Srinagar, Dal Lake and kind people
13.07.2011 - 18.07.2011
I had a particular vision of what Kashmir would be like and when we landed- none of my expectations initially existed. What I got was a busy and loud city, and I hoped it would get better. We caught a taxi to the centre and went to the Houseboat Association offices where we met a guy who would take us to Dal Lake to find a houseboat that suited us (and our pockets). He was about 60 years old or so- kind face and soft spoken. We took an auto-rickshaw to Dal Lake and boarded a shikara- a fancy kind of rowing boat- with soft couch-like seats for lounging and relaxing on. We rowed for about 15 minutes- through narrow canals with shops on either side selling all kinds if wares- food, shawls, meat, jewelry etc. We got off at a rather nice boat and we knew he was showing us the best boat, so we would get sucked into staying there. After some tea and toast we asked the price and kindly declined. Mr Ghulam was such a nice man that he let us stay in his house (a real house, but it sits on water, so kind of a “house boat”) for the price that we would pay for a lower class boat! I think it was his daughter’s room- so comfy bed and clean. And we could still use the house boats lounge, TV. This was only the beginning of how fantastic Kashmiri’s are! They are one of my favourite “kingdoms” in India. I can’t say they are my favourite Indians, because they don’t consider themselves Indian, so out of respect, neither do I.
Kashmir is predominately Muslim so we heard the call to prayer 5 times a day and saw many meat houses. (Kashmiri’s eat a huge amount of meat). Due to the unstable political situation here, there are military men everywhere! Soon I got used to seeing men casually walking around with huge rifles hanging from their shoulders. For those of you who don’t know about the political situation and history in this region- I reckon you should go read up about it! ;-)
Kashmiri’s in general are kind, calm, gentle and patient and seem to be tolerant of the Indian tourists that flock here. They basically just want to be left alone by both Pakistan and India- and I don’t blame them!
The women have beautiful narrow pale faces, long noses and piercing eyes. The men sometimes have blue eyes and long protruding noses. They didn’t stare with perverted eyes or dodgy looks, but plain and simple curiosity. Such a welcoming difference compared to other men from India!
We did a one-day trip to a small town called Sonamarg. The bus took 5 hours to get there! I don’t know why I am always surprised when 80km takes this long… Anyways, we only stayed there for 2 hours, and then took the same bus back. The journey itself was interesting. First I talked to Mir, a young man, who asked me strange questions: “Why do outsiders think all Kashmiri’s are terrorists?”, “Do you think Kashmir should be its own country?””Why don’t I convert to Islam and wear a scarf over my head?”…
Then I met a guy who wanted to “be just like Arnold Schwarzenegger”.. He then proceeded to show me photos of him in bodybuilding poses- he even zoomed up on his arms so I can see up close how ripped he is! I had to work on not giggling when he did this. He then asked me for my email address so he could email me photos of his progress into becoming the next Schwarzenegger.
Later that evening we caught a free boat ride back to houseboat with a rather interesting dude. He was once married to a German lady- who renounced Buddhism and converted to Islam for him! She was a Buddhist nun when she met him. They have 2 kids, which live in Germany with her. When her hair started to grow back-, “gold dust grew out. I took it to a goldsmith and he told me to bring more!”… He likes to sit on his boat and play his flute and smoke joints. He said “it was on Dal Lake when I first conversed with fairies”…. Only in India :-)
Sitting on the deck of the houseboat in the early evening was one of my best times in India- the weather was absolutely perfect (could be compared to South Africa)- not humid and with a slight cool wind. The light would turn the surrounding mountains orange, red and yellow. The birds would chirp louder and the air would just become quieter. We watched boats pass us by- most of the local tourists who would all stare and stare at us as they passed, and try to get a photo of us. I felt like I was an animal in a zoo and these people were on an evening boat-ride to see “the foreigners up close”. It was funny when they passed while we were eating dinner- because it could be likened to the “feeding time” in a zoo ;-) Soon I learnt and would duck behind my book or hide behind a scarf.
While walking around we experienced weird things. Some street kids came and asked for money; I gave them bananas and they looked so sad and again asked for money! So ungrateful! Some other kids once asked us for money and when we said no, they proceeded to pinch our boobs! I almost slapped them, but then thought it’s not their fault- they don’t know any better.
A guy walked around with us, trying to be like a guide or something. Besides the fact that he was annoying, it was funny when he would point out the obvious: “here are some children’s clothes, kitchen stuff, shoes”. I wanted to say “no shit Sherlock”… The best was when he pointed to a table with pineapples and said “that’s a pineapple and we make juice out of it”… Really? I would never have known! ;-)
I don’t like it when local men take it upon themselves to “look after us”, like we are idiots and need their knowledge and protection. This is not the first time we have been taken as fools, and I know their intentions come from a good place. But I wish they would stop it and just leave us alone!
Our “dad” (from the family houseboat we stayed on) was protective of us as well- helping us with catching buses etc. But the way he did it felt more genuine and kind. And he didn’t think we were stupid or incapable of doing things on our own.
The number of photos that we have been in is phenomenal! These days I politely say “no thanks” and walk away- even if they are begging like a dog. After 2 months of standing looking like a fool, I have had enough of it! Especially when the guys put their arms around us, or try to hold our hands! So rude!!!!! Would they ever do that to an Indian woman? I don’t know why they feel they can treat us like this. Angie and I have had so many discussions on why some Indian men are so perverted and see us as porn stars…
A funny thing happened 5 minutes ago. I went out to get some tea for us and while I was waiting for it one guy took a photo of me sitting there. In less than 30 seconds there was a crowd (a mob?) of at least 40 men- I am not kidding! They all whipped out their cameras and tried to get a photo of me. It all happened so fast. Different guys took turns in sitting next to me- one tried to put his hand on my knee. The owner of the shop shouted at the crowd to go away and told me to come sit behind him. So there I was basically hiding from the western-woman-hungry crowd who reluctantly moved away. An old sadhu also came up and in broken English told me he would not allow anyone to take photos of me. It was funny to watch him tell any man to keep walking. Even though he spoke in Hindi I guessed he was saying “move along folks, nothing to see here”. Then a policeman arrived- to ask what the commotion was about. Hahaha – it was only me being me ;-). I know I hate all of this now, but when I go back home I think I’ll miss the celebrity-ness of it all ;-)
From Srinagar we took a shared car to Jammu (10 hours; worst ride ever) and stayed the night there. We were hit badly with the humidity there and to top it off we got room service from a dodgy guy who liked to stand too close to me; hang around in the room way too long and would enter without knocking. From Jammu we took our first Indian train ride to Amritsar.