Day 5, Srinagar
This morning we meet Bajee’s friend and ex-colleague for tea. We talk about the flood situation that happened last year. We are told that the water level had reached till the second floor of the guest house and people literally floated out from the windows to escape. And now there is no trace of the disaster that affected the area last year.
The magic of time!
They started telling me stories about the time Bajee was posted in Srinagar. The officers were staying at the guest house provided by the bank as they never got their families along in Kashmir, they once again enjoyed their bachelor lives even after being married!
Soon all disperse as they have to go to work, while we spend the day going around Srinagar. After breakfast, we start off. Bajee shows us the path he followed for his morning walks. The entire stretch is so beautiful that even a laid back person like me would also love to go for morning walks. Bajee takes the steering and shows us the area with all politicians’ houses. At such a height overlooking the Dal Lake, the place is a beauty in itself. I wonder whether people residing here ever really feel like doing any work or they soak themselves eternally in the magnificent view.
Srinagar remains a cosmopolitan city with all the development and tourism prospects unlike Sopore. People roam around freely and without any inhibitions. Soon we reach our first stop at Zeastha Devi Shrine, Zeathyar. It is said to be one of the most important temple for Kashmiri Pundits. Historical importance is a separate thing altogether but the entire temple area is mesmerizing.
Vivacious with colours of the flowers in the complex, natural spring, shades of green and the view of Dal Lake surrounded by hills, one would fall in love at the very instant. Imagine having such a place in between a city! After spending some time, we start downwards. I chat up with Bajee while Arun gets busy plucking gordail from trees.
We stop at Pari Mahal to get a view of the vastness of the Dal Lake. Few clicks and we push off for our next stop at Nishat Garden, the second largest garden after Shalimar garden. Surrounded by Zabarwan Mountains, the garden has such a view that will make you breathless with its beauty! The spring flowing, flowers everywhere, Dal Lake in front and the entire garden beaming with happy people. We are short of time and hence have to leave early but I promise myself to come back here, at the earliest.
We proceed for a Shikara ride. While Arun and I hop in to a Shikara, Bajee visits his branch where he was once posted. I have always seen Shikara in movies and now when I am into one, the experience is ethereal. Our driver tells us how Srinagar looked last year during the floods. Everything just drowned under water. The houseboats were destroyed. Their restoration has been done splendidly.
No one can really say that last year this place was hit by such a calamity. We swiftly move around the Dal Lake, touching the water, clicking photographs, getting into floating markets & restaurants. Arun converses with the driver in Kashmiri. Clueless about their discussions, I remain lost in the majestic beauty of the surroundings.
Once we alight, we straight go to the guest house where Bajee meets us and we start for Pahalgam. We stop at Avantipuram ruins for a short while. Avantipur, which was founded by King Avantivarman, has two temples. The larger one, Shiva-Avantishvara, has now been reduced to ruins. Few clicks and we are back on track to Pahalgam.
We are supposed to cross pass Anantnag, the town where Bajee grew up and Arun was born. It is on our agenda to visit the place. We halt at Bijbehara and buy some meat for barbeque. Arvind Bhaiya, our relative, has booked us a bungalow where we are going to put up and it is some 115 years old. On the way we pick up Arvind Bhaiya and Vinod Bhaiya, Bajee’s friend. By the time we reach Pahalgam it is already dark. We enter the bungalow which is just next to the river Lidder.
While the rest of the people get busy with chores, I sit chatting with Bajee to collect some information about the places we are about to visit the following day. I request Bajee to take me to the place where they used to stay before the exodus. He asks me if I would like to see the hospital where Arun was born. All excited we keep planning and adding more destinations for the next day, when Arun calls us outside. It is dark and a little misty. The bungalow is a huge area with a very big garden. We sit there with the Lidder flowing by the side. The sound of the river, pitch dark, mist, bon-fire, barbeque, stories and songs by Arvind Bhaiya; how I wish that this day never ends!