After sorting out my $75 from Thai airways at the airport - a wonder of Indian beaurocracy (to be wondered at many more times on the trip) I got my internal flight with Jet airways up to Kashmir.
I was very excited to be going up to Kashmir since the Indians call it paradise and I have heard it is very beautiful.
I chatted with a Canadian on the plane and he then 'used' me to get into Srinigar since it seemed that the state tourist agency required everyone entering to have accomodation sorted out.
Khan met me at the airport and we took an open topped Jeep to the docks where we caught a lake taxi to the hosueboat. On the way he pointed to the many Indian soldiers and said "we call them the Indian Dogs". Things obviously not all rosy in the region then.
We took the Jeep to the edge of Dal Lake and then transfered into a long boat that resembled a gondola (Venice, IT) in size. The boats are powered and steered with a small paddle in the shape of a heart. It was very relaxing to travel on the lake - and very beautiful too. There were many purple lotus' open on top of the water.
When we got to the houseboat Khan prepared a great thermos of tasty Kasmiri tea and spoke about my plans for the upcoming days in Kashmir. I wanted to see if I could find any information about Srinigar online since my Rough Guide didn't have a section on Kashmir so Khan took me to a place that had internet - I wouldn't say cafe exactly. It was quite a bizarre place and very slow, so I gave up in the end after checking a few emails.
It became clear very soon that Khan wanted my to go trekking and do every other possible activity in the region, and that this would cost me upwards of $20 a day - which was not what I was planning. I tried to explain that I was traveling with the idea of just having food and shelter and that I wasn't wanting to do tourist activities. We put of discussions until later and I chilled at the back of the boat.
The boat was quite palacial, and it had a framed letter from a Ghandi who had stayed there before. It was however in serious need of a newer interior. I guess since the Kasmir conflict scared off tourists from the mid eighties not much had been done to improve the decor.
I woke up early the next morning and it was just getting light. I thought it would be nice to read and watch the sunrise by the lake. I got up and decided to check out the back of the boat - I didn't want to wake up Khan and thought he might be sleeping in the sitting room in the front of the boat. I took my water and book and headed back to the back of the boat in the dark. I couldn't really see where I was going and the next thing I knew my left leg was swinging in open air and not coming into contact with any floor. Then my forearm hit a wooden beam lower than the level of the floor. Quite a lot of pain. I crawled into the room and the back and lay on a bed there for a while before crawling back to my bed. Luckily nothing was broken as far as I could tell, but lots of pain and swelling.
When I got up to tell Khan he laughed very hard and told me a story of an Australian who fell right into the bottom of a boat onto a big rock used to weight the boat. He wasn't in such good shape as me.
Khan served me a nice breakfast and then we sat for about 2 hours arguing about my itinery. I ended up giving him I think about $40 for a day trip around the moghul gardens and other local sights, a day trip to Gulmarg, and extra night food and accomodation and he also said he would buy me a bus ticket to Leh.
We went to the two Moghul Gardens - the first one was beautiful and had a great many young students playing on the lawns. The second one was much more neglected, but both were a shadow of what they were - many fountains trickled and stonework was overrun with moss. We then drove to the other side of the lake and stood outside the big white mosque I could see from the houseboat. I didn't seem to be allowed in since I wasn't Muslim so Khan just fed a few pidgeons outside.
Then I insisted we take a look around town. It was completely deserted with most shops boarded up. I didn't see any other tourists either. We walked in silence as Khan was still seemingly upset about my unwillingness to trek.
In the evening, back at the houseboat Khan came to me to ask about tomorrows plans. I said that we were going to Galmarg and he denied that we had agreed upon that. Things got a little ugly with me calling him a lair, but after that I said I wasn't giving him any more money and I would be quite happy to spend the next day on the boat relaxing.
Khan was intermittently sullen and friendly over the next few days, but I had a lovely day on the boat. A bright blue and orange kingfisher came right up to the boat in the morning and reminded me of a childhood wish to see one close up in nature. The kites circled the lake and the mosques of the region called people to prayer regularly thoughout the day.
In the late afternoon I saw a couple of white girls on a boat 5 down from where I was. After some signalling I climbed over to see them and it turns out they were also from the UK. We chatted about things - they had been in India for quite a few months and I got good information. They were up staying in the houseboat of a friends uncle - which caused a lot less hassle for them than I was getting through Khan. They were planning to go on a trek in a few days.
The fact there is no tourism in Kashmir for the last 15 years is very bad news for the locals - 75% of the money came from Tourism back then and they are rather hard up.
It would be lovely to go trekking in that area - the pictures Khan showed me of trekking in the 80s, of happy European people in the most beautiful surroundings showed that. It would be very reasonable for a group, but not something I fancied on my own.
In hindsight I wouldn't get accomodation in advance, but then again given the situation at the airport - I wonder how that would have worked. I would be interested to hear other peoples tales of visits to Srinagar.
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