It had been my lifelong fantasy to travel across to the paradisaical state of Jammu and Kashmir, drown myself in its deep and mystifying valleys, swim in the fragrance of its floral alleys, bathe in the green of its flushing meadows, wade through the Dal in the ceremonious Shikaras...
Call it my fate, I caught the first glimpses of the city of Srinagar under the veil of the night. It was cloudy with just a couple or more stars dotting the sky. The moon was a crescent, present as though to announce its presence - a formal and mandatory appearance with little or no life!
The Dal, lay there matching the calm of the dark night. I walked along the promenade after a heavy dinner. There was very little activity along the Lake. Across the centre of the Dal Lake were houseboats, glowing in varied colours with lights that accentuated the wooden art on them. The lights reflected onto the dark waters, making the ripples shimmer.
And far away, a sole shikarawallah was wading through the water, past the Lotus leaves, he ploughed with his oars, eager to get on to land and relieve his last customers safely to the banks. Most of the shikaras were lined up close to the promenade classified interestingly as 'Deluxe', 'Super deluxe'. These spindle shaped boats with a roof seem like a haven for romance, with the delicate carvings on their wooden bodies and the cosily cushioned seating!
But, the stench along the promenade cannot be evaded. In the dark, I couldn't quite manage to track the source of the foul smell, but my senses surely indicated that it was something to worry about. I was informed that there is unattended growth of weeds in lake. This is mainly due to improper disposal of wastes from the houseboats. They lack septic tanks which can collect all the waste and then subject it to treatment. Resultantly, all the waste enters the water without proper or no treatment. This could also leads to eutrophication if there be no action taken, a sad state.
The next day, when I stepped out, the sun was peeping happily over the entire city. It was just past dawn and the mist was only preparing to lift its curtain from over the Dal. I could now see the lotus leaves floating on the surface, the shikaras were still lost in their deep slumber. The 'Char Chinar' - an island with four Chinar trees as the name rightly suggests - caught my attention. In the middle of a vast expanse of water, as though out of thin air, four Chinar trees decided to spring up! That to me, is mystifying!
It was finally time for me to get myself aboard a shikara and I made sure it looked royal! The shikarawalla promised our group a ride of forty five minutes, so forty five minutes in the shikara it was! And, while on this ride, I experienced something unique. A shopping experience like never before. As soon as the shikara takes off from the deck, vendors - jewellery, dry fruits, spices et al - come buzzing like bees to a honeycomb! The vendors have amazing salesmanship, alluring their customers to buying their merchandise by making claims of it being the 'Jewel of Kashmir', 'The world's only...', 'Found no where on the planet..'. I wasn't sure whether their quotes were worth consideration at all. But, I knew for sure that the experience was worth cherishing.
I agree it is very tough to sight beauty amongst all the commercialisation, the touristy features, the degradaing nature, the redundance of military. But, for me, it wasn't really tough to spot beauty hidden amidst the multitude of folds of all those mentioned above. If looked well, your eyes will still find beauty.