“If there is a heaven on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” uttered Mughal Emperor Jahangir when he first set his eyes upon Kashmir in the 17th century A.D. There have been no dearth of expressions to describe the most prolific of all Himalayan regions since then. The state’s highways abound with signs reading Kashmir is the ‘Fruit Bowl of the Country,’ ‘A Flower Bed’ and ‘The Crown of India.’ Pity some vested interests have made this crown one of ‘bloody thorns’ – but that is another matter altogether.
Driving up from Jammu, I crossed the dimly lit 2.531 km (very) long Jawahar tunnel – it can be an unsettling feeling if you allow your imagination to think of Pierce Brosnan trapped in a tunnel in the Hollywood flick Dante’s Peak – to be greeted with the ‘first view of the Kashmir valley’ at Titanic Point. In the coming days, I understood what a valley is: I drove around for hundreds of miles at an almost constant altitude of 1,500 metres and never too far away from peaks thousands of metres further up. Creating contrasts possible only in such landscapes: You will have a bright sun, adding luster to the yellow mustard fields in full bloom. You could be feeling very warm in the day even though it is only spring, but the mountains around would be capped with snow, mostly fresh. Elevate yourself a few hundred metres and cottons would have to make way for woolens – go for the local Pashmina. You may even choose to dive into many of Kashmir’s lakes and rivers or come skiing down the slopes of Gulmarg – the adrenalin is yours too choose.
Welcome to Kashmir.
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