If there’s a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here – the words of the Mughal emperor reverberated in my ears as soon as I had set my foot in Kashmir fifteen years ago. The splendour of the empyrean left me enraptured and enthralled to the hilt. Whether it were the gushing streams of crystal-clear water that reflected the rays of the sun devotedly or the unending chain of majestic mountains that kept me mesmerized till I could no longer afford not to flicker my eyes, I found myself in the midst of a ravishing reality that was far better than any delectable dream. Kashmir, to say the least, was paradisiacal!
Albeit there are several beautiful places on earth, Kashmir was my ticket to heaven! The breathtaking views coupled with the promises of equanimity was much more than I could ask for. Listening to the soothing melody composed by brooks as they touched rocks led me to evocative rendering and reminded me of a musician’s fingers in love with her piano. I often found myself being transported to a realm of fancy concocted by prepossessing sights on all sides.
Memories of Shikara rides in this ‘Venice of the East’ are the ones I could never forget. My dates with floating Shikaras at Dal Lake in the evenings completely stole my heart away. The statuesque beauty of the lofty mountains opposite the lake was a delight to eyes. Years have gone by but the splendid view of the paradise from the Shankaracharya Temple is still so fresh in my mind. The strolls at the royal landscapes of Mughal gardens offered abiding jouissance which translated intosome of the most treasured memories of my cherished trip. Neither did I stop admiring nature at its best in picturesque locations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg; nor did my carefree shopping and gobbling spree at Lal Chowk came to a halt while I was in Kashmir.
In spite of having the time of my life, the trip to Kashmir never recurred nor did its associated vim! Perhaps because Kashmir ceased to be the Kashmir of my dreams! When I think about Kashmir here and now, it is not the snow-clad mountains or streams that come to my mind but the pictures of bloodbath & bullets, pellets & PAVAs and curfews & clamp downs loom large in my mind. However hard I try, but I fail to associate Kashmir with green colour of greenery, giving me a green signal to come, instead red colour, the symptomatic of danger, is what crops up in mind when I hear the word “Kashmir’! Coming across as scenic these days is absolutely a far cry, in contrast, the mere thought of the place in itself is enough to paint a grim picture of fear in the minds of one and all.
Valley visits in this day and age remain a distant dream as the prevailing instability has given birth to a bundle of insecurities. A burst of cracker spreads fright of firing and each person has grown deeply sceptical about Kashmir. Stay inside, stay away, stay safe is what is being constantly counselled to those who manage to travel to Kashmir amidst strict opposition from loved ones. Not only the visitors but their family members also remain on tenterhooks until the stay at valley is not brought to a close. Such is the plight that the cautions given to travellers at this moment in time tantamount to advisories given to someone who is going to a war zone!
My heart bleeds on hearing such warnings about my once warm getaway and I wonder what has happened to my beloved Kashmir, my kingdom of dreams. In the wake of complete mayhem a question keeps on spinning in my mind – “Will we lose our sweet paradise forever?”. Let us hope not! In fact, let us to do something more than only hoping. It is time to take a pledge to save our empyrean before it falls off the edge!