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.

Dew glistens on the tulip
Dew glistens on the tulip

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).

Lush-green rolling meadows of Lolab Valley
Lush-green rolling meadows of Lolab Valley

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.

Glacier water gushes along in Mawar Rivulet at Reshwari
Glacier water gushes along in Mawar Rivulet at Reshwari

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).

Sheep being shepharded
Sheep being shepharded

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.

Satbaran, entrance to the cave leading to Russia on ancient Silk-route
Satbaran, entrance to the cave leading to Russia on ancient Silk-route

 

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.

Pear blossoms
Pear blossoms

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.

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