I’m a lone traveller but now and then I meet considerate people who take me in as a family or a friend. I doubt I would have ended up with so many friends had I been travelling with a bigger company. Being alone makes me more aware of other people around me. I didn't mean to be officious but unintentionally you peek into the lives of other people a lot more when you go solo. You’ve so much more time to reflect and observe. At the same time it gives you a lot of opportunity to interact with other travellers and locals. I had my first family moment at Srinagar when a kind, Kashmiri gentleman invited me for a cup of tea with his family while I was strolling at Nehru Botanical Garden.
Nehru Botanical Garden is one of the few popular gardens in Srinagar not built by the Mughals. The garden was built in 1969 and fashioned in modern style, over an area of 80 hectares. Sandwiched between Dal Lake and Zabarwan Mountain, the gentle slope is just near the road that circles Dal Lake. The garden is characterized by many flowers and greenery and the 17 hectares lake at the entrance. The Zabarwan Mountain loomed just behind the garden and gives a nice backdrop to the garden. Nehru Botanical Garden is not as crowded as the Mughal gardens and the ambience is just perfect for a quiet family time.
I was relieved not to see many lovers having their private moments under a tree or a flower bed. In fact it was gratifying to see many families who were there for an outing. In Srinagar families throng public parks in big numbers; you don’t get a stronger sense of family bonding anywhere else. It was idyllic to watch them sit on colorful Kashmiri carpet; drinking tea with biscuits or having packed lunch. Such beautiful scene and moments graced parks in Srinagar.
I was walking past a small rose garden (almost every garden in Srinagar has a rose garden) when I saw a man in his 40’s coming towards me. He had a toddler in his arm and a nursery kid limping by his side. He just came and started an easy conversation as if we had known for years. His name was Mahmood and he walked with me as I took some shots of the garden. Afterwards he invited me to have tea with his family. I was reluctant at first but didn’t want to be impolite after all the good talks we’ve had.
The carpet was already spread out on top of the lush grass. Mahmood and his brothers with their wives sat around it sipping noon tea or salt tea with Kashmiri biscuits. Their three children ran around playfully. I had my first cup of namkeen tea. Later they told me that they were celebrating one of their children’s birthday with lunch in the garden. I learned that Mahmood’s two brothers had just come from Pondicherry for vacation. They own a shop that deals in Kashmiri shawls and carpets. Subsequently, during my journey to Ladakh I met many Kashmiri businessmen who had left Srinagar to start their life all over again. Though Mahmood’s brothers visit him once in a year, their life was now in Pondicherry. One of them had even married a south Indian woman. It is one of the many cases of families being separated by harsh realities of life. The recurring insurgency problems have been the reason for mass exodus to other cities. But like migratory birds they keep coming back to their roots to spend at least one month in a year. Now, sitting under the shades of pine trees and overlooking the Zabarwan Mountain they were just as much in awe as any first-time tourists.
The garden is simply one reason I had this crazy idea of adopting Srinagar as my new city. Places have a way of finding a niche in our memories and staying with us and I believe the memories of the city and the garden will stay with me for a long time, though I might loose out on the details. If I’m lucky I might go back like a migratory bird and I’ll feel as if I had been there a thousand times.
Rs.10 (adult), Rs 5 (children below 12 years)