Sunday, July 5, 2015

As I look back

I guess everyone faces this at some point in their lives. That urge to look back, stop and ponder " What if life had a rewind button or what if life offered an eraser?" What if...Yeah; but alas! that's not to be. The drifter and dreamer I am and now getting nearer to the age when chances of mid -life crisis are more; this stopping and looking back is happening more than before.

The curves of life
Every time I go to the mountains, I feel small. The majestic mountains make me realize how small we actually are. These enormous ancient mountains; standing tall with their head held high like some grand old men ( okay women too). They have seen many ups and downs; season changes, landscape changes! We think, now that we have managed to cut roads through them and now that we can reach on top of them; we have conquered them. But alas! that's again not to be. Mother Nature sure knows how to get even. And when she does, we all know what happens.

My last trip to the mountains was to Leh. I and my other half P; travelled by road from Srinagar to Leh and back. Believe you me when I say this is a road trip which can have a deep effect on your soul. As the green meadows of Sonamarg ends and the mighty Zoji La Pass begins, you realize what you have got into. Those narrow broken roads, constant eyes on the road, one wrong turn and you know what may happen. From Srinagar we had hired a cab. The jovial driver Ghulam singing and talking from the moment we got into his cab in Srinagar; suddenly gone all serious and was concentrating on the roads and only on the roads. There were other cars and bikes coming in between regular intervals. But mostly there were army vehicles. As we crossed the Zoji la and continued with our journey to Kargil and then to Leh by the super smooth and well maintained NH1, we realized that's what life is. We at times come across such hurdles and some are as mighty as the Zoji la pass. But the way Ghulam and many others like him make sure that his vehicle and his passengers cross the pass safe and sound and reach their destination; we also have to make sure we come out from such situations with our head held high. That's one Vantage Point in my life which I will never forget. Same was reiterated while returning from Leh to Srinagar. That time we took a shared cab and the cab started from Leh market at 5pm and we were crossing Zoji la at 1.30am! The scary pass looked even scarier at that hour. But thanks to our expert driver; we reached Srinagar in one piece. But deep down inside me ,something changed from that trip. Whenever faced with some hurdle in life now; I try and think of those 2 drivers who cross so many passes everyday ferrying people and they emerge victorious. That makes me believe I too will pass and continue with my journey ahead.

That trip itself provided me with the chance to ponder and look back from a really high Vantage Point;I mean literally. We stopped many times during the trip. One such was near Namik La. Looking down to the winding roads that we have crossed and the curves that we are yet to cross made me realize that's what my life is at that point. I have crossed many winding roads and curves and now standing at  that point of life where I can look back and ponder at those roads and then look forward to the roads coming ahead too. Life does not offer a rewind button nor an eraser. We make mistakes, we fall down but life sure helps in getting up and moving ahead. And that's what I am looking forward to. Life is not all smooth like the surface of NH1 nor it is always only the rough and tough narrow passages. It's a journey mixed of everything. As someone rightly said " When life throws lemons at you make lemonade out of it." Your call actually, Lemonade or Tequila shots.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

How I fell in love with Kashmir

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment. May be when I first landed in beautiful Srinagar and was welcomed by that chill in the air or may be even before that, when my co passenger offered me his window seat. Not to forget all those glimpses that Bollywood offered. Whatever be the reason, I admit I am smitten by this beautiful state of India - Jammu & Kashmir. Jammu has a family connection now with my sister married there. Srinagar and other part of the state always fascinated me. Last year when I finally landed in Leh, I fell in love with it even more. That's a different story; but for now let me look back when and how I fell in love with Kashmir.

It was during the Good Friday long weekend  in 2012 that I first landed in Srinagar. Jammu I had been before many times. But that was my very first visit to Kashmir. All thanks to Prim, who is another Kashmir fan and a veteran in the travel business, asked me to join her on a trip to Srinagar during the Tulip season. Thus I was on my way to my first trip to the beautiful Srinagar. But as luck would have it, both of us got different rows and I got a middle seat. The passenger next to me in the window seat was sleeping throughout the flight. It was only when the captain announced that we had begun our descend to Srinagar, he woke up. From whatever I could manage to see from my seat, I could see snow clad mountains at a distance and yellow paddy, small cottage type houses. He noticed me trying to see through the window and asked " First time to Srinagar?" I said " Yes". He very generously offered me his seat so that I could have my first glimpse of the valley from the sky. When I protested; he said " I insist and welcome to my beautiful valley." The patches of yellow paddy down, villages scattered around, snow clad mountains at far and a warm gesture of Kashmiri hospitality 35,000 feet above ground - I was falling in love with Kashmir.

The Tulips

My first trip to Kashmir was, as I mentioned before, to see the Tulip Garden. This one is Asia's largest Tulip Garden. On the foothills of Zabarwan Hills and near the famous Dal Lake, this tulip garden is sure a must visit at least once. It opens only during the month of April, when the tulips are in full bloom. The tulip garden is a complete riot of colours. It is as if God himself has spread acres of colourful flower carpets to welcome one and all to the valley. I had my first cup of Kashmiri Kehwa (the fragrant Kashmiri tea) there. And then there are the other royal gardens in Srinagar - Nishad Bagh, Botanical Garden, Chashme Shahi, Mughal gardens etc. All are very well maintained and worth a visit. In one of my later trips, I and my other half, spent a whole day moving from one garden to another completely at the mercy of the Auto driver we hired for the day. That day we did full touristy stuff. That's another story. But trust me if anyone is in Kashmir during April, please make sure you go and see the Tulip garden once. You will not regret.
The Bulb

My first visit to Srinagar meant my first ever tryst with Kashmiri cuisine too and for a foodie like me, Kashmir is heaven.  My first meal in Srinagar was at Ah Doo's , an iconic restaurant in the city. It started in 1918 and still going strong. For the first time in my life I tasted Tabak Maaz which is Kashmiri fried Lamb ribs. The Roghan Josh never tasted so spectacular and not to mention Kashmiri Phirni. I loved every morsel. In the evening we had a "light" dinner of many varieties of kababs with Kashmiri naan in a small place where locals were eating. Next day we had been to Gulmarg. There we made the customary stop at Tangmarg for breakfast of piping hot maggi, bread omelette and tea. I am talking about 2012, maggi was still a part of our lives! On our way back from Gulmarg we again stopped at Tangmarg for lunch. This time we had Kashmiri Biriyani. That simple no fancy restaurant served such amazing biriyani that I and my friend both were floored. In my later visits, I relished that most succulent and flavourful Goshtaba at Khyber Himalayan Resort in Gulmarg. But by then I was already a fan of Kashmiri cuisine.
It will be really unfair if I don't mention about the invitation for dinner at a Kashmiri household. Prim had been to Kashmir many times and she has many friends there. One of the families invited us for dinner and served us chicken saagwala with homemade naans. This chicken dish was unlike any Chicken Saagwala that I had before. This was simple, yet there was something very rustic about it and I could still smell the aroma as type the words in my keypad!

My first trip to Srinagar was a short one. But when I was coming back I already knew that this short trip was just the beginning of a much longer fascination. Since then, I had been to Kashmir 3 more times and still has all the plans to go again and again.

Through the flight window!