Day 16 – The Joy and the Sorrow
This may the first time I’ve been apprehensive about a travel trip. At the invitation of a close friend of a close friend, I arranged 5 days in Kashmir. This is the region at the very North of India which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. It is hotly contested by all three countries, and especially the Kashmiris, a peaceful, resourceful people who are caught in the crossfire for the fight of ownership of their own homeland. Most travel sites warn against traveling there, and many people throughout India have had mixed reviews of the place.
On one hand, many say Kashmir is the most beautiful place in the world. High snow-covered mountain tops circle picturesque lakes and rivers full of wildlife, trees, and flowers. On the other hand, many Indians say to stay away from Kashmir because of the acts of violence and terrorism that occur here. 2016 was a particularly bad year, with hundreds killed. I had begun to get over any fears I had of traveling here, until 3 days prior to the trip, the US, Britain, and France launched a offensive missile attack on Syria. This reality, and the continuous reality of the disasters of US foreign policy through the years, lodged like a bullet in the back of my brain. But, I knew we were in good hands with the people who were hosting us, and I knew that my heart, intentions, and banjo, usually keep harm from getting too close. The musical angels seem to enjoy keeping company with me on our journeys around the earth.
Regardless, this morning we were up and off on our new adventure at 7:30am, caught an Uber to the airport, went through security, and boarded the plane. The flight was quite nice, until the landing. The runway was wet and I could feel the pilot’s reluctance to hit the ground. He waited and waited, then finally touched down, at which point he had to slam on the brakes to keep from sliding off the end of the runway. Not perfect, but on the ground safe and sound.
You could feel the tightened security immediately after walking off the plane. Security guards with semi-automatic weapons and numerous checkpoints welcome you to Kashmir. Luckily we have a car and driver there to pick us up, and smooth things over for a couple of weird foreigners with cameras and musical instruments. There is some talking and confusion with a couple of the guards and our driver, all of which disappear after I see him pull out some rupees and hand it to the guard. After that, we are on our way into Srinagar, the capital city of Kashmir. Driving away from the airport, security is still very heavy with armed military police flanking the streets and entrances to certain installments. I’m still pretty nervous but the driver and our guide seem alleviate my immediate fears.
My hosting friend has made many arrangements for us while in Kashmir, and while I still haven’t ever really met him, except for over the phone, it feels as if he is with us all the time. He arranged our contacts, drivers, and for our accommodations for the night, which we soon find out is a lavish, ornate, beautiful houseboat on the lake. We pick up Mahi, a really friendly and intelligent Indian woman who has been making musical arrangements for us prior to our arrival. They take us to the boats which paddle across the lake to our new home. It is a very large, intricately wooden carved boat that looks fit for royalty. After a few of the places we’ve stayed on our trip, this place feels amazing. Lunch is waiting for us, and we settle down for some great conversations and really tasty food.
After getting into our rooms, we head out on the town. They first take us to the Mughal Gardens. These are beautifully cared for grounds and structures built by the Mughal empire hundreds of years ago. After being in Delhi, this place feels closer to heaven. Fresh air, quiet, peaceful people, and birds chirping provide the new soundtrack for our life. There is an amazing flute player sitting in the corner of the temple, I play a little banjo for a growing and appreciative crowd, and we begin to feel more comfortable in our surroundings.
Next we are taken to a ancient library which is nestled on the side of a mountain above Srinagar. This place is full of mystic, positive, energetic forces which I can feel in my soul. It also provides a view of the area which is breathtaking. Looking out over the land and lakes, you can feel the history, the joy, the sorrow of the people and their plight here. No matter where you are, if you are here on Earth, there is always a balance of joy and sorrow. Life is sad, hard, and full of troubles, but is also full of the deepest ecstasy a human can feel. Such is life.