When Tulika Anand, a solo traveller from Jaipur, saw the snow-clad mountains of Kashmir from her aeroplane window, she was mesmerized. But more than Kashmir’s natural beauty it’s the hospitality of Kashmiris that made her feel home away from home.
“All Kashmiris I met treated me as their own family rather own daughter,” Tulika author of Trails and Transformation—a book on her travelogue told Kashmir Ink.
A travel blogger Tulika has widely travelled to most of the states in India. “Though the trip happened to be my first visit to Kashmir, people I met never made me feel like an outsider,” she says.
“Indeed, at times I felt uncomfortable but it was because of the warm hospitality of Kashmiris, not the insecurity which is peddled by people who have never been to Kashmir or tried to understand them. If asked about a place or route, the locals not only guided me but ensured that I reach the destination safe. Some even called me daily to ensure I was enjoying the stay.”
Tulika is a doctoral student at Jaipur National University, doing PhD on "Changing Contours of Diasporic Sensiblities.” Besides travelling is my hobby, I am also connoisseur of ethnic foods.”
Had you any inhibitions about Kashmir? “For a girl in her twenties to brush aside veiled warnings and travel solo to Kashmir needed some courage,” she says.
She already had conversations with houseboat owners and others while planning the trip. “I trusted their words. When I set foot on the heaven on earth, "Jannat-e-Kashmir” and began my two weeks’ trip, every day and at every step, the perceived fear of insecurity was proving misplaced.”
Narrating an incident while travelling to famous hill station Pahalgam in south Kashmir, Tulika was amazed by a Kashmiri sumo driver.
“The sumo driver requested a male tourist to take back seat to allow a septuagenarian person to sit on the front seat, so that he does have to negotiate the seats and the passengers. But the young man was nonchalant. "Sorry, I cannot sit at the back," he said indifferently,” she says.
She said the old man seemed helpless and withdrew a few feet from the vehicle, expecting another Sumo which would take him to Pahalgam, a three-hour ride from Srinagar. In fact, the Sumo needed one more passenger to fill the seats and start the journey.
“As we waited for the eighth passenger, the inhumane and unkind attitude of the tourist was troubling me. I finally let out a few words pointing out his insensitiveness. Subsequently, an argument ensued. When the young man had an argument with me, the driver in his 40s, sporting a beard and a cap on his head, stopped the Sumo's engine and said, “Bhai Sahab, ye hamari behen hai. You cannot treat her like that. Please get down, I won’t take you”.
“I was awestruck. The statement felt like a warm blanket of love, care and security. I did not expect such a sense of security especially when I was planning the trip. “Kashmir? Will you go alone there? Yaar, no doubt Kashmir is a nice place but encounters is a routine affair there. Kashmir is Muslim dominated. Safety is an issue. All these bla bla bla bla...”
Kashmir is well-known for its breathtaking natural beauty that attracts millions of tourists “but what I discovered is something equally precious.”
“Omar Masood in Srinagar, Fayaz Bhai of Queens Lap houseboat, Fareed uncle of Tangmarg, Prof Shaheena Saleem in Srinagar and Mir Fayaz of Gulmarg and several others opened new windows to what Kashmiris are meant and how welcome and secure one feels in their company.”
Tulika was curious to understand the lives of Kashmiris and preferred to spend a few nights in villages. “But I could not believe myself when some families invited me to their families for lunch. And also when hanged out with locals to have a taste of the pastoral life they led.”
“Throughout my stay, I came across numerous incidents where the people of Kashmir made me feel I am one of them and I should not have least of any problem. They treated me like I was their daughter, grand-daughter, a friend, and a sister, but not a tourist. Haji Gulam Nabi Sahab, a houseboat owner, is so loving and caring that he still calls me to know my well-being in Jaipur,” she said in an emotional tone.
“I realised that Kashmiris are deeply rooted to their soil and faithful to their religion and culture where hospitality, fellow-feeling, love sympathy and respect stand out as main pillars.”
“During my two weeks’ sojourn there, she did not find a beggar or a pickpocket belonging to Kashmir. Kashmiris are hardworking and capable to make their both ends meet. It is a pride in itself,” she says.
“If Kashmir is paradise on the earth, its inhabitants cannot be any less pristine. While the scenes and sounds will remain itched in my memory, the Kashmiris who make Kashmir the Jannat-E-Kashmir will reside in my heart forever. I am looking forward to come back to their fold again, very soon,” she says.
About her book Trails and Transformation she says “I had no idea of writing a book till recently.”
“ Similarly, till two years ago, I never thought I would take to travelling with such intense passion that would transform my life and world view.”
After every trip, she would experience the visual frames “caging me in their world.” Then she decided “why not to live those moments once again and feel them as intensely.”
“That's how the thought of writing those experiences came. While writing, I realised the experience was more than just travelling. Reflecting over every small detail took me to deeper, beyond the physical encounters with the amazing scenes. In that way, I travelled back to those places through my thoughts and imagination,” she says.
Any plans to write a book on Kashmir? “Of course I would love to, and will again visit Kashmir soon.”