Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rakkar Reelaxation :)

Post Kashmir i spent a couple of weeks in this little village called Rakkar, half an hour out of Dharamsala. Apart from a couple of forays into bustling Mcleodganj for momo's i was vegan O_o This was an interesting and really pleasant change actually. I was staying with a sweet old Austrian doctor but she was travelling after my first couple of days there. So i was on my own in a beautiful Himachali home, that came with a little Shiv Mandir by the front door, a stream on either side of the house, a vegetable garden, solar cookers, two lovely strays Ega and Sundroo, Pratappo Ji the cook, a hammock, bright flowers painted on the walls around my bed, a cozy loft with a sun roof, and lots and lots of books.
I spent a lot of my time initially taking walks and bumming around the house. And then all my time at the nunnery which was a 15 minute walk away. More about this soon :)  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Krishna Cottage

And the last post with this story.
Krishna Cottage is a funny place. It sits over the dirty tired bus stand and is looked after by the old care-taker and his extended family. The owner is a businessman from Anantnag, a bustling town in the Valley. Him and his wife come up to the cottage every weekend and on seeing me there on two of their visits, i think started to get a bit shifty. I guess it couldn't have been too pleasant for them to know that family of previous owners were snooping around. So one evening i sat down with them in the garden and we drank tea. By the end of which the wife softened up to me but i think her husband was still pretty skeptical :)

The cottage with Lal Kothi in the background.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The ice cream parlour

Adding to the quirky collection of tenants and happenings at the Kothi, recently one of the big rooms downstairs has been leased by a Jamal bhai. He's on his way to making it an ice cream parlour! I sat with him while he and his son cleared out the room and excitedly told me their plans of becoming rich.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dhobi Ghaat

Lal Kothi

Kasmiri Pundits have a strong tradition of family Gurus. In every extended family there is one such Guru who is their spiritual pillar. At the time of my great grandfather, this person was Janki Nath Aga. Lal Kothi was built by my great grandfather, Jagan Nath Ganju and gifted to Janki Nath. Following this, his sons turned the house into a lodge for the local traders who spent half the year in Pahalgam, selling their wares to visiting tourists. These traders moved back down to their homes in the winter when Pahalgam got too cold.
So it was, that the Red House became Pahalgam's first hotel with about 30 rooms. But after some years Janki Nath's family moved away and left the house to it's seasonal tenants.
Now, some 40 years later, the bottom floor has been taken over by dhobi's who run a laundry service out of the house for the local hotels and restaurants.
The second floor is still home to summer sales men, a plumber and a truck driver.
The third floor belongs to the resident cat in the house, who i met but unfortunately could not photograph.

Hari Singh, the truck driver.

Fazal Ahmed with the clothes he sells.

Salim, the dobhi, my historian.

Pia with her father who sells sweaters and trinkets. She was visiting him on a school break with her mother and grandmother. Originally from Srinagar, their 12 by 12 room was crammed with a stove, pots, pans and suitcases full of things he sells.

Although i don't know the language i could understand that Pia's mother and grandmum were discussing in bewildered hushed tones what on earth i could possibly be interested in, in their cramped make-shift home. Despite this of course they called me their daughter, made me sheer chai (salty Kashmiri tea) and fed me :)

The rear end of the Kothi, now used as the main entrance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


My dad's side of the family is Kashmiri (hence the funny surname). We eat lots of the food at home and drink plenty Kehwa but i've been told that our family left the Valley a few hundred years ago. Much before any unrest.
Since then we moved down to the plains, forgot the language and grew into city people. And me, in Bangalore. Very far and disconnected from where i originally belonged. Now i don't mean to sound all angsty and lost. Truth is i've always been most content with a Banglorean identity.
But on a visit to Pahalgam last year i discovered this ramshackled property that belonged to my great grandfather. It was the last piece of property in Kashmir that my family owned. It was gifted to our family Guru by my great grandfather because no body lived there.
It consists of two buildings. The first, Lal Kothi (Red House) is the main structure, part of which was once swept away in a flood and then rebuilt. Some years later the top floor was burnt in a fire. And for the past four decades the house has been taken over by squatters.
The other building was originally the outhouse, which has now been converted into a funny little hotel called Krishna Cottage, by it's current owners.
This year i went back to Pahalgam and spent some time at Lal Kothi and Krishna Cottage. Apart from being my last claim to Kashmiri citizenship, this place had so many stories to tell.
I met the ancient care-taker at Krishna cottage who said he remembered meeting my great grandfather as a child. Uncovered some of the history of Lal Kothi from Salim, a young dhobi who grew up in the house after it was abandoned by my family. And got to know these people who treated me like their home was also my home, literally.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Maximum City

I spent a month, earlier this year working as the in-house photographer at the blue Frog, Bombay. Needles to say that i had the time of my life. Single girl, in the city that never sleeps, working the night shift at the coolest club in town :) Also because the whole city smelled like fish and there were cats everywhere.
So i got a night of free gigs for a month, some not so hot, one metal O_o and most of the rest AMAZING. Made friends with the bouncers, a bar tender Santosh and Champa bai, the lady who's job it is to sit all night in the loo and help drunk women. Additionally i got the occasional free drink. Wee.