The Autumnal Faces Of Srinagar And Dal Lake In Kashmir Mesmerises

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, – John Keats

I visited the Kashmir valley in a divided mind… there was the magnetic temptation of its ethereal charm that fed my girlhood dreams, and then, there were those gory tales of the battered valley disintegrated by terror and mayhem. There were three consecutive bomb blasts at Srinagar, the Capital of Kashmir, on the day I started my journey from Kolkata (the Capital city of the state of West Bengal) on a package tour. So my mind was in a state of excitement to encounter the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST! My husband was upset with those front page newspaper reports of carnage early morning and tried to dissuade me from my impetuous resolve. I pleaded with him to let me go as there was no safe haven on Earth these days and I believed I would return home…

It was autumn- the season “of mists and mellow fruitfulness”… that was exactly what the silent voice of the Srinagar morning whispered to me the first day. Indeed, as I drew back the floral curtains of my hotel room, I stood spellbound as I encountered the autumnal face of the blushing city which was yet to awaken from its chill slumber! My heart skipped as the golden-bronze Chinar trees, along the road, lit up, and the magical leaves rustled by the first caress of sun-light! The older leaves of russet and gold fell off the branches silently at quick succession only to create the vermilion-golden path of long stretches. My eyes travelled far and were absolutely riveted by the sight of the distant snow-capped regal Himalayas, glowing orange, as the first flush of sunrays slid down its slopes… I forgot about the bomb blast and terror attacks and ran down the wooden stairs of my hotel to breathe in the “honey-dewed” morning air of the city so elegant!

As I walked down the road, I avoided the Café Coffee Day as it reminded me of my crowded city and the typical Kolkata smell which I wanted to get away from… I was dying to live Kashmir of my dream! So the first curious face that greeted me with a warm smile was that of the ripe old face of Ahmad Kader Miya in a nearby tea stall. For the first time I tasted kahwa; its green tea brewed with saffron, cloves, green cardamoms, cinnamon sticks and chopped almonds. Its mellow taste blended well with the feel of the mellowed season, embracing my spirit with a sense of warmth. The taste of kahwa is lined with a fading bitterness which somehow got associated with the pleasant bitter taste of walnut. The grandson of Kader Miya, the teen-aged Abdul, who served the tea for the second time with a shy smile reminded me of similar innocent youthful faces on the cover pages of Outlook Magazine, gunned down by the military on terror charges. Why do these children give up everything to… ?

I diverted my thoughts as I watched Srinagar getting along silently with its daily activities: Does this silence signify peace restored or a lull before another bomb attack? I couldn’t help ponder over… I opened my purse absent-mindedly when I was awakened from my thoughts by the cracked voice of the old man with hennaed beard and kind brown eyes who told me that the tea was free as it was meant for “Mehman Newazi” which simply acquainted me with the local culture of offering tea to the guest who visits the city for the first time…

During the later part of the morning, as we sauntered by, we saw the silver birch trees and the poplars aglow with warm sunlight. We also saw the exotic Nilgai (Blue- bull), the largest Asian antelope grazing in the grey Scrub forest in the vicinity. We also encountered a herd of cute cashmere goats of light brown and milk white variety with shaggy coats and apricot nose, led by a shepherd. They were sporting curiously spiral horns! The locals informed that these goats produce the finest wool, and the exquisite Pashmina shawls were made from the fiber extracted from their body. Despite the busy market place, the city has its own leisurely pace and we forgot about time… We walked down to a small bus stand and took a bus-ride to the legendary Lake, the Dal. Although bustling with activity by then, the lake itself is tranquil. I felt truly romantic with the dry Chinar leaves crackling under the feet as we headed towards the Shikaras (wooden boats) for a ride. We walked silently, surrounded by these cluster of alluring Chinars, glittering golden in the mellowed sunlight…

Like the Venetian gondolas, Shikaras are the cultural symbol of Kashmir. Some of the oarsmen in colorful Phi ran (a long embroidered woolen gown), puffed away at their hukkas, a local tobacco in merry spirit. These men are hard-working and courteous in their manners. They flashed smiles and my eyes admired the faint blush that spread over their rugged, weather-beaten faces and their blue eyes that shone with strange light! They welcomed us and we hired two shikaras.

There was a mischievous interplay of mists and sunlight which created a magic as we reclined ourselves on the velvet, bright colored cushions in the shikara, surrounded by colorful, floral canopies. As the oarsmen lustily dipped their spade-shaped oars into the chill waters of the lake, the long-beaked shikaras floated low in the water like a crocodile. The furrows created by the movement of the oars shone golden green at times. Orange light oozed over the distant mountain tops that surrounded the lake and the white snowy cliffs reflected the hue. It was a relaxed, romantic ride when time seemed not to slip out of hand…

The boys clicked away to capture the enchanting views of the pine- covered Himalayas surrounding the lake from all corners from the distance. The pine trees stood in tall greenness on the majestic mountains and the clusters formed different geometric patterns; while the Chinars, nearby, blushed as my eyes thirstily soaked in the unimaginable color and lines around. We also had a flashing glimpse of the silver black of a kingfisher’s back as it emerged out of the placid lake to fish its breakfast. The water looked so transparent! The cluster of floating white lilies appeared so serene! The sun-kissed lotuses smiled pink… The small ducks, white Egrets and pond Herons floated by blissfully…

The chill in the air whispered the message of the arrival of winter. The boats man regaled us with local songs on our request and as the wild, powerful melodies floated in the air, I breathed in Kashmir… Some women of the valley rode by, heading towards their home, that floated on the lake, to the other side… They carried vegetables, fuels and things of daily needs… their phi ran looked so discolored which, however, failed to fade away their dimpled, rosy smiles. Despite life’s harsh dictates on them, the Kashmiri men and women seemed to take life in their stride. I never found them complain about life’s injustice, whether nature’s harshness or, more often, man’s crudeness. If their aquiline nose, blue eyes and blushing cheeks seemed to be in striking harmony with the natural abundance that fostered them, their cheerful spirit, in the face of grim violence that bled the valley terminally, spoke volumes about their tough genetic built that matched the majestic Himalayas.

As we glided along the Jhelum river, we passed the crumbling houses whose only evidence of life were some vegetable patches and chickens in the yard pecking at the grains in the frozen dirt. This part of old Srinagar conveys a tale of a crumbling past that might have been glorious once, as is related in Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”…

We crossed a nestled cove, surrounded by golden-green trees and lush meadows situated at another corner of the Dal lake which appeared like keats’ “fairyland forlorn”… The elegant Houseboats beckoned us from the distance to spend the night floating on the lake. The Marble dome of Hazrat Bal, visible like an “egg-shaped pearl” from the distance allured us to feel its ancient story of Moi-e-Muqqadus, the sacred hair of Prophet Mohammad…

The distant face of an old fisherman bent in search for lotus root reminded me of Tai, the mysteriously ageless boats man who comes alive from Rushdie’s page…

The Autumnal face of Srinagar and Dal inspires me to say:

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace

As I have seen in one autumnal face… ” JOHN DONNE.



Source by Mandira Mazumder