Tuesday 3 April 2018

Kashmir Diaries - II

Bonding over Kahwah and Wazwan

There is no greater equalizer than food, I believe and in Kashmir, the word kahwah is a passport to warmth and unlimited joy. Having read about the magical concoction called 'kahwah,' we were eager to experience the taste of the liquid heaven, after landing into Kashmir. For the first two days, we were unaware of what it would taste like and how the tea would feel in our mouths. The wait proved worth the time when we finally got to taste kahwah! It is not an exaggeration when I say that every cup of kahwah has a story - of how it is brewed what ingredients go into into it and how it is served after meals. I could narrate at least a dozen or more 'kahwah' stories and yes, this is what life is all about - Sipping on a cup of hot kahwah and discussing vital facts such as the brewing of the concoction! And wherever we were served kahwah, we were asked, "Do you like it?," "Has it been made in the proper manner?" "Did you enjoy the drink?" and so on. So much so, even while we were in Gulmarg, there were dozens of men selling kahwah out of a flask to the sing-song tunes of "Hot Kashmiri kahwah." 

Hilal, our lovely taxi-driver and guide

One specific incident which comes to my mind is that of Hilal, our taxi driver quipping, "Kahwah?! Who wastes time and gas preparing the drink? We don't. It's better to drink normal tea than brew kahwah which consumes a lot of time." If you read on the laborious preparation of kahwah, then you will have to agree with Hilal, the taxi-driver. But no worries, you could always buy kahwah powder which is readily available in many of the shops and a penny for your thoughts - We also bought one of those bottles and religiously drink kahwah everyday musing of the lovely Srinagar and the life there.

Now, sipping kahwah after a heavy meal is just the right thing to do and especially after a meal of wazwan. How could we leave Kashmir without letting wazwan attack our taste-buds! Wazwan is an assortment of meats over rice and served in a big thali. The thali (plate) could be shared by three to four people. The place where we were treated to wazwan was recommended by Hilal, our taxi-driver. The waiters who were serving us were quite happy to see us and repeatedly asked us about the food and its taste and of course, they smiled a lot. Smiles and hospitality is something we witnessed in every place that we visited and one frequent question was, "Do you feel safe?" "Were we rude with you?" "How do you feel visiting our state and talking to us?" - These questions and more were a constant reminder of the state of Kashmir and the undercurrents of fear that is always associated with the place. One has to visit the place to understand the ethos of the place and not go by what we see and read in the media.

One of the items of wazwan

Food was always a point of connect for us while we were in Kashmir as everyone's face lit up when they saw us eating their food and talking to them about their food. Next time, you go to any new place, bid goodbye to your staple food and venture out to try the local cuisine - and then come back and tell me the story of your experience.

A boy grating radish for the chutney/raita served with the kebabs

Images: Blogger's own

Sunday 1 April 2018

Kashmir Diaries - I

First impressions

Kashmir is something like a sweet dream - One always thinks of visiting but never really proceeds with the idea for it seems like something forbidden. I was quite happy and honoured to be invited to go to a conference in Kashmir; I was going to finally taste the forbidden fruit. I had never ever imagined that I would visit Kashmir but yes, life takes you to places that might never be on your itinerary.

My first glimpse of Kashmir was from the skies - the snow clad mountains of the Pir Panjal range in the inner Himalayan region. Snow-clad mountains for somebody from the plains is just out of a dream! As we were gasping at the beauty of the sight, the plane lands and reality sets in. It was indeed living a dream as we we disembarked from the plane. The captain announced that the temperature outside was 9 degrees. Woah!

Our phones with pre-paid connections stopped working. We had no way to communicate to the organisers of the conference. We did not mind the lack of connectivity, after all we were in a new place and we had to take in the first impressions of the place. After about 45 minutes or so, our taxi arrived. We were glad. The onward journey was filled with something of a visual attack - we were hungry for the sights and sounds of the place that we often read about in the news every other day.

We attempted to strike a conversation with the taxi-driver and he was reciprocating quite well. We saw the Dal and the 'Save Dal' campaigns; we saw kebab shops on the streets and of course, the traffic. The drivers in Srinagar honk like no one's business - so much so, sometimes they do not take their hand off the honk. A nightmare for us!

Nothing can prepare you for Kashmir - I guess it is the same with every place! You think you understand what is Kashmir but what you see is not what you have known from websites, newspapers and television. You look for signs of what you know but you will be relaxed not having seen anything. Whatever is your impression of the place, you will definitely not disagree with me when I talk about the people, their hospitality and warmth.

I will see you next when I continue this series of posts on my visit to Kashmir.

Images: Blogger's own


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