Text: Chindu Sreedharan
SRINAGAR HAS CHANGED.
I say that with a fair measure of confidence, because tonight I am doing something I have never done before: Sit by the fading Dal Lake, my back to the glimmerings from her Victorian houseboats, the smell of charcoal fire in my nostrils, the taste of grilled kebab on my tongue, my mind at ease from the fear of the Kalashnikov -- and it is 9:00 pm.
It is 9:00, night, and the lakeside is alive. I have never seen it like this. On my visits as a reporter from 1997 to the middle of 2003, at 9 pm -- why, at 8 pm, 7 pm, even 6 pm -- the Dal was largely deserted, the sweeping boulevard dotted by fatigued security personnel silent like the sullen poplars across the road.
Occasionally, if it was a good day and no one had been killed nearby, I would find a bunch of gloomy shikarawallahs -- boatmen who make their living by taking tourists around the Dal in colourful, canopied canoes called shikaras -- at the Nehru Park end, or a European couple, with strict instructions not to wander far, timidly walking arm in arm by the Welcome Hotel -- but never this late.
Image: Shikaras or traditional Kashmiri boats on the Dal Lake in Srinagar. Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Image
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