Heaven on Earth: My Guide in Srinagar, Kashmir

I could not stop looking. Was it her smile? Perhaps her exotic look? Was it her young pretty  face? And then it hit me. I took a look around to realize that her father, her mother, and her sister all shared the same trait. They all had this unique beauty I have not seen before. I had to take the next step. I had to ask.

“Do you mind if I photograph your eyes? You, and your family all have the most amazing eyes I have ever seen.”

A cherry red color flushed through her cheeks of this young girl as she grinned with a large smile. “Hold on…” she says as she runs off past the door behind her. Her family laughed at her reaction including Faiyaz. Faiyaz happens to be the guide who took me to visit one of his six sisters.

Faiyaz’s niece returns with a bright young smile on her face. A dark lining was added to her eyes to accent the unique beauty to them. Her eyelashes painted a deep black extended the length to create an amazing detail. I proceeded to take a few photos making sure I captured the beauty of her eyes perfectly. The details of her house reflected with sharpness through those uniquely colored orange eyes.

We talked some more over tea, something Faiyaz cherished. We enjoyed the time with his sister’s family. They treated me as part of their own. I was even invited to stay the night. We did not, as Faiyaz and I had more plans.

Faiyaz is a tall dark man, well dressed and very handsome. He defies the stereotypes of his people, as do most of the people I have meet on this trip. He is very stern but very kind. Faiyaz and I hop on his motorcycle and leave his sister’s house to head to his mother’s house.

His mother’s house was made of generic wood and concrete pale grey walls. It was very humble. Here we would sit down for tea time. Faiyaz loves his tea.

As I looked down at the tea cups and plates that were set before me, they were made of fine beautiful silver with intricate flourishes and decor to them. An interesting contrast to the decor of the house. I got to try a new style of tea that day. Instead of sugar, salt was the custom to flavor tea. It was different and it richly enhanced the flavor of the tea. I enjoyed this distinct new flavor.

There were many desserts and sweets on plates to choose from. It was hard not to say “no” when they were offered to me. Deep down I knew that I wanted to try them all. Instead I refrained.

I climbed onto the bike of the motorcycle as Faiyaz and I went to the next destination. Faiyaz took me to his property. An empty set of land with cinder blocks forming a foundation. Faiyaz told me about his dream to build his own home. A place he called his own. He proceeded to tell me that he had to help me on this trip as it was his duty as a muslim man to help those who are in need. Allah will remember this and reward him for his actions.

View of Gulmarg
View of Gulmarg
As he told me this, I thought this is no different than what I as a buddhist believe in. Buddhist believe that we should all help each as we are all connected, and in turn it helps ourselves. Christians also believe in this same philosophy to help those who need it as god will reward you in heaven for your good deeds. At this point I saw Faiyaz as no different than myself. No different than any other man I have meet in my life, but at the same time so interesting.

Faiyaz reminded me that we had a trip that we were going on the next day. We were to head to mountain of Aru. According to Faiyaz, one of the most beautiful places in the region. We were to go there the next morning. It was time to head back to where I was staying.

As Faiyaz and I headed back to my place of stay I thought back to the day before. I had taken a trip to mountains. It was on the border of the region where I was visiting. I saw snow capped mountains contrasted with rich green fields. It was surreal and hard to fathom such a view even existed. It was one of the most heavenly like views I have ever seen. It was hard to believe that the place Faiyaz was going to take me the next day can even compare to such a view.

Fisherman On Dal Lake is the most commonly stolen photo I find
Fisherman On Dal Lake is the most commonly stolen photo I find
Especially after the mountain trip, I took a wonderfully breathe taking shikara ride around the lake where I was staying. With the sun setting and the alluring nature around made the the scene seem like something from a movie. Nothing you would ever think to see ever in your life. With gardens of lily pads and interesting people living their life on this lake it made the place seem magical. Wandering through the canals made by trees and nature around offered a romantic feel, if I had a partner with me. It was breathe-taking.

This lake same lake was where Faiyaz was taking me to. The one where I was living on for the next few days. I was staying on a house boat on this tranquil lake and stunning lake. It was something I never thought I would ever do. I have only heard stories from my friend of how amazing Dal Lake was.

As we pulled into Nehru Park, I was meet by Rafiq, my shakira driver. As I said my good bye and thanks you to Faiyaz, Rafiq asked me how my day was. I responded “It was an amazing day, one of the best in my life”. Rafiq responded with a big smile as I looked down at his paddle that was painted with the words “Your happiness is my happiness”.

After such a long day I contemplated on my 15 minute ride to my house boat stay. I  though back of the time I had here. I pondered of the amazing humble people I meet, the fantasy like scenery and calm peacefulness that filled me when I was here. It is hard to believe that this place is considered a war torn area that is always televised on the news back home.

Where am you ask? They call this place “Heaven on Earth”, and it truly deserves it’s name. With the beauty it possess and amazing people Srinagar, in the heart of Kashmir, was a place that defied my view shaped by the news and what people have said about the region. I now have a better understanding of this place. I learned a culture that was different than what others have perceived it to be. I have learned to cherish the beauty of the nature of this place. It has changed my life. This place, Kashmir was a place that I can call “Heaven on Earth”.

 

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