At this point, the bag is weighing me down, but I feel we are getting closer. There are cabbies asking us if we want a drop to the station. Since we had come this far, let’s just keep walking was the consensus.
And then, at the distance, I see the most amazing railway station in the world. It is the most picturesque station that my imagination is capable of envisioning. With sheets of snow carved up with what looks like waves on either side. A ravine running under a bridge over which we pass and on the backdrop, mountains scooped in snow like an ice cream. It was the most amazing feeling, and when the smell of chai and some hot bread kisses your olfactory receptors, Pavlov would have been proud. I start salivating like my dog Nani.
We put our bags down, and we head over to the mosque to wash our hands and faces. This is when I start walking on the snow. It was proper sheets of snow and when you feel the covalent and hydrogen bonds of the ice crumbling under your weight. Its super fun. You have to experience that.
I decide to have more fun with it. I take a piss on the snow and start writing my name on it with my piss. I expected my piss to cut through it like a lightsaber. But I just left a yellow taint on the snow which slowly permeated into the base of the snow sheet and disappeared. ( Not as fun as when you piss at 0 degrees. Literally steam comes out of your woody woodpecker)
I sort of realised my exploratory advances with the snow was in and around the mosque’s lavatory. In retrospect a poor decision.
We sit down for chai.
In Kashmir, tea and breakfast are a grey area. What they call tea. I would call a hearty breakfast.
A glass comes out and a kettle with tea is served. And then there are 5 different varieties of bread. Some sweet, some salty. And you can refill your chai as many times as you want. By the end of that I was pretty much stuffed. I tried all the varieties of Kashmiri breakfast savouries and anything dipped in the tea tastes great.
It’s time to call Amma again and I tell her about all the things which happened. And for the first time, she is not concerned. She asks if it would be a good place for them (my parents) to come, maybe in the summer. And I said absolutely yes.
The next person was Jeevan. Jeevan is like my best mate from Kochi. He is the only person who has seen the best of me and the worst of me and still looks at me the same. And he was also interested in the trip. But our last trip up the Himalayas ended up with him losing a year from college due to attendance issues and having to go to court to get back in a college again. So I didn’t encourage him to peace out of college again.
As I was explaining to him all the amazing things which had happened over the past 24 hours. I start taking about Shuhail. And I tell him how sad I am that I couldn’t give him a good bye.
And just like that, the travel gods give me one more surprise. There goes Shuhail and his fellow Jamaat members towards the mosque. What are the odds? I looked up at the sky for one second. I ran towards him excited and happy. And I let out the happiest Asalaam Walaikum I ever said. He was also surprised in seeing me. He said Walaikum Asalaam Yadu. We hugged and I told him I wanted to say good bye but I couldn’t. He was in a hurry, it was time for Namaaz and he had to go. I asked him if he is on Instagram. He didn’t answer, he told me he will be with us and we will see each other in Sri. And with all the magical things that were happening around me. I said yes. We will.
But the travel gods might have thought, some relationships are best left ephemeral. It just took him minutes to have an effect which most people I have known my entire life couldn’t. I think that moment would have lost its magic if we had got to know each other more. And just like that. It was my last good bye to my friend Shuhail. ( Mate, if you are reading this, I will meet you in the summer. In Pratap park on the SECOND SUNDAY OF JULY. Between 11 am and 2 pm. Don’t respond to this, just be there :D)
Light at the end of the tunnel
Now we had a little bit of time to kill. The train was like in an another 30 minutes. So I just got reminded of the fact that I was carrying this 2 Kg camera bag with a camera in it. And the Banihal railways station is exactly the place where only a DSLR can do justice to the landscape. But when I take the camera out, there are shards of glass.
Fuck, did the lens break? And unfortunately it was affirmative. It was the wide angle lens. I borrowed it from a mate. I feel culpable for not taking care of it good enough. I still don’t know if it broke on my journey. The previous user of the camera handed it over to me in the last possible moment before I was about to catch my bus. I didn’t check it. Which was a really bad choice.
So I switched over to the zoom lens and started taking the pictures. My gang was excited now. They put on their coats and sunglasses and start posing. We had so much fun clicking photos in front of the station.
The Banihal station has this huge parking space where white tempos and cars almost camouflage with the white backdrop of the mountains.
There are these small teashops all across the place and due to the low temperature. The steam coming off the kettles look amplified and it is almost like going to a sauna. You absorb the latent heat of vaporisation every time you walk into a chai cafe room. I think its done deliberately to warm the place up and also draw customers in.
The chaiwalla ( No, not that one :p ) in one of the shops was one dude who was on the bus with us yesterday. Small world I guess.
Now, the train slowly makes its way into the station. This was a really unique train. Looked more like the trains I saw in Russia. The locomotive looked slightly more aerodynamic than the usual Indians locos. And the compartments were insulated. There were heater outlets which blew jets of warm air into the compartment.
TO BE CONTINUED……..