On The Other Side Of Kashmir Travel Blogs

Kashmir on the side of India has always been praised for its natural beauty and pure air and water, despite all the violence and bloodshed it goes through every now and then.

Naturally, you all must have thought this article is about a political unseen picture for Pakistan? You guessed wrong! This is to share the experience I had while I was in Jammu and Kashmir as a Sri Lankan traveller. My intention was not to go there, click some photos and to come back; but to discover who Kashmiris really are and how it is still a place of postcard sceneries, regardless of how it is portrayed over media every day.

Photo Credits – Sameer Mushtaq

My first trip to Kashmir was in 2011 December. I had never known or felt what a winter was like. Having nothing much to do outside, due to heavy snowfall, I had plenty of time to observe the people in their natural households. I make sure I reside in my friends’ houses (Kashmiri friends from Bangalore studying times) whenever I visit Kashmir. One can never understand about another’s true lifestyle while lodging at a hotel and paying a visit. The first thing a guest would notice about these people is their hospitality. Kashmiris are inherited to be great hosts, no matter if they have the perfect luxurious home or not. I remained a guest only for just a few hours. It didn’t take long until everyone started calling me didi, or Sakiya (my real name is Sakie) I strongly believe my ability to speak in Urdu helped a great deal, but still, they got along quite well.

Photo Credits – Sameer Mushtaq
Photo Credits – Sameer Mushtaq

Being friendly, cheerful and most importantly helpful was common to all Kashmiris, whether you personally know them or not. They take that extra mile to make sure you are on the correct bus, or where to find a recharge shop, to buy you a train ticket, or even offer you the window seat to take better pictures! Everyone in the village gets excited about the guest from Sri Lanka and is eager to invite her over to their house for tea. They serve Lipton Chai (normal tea) in their finest tableware but I voluntarily request for Nun Chai (a special salt tea in Kashmir) especially in the winters, salt tea helps me cure the running nose due to cold weather. Kashmiri Kahwa is also a good remedy, cinnamon boiled in water. Kangdi, a clay pot in a cover made out of cane, filled with chunks of wood that are burnt to provide heat, is another cold-killing item very common in Kashmir.

 Photo Credits – Sameer Mushtaq

As a huge fan of KFC, I was only shocked to hear that there are no KFCs and McDonalds in Kashmir. No MNCs are allowed to set up their outlets there according to a special law applicable to Kashmir only. When I asked someone how they live without KFC, they said they have the best chicken curry made at home so the need for KFC never arises. The non vegetarian Kashmiri dishes are actually quite filling. To name some; Rogan Josh, Yakhni or Yoghurt Lamb Curry, Goshtaba (mutton cooked in yoghurt gravy), Modur Pulav (sweet rice with milk, saffron, cashews and ghee), Muji Gaad (fish cooked with radish) These are prepared on special occasions like weddings, so I crashed into a couple of them as a special guest. On other days at home, I would eat Paneer, Chicken, or Egg curry with a load of rice. My desire to taste Saffron was also fulfilled in Pampore, an area famous for

Saffron cultivation. The worldwide popular Saffron is a used as a natural herbal product, very high in price and very rare in good quality. Some told me that one can get the good Saffron in Kashmir and Iran.

Most of the senior citizens in Kashmir do not speak Urdu, only Kashmiri but their expressions say it all. They were happy to see me. They talked to me in gestures and kept looking at me being so different and amused to hear their sons or daughters explaining to them that I had come from Sri Lanka, a small island below India all by myself. The question they ask in return is generally how my parents allowed me to go alone that distance. The middle aged speaks fine Urdu and are enthusiastic of knowing about the world outside Kashmir. In all my findings, I found no family that didn’t lose a loved one or suffering the outcomes of the conflict. They never told me until I asked them about what is happening or how it was in the past. They describe the incidents that are such tragic. I was surprised to realize their warm hospitality to any visitor to Kashmir, even though they go through pain and misery every day.

Photo Credits – Sameer Mushtaq

I visited Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam and Srinagar – Mughal Gardens and Dal Lake as tourist places. My mother had asked me to bring some Kashmiri shawls, famous for its special embroidery designs that I bought from my friend’s cottage shop. It was their family business to stitch designs onto the shawls. I think I almost took a day to pick three best ones from among the vibrant, equally good looking collection.

During my trips in 2012 and 2014, I spent a lot of time in the north part of Kashmir, in Uri and Baramulla. Every visit made me a family member of each house I walked into, and I am still getting invited to most personal family gatherings, weddings, new baby births and calls inquiring when I plan to return. Thanks to all these trips and love from Kashmir, many people back at Sri Lanka has started to realize that Kashmir is not what exactly the media shows out. It is a real heaven on earth with warm hearted people and a welcoming land.

Photo Credits – Sameer Mushtaq

Sakie Ariyawansa is a travel writer who believes in inspiring travel writing. She is also the co-founder of Without Borders Sri Lanka, a community development initiative.
Visit her blog on www.thetravellore.com for more from her.