If there is heaven on Earth, it is right there in Kashmir!

Dal lake, Srinagar.

So all of a sudden we made this adventurous plan to celebrate my sister’s Birthday in Kashmir. Now some of you (or infact most of you) might speculate thinking that “who the hell celebrates Birthday in Kashmir (the land of terrorism)?” or “would you want this to be your last Birthday?” or may laugh it off saying “Birthday with a real blast (lol)”.

I have to agree that we too had similar assumptions before heading on to this trip. Until the last moment we weren’t sure if we should keep the plan on or chuck it and stay back! Just like any of you, we too were surrounded by hundreds of predictions and negativities. Barely three days before the trip, our friend (who also joined us on this trip) felt quite uneasy and sent us a message saying “I want to still come but my heart is aching just thinking about leaving nanoo (her little daughter) behind”. However, we somehow managed to ignore all these panic attacks and complexities, and decided to head forward. And at the end I’m glad we did it!

Ever heard of the saying- “if there is heaven on Earth, it is right there in Kashmir”? Yes it indeed is! Which is why I’ve put this write-up out here to remind all you people about the magnificence (as well as intricacy) of Kashmir, cause most of us seem to have forgotten about it wholly, including me until I visited Kashmir in this recent trip.

So on one beautiful evening we got on to this Shikara at the Dal lake in Srinagar and asked Aashiq (our Shikara rower) to row us till Meena Bazaar (a floating market at the Dal lake). Initially I was quite excited about the Shikara ride and also about shopping some gorgeous Kashmiri stuff, but little did I know that two hour ride will shatter my heart into pieces. It all started when Aashiq (obviously a Kashmiri) started off telling about the real time struggles and hardships he’s been constantly facing since like forever, just to survive in his own land. That guy sleeps only for two hours a day and works for freakin “twenty two” hours at a continuous stretch so he could earn mere bread and fulfill some basic needs for his family, which indeed isn’t a very easy task to do for any Kashmiri living in the current situation. And no I’m not kidding, he does sleep for two hours only!

Finally after listening to his hundreds of heart-breaking stories (not jotting them down here otherwise most of you might go into severe trauma) we reached the Meena Bazaar. And guess what, the situation out there was as disturbing as Aashiq’s tragic stories. The whole of Meena Bazaar was completely isolated. 70% of the shops were shut and the remaining 30% shops that were still open had zero customers in them. Only people we could see around were the shopkeepers themselves sitting inside their shops with almost all of their lights and fans switched off (so they could save up on the electricity bill). And when our Shikara passed by their shops, those kind shopkeepers waved at us calling phrases like “aap yaha aaiye” (please come here), “zara idhar dekhiye” (please look here), “idhar aaiye na behen” (please come here sister), in a loud voice so they could welcome us in their shop and could eventually give them some business (which is a very rare situation in Kashmir in the current time). However, they still didn’t forget to put that pleasing smile on their face and that sweetest Kashmiri accent. But behind those sweetest of smiles and kindest of gestures, I could undoubtedly notice heaps of disturbance in their eyes. How I wanted to step into every single shop and buy every single stuff possible so I could contribute to atleast some happiness/money to their despair! That whole vibe around the Dal lake was extremely heart-rending that both my sister and I got so grief-stricken that we decided not to stay there even for an extra moment and headed back to our houseboat right then.

Oh btw, we stayed in a very lavish houseboat and paid peanuts (merely Rs. 600 for a day) to Fayaz (our houseboat owner) in return. I wanted to overpay him but how could I? Cause he asked for 600 rupees only! Staying over at the glamorous Dal lake for two nights in a fancy houseboat, surrounded by alluring mountains and some breath-taking sights, and paying solely Rs. 1200 in return for that phenomenal experience made me feel that I cheated on to him. In simple words, living in the paradise for two whole days and nights and not paying Fayaz what that whole experience was actually worth for, I felt like a wrongdoer. And not to forget, this is the peak season in Kashmir. Wonder what the situation in off season be like!

FYI: Fayaz spoke very good English and had a charming smile (Kashmiris are no doubt very good looking). Plus how hospitable and generous they are! But I believe all of us could not give them the same generosity in return what they deserve. It’s the same paradise whose economy always ran on tourism. And when you snatch the tourism out of its hand, you think it can stand still? No it can’t!

It’s just the media that has created so much hype against Kashmir which is preventing millions of people from visiting that paradise. To be honest, not even for a single moment did we feel unsafe in that whole trip. Kashmir is as safe plus equally unsafe as any other place is in today’s era.

When you hear the word “Kashmir”, thoughts that strike your head are — “bomb blast”, “terrorism”, “fights”, “deaths”, ‘blood”, etc., which indeed is not the case at the moment. Kashmir is much more secured and safe compared to any other state in our country. On every 10 meters you see two army personnel standing in bullet proof jackets, holding big weapons in hands and ofcourse very much alerted. Some food for thought: Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world. There are close to one million troops deployed in Kashmir currently.

People (especially the media) have falsely tagged Kashmir as the “land of terrorism”, which is why I thought I would share my views and experience here so I could depict the right picture of Kashmir infront of all you people out here. And yes, at the end I would urge each one of you to please go visit Kashmir on your next holiday or whenever possible so you could contribute atleast something to their economy. Kashmir should no longer be tagged as “the land of terrorism” anymore, it instead deserves to be labeled back as “the land of tourism”!

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