Solo travels- Pahalgam

Solo travels

Pahalgam, also known as the ‘Valley of Shepherds’, is frequented by yatries as well, as tourists in the summer. But in the winters, it’s relatively less crowded than the favourite destination of Kashmiris and tourists alike-Gulmarg. Neither the shepherds, nor the locals crowd the main market and most hotels and shops are still closed. Yet, this time around, I saw more tourists here and everywhere else, than I have ever seen in Kashmir, during the winters.

Posing with the girls, who picked me up after my fall. They all wanted selfies. Me too!
I was stopped while walking down the Main market road, for a selfie. I felt like half celebrity, half Martian.

A few years ago, I journeyed to Baisaran in the winter, with a couple of Kashmiri photographers for a day. That’s when I realized, that Pahalgam has it’s own charm in the winter. The mini- Switzerland or so it’s called is a quaint place, surrounded by snow capped mountains. Of course, I was driving then, this time around Farookh Uncle (my cab guy) traversed the terrain, with me. Being driven around by someone who can handle the winding roads of Kashmir and not be afraid or maniacal, is a bit hard. How I’ll explain later. But Uncle, is an experienced older man, with tremendous skill. For someone who hates being driven around, to say that, means the man must be fabulous at what he does.

Shot around Pahalgam, met a bunch of people, who wanted to take selfies with me. Slipped and fell on the snow and hurt my back badly but my models were kind enough to pick me up, while giggling non stop. Saw breathtaking scenic beauty and actually enjoyed being there for a change.

This time around I had my customary solo date, at a restraunt in Pahalgam. I sat by myself, ordered some yakhni, butted into someone’s conversation about Kashmir and got told, ‘You’re lying, I’m sure you’re Kashmiri!’ Each time someone says that to me, I can always imagine my mum’s fairness obsessed family going, ‘ae, andhera kum kerah!’ ( as dark as a dense, dark night, that’s what they used to call me, when I was little). I get a tan and it stays for months, plus I love the sun and I happen to work outdoors..so mostly I’m a shade of beige to light brown. That’s apparently horrible coming from a family that’s primarily been born white as milk or has got fairness treatments done, to look as white as milk. So, this statement always amuses me.

Anyhow, Uncle wanted to eat by himself but I somehow managed to drag him into the eatery for one of my favourite beverages- kahwa. We shared an awkward few minutes, as he sat on another table, facing me and talking, making me acutely aware of my gender or class. We rarely meet others, where that doesn’t come into play. After, which we headed to Betaab Valley.

Faking snowfall

The entry fee at the park is around fifty bucks, right now, goes upto a hundred later. There were more than enough tourists from – Punjab, Bengal and Kerala, who had flocked this serene spot. I had the best time, as I met the cutest guide cum photographer. ‘Ma’am, please let me come with you. This is how we run our homes.’ he kept trying to coax me. I kept trying to convince him that I was there to take pictures and not to pose, but eventually gave in. I’m so glad I did. After I finished my work, he made me slap a ball of snow, to fake snowfall. Took me around various spots and made me pose. Oddly enough, none of the photographers that you meet at the gate carry cameras (they use your phone to take the pictures), only when you walk inside, you find DSLR’s swinging from the shoulders of men, sitting next to different colours of velvet phirans. But I would personally vouch for these cameraless guides calling themselves photographers. They make you have loads of fun.

With the photographer and the sledge guy

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.

Solo Date #67- Mehrauli

One has fallen in love, with where the Stones Speak. On Saturdays I don’t work before 9 p.m and since one has to catch an early morning flight tomorrow, it was nice to spend the day lazying around in Mehrauli.

In the afternoon, I caught the poetry walk organised by Ramit and Prerakh, a semi bathak of sorts discussing the various Urdu poets, in the park. Nicely done, though, one would have wanted to hear a few more anecdotes about the poet’s lives. I guess, when you’re moving from one place to the other, it’s distracting. Plus, one isn’t a fan of the herd, one likes things to move at snails pace. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable afternoon, the facilitators friendly and easy going.

But, miye ki daud masjid tak and one is a creature of habit. So, off I headed to the Dargah, where I sat for probably fifteen minutes as the qawali came to an end and got invited to the Qawal’s son’s wedding. Which I regretfully, had to decline due to the travel plans. I love this part of my job, getting undeserved access into other people’s lives. While walking back, I just stopped for a quick bite, picked up a kathi roll, sat on the steps of Bhool Bhulaiya, which has become my favourite spot in the city after my flyover and eat. Just when I was thinking, this would be a nice spot, for a date- Qutub minar on one side, a monkey climbing the board infront of me, sensing this, a stray dog came and sat next to me.

We had a few moments of what I think dates should be like, with plenty of non verbal communication -looking into each other’s eyes and eating. His stomach full, he went off to sleep near my foot, as I listened to Ahista, ahista and watched the shabe roz ka tamasha, mere aage, the hustle bustle of a street in Delhi. After what seemed like time moving in fast forward, I got up and started to walk towards my car. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a different place but one will remain, bheed me tanha.

Khudda

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Might sound like a cliche’ but sometimes all you need is God. Received a forward from the Gaddi Nasheen, of the Dargah, informing me that the Urs is taking place, from tomorrow and all the provisions are in place, the guidelines related to the ongoing pandemic are being followed. I may be impulsive enough to go for the shoot but I’m not silly enough, to not check how safe it will be.

So, of course I went to check out the place today, to prepare for tomorrow. As I was leaving, my help Bhaskarji, looked at me very suspiciously. ‘ Didi, aap jahan jaa rahee ho wah par woh ladka hoga? ‘ ‘ Kaunsa ladka?’ I asked him impatiently, as I was getting late. ‘ Jisko itni bari hum raat ko TV pe dekhte hein!’ My face turned crimson. So the ladka in question, is this boy I’ve had a crush on, for a year, now. Someone you just see on a YouTube video and find fascinating na, like I have a gigantic crush on Ravish Kumar, something like that. I never realised Bhaskarji, will put two and two together just because he heard me asking my father the other day, ‘isn’t he so cute?’ and make it forty. He tells me so the person in question, is Muslim and you’re going to going to a Dargah, that’s why I thought. I should learn to keep my gab shut. As if travelling, to Kashmir and Pushkar was not bad enough, with people wondering who I’m meeting there. Anyhow, it’s when the love life, is non existent, there are plenty of stories that do the round.

So back to God- to get anyone to wear a mask is difficult. But to get kids to wear them, I realised today, impossible. Plus, since I have become this round ball, children because of my height and size, assume I’m their age. So they like to come near me, pull my cheeks, hug me. For the first time, I realised today, It’s so difficult to shoot a kid and not let them touch you. I don’t think shooting is going to be very easy or safe or smart on my part. But like my favourite lines go, ‘apne aage na peeche, na koi uppar neeche….’ or like dad says, ‘ Sheikh apni, apni dekh!’ I think, I’ll just distribute the masks I’ve bought to give away, there only.

Anyhow, if you are hurting, lost or like me scattered in the brain and the heart, listening to some live qawwali at this particular Dargah, of Khwaja Kaki, might give you some relief. It felt like an out of body experience, so overwhelming, a stream of tears just flowing into my mask, while I was clapping and singing with the qawwals. Since, there were hardly any people there, it felt like sitting at home, in Ibadat and unlike the Nizammudin Dargah, which sends a shiver down my spine, each time I visit, which is only and always for work, this one has a brilliant energy. I think I’ll get some sleep today. But for now, if you have people who care about your well being, I would advice you to stay away.