It feels like it has been ages since we have gone anywhere in India. Anytime we have a break, we always seem to leave the country – and we probably would have again this weekend except the place we wanted to go requires that your passport not expire in less than 6 months (which mine does 🙁 ). So instead we finally decided on Kashmir – the far north of India, the land disputed between India and Pakistan. It’s not always the safest place to go as there are frequent clashes between the two sides, but I’ve had a few friends go in the past month, who had a great time, so we decided to give it a go! And it’s one of the places on our ‘India list’ that needs to be seen before we depart (which is still a complete unknown, so don’t get too excited!).
Anyhow, we booked our flights, made a houseboat reservation and off we went. Well, not so quickly actually since our departing flight was 6 hrs late leaving Mumbai. Not a great start, but somehow I was still smiling and laughing sitting in the boring and not quite finished terminal at the domestic airport. (not quite finished means no food options!).
10 hours later, we finally arrive in Srinagar. Looking down from the plane all you see is military posts and soldiers. The whole airport was waiting for our flights arrival and as soon as we arrived and gathered our bags, the lights were off and the staff were out the door with us! I would imagine that Srinagar’s airport doesn’t get a lot of traffic and that it definitely doesn’t allow planes to land at night and it was getting close to dusk, so everyone was ready to get home.
The air was nice and cool – absolutely perfect so far. The streets were lined with soldiers who happily waved at us as we passed by. So far the city looked like most other Indian cities, full of men! Except – it was a lot cleaner, the roads were nicer and there were a lot less people than we are used to seeing. Arriving to our lake – Nigeen lake and switching to a shikara boat to take us to our ‘hotel’ – a moored houseboat on the other side of the lake. It was beautiful arriving at sunset.
A little haze in the sky didn’t dampen our spirits – seeing the shadows of the mountains, the boats on the lake and the cool breeze was all we needed. We immediately felt worlds away from Mumbai and the insanity that Diwali weekend brings. I loved listening to the call for prayer and the birds chirping and nothing else…
It wasn’t long after being on the boat that we began to realize just how cold 5 degrees Celsius was going to be! Once the sun set, the temperature drops quick! We had our dinner and exhausted after a long day, retired to bed at the insanely early hour of 8 pm! haha. I don’t think Paul has ever gone to bed this early!
The houseboat was nice, very old world style, but the bed..had a few inches taken off i think as we really felt the 2 inch traditional Indian mattress on our tired bones. Oh well.. no such thing as luxurious 5 star beds in the middle of nowhere!
Waking up the next day was painful – freezing coldbedroom and bathroom! So instead we retreated to the balcony overlooking the lake with the sun blaring down on, heating us up! Today we had planned a full day trip around the town, visiting the gardens and old Srinagar. We didn’t even have a guidebook with us since none of the latest books even include Kashmir, so we just went with the recommendations of our houseboat owner.
Man… they love their gardens! We visited 3 gardens!
They all had the same flowers, but were nice to wander around in. The Indian tourists loved us and request our photos at each step. Funny that they really like having their photos made with white people who they don’t know and don’t care to know! But I bet we will be famous in the households of Kolkata! haha.
After the gardens, we got to visit an old wooden mosque in the old part of town. It was beautiful. I couldn’t go in, but it was nice to just walk around the outside. then we pottered around the little lanes checking out the daily happenings, having our photos taken more often than taking our own and chatting to the locals who were interested in our impressions of Kashmir.
So far the Kashmiri people were so welcoming and nice. And it seems odd that they don’t seem to think they are Indian.. they would always make comments about the “indians“. weird.
We got back to our boat just in time for our 2 hr shikara ride around the lake that we had already planned. It was great slowly gliding through the lotus ‘fields’, seeing local life and running into the millions of boat sellers. I think we had at least 6 flower salesmen selling “groovy” flowers!
Tonight we had an addition to our houseboat – a Gujurati family had taken the other room. We were a little worried how it would be to share it, but they were very quiet and so non intrusive that it ended up being fine. Again, we were in bed shortly after sunset. This night was super cold for some reason so I slept in my gloves and paul slept with his hat on! hah. what a sight.
Our last full day in Srinagar we had planned to go to the mountain of Sonamarg. The day before had been quite warm in the daytime, so I didn’t dress too warmly thinking it would be the same. All my winter gear nicely tucked in the suitcase just how it was packed. Oops. Big mistake! No one told me we were going to the snowy mountains!! After about 2.5 hrs of driving through beautiful mountain scenery, we arrived to our destination – the snowy hills of Sonamarg. We quickly got our horses ready for the trek, borrowed winter jackets from the horsemen and headed off. As is usual, I had the stubborn horse who wanted to do it’s own thing! But he eventually fell into line 🙂
As we set off into the mountains, snow started to fall on us. Wow! Luckily it didn’t last long or else I wouldn’t have lasted long with no real warmth! The trek up the mountain to the glacier was beautiful. I am glad we had the horses though as it was pretty steep in parts.
After a 2.5 hr trek, we met a Kashmiri policeman wearing a “US Army” jacket which I thought was hilarious, so I asked if I could take his photo. I did and then 5 minutes later i turn around and see paul holding an AK47 (or the russian equivalent) with a huge grin! HAHA. the police thought it would be great to get his photo holding the gun up. Very trusting police up there!!
back down the mountain through the off/on snow falling, back to the boat thoroughly exhausted!
But a trip to Kashmir isn’t complete without a visit to a local carpet sales shop. Big mistake. I don’t know why we even tried it! We got out without buying anything, but I still have my mind on an Iranian Kilim I saw there. It was beautiful and expensive… I felt I shouldn’t buy an Iranian carpet from India when i can probably get the same style from Turkey and hopefully someday from Iran itself. We’ll see.. I could always call him and have him ship it to Mumbai 🙂
Our last day was spent just chilling on the houseboat’s balcony, soaking up the sun and quiet. It was so peaceful there – no car horns, no people, only birds and the breeze to keep you company. Thankfully we had all that peace and quiet…getting out of Srinagar was such a hassle that I needed the calm to keep me from loosing it!
I recognize that Srinagar is a place with lots of trouble, but i think they would do better with fewer checkpoints and more attentive soldiers to be honest. I think they have the policy that hopefully 1 out of the 6 checks will catch what is needed to be caught. Entering the airport, we had to get out of the car, empty all of our belongings onto an x-ray machine, get our body searched, then back into the car. Ok. Good. Next, to enter the airport, again – all bags through the x-ray and our bodies searched. Ok. Understandable. Next we have to send our bags through the airline x-ray. Ok. Once we got our boarding passes, we then had to enter another secure area. Our bags and bodies searched. then with no signs to guide you, you have to go have all of your hand baggage dumped out and searched by people. The things they were not happy about were so silly… they poked holes in your unopened bag of chips, threw out your gum, too pointy of pens, lighters, etc. Then I had to go to another table to have my camera and lens’s examined. I had to take off the lens and put each other lens on, so he could make sure they were actually lens. Then…. we had to go identify our checked baggage… Ok.. now we can rest right? Nope… Another body and baggage screening as you leave the airport heading for the plane. Jeeze louise!
The thing they just don’t seem to understand is that no one arriving to Srinagar has to have this kind of security – all the things they made me throw out of my bag, had been fine through the multiple Mumbai screenings. So if a person wanted to do something to Kashmiris all they needed to do was board the flight somewhere else!
A bit of an annoyance, but we managed it make it fun – watching all of the other people get just as irritated as they were told to go back to x, y or z to get the proper stamp/search/ etc.
And back home to sweltering Bombay! but oh man the warmth did feel nice for the first few minutes! Now we prepare and plan our next adventure – Ireland and the US.