Ladakhi Dancers wearing traditional Ladakhi outfit in Dras, a small town of Kargil District which got famous after the Kargil War of 1999. (Himanshu Khagta)
( Originally appeared in the October/November 2011 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“The Last Valley”) )
Long marred by separatist violence, the Kashmir Valley is finally enjoying a relative peace, with tourist numbers higher than they have been for years. But will it be enough to return the beautiful Himalayan vale to the ranks of India’s most legendary destinations?
Winter, the best of all the seasons. It’s when you pack yourself in layers of clothing. The time when you enjoy different flavors of tea. When you sit near the chimney in a dark wooden room, while flakes of snow, cover your garden and the pine trees around your house with a white sheet. It’s the best of all the seasons. Even for those who have no access to the outside world. Places like Kinnaur and Lahul Spiti. People in these remote villages sit together and enjoy life. All of these distant villages have a number of festivals in winters as they cannot do much in their fields.
Holy town of Pushkar, Rajasthan, is a place where Lord Brahma once performed penance, where thousands of Hindu Pilgrims descend to the lake every year to bathe at 52 different Ghats of the Pushkar Lake and where photographers from around the world outnumber the pilgrims each year during the annual camel fair. Some call it the magical town where the monsoons cover the town with clouds while you lie down on a cozy chair of one of the roof top restaurants and with the sip of morning tea gaze at the rain drops falling on the green plants, which is a rare sight in the deserts of Rajasthan.
Agar firdaus bar rue zamin ast hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast! (“If there be paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!”) – Emperor Jahangir
I remember quoting Emperor Jahangir in my tweet last month when I was in Srinagar. The quote, I first came across in an advertisement of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism. I still remember it. It had a shot of Shikaras flowing in slow motion at the famous Dal Lake and a heavy voice saying these lines as the cameras panned across, Gulmarg and some beautiful Kashmiri gardens. I had always seen the darker side of Srinagar, in photographs or in movies, with all the crying, killing and bloodshed, but all the darkness was erased and this echoed in my mind as I admired the beautiful green chinar tree with the exquisite Dal lake in the backdrop from the window of my room at The Lalit Grand Palace, Srinagar.
The Lalit Grand Palace, Srinagar ( Picture by Himanshu Khagta)
Portraits of Shradha, Avinash and Abhilash, participants from Orissa, India
Adventure Hills invited me to experience their new adventure course, that would teach kids the skills to survive at high altitude areas and Himalayan forests. It included a 4 day trek to choordhar peak (highest peak of the middle Himalayas), caving and other techniques for survival.
I’ll explain more in a separate travelogue, till then, enjoy the portrait.