Yes, while at Kashmir, I fell in love with the concept of a settlement on Dal Lake, with how the town of Gulmarg sat like the knot on a scarf on the long neckline of snowed-on roads, with saffron fields, with chinar leaves, with the greyish eyes of almost every person on the road, but I also fell in love with horses.
No, I think I mostly fell in love with horses.
After an adventurous road trip from Gulmarg to Pahalgam, setting out at 4 AM, crossing valleys of apple and poplar trees, steering into a haunting landscape garnished with the rising sun, we sat back at our hotel and immersed our tired selves like tea bags in a fuming cup of warmth and hospitality.
Halfway through our tea, my parents and I sketched ourselves a plan to go riding up to Baisaran after a short nap.
After said siesta, while dressing up, I realized how many dimensions of one singular day we can allow ourselves if we let ourselves be raw travellers.
We had a tantalizing trip from Gulmarg, surveying a sleeping universe from a highway busy with army convoys. Now, after breakfast, we were off on another adventure – this time, on horseback – and it was not even noon yet!
I had been in constant correspondence with a few other friends who were touring Kashmir then, and among them, it was Aikantik, who had said promising things about riding a pony up to Baisaran Valley.
A pony was allotted to each of us. At first, it was a little frightening – uncomfortable, more than frightening. My usher offered to hold my camera for me. And so, I set out on a journey that is recorded solely in emotions.
My steed was an adorable, sawdust-coloured mare of six years, named Kunnu. The usher guided her along solid uphill path, uttering phrases of encouragement under his breath. I was just gathering my confidence, when suddenly, my mare took a brisk right turn and emerged into a world of uneven rocks, closely-spaced trees with twisted roots, sudden streams and slippery mud.
Yet, the steed knew her way. Despite my obvious fear, she trailed through the rocky path, glided through the forested spaces and after a few minutes of intense adrenaline rush, we emerged into even roads again.
The following paragraph goes out to Game of Thrones viewers. Remember, in season two, how Robb Stark was watching his men take a detour from going to war with Tywin Lannister and attend his grandfather’s funeral? When we emerged into trodden path, it was the spitting image of that scene. All of a sudden, after that wild, enticing, risky ride, hordes of tourists exploded, riding up and down the course that led to Baisaran Valley.
Kunnu followed a steady trail on the edge opposite the steep fall, and very often, we came across a loudly chattering Bengali family, who stopped to acknowledge us and throw us a hurried smile. It appeared, that Bengalis meeting in Kashmir was an everyday business.
Every now and then, we stopped at some grassy clearing to take a photograph or two.
It took well over an hour to reach Baisaran. It was mandatory to dip into streams, leap up into dangerously rocky terrain – keep yourself bent during dipping and back up during leaps. Studying the equestrian way of existence, we arrived at the Valley.
The Valley was beautiful, with rolling meadows and strolling shepherds. The sun bounced off snow-bathed mountains, and clouds sprinkled themselves enough to tease the sky of its clear, delicious blueness.
It was the same perilous trail down the road to Pahalgam. The usher and I talked quite a bit. I tried to extend his informal courtesies to Kunnu as well.
Walking down smooth, cemented paths, crossing luxurious bungalows, I felt the blues raise high tide. Perhaps the appeal of wanderlust is in its temporariness. So many little things call us out of our daze. The most unconvincing things, be it a piece of paper bearing flight timings, put a leash around our fancies and thankfully, release them in words.
Perhaps the impermanence of the morning is a blessing that will reinforce itself in every piece of writing I will produce in the future. Be it the untainted newness I felt on the back of the mare, or how sweet I found the way the men spoke, or the tall trees scratching the blue skies with the exquisite colours of its leaves, or the pastoral glory in everything, or the foreign homeliness I felt – nothing shall escape the memory.
I do wish I were more athletic, because riding horseback gave me an immense rush from the untying of knots I did not know existed, and what better way is there to feel alive?