The US Embassy advises American tourists to avoid travel to Kashmir. The media makes you believe that Kashmir is filled with terrorists and destruction. It's a shame that there has been so much fear placed into traveling here, because Kashmir may be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and its people may be the most gentle, welcoming, and kind people I have ever been blessed to encounter. Yes, Kashmir has its problems, with Kashmiri activist groups fighting for segregation, the Indian military trying to take over and control completely, and with fear of Pakistani terrorists hiding in the shadows. The mobs, strikes, and violence, however, have been distant from our surroundings and the common people are eager to live in peace and share their love with us. We have been welcomed into people's homes, we have been greeted with smiles and handshakes, we have seen this beautiful landscape, and we have been unconditionally taken care of, the locals being so grateful for our visit.
Only a couple of days after we arrived to Srinigar, we met a mountain guide while having breakfast at a local Punjabi breakfast joint. I enjoyed my masala dosa with coconut sambal and curry while sipping coffee and discussing with our new friend, Mussah, our options for trekking through the mountains. We all agreed on a trek and he helped us around town to run errands that needed to be ran before we left the next morning for four days of trekking. He was kind enough to invite us to his home for lunch that day so we could meet his family and have a traditional Kashmiri meal, and spending time with his family was absolutely lovely.
We walked into his home to find the women of his family snuggled together on the kitchen floor and they were quick to welcome us with smiles and curiosity. We shared a warm blanket on the kitchen floor with Mussah's mother, three sisters, four nieces, and pregnant wife while we sipped traditional Kashmiri green tea and ate spicy curries and rice for lunch. Because of the language barrier, there weren't many words exchanged, but being in the presence of women in Kashmir is always a blessings, since it's such a male dominated world. Even if we can't communicate through words, the feminine presence creates a sisterhood that we are all so grateful to share.The kitchen walls were lined with shelves, displaying the traditional copper plateware that's customary for every meal and, in the silence, I admired the differences within our homes. His 23-year-old wife was so sweet and could communicate with us the most, although she was very shy at first. She admired us for our travels and, while her husband was in the other room, she explained how life as a Kashmiri wife is like a prison. She used to be a school teacher and loved her job, but once she was married, she had to play the role of "house wife". She giggled and smiled as she explained her situation, understanding that it's just tradition in her culture for it to be that way and I'm positive she spoke for many women in her tribe. We tried to convince her to do the trek with us, to come see the mountains, but her hesitation proved even more what her life is like.
The next morning, we set off for the mountains, picking up some food and last-minute supplies along the way. I laughed when Mussah threw two live chickens in the back of the car, remembering him saying we would be having fresh, local chickens for dinners at night. When we arrived to the tiny mountain village, we met a local man with two horses, who we hired to carry our camping gear and food up the mountain for us. After loading the horses with our gear, I was anxious to explore the Himalayan range.
The mountain-side was sprinkled with gypsy huts built mostly of wood, mud, and straw. Some are occupied year-round by simple-living families, while others are abandoned during the harsh winters, so we found an abandoned A-frame hut to call our home for the four days we went exploring. We laid out our bedding on the cool, hard dirt and admired what we would call home before we set out for some hikes. The nights in the hut were cold, but the days were warm and made our treks through the Himalayas comfortable. The snow melt from above was making the terraine a slippery, muddy mess and when we weren't crossing patches of snow, our bodies tensed trying not to slip in the mess. Clumsy as I am, my four days ended pretty dirty. The mountains were incredible. I'm honestly not sure if I've ever seen anything so beautiful in my life. Summiting snowy peaks to get a 360 degree view of these majestic mountains is dream-like and magical.
A few days after returning from our mountain trek, we were off to a popular ski town northwest of Srinigar. Even though the earthquake in Nepal was very far away, it impacts my spirit greatly, realizing that Hannah and I had originally planned to be there at this exact time. Being safe in the Kashmir Himalayas is a gift from the Divine and I respect and honor Mother Earth while being in these mountains, realizing the impact she could make if she wanted to rumble again. Gulmarg is beautiful and has the world's highest gondola ride. Although we opted out of skiing, we took the gondola up the 14,000 foot mountain to trek around the top and see mountains shaded in the horizon. It stormed all night that night, with lightening that filled the sky and thunder that shook the windows. Being a Kansas girl at heart, I was thrilled to be in such a storm but have to admit that I got a little nervous as I remembered Nepal and noticed the huge mountain outside our hotel window that if an avalanche occurred, it could easily wipe out anything in its path.
On our last day in Kashmir, we ventured to yet another beautiful mountain town, Sonamarg. We spent the day trekking around the snowy mountains, being reminded once again that it's a little early in the year to do anything substantial. Everyone suggests that we come back in June or July to do longer journeys when the snow has melted more and the weather is more accommodating so of course, I'm already dreaming of my future plans in Kashmir (if anyone would like to join on the next venture). We are off to Ledekh first thing in the morning by airplane, since the mountain roads have not yet opened from the winter's snow. We'll continue our lives in another part of these amazing mountains before we head back south to the heat of India. We are over half-way through this entire journey. It's crazy to think about everything we have already experienced and witnessed, yet we still have so much lying ahead. Said it before, but I'll say it again - feeling extremely blessed.