In the first of our articles in a series on Kashmir, we bring you a beautiful new boutique property that combines the best of the contemporary and the traditional, the prosaicness of comfort, and a divinity of experience.
The fluting sounds of the rabab gather strength in a complex combination of harmonics. The beat is given by the earthy noot, so much more than an upturned earthen pot! The strains of the harmonium are the foundations that the other instruments build on, the stage that gives the vocalists a platform to let their voices dance.
I don’t comprehend the lyrics, but the language of love and music is universal. The melodies that emanate from the trio of musicians spiral up into the mountains above and spread their tendrils down to the Dal Lake gleaming in the gloaming below.
The beautiful words convey a depth of emotions — love and longing, devotion, and bliss — which haven’t changed since the poems were first composed more than four hundred years ago. The spirit of mystics and romantic poets like Habba Khatoon and Lal Dedh still live on in an oral tradition that has been preserved down the ages.
Every other hotel these days brings in local performers to add a certain rustic charm to their otherwise plush offerings. At Qayaam Gah, a resort which opened in Srinagar only this summer, it’s so much more. The music transforms one’s stay, from the sensational to the sublime.
The luxury boutique property is one man’s labour of love. Altaf Chapri, founder of ABChapri Retreats, is a well-known name in the world of hospitality. From the Neeleshwar Hermitage and Lotus Houseboat in Kasaragod, Kerala, to the Sukoon Houseboat on the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, his trademark is tranquillity. Qayaam Gah took all of eight years to build and get exactly as he wanted it. Chapri’s depth of personality, inner calm, and attention to detail is reflected in every aspect of the property.
We are seamlessly transferred from the SUV that met us at the airport to a shiny 4×4 vehicle that is waiting at the point where the road to the Bren Hills area gets rougher. A wild ride through the narrow village lanes and up into the mountains brings us to Qayaam Gah.
After the customary check in and refreshing welcome drink, the elegant Namra Rizvi leads the way up a path lined with apple and plum trees. She explains how the resort resonates with Sufi philosophy and how each of the four villas and three suites is named after a Sufi poet, saint, or philosopher. It’s not just about names though. Qayaam Gah has a distinct connect with the divine.
You feel it in the breeze that blows through your private verandah; in the way the birds and bees flit around you freely, unafraid of humans; in the way the sounds of nature soar into the Zabarwan mountains rising up behind the villa. It’s a happy coexistence with the universe that permeates your very soul, something that stays with you even when you’re back home, hundreds of miles away from Srinagar.
Part of it is thanks to the fact that Kashmir itself is the valley where the syncretic culture of Sufism thrived, and still does today, despite all the religious and political strife that has beset the Union Territory. And the rest is because it’s built into the DNA of Qayaam Gah.
The build is all about using local wood and stone, traditional textiles, Kashmiri craft techniques, from the wood-burning bukhari to the intricate latticework used everywhere.
But the soft touches are all about contemporary comfort, from high thread count bed linen to an excellent Bluetooth sound system to a state-of-the-art bidet, which allows you to choose the force of the water spray, something I have only encountered in Japanese toilets before this!
Speaking of water, the thoughtfully provided in-room jug is made of beaten copper, the antioxidant properties of which are said to add a healthy touch to drinking water. As if that were not enough, the water provided is from their own natural mountain spring. Fruit from their own trees, greens from a dedicated kitchen garden, milk in the mini bar is from their own cow tethered close enough for you to hear her mooing in the morning… it’s all so fresh, wholesome and, close to nature.
The Qalb terrace is aptly named, for ‘qalb’ means the heart, or origin of intentional activities. No wonder then, that it is the focal point of Qayaam Gah from dawn to dusk, be it Yoga sessions with the affable Archana in the morning, or relaxing in the comfortable loungers as you gaze out over the contours of the valley that meet at the Dal Lake in the distance. Or drawn there at high tea in the evening, when the strum of the rabab, the beat of the noot, and the melodies of the harmonium beckon bewitchingly.
Kashmiriyat surrounds you. For example, at the restaurant named Ruh, which embodies the ‘spirit’ of warm hospitality. Chef Tabassum is a home chef who now wows guests with her delicious Kashmiri preparations here. She, along with Chef John (who handles the international side of the menu) and their very capable team, makes mealtimes at Qayaam Gah quite memorable.
Or, then in the private pavilion at one end of the Qalb Deck, with its white mul curtains billowing in the gentle breeze as the lights come on over Dal Lake, which is the perfect spot for a romantic rendezvous. I enjoyed an elaborate wazwan tarami dinner here.
Maintaining the traditions of handwashing in rose water and the meal served in the copperware called tarami gives it the aura of authenticity that the modern traveller craves. While most people today have neither the time or the appetite for the entire wazwan, the tarami version, gives you a selection of the best culinary delights without the calorific excess.
Vegetarian delicacies that night included nadru (lotus stem) in a rich gravy or the simpler haak saag, usually made with collard greens, but also sometimes with kohlrabi, radish or even dandelion greens.
For non-vegetarians, delectable seekh accompanied the exquisite finely pounded and delicately spiced rista and goshtaba, and robust rogan josh, which are a rite of passage and always a part of the true Kashmiri feast (wazwan), which can have up to 36 different dishes!
After fare like this it’s only fair that you indulge in some physical activity. Nature walks and guided treks up into the surrounding mountains are highly recommended. They also offer a seven-day driving experience that takes you to the high point of Zoji La at 3,528 metres in the retro cool meets new tech Thar 4×4 Jeep from Mahindra (May to September) with two nights at Qayaam Gah, two at their Sukoon Houseboat and two at their Sukoon Camp at the Thajwas Glacier!
But, be it indoors or outside, day or night, Qayaam Gah brings you a wealth of spirit and attentive, personalised service that is unmatched. They book a minimum of two nights, but to soak in the serenity, I’d recommend an even longer stay. This is not a resort you go to to explore the city from. This is a retreat you go to when you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of humdrum life and connect with a higher power and your own higher self.
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