The Valley of Kashmir (Part I) – Pratyay Raha

The decision of travelling in the valleys of Kashmir and Ladakh was not a mundane thing. Even a few days before the travel I was managing my daily life chores in a metro city, managing expectations in a corporate setup and complying to the nitty-gritty of finding a so-called settled and peaceful life in the late twenties. Deep down I always knew that I’m not the person who would keep searching for a so-called settlement, without adventure, without exploration, without restlessness. I always wanted to be dynamic, inquisitive, dazzled by the wonders of this world and totally unsettled at the core. The first day I was walking through the lanes of Srinagar, I saw a teenager wearing jeans and I could see four words written on the top part of his pant. Refuse, Resist, Rebel, Revolt. I wanted to talk to that person and know in detail the real ideology behind what he was wearing. As per my decision to take a break from my cacophonous city life, suddenly I opened my eyes, and it just felt like a time machine. From my corporate desk, I was transported to Gulmarg, a cup-shaped valley in the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, at an altitude of 2,650 m (8,694 ft), 56 km from Srinagar.

Suddenly I was amidst the snow-capped ranges and clear blue skies, I had reached the glacial Apharwat Mountain Peak through the two phases of the Gulmarg Gondola which is one of the world’s highest operated cable cars.

The view from the cable car box in the first phase of the Gondola was stupendous. The greenery of the mountains decorated with pines and fir was too captivating for a soul drenched in urban cacophony. In the second phase, the captivating effect was growing exponentially as the green slowly and gradually transformed into white. I started feeling my mind and body very deeply. The blood inside my body seemed to make new ways through the excited veins and arteries. It felt as if the flowing blood would act as a catalyst to the growth of new trees of freedom and imagination. The glacial slopes of the Apharwat peak at a height of 14,000 ft suddenly created a moment of silent adrenaline rush that went up through my spine, a moment when the soul drowned in urban imprisonment found a taste of true liberation.

The part of the Apharwat peak that almost involuntarily became part of our existence was quite a thrilling experience. As we landed at the topmost point of the Gondola phase 2, the air seemed to be on the cooler side. A person standing near the cable car gate was guiding everyone about the precautions which are required to be taken to spend some time walking, skiing and sledging around the place.

Along with two of my friends, I started walking on slippery snow without having any direction or destination in mind. After walking for a while we started feeling the oxygen deficiency in our breath and a slight imbalance in the rhythm of our movement. Though the excitement of experiencing such a spectacle overpowered the slightest uncomfort that we felt in our bodies, we gasped for breath and our walking speed decreased gradually.

After walking on the snow-capped peak for a while, our legs got tired and our gumboots seemed to sink more into the snow as it happens in thick mud during rain. There at the top, if you have any kind of serious health issue, its difficult to cope with it. Worthy of appreciation, there is a medical facility up there at phase 2 for basic treatment and for providing oxygen to people falling prey to the adverse weather and air conditions.

Suddenly, I came across a sledge puller. He had a sharp nose, shining eyes, red cheeks and a height that would make anyone jealous. A cloth wrapped around his head and a pathani dress made him look like a character just kidnapped from the sets of a Hollywood film. Striking a conversation with him didn’t need much of an effort. A conversation which went in the same direction as all the other conversations in Kashmir. In Kashmir, the Kawa maker, the Apple seller, the Shikara rower, the shopkeeper, the hotel manager, the dry fruits seller, the car driver, the travel guide and everyone else had the same story. A story of despair, confinements and violence. While returning from Gulmarg to Srinagar, our car was stopped at an Army checkpoint and we were questioned in detail about our whereabouts. Srinagar was under curfew.

The visit to Gulmarg was on the 4th day of our travel, rewinding back to the 1st day, we landed in Srinagar on the 25th of May, 2019. From that moment started a story that will linger in my memories forever. Will continue the story in the next part. Till then, go green! Travel responsibly, save the environment! Cheers.

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