Solo Travels- Bijbehara

Solo travels in Bijbehara, Srinagar.

The last time I visited Bijbehara, was in 2016, for Mufti Sahab’s funeral. The Dara Shikoh, Mughal Garden is his final resting place. Brijbehara, is famous for it’s Chinar Trees and is known as the Chinar town. Also known as Vijbor or Vijbror, it’s around forty five kms away, from Srinagar. The oldest Chinar tree in the region can be found in Paadshahi Bagh. Both the gardens were closed, due to the ongoing pandemic but my taxi driver- Farooq Uncle, is a real hustler. He convinced the guards at Paadshahi to let me enter by telling them, I’ve come all the way from Delhi. The one’s at Dara Shikoh Garden, wouldn’t let us in because there were a lot of young boys, who were loitering around, trying to gain access.

Anyhow, on the way back we were famished and stopped midway, to pick up something from Hattrick. Right next to it, an older gentleman was serving the best Kahwa, I’ve had in Kashmir.

Special Kahwa, served from this beautiful Samovar.

The only way to survive Kashmir on your own, is to miraculously find, soft spoken, kind local men, who like you, don’t like to listen to the word no. Now, before you start judging me, it’s in the context of work. I’ve never liked flexible people and especially when it comes to working with me…I like people who can lock horns, are stubborn in a quiet kind of way. They mitigate the effects of my aggression with their voice, yet manage to get the work done by not budging. Uncle is like that. He’s like a much older version of my former assistants. Plus, SC adores him. He calls her beta and fusses over her. ‘ I’m bringing a doctor for you!’, he told me yesterday. ‘ Na, I‘ll bounce back’, I reassured him. Like I say, this is the best place to travel on your own. From the hotel owner to the staff, everyone is awfully kind.

I find it unnecessary to look at different things or visit different places. It’s when you see the same thing over and over again, each time it starts to appear different and this is Jannat. Firdaus- jahan asli mein sadko par hure chalti he, where the women are stunning and the men gorgeous. Jahan sirf roshni badalne se sab alag lagta he aur mausam badalne se sirf ped, paude nahi badalte, aap khud andar se alag mehsoos karte ho. Yeh Jannat to he hi, jahanum bhi he, jahan itni khubsurti aur itna dard he. Both heaven and hell simultaneously, exist in Kashmir-there’s unparalleled beauty and gut wrenching pain, everywhere!

With the change in the technology and the increased megapixels that the cameras offer you now, the quality of the pictures is far superior, from my earlier works in say 2010. But when you live somewhere or spend an extended period of time there, drive around all the time, literally chasing the seasons, the moments you end up catching, can’t be caught that easily in a shorter span. But nevertheless, we try.

Eid in Kashmir

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Gangtok

I arrived here, with the usual amount of drama I like to surround myself with. Though, honestly I wasn’t looking to, I just wanted to get out of Uttar Pradesh. To know why, you will have to listen to my Notes from the road. But since the monologue is so long, I was unable to upload the actual reason. Connectivity is terrible..takes forever to upload photographs and each voice file has taken a couple of hours of retrying. So, sorry, it will just have to wait.

Once I left Kushinagar, the only time I felt absolutely safe to stop the car post sunset was when I saw a group of men with long beards. Oh no, no, I find no comfort while crossing Punjab at night. There is something about old men in skull caps, that I have begun to trust through my travels. Though, of course they were shocked to see me, it was nice to be able to stretch my legs, buy a couple of beverages and make my way to Siliguri.

I reached Siliguri post midnight and got off the car yet again to stretch my legs and get gas filled. The boy at the fuel station was chatty but uncomfortable about having me prance around at that hour. ‘Aap beth jaye,’ he kept insisting. Many questions later, which were all directed towards me, ‘kahaan se aa rahee ho?’ ‘Kahaan Ko ja rahee ho?’ and the usual ‘darti nahin ho?’ He advised me to head towards Gangtok, right then and since he seemed earnest, I took his advice and made my way.

Around 17 kms away from Gangtok, I just couldn’t do it no more. I caught a wink and realised it was time for a nap. So I parked at gas station, covered myself up with a sheet, from head to tow and went of to sleep. At five I was rudely awoken by someone banging on my window. It’s never happened before and it scared the shit out off me. But the look on that man’s face was freaking fabulous when I revealed my face. Since the fuel pumps are really tiny there is no place for stray cars and stray women to park, so I left.

My usual app has been of no use to me here, since my primary concern is the parking of my white horse. So I just walked into the first place, where I could park and asked for the best deal. I’m glad I did because they gave me the best room and were absolutely amazing.

Spent the entire day nursing a headache, puking and sleeping while it rained outside. Higher altitudes are very unforgiving to my health, I once almost died while I was on a trek with my cousins. I had to be given CPR, that’s why I did’nt do Ladakh to Kanyakumari. Bhai Sahab saas ki kami se nahin marna chahte, high speed pe,jaye ge hum, Inshallah. I am going to drag my assistant to Ladakh with me, someday soon.

Anyhow, the next day as I was making my way towards MG Road, I stopped at the Gurudwara. Now, I didn’t know that it was a station Gurudwara, which is maintained by the Indian Army. Though, I didn’t manage to get any photographs from the couple of hours I spent there, it was one of the most interesting encounters. Anyone who knows me, would vouch for the fact that as a woman, especially alone, I stay way from uniformed men. There have been too many experiences through out my life’s journey to trust vardis. Before you start screaming, lekin border per humare jawaan, this is purely from the point of view of my personal safety, taking into account that I travel alone and have a vagina.

We broke bread, while they tried to figure me out. Since Punjabi refuses to roll of my tounge despite my best efforts and my name is so fantastic, Sikhs always think I am hiding something. But despite that, from the young to the old, they were all very nice. Unfortunately, one individual had worked in Kashmir and since I have an uncanny knack of pissing the shit out of people, he was going on and on about Kashmiris so I gave him a lowdown of my own personal experiences with the armed forces there. ‘CRPF se hoynge, Sardar nahin honge and then the truth came out-Madam itne din ghaar nahin jate, aadmi he, kyaa hota hoga unka haal, aap ko bhi samajhna chaahiye!’ We should sort out this sexual frustration problem, if we care so much about border pe humare. Actually, when we can’t sort out their ration this ain’t going to happen no time soon.

The day went by as it does -shooting at various places and with a brandy and pizza for dinner as did the next- just eating, shooting, driving- getting stuck in slush and somehow making my way to Ravangla. Intercept with some massive leg pulling. A couple of individuals I know, have been fretting over me going to Bhutan, since it will steal their thunder. . But I have only three reactions to pettiness- silence, abusing or massive leg pulling! So while they have sleepless night about me entering Paro, I will be going where the wind blows!

P.S- By the way if you are alone and need help, Sikkim is the one place where you have the nicest, cleanest, most helpful vardis.

Solo Date #46- Prem’s Restaurant Pune

I take a quick detour towards the Osho Ashram, which took my breath away (I managed to step in to take a leak…perks of being a bibliophile). After a lovely meeting with the Ma at the bookstore and promising myself and her that I will return, I head to a cafe for breakfast and some reading.