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MATTER CITIES // SRINAGAR, INDIA

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“Having lived and visited the city for over 5 times now, I am still unsure if I love the war struck Kashmiri capital, or hate it. Walking with my camera like a gun, in this beautiful valley, which is stated by National Geographic as one of the 5 worst war stuck zones, I am usually in another time or era, where fear and intimacy walk together hand in hand. You’d find the most beautifully graceful encounters of friendships, and next day you’d have stones thrown on you in the same neighborhood, Srinagar is the living witness of how great and sorrowful human existence could become. I’ve created the best works of my career in Srinagar, and working with the war orphanages of the city, I’ve learnt life lessons that were bitter, but truly shaped my worldview. This time while working on ORIGINS, I had a surprise encounter as my childhood friend who is an Indian fashion stylist came along, and I showed her the city that I call my second home, and has taught me the most integral lessons in human condition and compassion.” – Mukul Bhatia.

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Ashima Gandhi is a 26-year-old Indian Stylist and blogger who is based in New Delhi and believes in the power of transforming spaces through lightness and positive energy. She does not like to travel light and loves to absorb and express to a new city with openness and change while travelling. Interviewing her in the surreal landscape of Srinagar gave a perspective of diverse cultural opinions and their amalgamation.

What’s your incredible story from the city?
Srinagar now is majorly an Islamic city, so I chose to cover my head for being respectful to the culture here, but I made sure I paint the gloominess of the space with some of the most colorful clothes from my wardrobe, simply to create a dialogue. To my surprise, the locals here were beyond happy, even in tense areas like Downtown. I had a little Kashmiri girl run towards me and give me a giant flower she plucked stating, “you look like a princess”. I gave her my little necklace and she was beyond happy.

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Why Kashmir, what’s your idea of Srinagar?
I’ve heard stories of Kashmir being known as ‘heaven on earth’, my folks went on a honeymoon here, my best friend has lived here and made incredible stories, and it has a notorious reputation with world media. It was time when I really wanted to see what Kashmir really is, and booked an impulsive, last minute ticket; and to be honest, I am beyond surprised. Due to the war, the cinemas here do not exist, and without enough exposure to world media, the city has intellectually created a romantic bubble of many things, be it war, love, fashion or westernisation – and it really is a world that I’ve only imagined to exist but to live it in real is like walking through a movie.

What do you love about the city?
Until now, am actually quite confused to make any opinion of the city except the its has an incredibly intense way of existence and is indeed one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen in my life. Travelling here is beyond just the pinacolada on beach, this city has pushed me to question some very lucid existential questions, and am grateful to be able to see a life which is so far away from my existence in Delhi. The fuming tension about the war has bought people so close to each other, that one is able to be open to the locals and find genuine interactions much faster than any other city.

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Read more on Nomadic Origins

Ashima Gandhi is seen here wearing The Lounge Lunghi + Philippine Teal Size 1 and The Mondern Monpe + Trikora Size 1.