“As Kashmir is so misunderstood, I think there was a need to show people our everyday reality — our joy, our pain and our beauty. And that’s how my blog came into being,” Aamir Wani Of Kashmir Through My Lens shares his journey, his love for travelling and depicting the simplest and most exquisite side of Kashmir to the world. By Priyanka Chakrabarti

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There are places which are more than just places for me; they are emotions which bring joy and nostalgia to my heart. Old city will always remain my favourite part of Kashmir no matter where I go or where I live. If I had to sum up the way old city looks, I would say it looks like a vintage painting – with so much life and color on it. But lately I have encountered with people who are reluctant to visit Kashmir. I also understand where the fear is coming from. Half of the people who express their desire to visit the valley couldn’t make it because the society and media tells them it is unsafe to go to Kashmir. As I said, I understand this gap of fear which leads to resentment and reluctance. I am not voicing it because I, myself, am a Kashmiri. I voice it because if, for a moment, I put myself even in the shoes of a non-Kashmiri, I would find not only beauty but also love and empathy lingering in the lanes of Kashmir. The first and the only step is to come and visit the valley to experience the same. We Kashmiris are humans just like others. We have emotions flowing in our hearts as well. Politics and media have already played their part in damaging Kashmir and in increasing the gap between Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris. It is safe to travel to Kashmir, I can assure you. I can understand if it takes courage to plan a trip, but it is worth it! Kashmir will not only take your breath away but it has so much love to give as well. I feel heartbroken when people tell me that they are afraid to come here. If that’s the case, you can send all your queries to me and I will be extremely happy to help you 🙂 But come, and listen to the sweet rhythms in the valley – which still exist in spite of the pain and loss. Come, and feel like home. The Dal awaits you, so does the beautiful old city! . . . 📸: @theotherrumii

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What does travelling mean to you?

Travelling for me is a learning experience — learning about other cultures, traditions, history and arts. It’s seeing that the world has so much to offer. It’s not always glamorous, it teaches you patience and being street-smart. But for me, the best travel experiences are when I’ve connected with others, and we’ve learnt something from each other.

How did you start your blog?

I returned from the UK after studies and I wanted to do something for Kashmir. So I started snapping pictures on my phone and penning down my thoughts as poetry. Then I invested in a camera and taught myself how to use it to improvise my body of work. As Kashmir is so misunderstood, I think there was a need to show people our everyday reality – our joy, our pain, our beauty. And that’s how my blog came into being.

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کسی روز اُن سے کہنا صبا وفا اُن کو آئی نہیں اور جفا ہم سے ہوئی نہیں سزا ہم کو ملی اُس کی خطا جو ہم سے ہوئی نہیں رات پھر آینے میں دیکھا اُس کو جس سے برسوں سے مُلاقات ہوئی نہیں آج بھی سوچتا ہوں اُس کو میں خیال-ے-یار سے اب تک رہائی ہوئی نہیں کسی روز تو اُن سے کہنا صبا کسی روز۔ . . . Kisi roz unse kehna ae saba Wafa tumko aayi nahi Aur jafa humse hui nahi Saza humko mili uski Khata jo humse hui nahi Raat phir aaine mein dekha usko Jisse barson se mulaqat hui nahi Aaj bhi sochta hoon usko main Khayal-e-yaar se ab tak rihai hui nahi. Kisi roz tu unse kehna saba, Kisi roz.

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Define Kashmir in three words. 

Hope. Resilience. Beauty.

You portray a unique and most picturesque side of Kashmir. What is your documentation/photography process?

There isn’t a formal process. I just want to click what’s real. I hardly ever have an agenda when I go out to click or a theme. It’s simply what I come across that day, be it a sunset or a tailor working on some garments… I want to keep things simple because I believe there is beauty in simplicity and it’s something we can all appreciate and relate to.

Since when did you get interested in travel photography?

My focus has been on Kashmir but over the last few years, I’ve had a chance to travel much more and connect with people all over the world on Instagram. As photography and travel is a constant learning process for me, travel photography allows me to do both and I can’t ask for a better occupation. There’s so much one can learn when they travel and who they meet. That excites me. And that’s what I want to share with others.

You have a huge community on Insta. How do you keep them engaged?

I try to keep my content simple and relatable, often with a human element. And honestly, just be me.

What does it take to be a travel blogger today?

In the world that we live in today, there’s a place for everyone. You can be a travel blogger, food blogger, fashion blogger or the likes as long as you are true to yourself. Post about things that you like, that means something to you. Share experiences so that people can also benefit. As long as your work is authentic and good-willed, you can blog about anything. And don’t focus on likes and followers. Blogging shouldn’t be about numbers. Remember why you started out in the first place – for me, it was about sharing insights, and that’s what I continue to do wherever I go in the world.

How old were you when the travel bug bit you?

It’s when I came back to Kashmir after studying in the UK. I was around 22 and I decided that I wanted to explore my home further and share it with the world. Through my work on Instagram I’ve been lucky to connect with people from all over the world, and now in my mid to late twenties, I’ve started travelling abroad much more.

How has travelling inspired your creativity? 

With travelling, your mind tends to expand its horizons as you get exposed to different cultures and traditions, engaging with people that may be different to you and sometimes adopting certain practices to respect people and places. All of these things impact the way you see the world and for me, nurtures my creative ability.

Can you share an anecdote with us?

Well, a turning point of my life was the way I met my wife. She was visiting Kashmir as a tourist and whilst I had not met or spoken to her in person, we were in touch over email as she was writing about Kashmir. She wanted to visit certain places in Kashmir that I hadn’t actually visited at that point either, but we decided that we’d meet and then go to these places together (a sort of adventure) and well twenty-four hours after we met, we knew we were getting married. Moral of the story – go on adventures!

Do you remember your first holiday? 

It was back in the good old school days. We went camping in Gulmarg.

What has been your best 2018 holiday? 

I absolutely loved Turkey.

If you could pack only five things for a vacation, what would they be? 

Camera, toothbrush, a notebook, good shoes and probably my phone.

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I wait for you like the gardens do, for spring to come. Will you come soon? Without you, this winter seems longer and Kashmir- colder. Radio Kashmir doesn't play Raj Begum anymore, there is no Shams Faqir either. In your absence Jhelum washed away everything; Houses, shops and even memories. Winter has lasted years this time, Some say it is never going to end, but when you return, mine will. On the stairs at yarbal, no one sits now; It is deserted, I can hear it's silent cries, but on the TV they say it is peaceful. I miss you, I miss those days of peace and how we all were in love. Those days of love, when snow used to fall and melt in lovers hands, in our hands. . . . Shot on @samsungindia #GalaxyA9 . . . #kashmir #kashmirthroughmylens #poetsofinstagram #poetrycommunity #reflection #indiapictures #_soi #cntgiveitashot #travelphotography #travelwithkashmirthroughmylens #writerscommunity

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Do you believe in the concept of slow travel? 

Last year, my wife and I planned a jam-packed, month-long trip around Europe and about a week in, we were exhausted. Then we decided to change all our plans for the remaining three weeks and we rented a villa in Tuscany and decided to just sit back and relax. We visited the local farmer’s market, took some cooking classes, found some cafes where we spent days reading and talking to locals. After that trip, we decided that when we travel it’s not going to be about ticking off places on a list, rather enjoy a city, read about its culture, eat the food and talk to the people. So yes, all for slow travel!

What’s your take on conscious travelling? 

Having grown up in a place where I’ve been lucky enough to see the value of local artisans and farmers, I’m all for conscious travelling. I think it’s important to do something for the local people, even if it’s as simple as going to the local market and buying some local fruit. Every little act counts. Be conscious about where you are; it’s not just about what a place gives you. We should all do our bit, and if there’s an opportunity to do something for the local community, then do it. And for me, it makes the experience of travelling to a place more authentic.

How would you contribute to the trend of ggreen-travelling 

Well actually, it’s my passion project. At the moment, when I am traveling I try and find places to stay that are eco-friendly. It’s like I’m in the learning phase at the moment. Trying to understand what others have done to be more eco-friendly, what options are out there. This is all leading to a dream of building a home/retreat that is eco-friendly in Kashmir. Having grown up in and around nature, I think we all need to become more conscious of this as we have a responsibility to the future generations.

Do you think solo traveling is more enriching than traveling with a group of people?  

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to this. When traveling solo you often end up having conversations with locals in the place you are traveling to that you wouldn’t if you are with a group. You also have complete freedom. If you are with a group, you may do things and go to places you wouldn’t alone and you will probably make memories of a life time that you will always laugh about with that group. So, I think there’s a time and place for both.

Which are your favorite cities around the world?

Srinagar, Istanbul and Tokyo.

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The beautiful thing about the old city of Srinagar is that you will see a slow, silent transition taking place at every corner of street. A transition from the violence of existence to the peace of heart. Even though this is the area which is worst affected by the violence and unrest, the area still tends to maintain an aura of love and an emotion of belongingness. You will still find people helping each other in clearing away the snow from the roofs. It doesn't matter if they know you, if you put forward your hand, they will warmly come to help you. The old city always seems like some vintage era. In winter, it looks like an intense, loving and thoughtful painting. While in summer, everything just brightens up. This is the same place where the protests erupt, where brutality takes place, where peace is ruined and where clashes happen. Yet this is the same place where life blossoms in the old corners. There is simplicity which makes the old houses and buildings look more spectacular. The chipped paint and the old wooden windows play their own part in making this place even more special and warm. This is home. This is my city. The city where my heart is. . . #kashmirthroughmylens #travelphotography #tripotocommunity #writerscommunity #writersofinstagram #portraitphotography #_soi #love #peace #poetsofinstagram #poetry #kashmir #indiapictures #cntgiveitashot

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And your favourite spots in Kashmir?

Backwaters of Dal, old city.

A destination that you want to visit this year?

Iran.

Who is your favorite travel buddy?

My wife.

Where are you traveling next to?

Lapland, Finland.

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