Kashmir: as seen from the road
For my travel companion and me, a trip to Kashmir in June 2015 was about photography. The plan was to go around and take pictures of scenes that capture our eyes and minds. Kashmir’s beautiful landscape is an attraction enough for any enthusiastic photographer. In spite of having been a troubled area, Kashmir’s landscape, people and usual tourist favourites have been photographed over and over again. We were undaunted though: there are always things not captured or different angles to old subjects.
Not just photography, the trip was about exploring, understanding and embracing people, places and culture too. Our ‘base’, throughout our stay in Srinagar, was a charming budget guesthouse. We travelled to Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg to return to our ‘base’ on the same day.
We took it easy and slow, mostly travelled around in rented cars from a person who was referred to by a friend. There were unscheduled stops to photograph as and when things caught our eyes. We saw young and old men in villages, rock climbers near Pahalgam, posing tourists on Lidder River, movements of military trucks and tanks all along, innumerable goods trucks, men and women working in fields (one of very few times we saw Kashmiri women outside their homes), a family travelling on foot with their dog and ponies near Sonamarg, smiling young boys on our way back from Gulmarg, a woman deep in her thoughts, the awe-inspiring Indus river, horses grazing in a walnut plantation, cows resting on a side of a road, tiny flowers on gently sloping meadows, pine and deodar forests, uprooted trees, abandoned houses, paddy fields lined by high mountain ranges, apple orchards, bare saffron fields, many kinds of road signs, distant snow capped peaks, closer bluish-green mountain ranges, big and small streams, and glaciers in many places.
I like to say I am an off beat traveller – I spent six weeks in Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh in April and May, 2015, mostly by myself, indulging in different kinds of activities, went to Kerala on a solo trip to photograph monsoons in 2014 and used to indulge in early morning photography in almost every weekend while I lived in Bombay for two years. In Kashmir, people were approaching me relentlessly and aggressively to sell shikara-rides, pony-rides, shawls, Kashmiri handicrafts, sledge rides, houseboat stays, sightseeing trips in local taxies and the like. At times I found myself getting impatient with hawkers and peddlers. My companion was an American lady and thus we were subjects of speculations and curiosity, and perceived as easy customers. Sellers would mostly speak to me in Urdu. They seemed more comfortable conversing in their mother tongue or perhaps thought she may not understand their English. The remarkable scenic beauty of Kashmir and infectious but easy warmth of the Kashmiri people made up for a kind of wariness and weariness I was developing to these sellers’ antics.
While I was travelling around, I could not but help comparing and contrasting Kashmir’s landscape with that of Ladakh’s, which is adjacent to Kashmir valley but wears a very different look and feel. To me, both seemed like heavenly places, spectacular, poetic and precious. Given climate change, burgeoning tourism and political battles, it is not certain the extent to which we are at present or will be able to in future protect the environment, cultures, habitats and landscapes of either Kashmir or Ladakh.
I had a short but a photographically satisfying trip to Kashmir. I returned with hundreds of photographs, dream-like memories and perhaps an exasperating (to others) sort of contentment to show for it.
More photos at www.sanchitachatterjee.com/kashmir-as-seen-from-the-road/