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An Ode to Kashmir

Kashmir wasn’t always looked at through the security prism.

Once upon a time, winter in Kashmir was a tranquil, reflective, and peaceful time. European and American tourists would flock to the Valley in droves. Back then, we didn’t see very many domestic tourists in winter.

The magnificent snow-clad mountains that ensconced the Valley, and our ski-resort, Gulmarg, with its beautifully upholstered chalets provided an inimitable haven to skiing enthusiasts.

Smoke from the chimneys of chalets with the shingled roofs of Hotel Highlands Park would create a languid atmosphere.

I have vivid memories of Uncle Benjii, my Nani’s impeccably dressed younger brother, walking around the lounge of his hotel and exchanging pleasantries with his multicultural clientele.

Coffee table books and board games would be scattered all over the lounge. Tired skiers would gather around wood burning stoves to keep themselves warm.

The Kashmiri staff would be smartly dressed, well-spoken, and efficiently cater to their guests from halfway across the world. One could hear smatterings of English, German, French, and Italian everywhere. Back then, even our pony wallahs and shikara wallahs spoke fluent English because of their exposure to European tourists.

In the distance, one could hear Christmas carolers singing “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild.” The church in Gulmarg, which was built in the early twentieth century, was abuzz with excitement that time of year

My Nani’s grandfather and his heirs built the Nedous’ Hotel in Gulmarg, Kashmir, in 1888. The hotel in Gulmarg sits on an elevation, overlooking the once luxuriantly lush meadow, with its cornucopia of fragrant, beauteous, and flourishing flowers.

The riot of colors in Gulmarg in the summer has always had the power to revive my spirits! The cozy cottages around the main lounge, furnished with chintz drapes, chintz covered armchairs, soothing pastel counterpanes on the canopy beds, and hewn logs around the fire places would warm the cockles of any anglophile’s heart. I loved that time of year!

Alas, that is the the Kashmir that my daughter’s generation didn’t have the good fortune of seeing.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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