Day 4, Srinagar
For Lolab valley, Hamid uncle too is set to accompany us. It is nice seeing Bajee enjoying his time with uncle while Mehak & I are busy plucking walnut from trees and roaming all over the campus while Arun is busy with his work. After he wraps up, we drive off to Lolab Valley. The beauty of the valley leaves us speechless.
The green meadows, blue colour of the sky, dense forest with shades of green and water stream – look straight out of a painting. There we visit the ruins of what once used to be an ashram. It is said that a leopard used to be there with guruji!
When we get home, we find Rosie Aunty, Mehak’s mother, waiting for us. She gifts me their traditional dry fruit holder. It is not the gift that is important, but her warmth and the genuineness in expressing her fondness for me makes the heart melt. While leaving, I meet all their relatives who have come to see us.
When we start our journey towards Srinagar, it has become almost dark. Sitting behind I start wondering if it was really the Muslims of the valley who went after the Hindus and forced them to vacate Kashmir! The kind of reception I got in Sopore has been so overwhelming! It was not just because of Bajee. There was something̱ real, which is beyond words. I guess there always remains something inexplicable which can’t fall into the brackets of black and white!
It isn’t that just about one family. When I am talking to the young people here, I realise they have their own strong views about Kashmir. They have seen their people suffering since they were small. So that image is very much apparent and yet they are not averse to Hindus. The Hindus reciprocate that love. The excitement of spending time with each other says it all. Some people feel Kashmiri Hindus were lucky and saved themselves by leaving̱ the valley, while they remained stuck up there! All these make me wonder if they were really the same people or their kins, who took lives of so many innocent people. Why were they quiet when Hindus were killed and were running around to save themselves? Why they did not come in rescue of Hindus? Lots of questions are there, unanswered. Few, I end up asking Bajee and the answers made me ask more.
But some questions hardly have answers. Most of the times they are not even asked, because they toil over relationships and invite dirty politics, dividing friends with boundaries of “yours” and “ours”.
Bajee tells me about the time when people were leaving their homes overnight with their families even without informing their neighbours and hoping to return sometime soon. Tension was rising̱ with each passing day. People were scared coming out of their houses. Yet Bajee made sure his bank branch was open till the last minute he could manage.
Everyday there were news of killing of Kashmiri Pundits and their families. The entire colony had fled except the Goja’s (my in-laws) and few of their relatives. They were the last to leave the place. Forever.
It takes us 2 hours to reach Srinagar. It is pretty late when we get here. Bajee is supposed to meet up with his ex-colleagues. Excited to show me around, he makes his friends wait while he takes me straight to see the Dal Lake. As we have other plans for the following day, Bajee decides to show me the beauty of Dal Lake at night. My god! It is indeed a beauty. The vastness of Dal, lights from the house boats with their reflection in the water, few tourists taking the Shikara ride, the Nehru Park in the middle and calmness, is all that I can say.
Quickly, like a nagging old habit, I start clicking pictures when I realise that the kind of beauty in front of me can never be captured but can only be felt. I take a deep breath, trying to imbibe all that I can to keep it with me forever. Bajee then drives us around by the side of the Dal Lake. After a while we head off to our guest house.
The day seems like a dream. Right from visiting the virgin beauty of Lolab Valley to the love of a family I met for the first time, a lot of intriguing questions and the historic Dal Lake which I have studied in textbooks and checked in Google, all made for an exotic experience. Bajee goes out to meet his friends and I wonder how tired he must be driving us all around yet his enthusiasm never seems to go down. Arun and I soon call it a day.