We’ve just arrived off of what was a short but ice cold, air-conditioned flight (somewhat akin to the Winton trading floor temperatures) from Kashmir into the heat of Delhi… but what a relief it is to be in somewhat more familiar territory, I tell you, after what turned out to be an eventful last night!
For me Kashmir is a mixed bag and I’m so glad we decided to visit as we saw some amazing things but there is something about that place which meant that moments where we felt relaxed and trusting of the people around us were hard to come by.
The Srinagar airport in Kashmir is an experience in it’s own right! Arriving at the airport at 5.30am this morning to leave felt like entering a military base with tall, imposing barbed wire fences all around the perimeter and gates manned by armed forces that screen each car on the way in. There were enough security checks to add all the more to the sense, which we already had, that we were trying to escape. In fact the whole of Kashmir is littered with Indian armed forces as we saw when we drove through the mountains on a night bus to arrive at Srinagar in the first place. Every corner you turn there is a soldier standing on the side of the road with a gun at the ready.
However, there was a point in the night at which I wondered if we’d even get to the airport at all! At 3am this morning we woke to the sound of 4 or 5 men trudging up and down the stairs of our quiet guesthouse located in a small, dark alley of the city, talking and laughing in loud voices as they discussed something. Myself and the missus suspected something fishy was going on as there was no sign of drunkenness and it was a very strange hour in the morning indeed for all this unconcealed commotion – after all who else was around apart from the hotel worker who was supposed to have organized our taxi to the airport the night before. It seemed no coincidence for this to be happening within 2 hours of us supposedly getting in that taxi to go to the airport. I was ready for a knock on the door at any moment as I clung to my Kirpan (knife), with my heart racing and my mind going through all the possible scenarios that could be unfolding in the wild west that is Kashmir. My unsettled mind was visualizing the torrent of shastar vidya (martial arts) techniques that I was to unleash on whoever was to come through that door. The minutes ticked on and the group of men moved back downstairs with their discussions. After some time the voices eventually faded away. We’ll never know what dodgy dealings took place that night but with no mobile phone signal, no internet and no electricity, due to the torrential rain the previous night, and the history of kidnappings and attacks in Kashmir bearing on my mind, I haven’t felt as on edge or vulnerable as that for as long as I can remember!
To end on a light note, here are some photos of the amazing sights we saw.
View of the dal lake and Srinagar city behind it in the vale of Kashmir surrounded by mountains.
An insight into the traditional Pashmina shawl dying process (thankfully I’d bought all my Kashmiri products prior to getting to Kashmir so i could withstand the onslaught of sellers here)