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
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.
Tot: 2.858s; Tpl: 0.063s; cc: 14; qc: 62; dbt: 0.051s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb