Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Srinagar, Part I - The Mountains

Srinagar, May-June 2012
PART I – The Mountains

The most striking thing about Srinagar is the constant companionship of the mountains. Wherever you look you see the Himalayas, majestic and still.

For 41 years, that was my strongest memory of Srinagar. Then, last month I went back to the land of my ancestors – and there were my old friends, the mountains. They must have seen so much trouble in the intervening four decades… But they did not seem to me to be looking down into the valley; they appeared to be more preoccupied with greeting the clouds every morning and reflecting the changing light of the sun through the day. Serene. Beautiful. Uplifting.

I’d wake up before dawn to the sound of the azaan and beautiful recitations, presumably from the Qoran, coming from somewhere nearby. I’d look out of the windows of my friends' house in the foothills of the Zabarwan “hills” – hills to Kashmiris, but mountains anywhere else in the world. The mountains would still be wearing the night like a dark shawl – perhaps a dark blue shawl rather than a black one, but still dark. I’d fall asleep again at some point listening to that beautiful recitation which, to my untrained ears, sounded rather like a Gita path. Having lived near mosques in Delhi, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta had in no way prepared me for this peacefully soul-stirring recitation.

I’d wake up again around six. I’d look out of the windows again at the mountains in the bright early morning light. Sleepily, I’d reach for my camera, hoping to take some sense of the beauty of the mountains with me when I left Kashmir.

The mountains were there with me for every moment of my six days in beautiful Srinagar. Even when I went to bed, I knew they were watching over me. On my first morning in Srinagar, my friend drove me to Pari Mahal, which today is a fabulous six-tiered garden on a hillside in the Zabarwan mountains, scattered about with old stone arches, walls, steps and other surviving structures from the 17th century. Originally a Buddhist monastery, Pari Mahal was rebuilt as a school for astrology by Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s oldest son, in 1650.

The beauty and scent of the flowers was overwhelming. So were the views of Srinagar from the various terraces. On the top terrace, I sat awhile on a low wall and surveyed the beautiful city and the surrounding mountains.
As I looked at the mountains I thought fleetingly once again of the stories they could tell, but the thought passed as quickly as it arose. These mountains were above all those worldly goings-on, I thought, they were a link between the earth and the sky, but an upward link, there to help us rise above the mundane and the petty, towards a higher reality, a better way of being…

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