I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning in the houseboat and I was just lazy 😊 To wake up to tranquility is a blessing indeed. And I was being treated like a Royal by Lateefji asking me what I want for breakfast and all. To be pampered is a privilege that we rarely get and one should not shy away from it.
Shafiji walked in after breakfast and we chatted looking at the lake as I shared my life, about Hyderabad, it’s people and my love for black coffee. I gave him some sachets of Sleepy Owl coffee which I started carrying with me and he was smiling looking at the brand name commenting how apt it was! I didn’t even know how time passed as it was already past 11 am and I was supposed to get some ‘sight seeing’.
Mushtaqji was already waiting for me and Shafiji suggested me to go to ‘Adoos’ a Kashmiri restaurant for lunch. But let me tell you, the home cooked food served in the houseboat was so good that it spoiled it for me, nothing would come close to it.
My first visit was to Hazratbal Shrine and once I walked towards the shrine, Mushtaqji suddenly remembered I had to cover my head to go inside and he was apologising profusely for forgetting to mention it! I told him, no fuss and walked into a small shop and got this beautiful silk scarf as the friendly shopkeeper wrapped it around my head and neck.
It was different feeling to cover. It was not about concealing or hiding something, it was a mark of respect, and honestly I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. It was like a hijab. I walked in and prayed at the woman’s side and walked around the shrine as Mushtaqji showed me the gardens and the Dal. And Dal lake let me tell you has 5 parts. It’s huge and in most of it , boating is not allowed.
There were so many gardens but all I wanted was to get back to the houseboat and sit in silence and not be in midst of the cacophony and buzz of the city. Why wouldn’t I? Don’t we all seek peace and stillness? To let go of our usual monotonous routine of rushing..
I told Mushtaqji no sightseeing please, just purchase some dry fruits, then lunch and back to houseboat. He was so surprised! I told him that for the next one week I would be in the most pristine environment trekking to my hearts content and these gardens were just ornamental. Yes I wanted to visit the beautiful old temple that Adi Shankaracharya installed there. It was very old but the sun was shining bright and hot, so I decided I would go next time. This was definitely not going to be the only time in Kashmir!!
And here it is, Kashmir is the seat of Saivism. Kashmir Saivism is unique compared to Saivism in different parts of the country. No wonder Amarnath had such a huge significance and tradition there.
I am also laying the bare facts out here. From constituting over 40% of the total population in Srinagar, Kashmiri pandits were now less than 2%, and this is something no one wants to talk about because nowadays secularism has become so one sided you see. The exodus of 1989-90 where the Pandits were given 2 days, mind you 2 days to either ‘ convert or die’ written in big letters all over the walls and homes of pandits led to massive migration and killings, rapes for the unfortunate who didn’t want to leave.
Don’t like it? Want to move away from it? No you can’t. Fact is, it still rings hard. And who tells me this? Mushtaqji. He condemned it but he also said that they couldn’t do anything about it as majority of them wanted the pandits to either convert or leave. For those who know a little bit of history and the partition, it was still happening, the bloodshed in 1989. Try to rationalise it, try anything you can but the proof is in the pudding. I didn’t see a single shop owned by any Pandit in all the days I was there except one or two among thousands . Want to know more? Read this book, ‘THE MOON HAS BLOOD CLOTS’ on the exodus. An accurate description of those years with families, statistics. Secularism people is not one sided, it should happen both ways. And definitely this is not secular nor woke!
I got down for lunch at this restaurant and I had an interesting experience! As I walked in, I realised it was not a casual restaurant, it was an authentic Kashmiri restaurant with well heeled Kashmiris and I stood there for 15 minutes. Why you ask? Everyone, all local Kashmiri’s turned their head to see a woman standing alone, an outsider, not a Kashmiri mind you.
From the manager to the waiters, they decided to ignore me and not show me a table 😊 Yup I just stood there as it was clearly written that I had to wait till someone would show me a table. The kind of judgement and glaring looks I got from people was to be seen to be believed. Was it because I was a woman on my own? I don’t know but I refused to go. So I called out, no response, complete ignore! And I mean it. Don’t believe me? Two men walked in behind me, and they promptly got a table and were seated 😊
Tell me what do you do? Walk out? No I didn’t. After 15 minutes or so, a young waiter seated me to the ‘corner most table’, and I insisted I wanted a good one, he was very kind and sympathetic( I don’t know why) and seated me in one as I kept on getting disapproving looks 😊 Then I noticed that every Kashmiri woman was accompanied by men, families, never alone. I sat, I ordered, I ate as people kept on staring, glaring whatever at my audacity to sit there. I don’t think I felt that discriminated in my time in NY when I heard racial slurs as I felt in my time in the restaurant.
When Mushtaqji asked me how was the food? I only said food ok, people bad 😂 How does one explain these things? All I wanted was to get back to that quiet world, that quiet lake, to just sit in silence and forget the whole incident. Nature nor mountains judge you, because that’s within you isn’t it? ♥️
Lateefji was so surprised seeing me early! I told him I have no inclination to go anywhere but be here. A home away from home watching different birds, their sounds and the lake. If that’s what my world is, that’s what it is. I remember messaging my buddy Bhim about this but not much, just one line about this. And I am talking about it only now. It must be said. Isn’t it?
In the evening, Shafiji again came over and we sat gazing at the lake as he showed me different species of birds. He was very much into ‘Fly fishing’. Later his cousin joined us and when I told him I was trekking with Indiahikes, he blasted about them 😊 Like most locals, he felt an ‘outsider’ was taking away their business forgetting about the fact that they were also bringing in so many people here! Such contradictions I tell you! You want peace, you want stability, you want tourists for business where 65% of your economy runs on tourism yet you don’t want ‘outsiders’. What can one say?
Shafiji’s cousin Bilal showed me another houseboat opposite mine that was made for special guests like royalty and told me to spend some time there on the deck as no guest was there yet! Wow! I sat on the deck watching the sunset as chai was served to me 😊 In the words of one of my trek mates Bunny who always hashtags like #whatelseiwant #whatawonderfulworld ♥️ Seriously what else did I want more?
As I came down to my houseboat I saw a gentleman Mehmood bhai who made paper machete souvenirs, all hand made. He patiently laid down every item for me to look and see if I could buy anything. It was totally affordable and had such craftsmanship. We got talking and he spoke about how he would be the last one of his family to do this. Both his sons had no interest. One was already in a government job and the other doing his MBA, he was one of the last few craftsmen and it would die with him. I thanked him profusely for his time and bought quite a number of things and I told him I would come back to the houseboat post the trek and it would be lovely to see him again.
Before I turned in for the night, Shafiji came in and asked if I was all set for tomorrow as I would be leaving for the base camp. I was but I also didn’t feel like leaving this place. He simply said, I will see you in a week’s time and I have a nice surprise for you 😊
To be continued ♥️