June 19th, 2017
After Chandigarh, the ascent into the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir began. Our plan was to first reach Banihal and then, the next day, to go to Srinagar.
At the Jammu and Kashmir border, we were held back for a few hours because the border officials considered our initiative to be commercial rather than a social venture. So, they were charging quite a bit of money that we were unwilling to pay. Meanwhile, there was a red alert that was issued in Kashmir because six policemen were killed in a militant ambush in Anantnag. 5000 troops from the Indian army were deployed, and this kind of response shows that the state is getting more anxious by the day. So, due to increased security measures, we spent hours at the border, and then, that night, stayed in Banihal.
When we reached Srinagar, the atmosphere was heavy, as the armed forces were everywhere. They stood by the vividly green rice fields, in the mountains, and on rooftops, watching as cars and people passed. Once, and only once, we saw an army man speaking to a few children by a house, and that’s the only time we saw the people and the military smiling at each other.
Yet despite the gravity, Srinagar is absolutely beautiful. It looks like it has been stuck in time, with its old wooden houses, painted in dark, elegant colors. They stand alongside the houseboats in the Jhelum River, and crossing any bridge is like falling into a watercolor painting.
We first visited the Government Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Kothi baag, where we received an incredible response from the students. Because not many people visit Srinagar, they were quite enthusiastic about our visit. The students asked insightful questions and were reluctant to leave! We were also joined by Mr. K.K. Agnihotri, advisor to the state RMSA, and Mr. Tufail Matto, the State Project Director of the RMSA.
We spent the rest of the day, after the school visit, exploring Srinagar. The team went first to the Shalimar gardens facing Dal Lake, an incredible mirror of the surrounding mountains, and then, we took a ride in a shikara just as the sun was setting. Shikaras are long boats that have beds and blankets in them, and are distinctly Kashmiri.
The next morning, we went onwards to Drass and Kargil, before setting off for our ultimate destination – Leh, Ladakh.