I head out early the next morning to walk around the village where we are staying. The houses I find beautiful, carefully constructed with stones and wood and aluminum roofs…children are wandering about, shyly smiling at me. We get our breakfast and head up to Aru, which is 12km from Pahalgam.
The scene at Aru is mind-blowing. Photos can’t do justice to the nature here, which is 360 degrees stunning, from the grass below your feet to the mountains soaring miles into the sky. We go on a little trek, going down to the river, laying about in the fields, chatting with the nomads who cross our path…one of Wahid’s friends is Rujlan, who is one of those bubbly extroverted clown types, who instantly sets in and asks me all sorts of questions and professes his love for me and how impressed he is by my beauty etc etc – Kashmiri men really are the best talkers and you just have to laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole situation, which they are more than happy to join you in giggling about. Nothing like bonding over some chuckles. Rujlan tells me everything in Kashmir is beautiful – the nature, and of course the people. And it’s true. The beauty of these people; their intense way of living, their whole giving nature, their love of affection and smiling and laughter, their dignity, their wisdom…it can only win you over.
I decide that I would prefer to walk back to Pahalgam from Aru rather than go in the car so I start on my way, stopping about every 20m for photos…I put my camera away, and around the next bend in the road I end up taking it back out. The few people I encounter on the road are local shepherds who are extremely friendly. Ominous thunder starts about 5km into my walk, and by 7km, there is sprinkling. At this point every vehicle passing me is offering a ride, and finally as the raindrops become the size of golfballs I jump in a car. I meet the boys in town, have lunch, and back we go towards Srinagar.
I had decided to stay with Bilal and his family who live in Saida Kadil, which is (I think) where Dal Lake meets Niggin Lake. A completely different experience to Chanapora – but wonderful as well. I get dropped off by the boys at a transport area on the highway, go to Dalgate, and then jump in another auto to Saida Kadil where Bilal awaits me. He almost looks Nepali – and he actually did grow up there. We walk through the dark lanes, water all around us, to get to his house. A large, plain concrete structure, where windows on the ground floor have plastic sheets in the place of glass, still. They have just finished building it less than 2 years ago and little by little are working on it. As soon as we walk in the door, the electricity goes off. They have a large gas burner with a flame on top which sort of surprisingly lights up the whole room. Two other guests are there, a girl from Scotland and a girl from England, and they are comfortably chatting away with Riyaz, Bilal’s father. Both these men emanate so much joy and kindness from their eyes and smiles. They are so beautiful. I join the people sitting on the floor and khawa is served. Khawa is saffron tea that is used for special occasions such as weddings – cardamom and other spices may also be added – and I think the khawa I have had over the past week has mostly been without saffron. Who knows. Anyway, it’s delicious and my favorite tea available in Kashmir. So we sit and chat, have a wonderful vegetarian dinner – Bilal is the first and probably only Kashmiri vegetarian I will ever meet! And off we go to bed because we have decided to go on a sunrise shikara trip to see the floating vegetable market.