic leaves whispered with the first caress of sunlight! The older reddish and gold leaves fell from the branches silently in rapid succession just to create the long-stretched vermilion golden path. My eyes traveled far away and were absolutely captivated by the sight of the distant royal Himalayas covered in snow, bright orange, as the first ray of sunlight slid down their slopes … I forgot about the bomb blast and the attacks terrorists and ran up the wooden stairs of my hotel to breathe the morning air “soaked with honey” of the city so elegant!

While walking down the street I avoided Coffee Day as it reminded me of my crowded city and the typical Kolkata smell that I wanted to get away from … I was dying to experience the Kashmir of my dream! So the first curious face that greeted me with a warm smile was the mature face of Ahmad Kader Miya at a nearby tea stand. For the first time I tried kahwa; its green tea made with saffron, cloves, green cardamom, cinnamon sticks and chopped almonds. Its mild flavor blended well with the feel of the mild season, embracing my spirit with a feeling of warmth. The taste of kahwa is coated with a fading bitterness and was somehow associated with the pleasant bitter taste of the walnut. Kader Miya’s grandson, the adolescent Abdul, who served tea a second time with a shy smile, reminded me of similar innocent youthful faces on the covers of Outlook magazine, shot dead by the military on terrorism charges. Why do these kids give it their all for …?

I diverted my thoughts as I watched Srinagar silently get along with his daily activities: Does this silence mean restored peace or a pause before another bomb attack? I couldn’t help but ponder… I opened my bag absently when I was awakened from my thoughts by the cracking voice of the old man with the henna-dyed beard and kind brown eyes who told me that the tea was free as is. intended for “Mehman Newazi” who simply acquainted me with the local culture of offering tea to the guest visiting the city for the first time …

During the latter part of the morning, as we strolled, we saw the silver birches and poplars sparkle in the warm sunlight. We also saw the exotic Nilgai (Blue-bull), the largest Asian antelope grazing in the nearby gray scrub forest. We also found a herd of cute light brown and milk-white cashmere goats with shaggy coats and apricot noses, led by a shepherd. They sported curiously spiral horns! Locals reported that these goats produce the finest wool, and Pashmina’s exquisite shawls were made from the fiber extracted from their body. Despite the busy market, the city has its own leisurely pace and we forget about time … We walked to a small bus stop and took a bus trip to the legendary lake, the Dal. Although bustling with activity by then, the lake itself is calm. I felt really romantic with the dry Chinar leaves crunching underfoot as we headed towards the Shikaras (wooden boats) for a ride. We walked in silence, surrounded by this group of seductive Chinars, gleaming gold in the soft sunlight …

Like the Venetian gondolas, the Shikaras are the cultural symbol of Kashmir. Some of the rowers in colorful Phi run (a long embroidered woolen dress) smoked their hukkas, a local tobacco with a joyful spirit. These men are hardworking and courteous in their manners. Smiles flashed and my eyes admired the slight blush that spread over their rough, weather-beaten faces and their blue eyes that shone with a strange light. They welcomed us and we hired two shikaras.

There was a mischievous interplay of mist and sunlight that created a magic as we reclined on the brightly colored and velvet cushions on the shikara, surrounded by colorful floral canopies. As the rowers lustfully dipped their shovel-shaped oars into the cold waters of the lake, the long-beaked shikaras floated on the water like a crocodile. The grooves created by the movement of the oars sometimes glowed a golden green. Orange light oozed over the distant mountain peaks surrounding the lake, and the white and snowy cliffs reflected the hue. It was a relaxed and romantic trip in which time seemed to never get out of hand …

The boys clicked to capture the enchanting views of the pine-covered Himalayas that surround the lake from all corners from a distance. The pines stood tall in green in the majestic mountains and the clusters formed different geometric patterns; while the chinars, nearby, blushed as my eyes soaked thirsty for the unimaginable color and lines around. We also got a glimpse of the silvery black back of a kingfisher as it emerged from the placid lake to fish for its breakfast. The water looked so transparent! The cluster of floating white lilies looked so serene! Sun-drenched lotuses smiled pink … Little ducks, white egrets and pond herons floated happily …

The chill in the air whispered the message of the arrival of winter. The man in the boats presented us with local songs at our request and while the wild and powerful melodies floated in the air, I breathed Kashmir … Some women from the valley rode past, towards their house, which floated on the lake, for the other side … They were carrying vegetables, fuel and things of daily life … their phi ran looked so faded that, however, it could not fade their dimpled, pink smiles. Despite the harsh dictates of life upon them, the men and women of Kashmir seemed to take life in stride. I never found them complaining about the injustice of life, either because of the harshness of nature or, more often, because of the harshness of man. If her aquiline nose, blue eyes, and flushed cheeks seemed to be in surprising harmony with the natural abundance that fostered them, her joyous spirit, in the face of the sinister violence that was terminally bleeding the valley, spoke volumes about her strong genetic makeup that coincided with the majestic Himalayas.

As we glided down the Jhelum River, we passed the ruined houses whose only evidence of life was some orchards and chickens in the yard pecking at grain in the frozen ground. This part of old Srinagar conveys a story of a crumbling past that might once have been glorious, as recounted in Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” …

We crossed a nestled cove, surrounded by golden green trees and lush meadows, situated in another corner of Dal Lake that looked like the “desolate fairyland” of keats … The elegant houseboats invited us from a distance to pass the night floating on the lake The marble dome of Hazratbal, visible as an “egg-shaped pearl” from a distance, attracted us to feel its ancient story of Moi-e-Muqqadus, the holy hair of the Prophet Muhammad …
The distant face of an old fisherman bent over in search of the lotus root reminded me of Tai, the mysterious ageless ship man who comes to life from Rushdie’s page …

Srinagar and Dal’s autumnal face inspires me to say:

“No spring or summer beauty is so graceful

As I have seen in an autumnal face … “JOHN DONNE.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *