This time was different.
I had seen beauty before in its raw form, in Darjeeling, a sleepy little toy-train town. Located at nearly 7,000 ft it was known as a hill station. If you were lucky to get up at the crack of dawn and hobble out into air so cold it permeated through your jacket, you would see the early morning rays caressing Mount Everest in the distance. Further towards the town there would be young teenagers going through their own bootcamp, doing pushups off railings precariously close to the plunging hill bottom beneath. This strange spiel of fresh, unadulterated air was somewhat of an oxymoron to my young, naive mind, as the image I had of India – reinforced by my yearly visits to Calcutta was that of a inefficiently orchestrated mass, which pulsed and sweated its way through the chaotic streets.
My first encounter with a local was disorientating. I picked a Chinese looking fellow, and silently hoped that he spoke English.
‘Hi, we’re here for our hotel room.’
I tried to hide my astonishment as the fellow started speaking in fluent Hindi, and noted that my parents remained unfazed. It was later that I learnt many Nepalese inhabitants had migrated to Darjeeling, where they spoke both Nepalese and Hindi.
I was taken with the novelty of it all – these Asian looking people called me ‘sister,’ and warmly attempted to begin conversation before failure on my part to respond (due to a lack of Hindi) became evident.
Darjeeling had drawn a wedge in my mind, and thrust it open. It forced me to review my view of India as a smelly disgruntled hub, and allowed me to open my mind for subsequent enlightenment.
So it was then when I traveled to Kashmir, that I was prepared for something different, but what I experienced was beyond my wildest dreams…