This post is written for https://housing.com/.
Visiting Kashmir had been the subdued dream of my life. “If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here” had always buzzed in my ear. I still remember that one summer holiday, perhaps I was in class 4 or 5 when fascinated by the summer vacation trip stories of my friends, I had persuaded my father to go on a family trip. And we had made a detailed plan for the visit to Kashmir, even got the snacks for the train journey packed. But as it had always happened, the priorities were different at that time and the plan had remained as plan.
So when I returned to Katra after visiting Mata Vaishno Devi Mandir and saw the travel operators’ board giving option to visit the valley of Kashmir from here, the subdued wish got ignited. Despite the rolling terror stories of the valley I mustered courage, to fulfil my fancied subdued dreams. (Naturally under disguise to fulfil my family’s wish…) We hired a taxi from Katra and moved to Srinagar.
The contouring roads, The green valley , rows of Chir giving way to Deodar as we moved to the Higher altitudes and then the serene beauty – Sri Nagar. And under the moon lit night we reached the row of houses built on big boats planked on the bank of Dal Lake. The driver stopped the car on one side and went down to one of such boats and knocked. An old man wearing the long overcoat – “phiran” came out and spoke something in dogri – a confirmation, I could gather through the face movement.
He came straight to us and greeted in Hindi with a broad smile. A beautifully decorated living room followed by well wall to wall woodworked bedroom.
The dream trip had started. We settled down. But soon the chill of the city started taking its toll. Apoorva, my son, started shivering. Richa, my better half, too pulled out coats and shawls. Before we could think any further – a lady in bright Kashmiri dress came in with hot water bag and Kangri, as if they knew that we were waiting for it.
She asked for menu of food. The whole family seemed to be pressed in the service. (a true hospitality)
We were lost in the paradise. To add to it, the snow started falling. The glass window offered a magnificent viewing - the flakes of ice drizzling down. Our first encounter with snowfall was a dream, come true. We walked out to the edge of the boat to feel the same, but could not stay for more than a few minutes. It was really chilling. I wondered how Kapoors used to dance in this. We rushed in and it took hours for our blood to move in veins again.
Early next day we stepped out- the whole valley was painted white. We couldn't waste time sitting in house-boat – so our first destination for today – Gulmarg. We moved out.
The car moved through the lanes. We could see only two groups along the road engrossed in their own discussions all along. Either the military or the residents draped in the long robe with a protruding belly. On tracking further carefully I could see more army men positioned strategically. A mysterious hush enveloped the city movement.
Apoorva, my 7 yrs. son wanted to have some chocolates.
I asked the driver to stop.
“Nahin Shab, Yahan pata nahin lagta kaun sahi hai kaum galat”. We would stop only were all tourists are stopping. (I could hardly see any)
I looked at Richa. My doubts were seconded. Every group now appeared poking their eyes on us, suspicious & interrogating. The protruding of Phiran on the belly raised a thousand questions in our mind. The atmosphere now appeared morose, the bliss subdued.
We kept mum looking at each other. Our hand holding the other reassuring, we made Apoorva sit in between us. Ecstasy gone …….
(The Naked Truth - for a tourist - the paradise lost)
We moved silently to our destination. Stopped were others rested, ate were others camped, till we reached Gulmarg - a white sheet covered all, so soothing, so pure, so enlightening yet only A scenic paradise.
With the morning experience we could not gain courage to spend another night in the house boat all alone now with the uncertain eyes around.
We shifted to hotel instead. But next day there was more to come. The TV said – the link to the valley is cut. It had snowed again the whole night. The road to Jawahar tunnel was blocked. Jawahar Tunnel, one of the longest tunnel-road in Asia that linked Jammu to Kashmir Valley. The architectural marvel built at Banihal at a height of 2194 m and is 2825 m. long. The only metal-road-tunnel through the heart of the mountain that provided life to the valley and made possible to stay in touch with Srinagar even during winters – was blocked. And such blockades were san die.
All channels talked about this and only this. They had the breaking news. We stayed glued to the idiot box - hoping against hope the route would be cleared. Now the only wish was to get out of the paradise safe and sound. Nothing appeared to excite us now. We talked to every taxi stopping at our hotel – if they had any better news. Nothing could be made out for certain. I could not stay any longer. Mobile were new at that time and that too had stopped working. No way to inform further.
The only solace - the sky was clear. We decided to tackle the situation as per se en-route. We left the Paradise. Hardly had we left the city limit, saw barricades. Vehicles coming from the other side gave rays of hope. We waited - army and the “robed” gazing constantly adding to the discomfort. The wait would never end. It was 2.00 pm, I moved and enquired. Long queue of Cars and Trucks stood separately.
Cops tried to explain to us, “It would not be safe to go further. One of the two tunnels was still blocked. They are letting traffic from one side for a day. It would not be possible for us to go for two days as tomorrow happens to be normal day for incoming through the tunnel or till the other tunnel is opened”.
He gave the driver a good scold as if he was supposed to know all this as a routine event of this valley city.
We discussed again.
“There is a shorter route to Qazigunda (about 5 kms) from Jawahar Tunnel”, he said.
-“If we reach there and the route gets cleared we may get a chance to move out from tunnel today itself.”
We had no other choice. I didn’t want to stay any further here. I wanted to reach the tunnel and stay near it, so that I could pass through as soon as it opened. All the euphoria of the Paradise was gone by now.
The whole family was looking towards me as if I was a connoisseur to handle such situation. And I gathered courage because of my family. After all the family is the pillar of strength.
We moved through the link road. But as the luck would have it. Hardly another km. and there was the long line again.
“May be a small jam”, my self-consoling thought.
But then some drivers appeared rushing in, shouting “wapas chalo” The police is coming.
- A bolt from the blue.
No point to ponder. 4 to 5 hrs and the link road, I was confused.
The driver turned the car and reached Qazigunda in flash. Advised to take a room here and spend the night as it would not be possible to reach to the city as it was dark.
But I was late in this, too. There were only a few shabby motels that too occupied. Snow had started falling again. Apoorva was shivering. Richa was looking blank. I needed to get them warmth. I somehow pleaded and managed to get one small room (8x8 with a charpai in it). It also opportune us to avoid the choice of spending the chilling night in the car with all around people in long robes – belly protruding, talking in hush, gazing eyes, enquiring always. We put the cover around the three of us and slept One being the strength for other.
I knew together we can – together we will.
Our ears stayed parked on the road to read the movement of the vehicles to start.
The dark gave way and dawn approached. The driver was already waiting. We moved and reached again to a queue in waiting .The vehicles had started parking outside the tunnel since 5.00. The tunnel opens only at 8.00, we came to know. This wait was bearable for us. We waited for the clock to strike 8:00. The sky was overcast. The valley still chilled.
The queue started moving and we entered the tunnel. In a few minutes we could see daylight across the tunnel. We crossed the tunnel.
A bright sun was spreading its warmth on the terrain outside. No overcast. No chill. Together we were, hands in hands, welcoming the new dawn.