My lips are cracked, and so is the skin under my nose, and it takes the inflamed red, and peeling white to remind me the enormity of what I have just done. Six days of unplanned travel through Kashmir; Gulmarg and Srinagar and the quaint town of Pahalgam which with the Lidder river running through, is easily my favourite part of Kashmir yet. We arrive in Pahalgam late afternoon. The morning has been unnerving with bouts of rain, and thundershowers, and unkempt roads- but we decide to take the chance (as we decide to take many chances along the way) and drive to Pahalgam. The drive is surreal. The apple orchards aren’t even in bloom, and yet the drive to Pahalgam is quite unlike anything I have ever known. Red noses of passer-bys, snow on the streets, mountains glistening in the distance.
The sun and rain are still at odds as we arrive into Pahalgam. Lunch is simple, but as any Indian will tell you, there’s nothing like the warmth of dal. I take to the road. Up the slopes, down bridges, past horses, and the Pahalgam golf course, the sights of Pahalgam are so breathtaking, so startlingly untiring, you can walk past them again, and again, and again
We chase the straight road up-mountain, the narrow roads untaken, the sun all the way until its out, and then the light from the moon charts our way downhill. The villagers look at us curious, we look at them even more curiously. Trek guides follow us and hand out their number should we return in summer, children scamper in the snow. Corner shops sell kehwa, a sugary Kashmiri concoction with chai and for a moment there we are all enveloped in blue. All of us, them in grey jackets, us in slightly cheerier pink scarves, are all cloaked in blue.It is unreal. And yet it all so real.A little later, we tuck in bowls of rajma and unpolished white rice and masala chai and snuggle into our electric blankets for the night. The blue of Pahalgam lingers, and so do the words of a U2 song from long ago.
‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ Except, I’m certain, I have.
(Located in Kashmir, India, Pahalgam is a three-hour-drive from Srinagar.)