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OH KASHMIR!!!

"If there is Paradise on Earth, it is This, it is This, it is This" ~ the 13th century Persian poet and sufi mystic Amir Khusrow nailed it when he uttered those famous words on seeing Kashmir!

"Agar Firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast: hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast" Kashmir is absurdly beautiful! I'm here at the invitation of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a conference and there's been unexpected heavy snowfall (some 4 feet) and its only March. Schools, airports have closed down, roads blocked, telephone lines down.  Small mercies I'm staying at the heritage palace-converted-hotel The Lalit, a beautiful sprawling early 19th century palace right across the famous Dal lake with panoramic eye level vistas of the snow peaked Pir Panjal Himalayan range. I stroll around the palace enjoying a hot cup of Kashmiri "kehva" (a Kashmiri sweet green tea made with crushed almonds and saffron) in hand, taking in the incredible antique Kashmiri art adorning the walls, hand woven exquisite shawls, silk carpets, copper and walnut carvings. Surreal lighting casts a Tolkien mood to my shot of the Dal lake and a lone shikara (houseboat) moored on it.

A young Kashmiri girl in traditional garb and jewellery. Copper pots with floral carvings.

Fragile giggles in a fragile environment. Walt Disney's words come to mind  "That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up" The Indian army presence is felt.  You see jawans almost everywhere you look. Im told there are 600,000 soldiers in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (pop 10.1 mil). That ratio and its implications...how can anyone not be affected by it? Everyday life in Kashmir is shaped by the political situation and apolitical as I may be, I cant help but feel peturbed by what I see.

A photo of rose harvesting (taken earlier). On a wing and a prayer! After 2 days of waiting some 6 hours each day hoping for planes to take off from the snowbound Kashmir defence airport, at last, a seat on a plane to Delhi. I'm enchanted with this Firdaus of Amir Khusrow and despite the trials and tribulations I've faced on this trip I know my love affair with this beautiful land has started and I know I'll be back...sooner than soon! All photos taken by Kavita Khosa. Portrait shots by Hilal Ahmed, Srinagar


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