I discovered that my friend was no good for walking. That was odd. I always thought college kids were good at outdoors stuff.
It was on my insistence that we walked up to Pari Mahal from Cheshma Shahi. On the winding road that leads up to the fort, recently opened for tourists, it is easy to forget the city you leave below. Except the occasionally passing cars (and in our case, a group of guys listening to Himesh Reshammiya) there is no sound on the slopes, except for the birds twittering in the bushes. The bushes, on their part, were pink and green owing to the season. The almond blooms and narcissus. The fabled fairies had perhaps descended from their thrown open castle, and were now playing in the fields. Holding their skirt hems up, on tiptoes. Lest noise, would let their secrets out. On the Zabarwan, where they reigned supreme. Hiding their honour from the eyes of mortals. They talked to each other in slight whispers, which you could hear being carried in the wind. By dusk, they would have disappeared, and left the woods look lurking. Fearful. Where bears and army men patrolled. I dare say, detested.
The fort itself presented a different story. All forts do. It’s hard to say what the reason was. The overcast skies or the barren grounds or may be the dying Dal lake visible from the top, but Pari Mahal whispered a sad story. It spoke of a lost empire. A prince, who had fallen from grace. And escaped, but couldn’t escape humiliation. Its face carried the strife it had been a part of. Or rather witnessed, because Pari Mahal for long could only be seen from the Boulevard as entry to commoners was denied. It somehow narrated a more grand, more recent tale of Kashmir. The one we know by heart.
The walls of the castle-fort were blinded. No light peered in. The inmates were isolated and alone. Like caged birds. Scared, perhaps. But not hopeless for sure. From their fortress they were free to indulge in the best the nature had to offer. It’s seldom a privilege to the caged.
But Time seems to have made a deep impact on the scarred face of Pari Mahal. As an old widow who had nothing more to say, so she chose to stay quiet and be oblivious. And witness, the passage of time and her peril. The unkempt gardens of her fort do her no justice. Like the wedding cake of Miss Havisham, a fine reminder of the time that was – or could have been.
It is hard to imagine what Pari Mahal would have looked like at the time it was constructed. Or more important still, how the Dal would have looked from its terraces. I imagine the lake would have looked an unending mass of clear water, in which the surrounding hills here deeply etched. In which the blue of the skies found ample space. Sadly, viewing from the top, the Dal appears much like the fort itself. Ravaged by time and men. From the terraces of the fort, you can see a helipad, some army establishments and the golf course. Almond trees scattered here and there. Some greenery splashed across the canvas, and if you look intently the Boulevard appears as a thin ribbon of grey. All things together, the landscape looks like a broken symphony - that started off in a celebration and a few bad notes later became a wail, and then died.
As it started to get dark, some bright lights appeared in the distance. That was the newly opened Vivanta. You can see that in the photograph below, in the right corner. A few more, and the dim streetlights around the Dal were on.