Finding home in Kashmir: Part 2

Disclaimer/Warning: Reading this blog might just make you fall in love with travelling, people and Kashmir so much, that you might end up packing your bags and leave straightaway for Kashmir after reading it.

As we hiked further in the forests, I wondered where we are headed I was enjoying the hike, but regretted wearing long boots instead of my usual trek shoes that day. As Rafeeq asked if I was feeling ok and would be able to hike more, I ecstatically replied yes, tried to catch my breath and hiked faster. As we reached the final point, I could see why he brought me there. There was this huge beautiful valley and we were right in the middle of it, surrounded by trees on one side, and witnessing the sunset on the other. As the sun set, soaking the sky in its vivid colors, I tried to not blink because I didn’t want to miss even a bit of it. And while I was soaking in this beauty, like a good guide, without even asking, Rafeeq started clicking my pictures.

As it started growing dark, and we left from that place, I was just absorbing the last few hours recollecting the series of events that led to this moment. Crossing a few bridges and river streams, saying goodbye to the forest, as we came back to the uncle’s house, Aunty made some namkeen chai and Kashmiri roti for us and I would be lying if I say it was anything less than extremely delicious. I think they had made it with something more than the usual ingredients, they had made it with love.

As they conversed with each other, more and more people started coming in, merrily joining the conversation. I think they had all met after quite some time and surprisingly even though I hardly understood the conversation, I found myself enjoying my time there. Such was the vibe of that place, the hospitality of the people, the kindness they showered, that I had already decided that the hour that I spent there, even after only half understanding the conversations, was the best hour of my entire trip. I didn’t know at that time how wrong was I, how wrong I was going to be proved as each hour that passed by after that became even more enriching than the previous one.

It’s strange how even after being at a place where I didn’t understand the language even a bit, and was not even a part of the conversations half the time, I felt right at home. And, I remember that I got so overwhelmed by emotions at a point that I said to aunty that ‘I will come here every time I visit Pahalgam’, and I genuinely know I will. I just hope I am able to find the place. This was just the first incident where I experienced what kind hearted souls Kashmiris were and I didn’t even know at that time that I had signed up for a multitude of those for the next few days.

As I bid goodbye to the family with a promise to visit them again on my next trip, and we sat in the car, for Rafeeq to drop me back at the hotel, it started snowing. The words Rafeeq said next still echo in my head. He said such was the power of Allah that when a beautiful soul like me showered kindness and happiness on others, I got what I desired for more than anything on the day, the thing I had been talking about all day i.e., to witness snowfall. He said only someone who had a pure heart could trust him and the family so easily to even go into a forest with them without thinking twice, he said there are very less gems like me and the world needs more of such people.

I remembered how tears welled up in my eyes at that moment and I started looking out of the window. I just couldn’t understand what I had done to deserve these last few hours of love, care and kindness. Not only were these people extremely generous but they also somehow thought that I deserved the credit for even their kindness.

The entire ride back Rafeeq kept on ‘lecturing’ me about how I am supposed to wear cap and gloves whenever I go out in the morning and evening, how I am not supposed to trust strangers, how I am not supposed to tell anyone that I am traveling solo and as he went on, I smiled as I listened, because I knew I had found a friend for a lifetime in the most unexpected place.

After I reached the hotel in Pahalgam, I witnessed nothing different. For the entire period of three days, for not even a second I felt that it’s a hotel. I stayed up everday to chat with the staff, I entered their kitchen to help them out (though they didn’t really let me and shooed me away most of the time), they scolded me all day long for not eating properly and for skipping meals, they took me around to these unique beautiful spots, and they cooked these special Kashmiri dishes for me even when I didn’t order them. And even after all this hospitality, they constantly reminded me that I shouldn’t feel like I am staying at a hotel and I should feel right at home.

In addition to that, Rafeeq also called me each day to make sure I am ok, to ask if there’s anything I need. He even introduced me to a few people who were there in Pahalgam for those three days too before leaving so that no problem occurs for me. Even though I was pretty much immersed in my reading, writing and exploring new places. All these people made countless efforts to make me feel right at home.

I honestly sit and wonder sometimes why people are so kind and nice to me, or maybe that’s just how they are to everyone, showering kindness and care on strangers. But, no matter what, one thing I know for sure, whenever I travel solo like this, it just shows me humanity at its best and I am really thankful for that. I think that is why I encourage people to travel solo most of all. Traveling is about people, more than the place, and it is when you travel solo, you get to experience the love and care that people are just waiting out there to shower on you. It is when you travel solo that you converse with anyone and everyone and meet strangers and make connections for lifetime. It is when you travel solo that you open yourself to new possibilities and give people the space and chance to come and talk to you. If you are still not convinced, you should definitely read my blog Why you should travel solo at least once in your lifetime!.

Coming back to Kashmir! My last day in Kashmir, was the most special of all.

As Rafeeq picked me up and we started our drive back to Sri Nagar, he asked me if I would like to stay with his family rather than in some hotel/hostel. He had told me earlier, when we were on our drive to Pahalgam about this friend, Kunal, who when visited Kashmir stayed with them and whenever people really close to him, his friends visited, he would invite them to stay. So, when he asked me this even though he did so very humbly and hesitatingly, I couldn’t feel more surprised and elated at the same time. Who was I even, a stranger who he may have bonded with a little, but inviting someone to stay at your house is a big deal, you do that only for your close friends and best friends. Excitedly, merrily, I nodded. At the same time, I was worried because I didn’t want to trouble them. He thought it was funny that my worry was not how I will adjust with them but how I would trouble them.

He asked me atleast a dozen times if I would be able to adjust, and I think my replies assured him enough because when his Abu called and asked about what all they should prepare for me, he told them how I am and I will eat whatever is there (except non-vegetarian food) and I will adjust like I was right at home.

I knew I didn’t have to worry about adjusting even back then, that was a word that didn’t even enter my mind. Rather, I think my experience was so delightful that I am 110% sure that I will visit the place that I now like to call my home in Kashmir everytime I visit Kashmir.

This home of mine, Rafeeq’s place was in Badgam, a place situated on the outskirts of Srinagar. Here, people welcomed me with open arms even though a female solo traveler was not really a common sight. I literally stopped and conversed with so many people, learnt about how they handled their sheep, the different fruits and vegetables that they grow, and what not. I also made a new friend, Wahid, Rafeeq’s brother, who happily became my guide for the day, and showed me the beauty of Kashmir, Kashmiri people and Kashmiri food, even more than I had already seen.

That day was so beautifully spent, with this family who made me feel right at home, actually even better, if that’s even possible. I didn’t pick my phone, checked my Instagram or Whatsapp even for a single minute that I was there, not even for work, not even my family’s group. I did not pick any call while I was there. How engrossed I was in feeling and experiencing everything, that suddenly the outside world didn’t matter.

It’s just not about being polite or offering food or showing someone around your place, the Kashmiris actually define the true meaning of hospitality. The family made me feel right at home. They made me feel so loved and cared for. One doesn’t have to have money to do that, they just need to have the intent and a good heart. All those small gestures by everyone touched my heart so much.

Rafeeq’s Abu, he saved my name in his phone as Kajal beti, he got up at 6am the next day because I had an early flight, he made sure to translate the conversations for me so that I always felt included.

Wahid, he wrote on my travel jacket that he heard Delhi is a place of big-hearted people (Dilli Dilwaalo ka Sheher hain), but it is after meeting me that he is completely sure of it. He gifted me this pen because I am a writer and he believed I will write great things one day, and also this beautiful small houseboat to remind me of Kashmir always.

Rafeeq, right from the first day, he showered me with kind words, care and we shared such beautiful conversations. He brought me home and thanks to him I found a home in Kashmir.

I could go on writing honestly and then we would have to create a Part 3 for the blog too. But I would like to just sum it up by telling you all, I left my laptop with Wahid so that he could fulfill his dream of starting a company in stock market and start building his client base. I tell you this only to explain how overwhelmed I was with emotions, how much love I felt I received, that even after knowing my other laptop is not functional and would not be repaired anytime soon, and is still not repaired, I could not help it. This family, even after not being my own, treated me like their own daughter, making me feel right at home, enough to make me feel proud to write this blog and promote and inspire travel to Kashmir.

Since, I have come back, numerous people still ask me if it is safe, random people say things like mostly Muslim people live there so it is uncomfortable this and that. Well, if you are one such soul, I wish I convinced you otherwise, and if you meet one such person in future, I wish you are able to convince him too.

Hope the blog was worth your time! Please do drop in your reviews and comments below.

 

Hi! I’m Kajal and I love to travel. Follow along as I travel around the globe and share my favorite places.

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