So despite the fact that we never intended to end up here in Kashmir, Srinigar has been really relaxing and quite a change from the dense, hard life we saw in Delhi and Mumbai.
We were seriously apprehensive at first, and when we arrived we were almost too scared to leave our room…but we soon realised that the people are friendly and happy and most of them are only too pleased to meet a foreigner, and they always ask if we like Kashmir. We have been stared at, asked to stand with the family and have a photo, chatted to in every shop and on every street and even made a ‘friend’ in a young student named Waseem, who took our email address with a promise of “learning everything about each other.”
We haven’t been out that much; we have been enjoying the hospitality of our hosts Ashraf and Laura, at Jeelani Guesthouse. We ate meals together with the other guests, an older American lady and an older German man. In the evenings, we read or watched one of the old movie reruns on TV.
On Saturday we spent the afternoon on the Nageen and Dal lakes on a Shikara (like a Gondola but with a roof).
We were rowed along the serene lake by a guide who spoke pretty fluent English, and was generally a really happy person. He made us tea with Cardamon and Cinnamon by boiling water on a little gas burner on the back of the small boat. It was a fantastic afternoon, we watched the locals enjoying a swim and saw the villages on the islands in the middle of the lake. The villagers grow vegetables in ‘floating gardens’ around the islands. The gardens can be reached only by shikara and the vegetables are sold every morning at the market. Every so often someone would row along next to us and ask how we are, where are we from and ask if we would like to buy flowers or see the precious stones that he is selling. What I enjoyed was that they were not pushy, just opportunists! We stopped off at Nishrat Bagh, the Moghul gardens, where thousands of Indian’s were enjoying their Saturday afternoon, kids playing in the water and big families sitting and taking photos in the manicured gardens.
On Sunday we decided to take a walk down to the market near the local mosque, Hazratbal. It was not far from our guesthouse and we managed to find it pretty easily. Quite close to the market is also the University of Kashmir, where it is popular to study business or engineering – they even do “Short Courses in Mechatronics”?! We spent an hour or so walking through the market and even bought a couple of Kashmiri handicrafts; their specialty is delicately painted papier-mâché elephants and bells.
Today we found a lift into the town of Srinigar and walked around the shops and bought some supplies for our trip to Leh. We were surprised to see how modern and global it is, even in comparison to what we saw of Mumbai and Delhi. There seems to be more English signage and people are willing to speak English to us.
This evening we visited the Pari Mahal – the Angel Palace or Fairy Abode . It is right up in the mountain and boasts incredible views of the Dal lake. The “palace” itself is a stone-built fort with four or five levels of gardens, each with a more spectacular view than the last. There were many tourists and we found ourselves chatting with a few people about cricket or about South Africa and where we are from.
One of the highlights of this place has been watching the sun setting over the lake. The orange sun and the reflection of the shikaras on the lake really is a breath-taking sight.
Tomorrow morning we move on to Leh, we will be sharing a Jeep with some other tourists and will drive via Kargil and arrive in Leh in the late evening. We have been told that the scenery is fantastic and although it will be another long drive, it will all be worth it when we get to Ladakh!