Whisper it quietly, but there are the first stirrings of a cafe culture in the Kashmiri capital. The renowned Coffea Arabica - which boasted of being Srinagar's first cappuccino bar - was swept away in the devastating floods of September 2014. The building remains forlorn and abandoned - the word is it will become a bank (just what Srinagar needs!) But the good news is that Books and Bricks in Gogji Bagh - which I visited last evening - is not just a worthy replacement ... it's distinctly better.
It's a funky sort of place - small, but well designed - a smart interior with lots of books to browse and read - and it does a really good cappuccino. And the waffles and ice cream wasn't bad either. No it's not the place for Kashmiri cuisine (and I am happy to report that Ahdoo's, quite a bit smarter and busier than I remember it from years back, remains the venue for traditional 'wazwan' dishes) but there's nothing wrong with burgers!
Books and Bricks was opened a year or so ago by two England-returned Kashmiris. It's had a tough time. In the turbulence and protests in the second-half of last year, the cafe was obliged to close for four months. But it now seems to be doing well - yesterday evening most tables were taken. And much like Coffea Arabica, it's the sort of place where women feel comfortable having a coffee and a chat.
Just next door to Goodfellas is a really interesting new venture - an up-market tea house. Chai Jaii has again a wonderful location, overlooking the river. It does both traditional English and Kashmiri teas - and, with notice, full high teas. The decor is sumptuous and it's a very relaxing place to spend an hour - though it is a touch (alright, more than a touch) expensive.
This weekend, Chai Jaii has organised a small spring festival on the park just outside - with food stalls from the old city, arts and crafts and live music. I popped by yesterday - attendance was modest, and largely (as far as I could tell) the Srinagar elite, but there was a nice feel to the event. It's something new. It doesn't change life for ordinary Kashmiris - it can't paper over the profound sense of anger here. But Srinagar is the better for all these new businesses and initiatives.
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