Mughal Gardens, Srinagar

When Luiza and I separated from Francis in the Mosque in the last day of Ramadan he made a friend. Ulmar, a 26 year old Kashmir boy, fully dressed in white, took Francis to the middle of the thousand of men and taught him how to pray. Francis who is catholic and a strong believer saw our reencounter with Ulmar the following night in the middle of the streets of Srinagar as an auspicious sign. Ulmar’s whole family was with him, and we were invited to join them for a meal. Luisa and I declined as we were exhausted, Francis disappeared for 3 hours only to return drank of joy, full of food for us, and an invitation to come see the city with Ulmar the following day.

Ulmar picked us up and first took us to the impressive Jama Masjid Mosque that was built in the 1672 and has room to host thousands of devotees. Luiza and I fully covered to be allowed to enter the place. Inside it was empty, there were but a few people, an enormous courtyard, a beautiful garden, and a couple of children running around. At 12:30 it was lunch time and we were invited by Ulmar to go to his house for this meal. For the second time I met his adorable mother, who the night before in the street had given me a tight hug. They were so happy to have us. I could barely understand why. And so for the second time this week I saw a Kashmir house. It seems to me that they usually do not have that much furniture. This house was beautiful, but every living room had anything but beautiful and confortable carpets and cushions. We sat on the floor. Tea was offered. There was an option between salted or sweet chai. Once again I feasted in the delicious Kashmir infusion. Some cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, saffron and who knows what else. We could only talk to Ulmar and his brother, but the parents were the calmest and friendliest people i have encountered here. Most of the time I find people in Srinagar rather violent. i have lost count how many times i saw parents and children shouting, or children being hit, or playing with plastic uzis, and guns. I have lost count of how many times firecrackers explode from the hands of 6 years old. I have lost count of how much boys parade their masculinity in motorbikes in the streets. So this family, which was sooo calm was something of a relief.

Food was brought and I being a vegetarian was somehow of a disappointment to them. Not that they mentioned it but I could tell, as I would not be able to eat all the variety of meat they had. A plastic towel was set on the floor, a silver jar was brought to wash our hands over a silver recipient, and plates with rice and meat were brought. For me there was rice and some delicious green thing I never even asked what it was. We ate in traditional way, which means we seat on the floor, and ate with our bare hands. It was delicious.
The little 5 year old girl was the joy of the house. She seemed to be hyper active and slightly odd fro her age. The entire time we were there she ran non stop, and turned upside down hysterically happily. Ulmar explained to me that she never went to bed before 1am and that she was always up before 6.” She is very special” he said. I was shocked beyond belief, but apparently the whole family seems to have created this space to treat strangeness as normality. They loved her beyond belief.
At some point I was so in place that I wished i could have stayed their forever. We could not, Ulmar had planned to take us to see the famous Mughal Gardens.

I cant possibly explain how incredible that was. I who forgot my camera kept thinking how would i be able to remember this all. A beautiful garden, with enormous flowers, green grass, fountains, going uphill and abundance of colours of the flora and the people. Children, boys and girls, teenagers, adults and the elderly were everywhere. As usual dressed using all of the shades that you can encounter in the world. So many veils, and cloths, and I could hear hear the leaves hum to me about the secret looks between boys and girls, the discrete movement of the veil that allowed for a bit more of hair to be seen, the recognition of one more bloom by the older gardner, the mundane worries of the couple having a picnic, the hopes for a boy of the pregnant lady, the wishes of those who walked in the sacred water, the peacockish dares of the young boys, the sufi poem read under a tree. I could almost hear and see it all, how many secret hopes were growing in that garden made in name of love.

As we sat in the grass we were surrounded by curious eyes. Children who are less shy would come and greet us. Adults would just look. Ulmar and his cousin wanted to know about Brasil. they talked of god, of the difficulty of getting married. They talked of a desire for independence from India and Pakistan, they talked of broken hearts and cried, just like in Palestine they were interested in talking about sexuality. We let them do so. We answered their questions, we were surprised by the lack of information, and once again I was saddened by the feeling of boredom, solitude and hope for love and freedom these youg boys seem to have. Eventually it was time to go, it was time for me to bid farewell to two more travelling companions. Luisa and Francis decided to take up the offer to sleep in Ulmar place as they would fly the morning after and Ulmar kindly offered to drive them. I hesitated whether to follow them or not, but as I was waiting from a little sign from the universe to decide my fate i came back to my guesthouse.

There I met Elic, an Israeli, who is going to places in the countryside i did want to see, but did not want to go alone to. A physicist who had been raised in a religious yeshiva. A jewish religious boy who abandoned religious life in his mid 20s. Within 5 minutes of conversation I knew he would be my new travelling companion based on nothing else than the fact that he talked to me about Alyosha. Sometimes we look for signs in the wrong places, so since Dostoyevski has yet never failed me, i decided to follow my journey a bit deeper into Kashmir with this quite atypical Israeli. It is quite unlikely I will have internet access on the following days, but once I do I ll tell you what I discovered.

Lots of love,
Jules

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