Extraordinary in the ordinary

When a visit to the Tulip Festival in Srinagar taught me lessons of high risk high returns

At an altitude of 5,600 feet, what lay before me left me stunned.
Published at Women’s Web.

I had booked my flight tickets from Mumbai-to-Delhi and Delhi-to-Srinagar to visit the foothills of the Zabarwan ranges where more than 20 lac tulips blossomed at once. Siraj Baghin Kashmir Valley hosts Asia’s largest Tulip Festival annually. I had been eyeing it ever since its inauguration in 2008.

Two days left to fly – an untimely snowfall

I was in the middle of a busy day at work. My friend shared pictures of people clearing mounds of fresh snow in front of their homes in Srinagar. Initially I thought it was photo shopped. Snowfall in April? Nah! Nonetheless, I went online to check the weather in Srinagar and read –“Defying weather forecasts, Kashmiris woke up to snowfall. A rarity because this is spring season.”

Well. I had mixed feelings. Ideally, I had hoped to see the tulips in their resplendent colours on a clear sunny day. Yet, tulips drooping below the burden of accumulated snow didn’t seem deeply upsetting either. At least I was going to see them!

As clichéd as it can get, one has to be positive. Find your happy space. There cannot be a better recipe to stability and peace in life.

One day left to fly – fear of impending floods

The snowfall was only a trailer. I woke up to news alerts screaming ‘Heavy rainfall hits Srinagar.’

Now that sounded a death knell to my plan because if the tulip garden is inundated, it is closed down to visitors. I followed the story through the day and found that the state was panicking, and legitimately so. Memories of the devastating 2014 floods came ringing back.

The day of the flight – anxiety and a possibility of flight cancellation

I had to take the midnight flight to Delhi and the next day’s early morning flight to Srinagar. At 6 am I found that the J&K Government had issued a flood alert. Jhelum had crossed the danger mark. Jammu-Srinagar highway, the lifeline of the region, was closed down. Worst news, that morning’s Delhi-to-Srinagar flight stood cancelled.

I thought to myself. Let me take the midnight flight to Delhi anyway. The subsequent Delhi-Srinagar flight may or may not take off. But by cancelling my plan altogether, I will snuff out even the remote possibility of flying to Srinagar. In case the Delhi-Srinagar flight did get cancelled, I could utilize that time to spend time with my friends in Delhi.

After all, one must not back down. There is always a way to work things out. May not be the best way, but there is a way. Keep plan B ready. Take calculated steps. And a zing of risk does no harm.

And so, I took the 11.45 pm flight to Delhi. During the three hours wait at Delhi airport, I did not fret over the fate of the subsequent Srinagar flight. I lived in the present, chatting away with an Estonian woman flying to Assam.

Soon, it was time to board. I was cautious with my moment of happiness of ‘making it to Srinagar’ even at the time of take-off, because, until the plane actually landed at Srinagar airport, one could not be sure! I knew that the plane could keep hovering over Srinagar city, unable to land and turn back to Delhi. But on this freezing and extremely beautiful morning, the flight landed.

When things are not our control, there is no point in spending energy on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it. After a point, allow things to take their own course. Everything works out eventually. If not now, it will, later.

My first day at Srinagar – damp and cold

Now that I was in Srinagar, it was fair to imagine that the distance between the tulip festival and me was minimal.

Nasir, a warm and well-read Kashmiri, welcomed me to his bungalow. The day was very cold at 2 degrees and cloudy. As I sipped on kahwa chai served with shredded almonds, Nasir suggested that I should not visit the Tulip Garden that day. He reasoned, “If you visit the garden in the perfect weather, you will be truly spellbound. And tomorrow there will be sunshine. Inshallah!” I looked at him with a poker face. I wondered if he had any idea how long I had waited to feast my soul on the elusive tulips.

I paused for a while and consciously allowed my mind to override my heart. I thought to myself, ‘Nasir will definitely know better. He lives here. He breathes this air. He knows the DNA of the valley. So trust his instinct. If he says that tomorrow there will be sunshine, well, so be it.’ I decided to go with Nasir’s judgment, and responded with a brave, ‘Alright.’ He was pleased with my decision.

So, I spent my first day exploring alpine pastures and spotting Hanguls, the Kashmiri stags, at the picturesque Dachigam National Park. Sure enough, when I woke up the next day, I saw golden sun rays playing hide and seek with the Chinar trees. Believe me. I could have kissed the sun that morning.

Think global. But act local. It is essential to trust local capabilities. It is a storehouse of knowledge and insights. And of course, have faith.

My second and last day at Srinagar – so near and yet so far

I was set to go the Tulip Garden. However, I could not find any taxi to take me to the festival which was a good 9 km away. That was when I realized why I could not access the internet since morning. The state by poll elections were on. And they did not turn out to be peaceful. The city was tense. The locals including taxi drivers and shopkeepers were on strike. And the state government had installed internet jammers.

So here I was. No internet, no GPS and no vehicle. However, Nasir found out that the tulip garden was not closed. I experienced what ‘so near and yet so far’ felt like.

I was not going to back down. If you’ve come this far, give it all you got. I decided to walk it. The ‘distance’ of 9 km was not a cause of concern. The worry was that the roads were barren. The sensitive environment kept everyone indoors. Security personnel stood guard at every nook and corner. I felt an eerie discomfort. As I kept walking in accordance with Nasir’s directions, my imagination began to run amok.

I had to reorient my mind. I began to focus on the landscapes around me and of course realized that I was surrounded by magnificence! The glass-like Dal Lake was tranquil. Cherry and almond trees were blooming. Their pink and white flowers urged me to allow sanity to overpower fear. Finally, after what seemed like way beyond 9 km, I read the board – “Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden”. I bought my ticket and entered it.

Well. What lay before me left me stunned.

At an altitude of 5,600 feet, it was all I had expected and even more. There was a sea of tulips in shades and colours beyond imagination. Not to miss the massive willow trees, ice plants, lavenders and daffodils. Snow-capped mountains enveloped this rainbow like paradise sprawling over 30 hectares of land.

Beauty, intrigue, struggle and achievement, converged within me all at once. That moment, I believe, I became one with myself.

Destiny is what you make of it. This is your life. Whether its work or play, whatever choice you make, make it happen. Persevere. And never forget, high risk high returns.

This article was published at Women’s Web.

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