We were an interesting bunch. Me, my little sister, my mom, her two sisters, their two daughters, and my grandmother. 8 women, from 3 generations, on a trip across the northernmost parts of India. We were driving up, near the mountain peaks, when we stepped out of the car momentarily, to absorb the view.
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The rocky terrains of Kashmir are not for the fainthearted. On one side lies the face of a mountain, the other side is a sheer cliff, that drops so far below that you can’t see all the way down. The drivers steer the cars so fast that you fear your life at every turn. The narrow roads are so littered with stones, that you bounce up and down, praying that if you do live, your organs remain in the same places.
At the highest points, where crisp white snow dot the peaks, the air becomes so thin that breathing requires continuous effort, and the wind is cold and piercing. When you peer over the edge of the mountain, there lie the valleys far below, expansive stretches of shockingly green grass, only interrupted by the flow of sparkling blue rivers that meander through the landscape.
The enchanting combination of towering mountains, and lush glens give this area the nickname the “Switzerland of India”, and rightfully so. Never have I seen a place with such immense beauty, and a fascinating culture and rich history to accompany it.
The Kashmir conflict, a territorial clash between India and Pakistan over the region, has historically been a source of disagreements, battles, and war. Near the border of the two nations, I saw troops patrolling, walking in formation, protecting their land. This close to an infamous war zone, your heart can’t help but skip a few beats. The thought of the struggles, the bloodshed, the horrors that this place has seen – the thought alone is frightening. But not much further from that, scattered among the hills, were innumerable monasteries and Buddhist temples that rendered a sense of indescribable tranquility. That serenity seemed worlds away from the uneasiness of the border. For every harsh cliff, there was a gentle river. Where there were encapsulating chills up in the mountains, there was sunshine down below. What I saw, was peace and beauty, even within war and roughness. What I saw, in Kashmir, was the presence of hope, even within despair.
This place is a whole other dimension. Its beauty is surreal, its landscape is wondrous, and when I stood there, in the imposing mountains, I was merely a pebble on that treacherous mountain road, taking in the world below. 8 women, from 3 generations, stood there on that mountain. My grandmother was huddling her shawl in the cold, my sister was tugging on the arms of my cousins, my mom and my aunts were talking about the amazing view. I stood there, gazing into the earth and into the never-ending sky. I felt little, and overwhelmed. I was part of something bigger than me, something bigger than I could have ever imagined.
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