One thing that I’m quite sure of about our recent Kashmir sojurn is – it wasn’t a ‘vacation’ in the routine meaning of the word. Really. I mean, it was a vacation, alright, if I’d narrate it in a rather superficial way – like this mamma escaping from the city-life into the lap of nature in her 6th month of pregnancy – before the D day arrives and her life rolls into the top gear. And all that. So, agreed, it’s a vacation from that perspective. But, there’s more to it than meets the eye. (Okay, that phrase – “more than meets the eye” was so utterly cliched, but guys, what I’m coming to is there’s more to this story if you’d prod me and scrape the surface of my heart.)
The dream to undertake this journey (a voyage sounds like a better word!) got planted in my heart a few days after the seed of the new being was planted in my womb. Is that a coincidence? Never mind. At least I didn’t think of it that way. Not then. But the revelation unfolds by and by…
It was only a dream then, for we’d just come back from a one-month-long trip down south (Feb-March 2013). And, we knew that three months from then we’d have to go South again for the wedding in our family. Traveling across the length of this vast country takes time, energy and yes – money. To top it all, I was pregnant and not in a very good shape – what with terrible nausea, low blood pressure, low energy. So, Avie and I discussed it but set it aside for that time thinking, “we’ll see, how’re placed – health-, money-, and motivation-wise.
The motivation doubled. Health improved. Money? Well…it seems, ever since Avie has quit his job (it’s been more than an year) to do independent consulting and workshops, money has been a little bit of a hassle – in the short-run – but eventually, we’ve always managed to do what we REALLY want to do. We’ve never faced deprivation. On the contrary, the needful comes in just at the right time and in right measure. No less, no more. So, the travels happen to our heart’s content – minus the razzmatazz of new clothes, new shoes, bags, accessories and all that glitz. Who needs these stuff anyway? On the contrary, each time we get to travel, out comes the old pile – of sarees, of winter cloth, of beach-wear to upcycle and reuse.
So, money didn’t present an obstacle that we couldn’t tackle. We chalked out a rough itinerary – limited destinations over a span of 10 days; we wanted it to be unhurried, comfortable, peaceful and reflective.
– Couple of days in Srinagar in a houseboat on the Nigeen Lake.
– Road drive to Pehelgam where we’d stay for three days.
– From Pehelgam, couple of days in Aru Valley – that tucked-away corner in the mountains that’s nothing short of a paradise.
– And, finally – from Aru to Gulmarg – where the glaciers come alive.
We went ahead and did the bookings – the flight to Srinagar (train would have been ideal but the very long road journey from Jammu to Srinagar could’ve posed a hassle for me); the house-boat in Srinagar and guest-houses in other places.
Now was the time to sit back and build castles in the air – you know the time between finalizing a dream-journey and actually undertaking it. Every minute of the day your heart seems to do a rainbow dance.
But, the situation did a volte-face. The monsoons in North India arrived with a vengeance – so much so the state neighbouring Kashmir – Uttarakhand – was devastated. Delhi received unlikely and untimely rain in just one week. Even so, our hopes were alive knowing that Kashmir wasn’t under water. After two weeks of utter fury, the rains abided and were gone.
And then, Srinagar and Kashmir was in news – for all the wrong reasons – turmoil, red-alert, curfew. Soldiers were shot dead by anti-social elements. Tourists were canceling their trips left, right, centre. Looked like the peace that seemed to have gradually descended over the valley over the past two years was all but an illusion. (For my non-Indian readers – Kashmir has been in the grip of outright terrorist violence since the early 90s and the Kashmiris – both Hindus and Muslims – have suffered much and have gone through unspeakable trauma that will last their life-time.)
It seemed then that our Kashmir trip was not deemed to become a reality. There was a kind of ache in my heart that I hadn’t felt before. It felt as though someone’s earnetly and deeply wanting me to meet in that valley but I might have to break that promise I made.
We’d resigned to our fate. For a moment, it felt as though we’d made a fool of ourselves by deciding to take that kind of a trip – in the middle of pregnancy. The situation in Kashmir was tense. In addition to all this, friends and family said – the roads would be bumpy. There were pretty good chances of relentless monsoon rains.
Yet, our hopes were alive. And, the universe conspired. There were other things in store. Better things.
I clicked this (camera in the other hand) after saying a prayer for my baby’s well-being – by the Lidder river in Aru Valley
Situation in Kashmir improved. Curfew was lifted. We called a few friends and they said, “things are totally normal now”. There were no rains or very little rains forecasted over the next two weeks. Perfect. Just one more day to go. I packed my bags and went to see the doc as a last-minute reassurance. Instead, she dropped a bombshell as she declared, “it’s very risky for you to travel to higher altitudes. Oxygen levels would be low. The roads can be a problem. Things can go wrong.” All this, when we’d taken prior consent from her before we’d even planned all this. Well. But, I assured her that Kashmir has never lacked in oxygen. There’s greenery as far as the eyes can reach. The air is fresh. There’s little pollution. She ordered to get an ultra-sound.
The radiologist made my day as he declared “all-well”. “Perfect”. My kiddo was growing well. The ultra-sound pics were a bliss – what with striking resemblance with Pari and Avie in the upper half of her/his facial features and marked similarity with mine in the lower half of the face. I was upbeat. The radiologist in fact encouraged me to go and have a “time of your life”!
And, what about the roads, you might worry. Would you believe me – the roads in Srinagar turned out far better than in Delhi (and Delhi has the reputation of the best roads in India!). So much so that I was comfortable enough traveling by auto-rikshaw (which costed us five times less than what a taxi would cost). Plus, I depended a lot on my two legs. I’d avoid the wheels as much as possible and instead walk for miles intermittently through the day. Walking is any-day safer and healthier (so much more for pregnant mums and their babies) than being cooped up in cars. Walking when there’re birds chirping overhead; streams serenading where-ever you go, Chinar and Pine trees nodding approvingly and three lovely companions (Avie, Pari and my Cannon camera) in tow – is a joy – to say the least.
You see, the calling prevailed. That’s how I feel. Whose calling was it? Was it my soul that led me to this heavenly wilderness that Kashmir is? Or, was it the calling of my baby’s soul? Did she (I say “she” because the ‘soul’ represents the ‘divine feminine’) want me – her mother – to visit that paradise and heal amidst the wildflowers? I think she knows how much I love wildflowers. How wildly ecstatic I feel in the middle of the Himalayan flora and fauna that carpet this earth with generosity and grace, without a helping hand from any human being; or should I say – despite all human efforts to mar them from growing wild and free.
All through my pregnancy until now I’ve experienced that my kiddo’s soul is giving me signs. And, I’ve been fortunate enough to pick those up. Be it taking up a new hobby with gusto; picking up a book that was gathering dust and feeling enlightened, meeting someone who’d open up a whole new world, receiving indirect information and answers on the subjects that I was brooding on. The list goes on. I feel the same about visiting Kashmir. I feel it was a divine invitation.
And, this feeling reinforced itself the very first day that we landed in Srinagar. So, we went to our houseboat from the airport; freshened up, took a nap and got out looking for a taxi. We were standing by the road side when an auto-rikshaw stops. After a brief talk with him about where to go, road conditions etc. we get in and a few minutes later, I discover these baby pics all over the interiors of the vehicle. What? That looked like the most unlikely of places for an exclusive display of baby pics.
And, among all the faces in the pictures, there was this one specific face that gazed right into my eyes with the most mischievous and jovial expression and a glint in his eyes that seemed to say, “hey mamma, so you made it – bravo! Welcome home among the wildflowers….”
I heard you right, dude. I got your calling. And, I hear the ‘Wildflowers’ song that I think you sang for me. These words resonate with my own soul…
You guys read these words below and listen to this beautiful song:
Some more pics.
I’m showing off myself here (which I rarely do) because I want to preserve this writing along with the pics for my kiddo to read up when he/she can and know what it meant for this mamma. I want my kiddo to know this trip with him/her in my womb was like a pilgrimage for me. And, I do believe this invitation was from his/her soul.
Dipping and soaking up my feet in the icy-cold waters of the Lidder River (Aru Valley – 12 Kms from Pehelgam)
(Pic clicked by Pari) I Picked this Lily (along with its stalk) on the Dal lake and turned it into a necklace for myself, much to the amusement of some on-lookers. One Parsi gentleman (he was from Mumbai – I came to know in the course of conversation that ensued) inquired if it was artificial. When I said, “no, it’s a real Lily, but sadly it’s wilted by now (it was end of day)”, the guy said, “no, no, but it looks beautiful on you”. I blushed and was happy to see an Indian man interacting with a stranger woman with so much panache and elegance. (Well, I might sound opinionated, but most Indian men are quite reserved (and boring!) otherwise – with women. ;-) I wish they were a tad more open and friendly with the opposite sex…
This is the Lidder river flowing through Pehelgam. There isn’t a corner in Pehelgam where you won’t meet these waters gurgling, bubbling, roaring, giggling and rejoicing. Their sound is so much a part and parcel of the cool breeze. I’m sure every baby on this earth would love this white-noise!