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Winter Solo Travel in Kashmir

The day was clear flying into Kashmir, and the plane flew so close to the powder-coated mountains that they felt almost within reach. I’d been battling guilt about this solo trip, leaving my husband back in Bombay to tend to our older teenager who was recovering from a stomach flu. Leaning into the window, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the oneness that India’s mystics and yogis spoke about and knew immediately there was nowhere else I’d rather be. Kashmir’s otherworldly beauty is what has continued to draw me back, time and time again.

It was in my forties that I discovered the joy of traveling alone. While young people often travel this way to find themselves, doing the same at my age is more for reclaiming and rediscovering who I once was; enjoying my own company unencumbered by domesticity and motherhood felt thrilling and at times wrong. Seven years prior, I had booked my first solo trip to Kashmir, despite this northwest region near Pakistan being in ferment and with police presence everywhere. Yet, something about the frozen valley had spoken to my soul. In the heart of Srinagar, a riverside city of great beauty, sailing in a yellow-roofed traditional shikara boat on the cold blue waters of the lakes surrounded by glistening white mountains, I’d found a space to breathe, alone. Since then, Kashmir, which has regained some sense of calm and normalcy since that first visit, has remained my sanctuary.

I arrived in the city during chillai kalan, Persian for “deep cold,” and the toughest winter period in the region. It was shrouded in fog, with a veil of gray skies and silent, empty houses with pink and green roofs standing tall amidst the leafless poplar trees. I was the only guest at Dar-Es-Salam, a simple hotel that sits on the edge of Lake Nigeen.

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