It’s 7:40 am. I could feel the landing gears in action. What I was seeing from the top was exactly the reason to be here. The timing had worked out just perfect. After taking the red-eye flight, we landed as planned at 7:55 am. For us, to check-in at the hotel, it will be late in the evening around 7 or 8 pm. That’s how cost-effective and efficient tour plans are made. My friends were all excited but a bit skeptical about this aggressive plan right from the word go. They had however assured me maximum cooperation :).
We stepped out of the airport after freshening up there. It was 8:45 am as we got into the cab. The first question I ask the driver, where can we have some nice breakfast? Sir, यहाँ से निकलो पहले!!! This response did not come as a surprise. We were anticipating it. The driver had taken responsibility for our safety for the next 3 nights. We were all committed to not act over smart and abide by every instruction the driver gives us.
We cleared all the security around the airport and got onto the main road. My next question, “कहाँ से हो आप?” The response was stunning. “Sir कश्मीर बहुत बड़ा है….उस पार भी कश्मीर है!!!”. Our necks sucked into our mobile phones, we all looked at each other through the corner of our eyes. Are we really safe? But now we had no choice. It was time to surrender to our fate and just enjoy the nature around. We turned off the AC, rolled down the windows and started filling our lungs with fresh Oxygen.
The yellow tones of the Poplar, the red and orange of the Chinar and the blue skies just blended so well with each other. There was something else as well that blended seamlessly with nature around. The Greens!!! Yes, Indian army personnel at almost every 100 mtrs.
This was not my first experience with Kashmir. Being my 3rd trip here, I was pretty much aware of the tense environment. As the driver kept moving I got lost in my memories. Srinagar, Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Yesumarg, Frasnag, Verinag, Martand, Achabal…All these places had made an impact on me. I have a deep sense of belonging with the Valley.
Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam, Bandipore, Pulwama, Kupwara, Srinagar. I have covered all these districts. I was going to drive through some known roads and some unknown territories this time again. The fresh air, the cozy weather, and the beautiful colours could easily camouflage the tense environment around but not our hungry stomach. We had to take a stop now. I just turned to the driver and in anticipation of my question, he said we are just a minute away. As he said this, he got off the main road.
In a few seconds, we were surrounded by apple orchards. Sir, 10 मिनट है…चाय पियो और यहाँ से निकलो. The tense environment was just not allowing us to settle. We were also alert and would try and observe everything happening around us. Our driver seemed to know all people around. There were a few other locals too, waiting at the joint for tea. One of us soon discovered that it will take at least 25 mins to get tea. The shop had just opened.
Without giving us a second chance to think, our driver took us into one of the apple orchards across the road. We plucked some apples and he asked the owner to make some fresh juice. The juice turned up in 5 mins. Never before had I drank such tasty apple juice. The texture was grainy and the temperature was as if it was pulled out of the fridge. The freshness cannot be defined and the taste! That lingers on my taste buds even today. Its difficult for me to believe that all 4 of us had just 1 glass of apple juice along with an apple and we were full.
That juice helped us survive from 9:45 am till 3:30 pm in the afternoon. And not just survive, we had walked almost 7 to 8km at ease. We all requested the driver to go back to the place many times. He simply refused. A bit agitated with our persistence, once he said, it does not fall on our route after this. If you come the next time, I will take you there again. Disappointed, we fell back on our ground rule. Obedience!!!
The next 3 days and nights were happening. There are so many memories and stories to share. 5 stags(our driver included) with varied interests set out with a single objective to explore Kashmir Valley and make the most of our time. Covering it all in one blog is just impossible.
जन्नत इतनी आसानीसे नसीब नहीं होती साहेब…Stay tuned.