Bubli stood alone in a little patch of green, looking absolutely disinterested in the crowd that had just gathered around her. She was probably missing her Bunty. In a region where every grove, forest, glacier and valley has been immortalised by every actor known to Bollywood, it came as no surprise to me that the ponies would also take the names of Bunty and Bubli. I was one of those standing around her, while she was being cajoled to take me on a ride to the Thajiwas glacier in Sonmarg in Kashmir. But she seemed more interested in grazing in the meadows than carrying me up the hills.
I stood there for as long as I could, mesmerised by the meadows. The green was all-consuming. There were no dark and mysterious woods here, no whispering streams, no winding paths uphill- just a never-ending carpet of soft, silky grass. I wished I could run here barefoot forever. But here I was, clad in an ill-fitting pair of boots, waiting for Bubli to oblige while she refused to leave her favourite patch of green and trudge up the hills.
The sky suddenly cleared. On a rather rare note, the sun glided right behind the clouds, giving it a golden rim. I welcomed the warmth. It was my second day in Kashmir and I was seeing the sun for the first time here. It pierced through the mist and Kashmir suddenly unveiled herself to me. I remembered Nehru’s words, “Like some supremely beautiful woman, whose beauty is almost impersonal and above human desire, such was Kashmir in all its feminine beauty of river and valley and lake and graceful trees. And then another aspect of this magic beauty would come into view, a masculine one, of hard mountains and precipices, and snow-capped peaks and glaciers, and cruel and fierce torrents rushing to the valleys below. It had a hundred faces and innumerable aspects, ever-changing, sometimes smiling, sometimes sad and full of sorrow …”
My words pale in comparison, but then this description expressed the very essence of my journey from Srinagar to Sonamarg. An icy white maiden, a little tributary of the River Jhelum, Nallah Sindh gushed past me as we kept meandering around together. An overpowering montage of alpine forests and deep gorges and snow-white peaks played out in front of me . Glistening pebbles, logs of wood floating, boulders breaking the free flow of the water – the entire landscape looked straight out of a painting. At every turn, the river gave me company but the background kept changing. Sometimes it was the snow-white peaks behind her; at other times, it was the carpeted slopes of mountains filled with pine trees. And then all roads led to this seamless meadow of gold called Sonmarg.
Bubli finally agreed and her companion was Raja, not Bunty. We galloped along a narrow path lined with trees, until we started climbing higher and higher. We crossed streams as Bubli paused to drink some water and then edged along a steep ravine. I held onto Bubli as she stumbled up and down the pathless stretch. The mountains looked closer and the trees faded away. Finally a sea of pristine white stretched out in front of my eyes. Bubli was tired and was only too willing to throw me off her back. I got off clumsily and looked at the snow. I had seen and touched snow, even been caught in a snowstorm before, but this was different. It was sheer poetry. The moment I took a first step, my leg was caught in a huge crevice as I pulled it out with great effort. And then I fell again and landed with a thud. The snow and ice was all around me and in a moment, I climbed, I rolled and I fell again. Heady excitement and nervous fear took over. Just as I was collecting my thoughts, sitting on the icy stretch, soaked in water and emptying the boots of snow, a man walked up to me and said, “What’s the point of coming to Kashmir and not falling in snow and ice?”
I smiled and walked up to a little boulder standing in the centre of the glacier. A lone girl sat there, looking at the sea of humanity making its way up the glacier, falling and picking themselves up, while echoes of laughter could be heard all through. The local touts were all over me now, asking me to try out the sledge while all I wanted to do was to gaze at the heaps and heaps of snow around me. It was pristine white, relatively clean even though muddy boots had left their marks behind on the slushy paths. The sun was out and it was shining right at a pair of tall pines standing in a milky white ocean, striving hard to touch the clear blue sky.
I sat there for as long as I could until Bubli was willing to take me down to the meadow again.