Swati Singh | July 2023 | Photo Essay |
People say mountains call them. In India, people also say that Gods call them and that’s when they visit particular sacred shrines. For me, it was the Chinar trees in autumn of Kashmir that called last year. Chinar is the Old World Sycamore tree, a cousin of Maple.
Kashmir has been titled as a ‘Paradise on Earth’ by Sufi poets. The snow-capped mountains, the breathtaking lush valleys, the transcendental Jhelum river, the rich flora, the scenic views, it indeed is picturesque and a must-visit place on a travelers’ list. Unfortunately, the beauty is tainted by the political turmoil and militancy for decades. The disputed territory between the two countries, and the murky politics have ruined the peace that the landscape of this place offers.
These old souls must have witnessed all – the peace, the turmoil, the bloodshed, the graves, the silence and the whispers. Chinars are notably featured in the literature, romance and struggles of this place. Chinar is taken from Persian, meaning ablaze. Its intrinsically delicate leaves had my heart. The leaves are a part of the architecture in buildings and furniture and patented handicrafts in this city.
The huge trunks, height extending up to 90 feet, the stunning canopy, the auburn and golden shades of leaves in autumn, everything about Chinars is soulful. I looked at them. The trees gazed back at me. There was a symphony and inexplicable happiness within my spirit as if my heart knew them from ages. The world’s oldest Chinar in Kashmir was believed to be around 650 years old but in recent geo-tagging and ongoing census, several Chinar trees as older as 1000 years have been discovered. Maybe I know them from that era. I sat in their shade, touched their bark, and picked up one fallen leaf out of thousands.
I was amazed to discover that these enchanting trees possess mythical tales woven with elements of supernatural. It is believed that the djinns (spirits) rest here and hence one should not visit them at night. To me, Chinars embodied the essence of serenity that would calm the souls and not haunt them. Then, how did the legend of spirits building homes in these trees make rounds?
I also read about unmarked graves that lay under the shadow of Chinar trees in one of the towns of Kashmir. Did the myth have roots here? The atrocities and the carnage must have matched the crimson hues of these trees in autumn and the pain must have resided in the form of spirits’ folklores.
Mountains have more mythical stories than the plains. The nights are darker and winds are shrill in the mountains. The cities are so busy that they do not care much about the djinns; the artificial lights here are so sharp that they must be blinding to the spirits too. The giant towering trees of mountains carry different energies than the city trees. Old trees always have strong energies within them. But the mountains’ trees have a different vibe. They are the natives, the original inhabitants. They did not need human planting. They saw the evolutions of humans. They have sagas of centuries wrapped within them. And they narrate these stories. Only if we have the patience to listen.
One of the best habitats for the birds – both local and migratory, Chinar were once a hiding space for ammunition and humans involved in wars due to their large trunk. Trees don’t judge. They open their arms for everyone. They are the best natural solutions to combat the climate change crisis by sequestering carbon dioxide and maintaining biodiversity.
There were 42,000 Chinar trees in Kashmir during the 1970s. It declined to a meager 17,000 . Even though there is a ban on the felling of the tree and special agencies to help protect and re-plant them, the condition worsened in the last two decades. The illegal lopping, the lack of land to plant the saplings, the carelessness to protect vulnerable aged trees, the root damage, disappearance of streams that provide water, contamination and many other factors hurt the legendary trees. In the name of development, trees get massacred and humans unwittingly severs their bond with nature. Though, a wave of awareness initiatives and projects such as implementation of ‘Chinar Plantation Day’ on 15th March, is actively underway to preserve these invaluable treasures.
It’s not that I ignored other trees. Almond, Walnut, Apple, Pine all of them too had my attention. The Fibonacci spirals from Pine trees embellished the lush green grass and pathways. These pinecones recently have been found with a huge potential as an alternate energy resource.
Every tree greeted me like a gracious host. But Chinar, they were the ones who called me. I am not sure how this sounds to everyone else but to my heart, the calling made perfect sense. It wasn’t just a rendezvous with these trees but a meet with remnants that my soul left centuries ago.
On the last day of my trip, I walked on the carpet woven by the fallen golden auburn leaves. I looked above at the leaves that were adorning amber hues and getting ready to begin their journey of letting go. I never knew that this was going to be in congruence with the upcoming season of my journey of life. Going with the flow is so challenging because we wish to control everything, forgetting that it is life that is in charge of the steering wheel. We are just travelers.
One of the leaves that I picked traveled eight-hundred kilometers back with me to my city as a souvenir, reminding me of the giant yet gentle souls with whom I share an eternal bond across lifetimes.
Swati ponders over life’s little things and stitches them into words. She is either lost in nature or finding nothingness while sprinkling happy dust wherever she can. Her works are published in Inspire the Mind, The Sunlight Press, StoneCrop Review, Science of Mind, New York Spirit, Prana World, Mind Body Green, Saevus Wildlife and many more. Nature is her muse and spirituality has become a lifelong journey.