After Bhim left, I spent my day gazing at the lake in the porch with chai and my kindle. I also went for a long walk with Lateefji around the area chatting with him and tasting hot local bread fresh out of the oven. It was the eighth day of Muharram celebrated by the Shia community so they were offering glasses of lassi to any passerby. Lateefji told me that like the rest of the country, majority of muslims in Kashmir were Sunnis.
It was Independence Day too which meant a curfew till afternoon. The previous evening I had seen local police force and army in various locations in full strength. And the mobile network and connectivity would be switched off till noon time. It was sad wasn’t it.. To celebrate our country’s Independence Day meant to deal with terrorists and possibly bombing, rioting or stone pelting.
I was closely following the news in Srinagar and was happy to see hoisting of our flag in the centre of the town. And the local police was making sure that flags were hoisted in colonies, residential areas. It was a change, a big change. Kashmiris had to understand that it was time for them to change too. With the current situation in Afghanistan as a glaring example, if the state is left to its own then it would turn into one exactly like that.
That peace and quiet which I thought I would get in the trek ultimately had to come to this day in Srinagar. Did I regret going on in this trek? No, not at all, whether it was this month or next year, there would be loads of people on KGL trail. One couldn’t escape that. Nature never disappoints you, it’s people that do that.
I was still the only one in the entire houseboat. Shafiji kept coming a couple of times and we had really good conversations. I knew I would come back to Kashmir, it was certain. Maybe winter or spring but I would make it happen. I felt like I was leaving this home to another home in Hyderabad.
That night the cook prepared a special dinner – the famous Kashmiri pulav. I overate and enjoyed it to the hilt! Sometimes it was ok to let go, to have a guilt free bonanza. Bidding goodbye to Shafiji in the evening with a promise of being in touch with him and insisting on him messaging his home address as I wanted to gift him something, I turned in for the night.
Early morning, Lateefji took me in a small raft to the docks where Mushtaqji was waiting to take me to the airport. As I bid goodbye to Lateefji, he took me in with a big hug telling me he will wait for me, I had to come back again 😊 Ditto with Mushtaqji who was emotional saying he will never forget me, he will recognise me even if I meet him after a decade. He gifted me a special handkerchief. If this is not love, what is?
Kashmir is now etched in my heart and soul, I can never call it alien or ‘that place’ or something that you read of a land far far away.
What next you ask? A couple of weeks later, I sent to Shafiji a special gift from Hyderabad, along with local snacks that was quintessentially Hyderabadi, and the same to Mushtaqji. All I know is that I made friends for life. There is no going back. I know that the next time I am in Kashmir, I am not alone treading in an unfamiliar territory but knowing fully I have a couple of friends who will be there ♥️
Till I write again, as we would say in Hyderabad, ‘ Khudah hafiz’ 😊