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A storm gathers in paradise

By Martin Savidge

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world.

SRINIGAR, India (CNN) -- Under two huge Chinar trees, a family plays cricket. The team is made up of fathers, sons, uncles, nephews and cousins. The women watch from a nearby bench. Small kids play on the teeter-totter.

I can see all this from the front porch of my hotel room in Srinigar, in the part of Kashmir controlled by India.

Lush, jagged mountain peaks form a hazy backstop far beyond the trees that shade the game. "Smack!" goes the cricket bat and the fielders scramble. It is a deceptively peaceful scene: Storm clouds darken the ongoing contest.

Kashmir is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. Funny: Being here, you'd never think it could trigger nuclear war.

The game is ending and the families are leaving the field. Thunder rumbles in the distance. At least I think it's thunder. The daily cross-border shelling between India and Pakistan has been hitting far from here. But the storm is getting closer.

Day 1: On the way to the Kashmir front
Day 2: A storm gathers in paradise
Day 3: A paradise lost to guns, bullets and bombs

Kashmir is nothing like I envisioned. Many who search for comparisons for the scenery settle on Switzerland, only greener. The air is cool and dry. At night, the windows to my room hang open and welcome in the subtle breeze, which carries the fragrance of colorful gardens.

Lightning fences in the sky above my porch. The thunder tumbles down the mountainsides, spreading out across the calm lake below. Even so, the boatmen continue to paddle their gondola-like vessels serenely across the water.

If only the lake were not ringed by Indian soldiers, or the streets clogged with their military vehicles, this might truly seem the paradise many have likened it to be. But beauty belies a dangerous place.

Kashmir is wanted by many, and sharing is not easy. It is the source of decades-old rancor between India and Pakistan. Both nuclear-armed rivals claim the battle-scarred region as their own. They have fought three wars two of them over Kashmir -- since their independence from Britain in 1947. In recent months, the tensions have risen again.

As a foreigner, I had to register with the local authorities the moment I stepped off the plane. In recent years, foreigners have been targeted here. Heads minus bodies, or vice versa, have sometimes been found. Should I go missing, at least they will know who I was.

The thunder is more frequent now. Hotel workers gather up tables and lawn chairs and hustle to put them under shelter. No guests go in search of cover. Hardly anyone comes here any more. Paradise is no match for fear.

The branches of the magnificent Chinar trees begin to riot, wildly waving over the vacant cricket pitch, moved by forces impossible to see and hard to imagine. The rain is coming.

You can see it hanging in the distance like a gray veil on a beautiful face.




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