Seldom do we realise the power of our own words. A casual remark can often make or change decisions.
In September 2009, when I was travelling to Kashmir for work, I had encountered certain stereotypical words used for the state. Unsafe, conservative and dangerous were just the popular ones. Even though it was an official visit, these words made me apprehensive and anticipate against my experience there. My naivety gets the better of me all the time and I am glad it does.
Fast forward to two weeks later, I had returned to Delhi after my trip from Uri and hastily walked toward the departure terminal of the airport. Why? I was booking a flight back to Srinagar for the following weekend. That, even the power of words cannot surpass.
Five years ago, I did not see myself becoming a travel writer. And since I am in some position to use my words to deliver a message, let me do it as earnestly as I can- go to Kashmir, let the breeze of Srinagar touch your heart, listen to those stories from Baramulla, meet the alpines of Gulmarg.
My first visit to the state was to the village of Uri. Situated in Baramulla district, this quiet village is approximately 15 kilometres away from the Line of Control and was the unfortunate victim of the earthquake in 2005. Roughly 1300 deaths were reported and 37000 buildings were damaged. As our 4×4 jeep pulled over the moderately chaotic and narrow road in Uri, I remember the first visual of the village. The overall colour here was brown and small shops selling walnuts and other every day groceries filled this semi-concrete road, inhabiting locals with curious but welcoming eyes. I turned around and followed my colleagues to our accommodation. A muddy path on a slight incline with houses on either sides. Here I saw the first signs of devastation. As a child coyly smiled at me resting on the door to my left, on my right I saw about six homes which were brought down and now served as a shelter for the domesticated animals. My home for the next 12 days was one of the very few structures in the village which was still holding up.
As we travelled away from the village of Uri, initially the roads got better and the check posts got more. But the colours started changing. Every day a new hamlet, every day new people, every day a fresher shade of green, every day more lessons of life. I must admit, I was least equipped for the stories I heard there. On a personal level of learning, I was opening up to a society I had no idea about except that it existed on the maps and about a culture that inculcates respect through every spoken word of its language. I was not ready to be overthrown by Kashmir.
And so I went back. I went back to see Srinagar and Gulmarg. I was hopeful that my repeat visit to the state would be my first solo travel in life. Yes, it made me feel that secure. Unfortunately, I was accompanied by a friend, who was as eager to visit the paradise state. After all, the stories he had heard from me were about a different Kashmir- the land which welcomes every traveller as if she were the light of the day, the land which practices community dining, the land with jewelled night skies and the land where people wear their hearts on their sleeves. I am convinced that I will return to Kashmir soon only this time I will be by myself, without any baggage of apprehension. It had broken the walls that the stereotypical words had created.
All images and text © Amrita Das.