This was my third visit to Kashmir. The difference was – I was visiting to shoot for a book on seasons of Kashmir for JK Tourism. I was asked by the department to be in Srinagar on 10th April, make that the base, and move around to hitherto unexplored places – unexplored by tourists, I mean. It was a joy shooting for tourism as I got permissions to shoot in places where tourists would never be allowed with cameras – the so-called sensitive, yet supremely picturesque places, where the military and para-military forces are stationed.
April stands for unpredictable, almost mercurial weather in the valley. So much so that locals refer to people’s sudden losing of cool as ‘April Showers’. I faced it on the first day of shooting. I had just set up to shoot the vividly colorful tulips in the tulip garden and suddenly, a heavy downpour engulfed us, and I had to run for shelter to protect my equipment. I had barely made it to the meager shelter when a violent hailstorm lashed all around us. Needless to say, this hailstorm did little good to the tulips. However, I was luckier over the next 10 days, with only one day getting washed out because of rain (and about 4 inches of snow in the upper reaches).
Tulips were a joy as they brightened up the otherwise monotonous blue green of spring season in the valley. Mustard fields were like a carpet of refreshing yellow and lime-green thrown randomly across the valley. The mostly green mountains with some white snow-covered peaks, and predominantly- blue skies with some fluffed-up white-cotton clouds, reflected brilliantly in the fields filled with water, as the preparation for sowing paddy was on across the valley. The entire valley was in bloom – what with peach, pear, cherry and apple trees almost bending double with the weight of the bounty they were bearing.
This visit took me to places that do not find a place on a normal tourist’s itinerary – Lolab Valley, Drangyari, Reshwari, Chandigham, Doorus, Satbaran, Kalaroos, Yoosmarg, etc. And, while getting there, I passed through places which reflect the true culture and lifestyle of Kashmir – Kupwara, Sopore, Baramulla, Pakharpora, Pattan, etc.
I shot mostly in the first half of the day, starting early, almost at the crack of dawn, as the afternoon sky was unpredictable – sometimes hazy, sometimes overcast. I shot Dal Lake from many vantage spots – from Hari Parbat Fort, from Shankaracharya temple, from a shikara, and even from a helium balloon, lovingly called Kashmir-Eye. I captured its various moods – peaceful, pensive, chaotic (the early morning vegetable market is as chaotic as chaotic can be).
All the while during my visit, I thought of the media-painted picture of a disturbed Kashmir. I tried spotting disturbance, but failed. In fact, I realized there’s more disturbance in Delhi- NCR than in the valley. A sporadic encounter between so-called militants and armed forces, where they would normally leave civilians alone, gets tremendous media hype; while the rampant unprovoked attacks on civilians by criminals in any big city anywhere in the world isn’t considered as news-worthy. This dichotomy both amused and enraged me.
I came across a cave with entrances at Kalaroos and Satbaran. Legend has it that these caves were on the ancient silk route. During winters, when the entire valley was knee-deep or more in snow, these caves took the silk-routers straight to Russia.
Lolab valley boasts flora, which can only be found here. It is also the habitat of brown bear, black bear and hangul.
Yoosmarg was covered in a thin sheet of snow from the previous night. Doorus was still in a time warp – with people inhabiting thatched roof huts. Ingelbug meadows were a feast for the cattle. Kids played cricket in the sun- light they had missed for the past couple of months. During spring, the entire valley seemed to have a spring in their step.
It is said that Kashmir epitomizes the abundance of mother nature – it has sights you’ll find in Scotland, Switzerland, Japan, and many other countries put together. And this isn’t an exaggeration. These sights, sounds and stories have left me fascinated, and I am excitedly looking forward to my next visit there in latter half of May – this time, to cover the summer in the valley.