The Traveler’s Backpack in the Quiet

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This is that time when humans are asleep and birds are awake. Plants are reflecting dew drops which they have received during the night and animals are seeking strength to be on a roam. Dawn approaches by pushing the night away and I leave the hotel room at 5:07 AM to go to a 2 kilometer solo hike to Upper Neelum. This is my last day in Keran, AJK which is 93 kilometers away from Muzaffarabad.

Upper Neelum hike has always been a high spot for me. The last time when I was in Keran in 2017, a pang of sadness made home in my heart because I wasn’t able to go for the hike. So it was a priority this time even when there was no one to accompany. My first human encounter is with an army man at an army check post. I ask for directions and the tall man conveys to take the left turn and keep walking for two kilometers.

Chilly Winds

The weather feels as light as a feather. It drizzles in soothing and alluring manner. I am buoyant and afloat with charm and lightheartedness. It is one such scenes which we ache to live while swallowing our daily capsule of routine. It fills my melancholic heart with festivity. And around me, the Upper Neelum air draws circles with soft and steady rain drops coming in from all side.

Encounters and Enigmas

My second human encounter is with two aged women, a mother and daughter, who are coming down from the Upper Neelum area to get medicine for an aching hand joint of the mother. The old lady holds a stick in her hand and is coming down like a pro. I watch her amused and wave good bye with health blessings. With that I am done with one kilometer. Pleased and delighted.

The Tactile Touch of Nature

As I take one more left turn, I see water perfectly flowing downhill. The next moment, I am touching it. Whenever I am in the mountainous regions where water passages are running side by side as I walk, one of my favorite things to do is to run my hand in the running water in opposite direction. And I keep doing that till the time my hand can take the intensity of the cold water. I am feeling its intensity. I have always loved the tactile touch of nature where you don’t only see but listen, feel and taste as well.

An Ache for Familiar Vibes

I have almost reached the Upper Neelum area with home-like (read tiny) hotels on both sides. A little ahead, my eyes are delighted to see a flat wooden board erected upon the edge for people to sit offering mesmerizing view of the river. Sitting there gives familiar vibes; as if this is what I wanted to do when I left the hotel room this morning, as if someone senses synchronization and as if someone finds a familiar face amid a maddening crowd.

A Surge of Satisfaction

The river looks tempered and full of rage. I realized how much I have longed for watching and witnessing this rage; the only cure for my madness. My backpack, with effects of drizzling still fresh on it, rests like it has also found a familiar place. It is my partner in adventure. It has seen as many places as I have; early mornings, late nights, hectic days, serene valleys and people’s colours. While sitting there with my backpack, I spent most of the time in the observance of nature. I absorbed nature and literally inhaled it. I can still feel it.

With this my 2019 Kashmir trip gets concluded. It has been enlightening in many ways but the best thing it has taught me is not to rely on others for doing your things. Everyone is a deserter except yourself! Remember that. We are refined through the cracks sweetly orchestrated by the people. Embrace this velvety light leaving behind all the mines of malice. Perhaps we need to develop the habit of seeing an oasis within the desert of our problems. Life will become a garden of possibilities.

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The start of the two kilometer trek.

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An illusion!
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Mystification!
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Running my hand in the cold intense water and feeling the tactile touch of nature.
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Curing the wounds…
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An alluring view of the raging river from Upper Neelum!

 

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Part Three: My Only Wish Was Adventure

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The taste of a new city is what I like to inhale and Sharda proved out to be a seductively sophisticated flavor on the taste buds of my divine wanderlust. To enrich that flavour further, I wanted to sightsee this city a little more before leaving for a hike to Kel and Aarang Kel. But coming to a solo trip where empowers you on its brighter side, it strengthens a few apprehensions in your heart as well on the other end as if the city is safe for a girl exploring alone or not!

Last night over dinner, a bunch of girls were making a plan to visit years old Sharda University which took approximately 20-25 minutes walk from the hotel. I was content that I have found company in a new place but to my surprise, they first committed to later ditch the plan. They wanted to go alone. Where there are allies, there are ditchers too; the ditchers with perfectly good ideas who never make you feel that they’ll ditch you in the first place.

So, I tried to make lemonade with the lemons they gave me and guess what it was sweetly sour with everything in a perfect quantity. I embarked on a solo journey to Sharda Bazar for which I had to cross the brilliantly beautiful bridge over the river which connected Sharda city with the tourist area. I like that the people of Sharda have kept their lives privately segregated from the tourist area as the tourist area is on one side of the river and the bazar is on the other.

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The bridge which connects Sharda tourist area with Sharda Bazar.

I am seeing brightly beautiful faces of kids going to school with laughing eyes and joyful gestures. Interacting with those kids and asking for directions to Sharda University was equally enjoyable for me and for them perhaps they were amused to see me exploring alone and I was pleased to find company in form of those little lovable spirits. There is river on my right side so strong that its sound pierces the air around me and I am overjoyed because all I can inhale is the aroma of nature.

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Kashmiri cuties. The middle one was welcoming enough to take my picture on the bridge. They were off to school.
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The aroma of nature!

With another turn, the river comes to my left side and the Sharda University reaches closer and now comes a crumbling staircase with almost 15-20 large steps to reach that landmark. There is no one there when I reach at around 7:10 A.M. I sit there, take pictures and cherish that I came to visit alone defeating the fears and making adventure a winner one more time.

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The crumbling staircase leading to Sharda University.
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Sharda University

I am one such person who doesn’t get satisfied with surface level settings/ happenings. I have to go deeper in the depths. Let them be the depths of adventure, wanderlust or life. If one gets satisfied with 60 percent of it, I want it to be 100 percent perhaps sometimes even more than that. I am a colossal romantic and a walking slice of chaos when it comes to nature and adventure. The moment I finish a catastrophe, I start looking for another one. My only wish is adventure!

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The author.

*P.S: More parts to follow

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Life is always beautiful, if you are on the way to somewhere.

 

Part Two: Your Beauty and My Madness

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Today was no ordinary day. I have reached Sharda; a town in Neelum District, Azad Kashmir. Everyone is asleep in their rooms. At 4:45 AM, the hotel I am staying at is quiet as a statue as if it’s a deserted place which doesn’t have people but only their marks. Being an early riser, I get to witness what others willingly miss; that is the serenity of the ecstatic morning, light on the heart and pleasing on the eyes.

Pleasingly, the hotel is situated at the bank of River Neelum. Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love accompany me along with my tiny black diary to take notes, one tasbih and a fifty rupee purple currency note to make a phone call home with a landline as Kashmir does not allow regular mobile service to work, the only annoying thing about Kashmir. With only these four possessions, I sit by the river and wait for the light to kiss the mountain tops.

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There was no one at the reception so with that the hope to call home vanishes away but then comes Rashid the only human I could see in miles. He offered me his mobile with SCOM SIM (operational in Kashmir). Delighted, I take mobile from his hand and said I’ll pay you. He, with a smile on his face said, “You! You are our guest. Everything is at your provision.” His words made me feel home at a place far away from home. Perhaps this is what we want that someone makes us feel home at a distant place. His words and his phone made me and my wondering mother (in Lahore) peaceful.

As that generous man goes, I look at the splashes of water thinking that they are a universe in themselves. They are formed, broken, brought to life and then are put to death. They can metaphorically be taken as us, humans; being alive, being broken by betrayals and then hiding our torments with a smile as the water hides the stones having wounds given by the water splashes. This restlessness like that of splashes of water can be put to rest if someone understands our madness and tries to embrace it. Madness satisfies madness.

Living this serenity and holding my diary in my hand, I am writing about my madness and the beauty of this place. Below is an excerpt unfiltered and untouched from what I have written on Saturday 22nd June, 2019 at 05:23 AM:

“My hands feel frozen as I am writing but I have decided to write about the serenity I am witnessing. With sun gilding the mountains turning them to pure gold while the moon is still smiling in the sky. Water Splashes are music to ears and it feels that everything makes sense. This water is the cure, this serenity a mood freshener. The mountains are grey but their tops are a burning light. With satisfied eyes, I stand up to go to my room where I have to get ready to continue my journey for today but keeping a part of Shardah and this serene morning along with me which is going to stay till the time I stay.”

*P.S: More parts to follow

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That first touch of sun rays in the morning!
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This book in hand is a handful of happiness.
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A soothing read in nature…
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Learning…
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Living…
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Loving…
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Make your own way and look towards no one.
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Serenity till the eyes can see!

 

Part One: Romance with the Road!

IMG_5780The feeling of being on the road empowers you, changes you and soothes your vulnerabilities. The miles are familiar and the road is a carpet of peace inviting me to fly while being on the land. My recent trip to Kashmir was like a boat floating on the river too beautiful to be looked from the outside and too mesmerizing to be a part of it from the inside.

It starts with my eyes set on Kashmir highway where the night is dancing away and the day is jingling in form of dawn; my favorite part of the day when everything is in its place, no haste and hurry. I am sitting on a window seat with the window being half open and the cool breeze gently touching me as if someone has found home after being lost for a long time. It leaves me motionless. Some moments are of that caliber that you want to absorb them for life. It was one of them. My fellow passengers asleep unaware of what they are missing.

Birds adding music to it. I am smelling nature, still and steady, looking out of the window and thanking almighty that I did not miss the chance to come to a solo trip (with a travelling group) for the first time in life. Yes, you read right, no need to read again. There were many moments of speculations where I thought whether to take this chance of having a solo trip or not but guess what sometimes, somethings become mandatory in life and this was my mandatory episode where I wanted to show myself that I can do it. And I did it.

Silence has never been this much enchanting. It was one of those times when light has made its way through tall talking trees, towering mountains and adjacent settlements but the moon still waves from the sky and I wave back, smiling and gleaming with a flashback from last night where I stood alone at Bhera, while the bus made a stopover for 30 minutes, in a sea of people having a glimpse of moon feeling that it too stands alone and lights up!

To me, the yellow arrows (for managing direction) installed along the highway symbolize the hurdles and hard times in our lives. Just like these arrows save us from bumping into the boundaries of the road similarly we should keep moving in life despite having hurdles. They should not halt us rather push us ahead. The journey still continues till I reach Sharda (A town in Neelum District in Azad Kashmir).

I have always believed that do what you have to do. Don’t look towards the faces of people. They will either lie or will comfort you with camouflage. Do things for yourself rather than waiting for others to do anything for you. Make your own road and lead that. To conclude, I think this Persian verse shared by a friend describes me and my heart divinely:

“Babar Ba Aish Kosh Kay Aalam Dobara Neest

Babar enjoy yourself to your heart’s content, there’s little chance of your coming in this world again.”

*P.S: More parts to follow.

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A Blissful Morning!
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An outliving ecstasy!

Language of Nature !

Nature speaks to me!

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Looking out from a moving car, bus or train and observing things is what makes my day. Longest stares at trees, the hide and seek of sun rays through the trees, the feel of freedom of birds and the brightness of beautiful sky. What else could be the best way to start your day?

I spend hours and hours in the same state and don’t get tired of it. I think, this is the best way to get closer to nature. Nature speaks to me. Every day we all have the same routines. Open our eyes. Give a grumpy look to timepiece.  Put blanket away, get off the bed, brush teeth, make and take breakfast. Go to work and then this goes on and on. But that one thing in the start of the day, a few minutes spent in observing the nature leave a feel of freshness inside me.

These little moments of happiness, freshness and liveliness make a collection of memories. Memories to go along with, to cherish, to enjoy and to love!

-Sana!