In recent past, this is the second time that we have got lucky. After two very good homestays in Chail, one of which I written exhaustively about, we got even a better turn of events in Kashmir.
However, luck favours the brave. And, in this case, we had stood our ground. From the moment we booked the ticket, everything seemed to go wrong. The flight was rescheduled from an early morning one (8.15 a.m.) to 10 o’clock departure. It, eventually, took off at twelve o’clock, shaving off a quarter of the day from the trip.
Few of my most anticipated work related stuff seemed to co-incide with the time of my travel. In a feat of extreme frustration, I decided to fly back for a day in the middle of the trip. But that was not the end. My wife’s luck decided to play foul next. After a dry run for years, she was scheduled for two of the most well paying job interviews in the space of a week that we were away. The person who was supposed to make all the arrangements had to rush to a friend who had met with an accident. The whole universe seemed to be against the trip.
In our five years of marriage, we had never taken more than a long weekend off. We had followed the work hard part of the rule without ever heeding to the play hard part. This time, we were making an exception. The concerned parents’ calls, friends’ enquiries about the wisdom of travelling to a disturbed area and our own prudence in avoiding the long weekend after Independence Day – a trip to Kashmir is fraught with reservations.
Finally, an old family friend from my wife’s side came to help. The most generous soul invited us to stay at his place in Anantnag. He offered to take us around during the whole duration of our stay. Devoid of any options and intending to take only informational aid from him, we had said yes.
Nearly an hour’s drive from the airport, our friend’s house is one of the family buildings within a large campus. The gate opened to a front yard that was fully covered by two walnut trees, two hens and a cock made occasional ruckus and there were small sparrows that one could spend a day counting. A cow was tied in a corner. However, the most outstanding elements were the crows. They were the size of cows and I am not exaggerating at all.
In the back of the compound ran a small rivulet. One could cross that to reach a wide, rocky river that I managed to wade through one time. As per the houses within the campus, one was made of concrete, another made of wood and earth. One became too cold at night, another remained warm throughout. One had iron grilled windows, another had the traditional grillless wooden ones.
We spent a good part of our stay sitting on the window seals and looking out. All the rooms were heavily carpeted, even the kitchen. The women sit down and cook and also have a set of pillows to lean back on while cooking. We were amused in the beginning but it was quite a trouble when you try your hand at it.
Let me come back to the windows again. All the houses we saw in the area and most of Kashmir didn’t have any grills, either or wooden ones. More than any utilitarian purpose they may serve, they also point at the sense of security that the people of the valley feel in their lives. Because, grills are not installed due to abundance of iron but to assuage the threat that one perceives from others. We visited apple orchards that were worth crores and were secured only with a latch and a few stones against the gate.
Traditional kashmiri houses have bathrooms and toilets outside the main house. One of the locals reasoned that it is because Qurans are read inside the house and it has to remain sacred etc. But that is inaccurate. The same arrangement prevails in most of the Indian villages where attached bathrooms are seen as not just unclean but offensive. I am sure modern houses in the valley must have become similar to the ones in other urban areas but we didn’t get a chance to visit any.
In my three days, I visited a few houses in the village. The new ones are all built with bricks. With the abudance of rocks from the riverbeads that one can get for free, bricks seemed a very expensive proposition. Some houses had boundary walls made of stones but no further. We had seen quite the reverse in Uttarakhand where houses were built from stones. In Chail, the roofs were nothing but stacked plate rocks. One of the locals also mentioned that houses in Sonmarg are built with rocks. When I asked him is newly built house was built with bricks, he gave the simplest answer – stone houses don’t look good. I am not sure if there is more to that.
Given the length of this piece, I will write about the food and hospitality in another part.