I knew this was the place for me. The gorgeous mountain valleys, the exotic meadows laden with the summer flowers called out to me and I felt myself drawn so strongly towards the nature that I couldn’t help standing there for hours together, staring everywhere around, absorbing the scenery around me, printing the picture in my heart and filling my lungs with the scent of the nature.

All along my life I had heard that Kashmir has some of the most exotic natural, gorgeous landscapes in the world. I had always wanted to see the truth of that myself. So, while everyone were devising plans for coping up with the hot summers of Phoenix, I headed to my motherland, India, to Kashmir, to spend my summer in the frost covered mountains of Himalayas. The problem was, I an Indian origin American, born, brought up and settled in Phoenix where my family had settled down.

So when I proposed my plan of visiting Kashmir summer, they preferred staying in Phoenix and I headed out alone. I took the help of a touring agency in Kashmir. When I went to one of the exotic tourist locations, surrounded by snow covered mountains and flowery, green meadows thrusting in that, I learnt what the real attachment to the place you live in is like.

I lodged into a hotel which was in the middle of the meadows. It also had the local people staying in typical huts and cottages around that area. The first morning of my stay there, I was greeted by a gorgeous Kashmiri girl. She brought me my coffee to my room and greeted me cheerfully. She spoke very less and smiled more. I assumed it was because of the place she grew up in.

Kashmiri women are typically very gorgeous. They have an exotic beauty which is quite undiscovered. The girl I met was one such exotic beauty. Her name was Hera. She never mingled much. It was quite expected. She was a traditionally brought up Indian girl. That too, she grew up in a very remote place of a vast country, a place where women are not given freedom to do whatever they like, where women have limited rights. It wasn’t a surprise to see Hera like that. But the smile she gave made up for her silence and sereneness. I never expected her to talk more than required. So I didn’t trouble her with any questions.

That day, as I was getting ready to go out and visit a few places around, Hera peeped inside the room and said, “Sahib, the valleys around here are very beautiful. Not many people go around here. Try taking a walk in the evening but be careful to return before it darkens. You will enjoy like never before.” Saying that, she turned and went away hurriedly before I could say anything.

Getting an unexpected advice from a girl whom you can’t help liking is quit powerful in making your decisions. That afternoon, I went out alone, walking randomly yet remembering all the directions and routes of the places I was walking.

Walking randomly, climbing up and down hills, trekking, I reached a meadow. It was green with lush grass, flowers of different colors popping up everywhere, sweet scent of nectar and grass filling my lungs and the sound of bird singing on the trees nearby ringing in my ears. Before I could totally get mesmerized in that beauty, the sweetest voice I ever heard came floating with the winds to me.

The voice was singing the most beautiful song I had ever heard. I followed it carefully and reached a small lake beyond the meadow. The bluest of waters, the greenest of the grass and the hardest of the rocks adored the lake and its banks. The voice was coming from a girl who was sitting on one of the rocks on the banks, with her feet in the water.
It was Hera.

She was singing sweetly, a serenade. After the song ended, she got up, skipped on the rocks and the stepping stones on the lake. She played like a naughty child, bringing out the hidden angle of a free and unrestricted bird in her. she looked even more beautiful, like an angel.
I approached her and she stopped her play. She was obviously surprised and frightened.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid. I won’t do anything,” I tried to assure her. She nodded and pointed at a rock, indicating me to sit down. I in turn asked her to sit next to me. After a moment of persuasion she did.

“I didn’t expect you to be so full of energy and surprises. I thought you were a silent mice,” I said.

She laughed and said, “Just because I grew up here doesn’t mean I am a serene person with no individuality. Out there, when I am among people, I have to be like how people here expect me to be, I have to act like how society wants me to. I don’t have a choice. But here,” she pointed around her. “Here, I can be like how I want. This is my palace, my mother, my nature which brought me up. I can be like whatever I want. I can sing, dance, play, do anything. Mother nature always appreciates it and sends all these birds to sing with me, breezes the coolest air to give a rhythm. That’s what this place does. It is my best friend.”

Watching Hera speak like a fee bird made me understand how people can be so attached to the place they grow up. I did miss Phoenix despite its hot summer. Hera made me understand a lot. That moment, she looked like a delicate Kashmiri Kali…