"Close your eyes... Open in paradise!" - Craigens in Kashmir

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May 15th 2008
Published: May 19th 2008
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This is the quote that convinced us to start our trip up in the state of Kashmir. It seemed like every single person in New Delhi could only dream of making a trip up to their so called paradise. After a day of +42 C while bombing around a dirty, smelly, polluted, mass of human existence also known as Delhi... this so called paradise to the north sounded pretty good. So off to Kashmir it was by plane, but not before getting the famous "Delhi Belly" (food poisoning) within the first 24 hours of arriving to India.

Let’s set the story straight. Kashmir gets some pretty bad press from the western world. Granted, in the past, there was some truth behind the matter. Today though, relations between India and Pakistan are the best they have been since Independence from the British in 1947. Terrorist attacks and serious fighting are a thing of the past and not once did we feel unsafe while walking around the formerly dangerous streets of the capital Srinagar. In fact the people were incredibly friendly and our smiles were reflected in almost every face we looked at. Speaking of faces, almost every face that we passed

Early morning cruise
had a good eye full of us, as we stood out in the crowds. We think that a lot of people from Kashmir had never seen many white faces judging by the obviousness in which they stared us down. A quick smile in our part and a hello got them grinning ear to ear. We did find that because of the perception of the rich white westerner, we had to be on our guard almost constantly when making transactions of every nature as we had a much inflated price from the local price. Part of this too is due to the fact that tourism is beginning again after 15 shaky years of violence and you can sense their desperateness of locals trying to make a living off visitors once again.

After a few days praying to the porcelain gods and waving from the throne, we conquered our demons and built up the energy to explore the Kashmiri valley that Srinagar is located within. We stayed on the famous houseboats that line the Dal Lake watershed, remnants of British influence in the area. As they were never allowed to own land, they found a way around this by constructing thousands
Jamma MasjidJamma MasjidJamma Masjid

Kashmir's largest mosque that can house 33,000 worshippers
of elaborate hard wood houseboats. Today this is a major tourist attraction, especially with Indian tourists who come to Kashmir in droves to escape the summer heat of the plains (and revel in paradise). Paradise not quite, but still a very beautiful place glimpsed by very few whiteys (in ten days we saw a grand total of 5 other foreign tourists). Some of the highlights around Srinagar included cruising the backwaters by shikara (Indian canoe propelled by extremely agile Indians), visiting the elaborate Mughal gardens dating back 500 years, checking out some mosques and learning about the Muslim faith and letting time pass us by from the comfort of our houseboat verandah. Srinagar has a population of around a million and is intertwined within a massive wetland. This intact wetland is a saving grace for keeping the water pollution at a minimum around the city, acting as a huge filtration system that also supports millions of birds such as Kingfishers, huge hawks and enormous hummingbirds. They were a constant source of amusement while enjoying the tranquility of the lake.

Kashmir is 95 percent Muslim and gave a totally different feel from the Hindu majority that we briefly experienced in

Ben in the meadow of flowers with the ski hill in the background
the south. We had the chance to talk in depth with our houseboat owner Manzoor and it became evident in our opinon that the Muslim religion in Kashmir is not all that different from Christianity, other then more strict rituals such as the five daily prayer sessions (instigated by loudspeakers that echo across the city). Our personal favourite was the 4:30 am call to prayer which perhaps makes us feel thankful that we are good little Christian boys? They definitely are not fundamentalists Muslims. On this subject, everyone in Kashmir believes that President Bush is the real terrorist…

After Srinagar it was off to the mountains to India’s premier ski destination, Gulmarg. Nestled in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, India’s Whistler is a far cry from the resort town that we all know from North America. Dingy hotels, terrible infrastructure and a lack of all basic amenities, the only thing in abundance is the hundreds of Pony Wallahs that ask you if you want a pony ride every five minutes. We also had a good chuckle at the throngs of Indian tourists who were bundled up to the nines in women’s winter parkas and rubber boots to

Nothing like a day on the slopes
fend off the frigid plus 10 C weather. We did some nice hiking through flowered meadows and beautiful forests. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and we didn’t have the chance to summit the gondy and make a 4000 foot ski decent in spring conditions. Instead we had tea with the local skiing guru Yassim. If anyone is heading to Gulmarg in the future, Yassim needs a pair of white alpine ski bindings. You get the idea…

From there it was off to the Greater Himalaya range to Sonomarg. We spent an amazing day hiking around the valley, including sledding down the Taj Glacier and encountering a nomadic family that was spending the summer tending animals way up on the hillsides overlooking the Sonomarg valley. Dad, you would be impressed. Their mud stick house which they shared with their animals had a million dollar view. From here we decided to take the path less traveled and hitch hike across the Himalayas another 300 kms over one of the most formidable mountain roads in the world to the Ladakh region.

Additional photos below
Photos: 44, Displayed: 25


Carpet EmporiumCarpet Emporium
Carpet Emporium

Scoping magic carpets that Kashmir is famous for.
Nagin LakeNagin Lake
Nagin Lake

View from our houseboat
Mansur and the BoysMansur and the Boys
Mansur and the Boys

Owner of the houseboat we stayed in
Canal lifeCanal life
Canal life

The boat people making their way to the floating market

Life on the Lake
Shikara Wallah AndrewShikara Wallah Andrew
Shikara Wallah Andrew

We tried taking out the New Kolohi shikara. It was kind of fun but more scary as we had only about an inch of draft.
Water Ski in KashmirWater Ski in Kashmir
Water Ski in Kashmir

Behind a sweet wooden boat that with a standard transmission

Relaxing after a day of sight seeing in Srinagar
Srinagar and Dal LakeSrinagar and Dal Lake
Srinagar and Dal Lake

Famous for its houseboats
Mosque in SrinagarMosque in Srinagar
Mosque in Srinagar

Particularly famous as it holds a single hair from the beard of the prophet Muhommad

19th May 2008

Great piece of writing Ben. Phenonmenal views. Reminds us of the Chilkoot minus the kids. Neat mustaches, sons. Mom says it makes you look very much "Craigen!" We note that you are meeting some very interesting people. With this being off season, I can see why you would be a hit and much sought after by locals looking for scarce new cash. Much love, Dad and Mom
20th May 2008

You've Jogged Big Ben's Memory!
We have just returned from a hike up Menzies Mt. in the pouring rain and fog. Hardly the Himalayan view you are immersed in. So happy to hear from you.
20th May 2008

Nice Stache
Its nice to see you boys doing well. I knew you would pack the Heinz. i enjoyed the story and pics as always. Have fun be safe. Later, Dave
20th May 2008

Andrew!!! Awesome!!! You guys rock, what a great trip! Do you need some contacts in India....I got friends you know. Actually one of the Olympians who is training in Whitehorse with Jeane is originally from India so if you want we can hook you up with his family. Jeane and I are both off to the Games beginning of August - final qualifications were yesterday so it's all good for her. I knew I was heading over since early March but kept it hush and hush until the athletes qualified. Cheers dudes and travel safe Moira
20th May 2008

Hey, know it's a bit random when you get comments from people you don't know...but great photos! saw your blog on the front page of travelblog and in the last week or so have been thinking about heading out there skiing one of these winters so it was really interesting to read your stories/see photos of the area. seems like an amazing part of the world to visit! then got distracted by all the photos of pow in the monashees...wow! happy travels and thanks for the peek into travels over there!!
20th May 2008

from PEI
Enjoyed your journal. We are on a cruise down the St. Lawrence, stopping in Quebec City, Charlottetown, Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbour Maine and finishing in Boston. The Maasdam, a Holland American cruise ship is treating us very well so your adventures and ours are at the opposite ends of the scale. We are in Charlottetown today where we received a warm welcome and free internet access at their Welcome Centre. Looking forward to your next account. Love you both A Karen
20th May 2008

can we come along?
Hey Ben, looks like you and Andrew are off on an epic. It looks really nice, and I like looking at all your photos, keep up the good work! I would like to come take some photos too.....nate and I will be there tomorrow....ok maybe not but wish we were! have fun!
20th May 2008

Ben, I love your name for your sidekick - "Intrepid Indian Sidekick Andrew"!!! He is definitely intrepid and a terrific sidekick. I don't know about the Indian part... a little too tall!!! Grammy would absolutely love reading all about your adventures - I'm sorry you had to talk to "Ralph and Beulah" aka Delhi Belly for so long but thank goodness that is behind you. I'll bet you couldn't believe the skiing conditions after the sweltering heat. I love reading your journals....keep them coming and as your dad would say, "continue to give 'er boys!" Your loving Auntie Moe
21st May 2008

I'm with your dad on that one. That was definitely a good read. Keep up the good work Ben, can't wait for the next update.
21st May 2008

you guys should see if you can get in a couple of bollywood pictures while your down there...i hear they are looking for a couple of shaggy intrepid interlopers. It would make for some extra capital and would probably work in your favor with the ladies hey!! ha looks like your having a good time. take it easy not sleazy.
23rd May 2008

Thats some great stuff you found yourself into guys! Make sure you get in some cricket as India is very famous for it.
24th May 2008

Bender! So are the locals staring at you because you are white... or because you have the most ridiculous beard anyone has ever seen?! Glad to hear that you are doing well. Trip looks awesome. I can't wait to get out of here again, though its not too bad right now. Skied the Aemmer a couple weeks ago, you know the one. Almost feels better to have waited for it. Looking forward to the next update. Keep on rockin!
8th June 2008

Yukon BOYS
Hello Kashmir Boys, Just read the articles and viewed your pictures with all four of the Grandparents. We are very impressed and wish you both the best on your travels......GO to an yoga class for me PLEASE!! love, Angie, Marge, Bob, Irene and Don xoxo
19th June 2008

New definition of awesome ...........
WOW !!!! What a travelogue. Both the tales and the photos, with your imaginative and funny captions, are out of this world, at least in many instances above it. You guys sure know how to travel. Yukon hugs from rainy Whitehorse, Missy
31st July 2008

Well wow would be a good start! I haven't looked at the rest of your blog yet but am in awe of this little paradise you found. Would your "recommend" a girl travelling alone to go visit? any do's and dont's? take care

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