Â Â Though techically Ladakh is in Kashmir, they are so different they might as well be different states, if not different countries. Ah, and therein lie all the troubles. A few years ago, the people of Jammu and Kashmir voted to divide into three regions, two of which Moslem Kashmir and Buddhist Ladakh, would become semi-autonomous. Hindu Jammu would probably retain close ties to Delhi. Ladakh was given a lot of autonomy, but the rest of the plan was nixed by the central government. So here they are here in Kashmir, feeling independent, and India maintianing an impressive military presence just in case Pakistan gets any ideas. Once ina while they exchange artillary fire, but the last time was seven years ago. And there are sporadic bombings, but that’s been over a year. Fortunately, the party that wants to join Pakistan gets almost no votes.
Â Â Because of all this, the US, UK and Australia recommend it’s citizens don’t vist Kashmir. Lonely Planet suggests you don’t goÂ west of Srinigar. I think it’s not that bad. As always it’s wise to ask around and get “protection” in the company of locals. This is what I did.
Â Â Sringar itself is the principle city of Jammu and Kashmir. It is decidedly Moslem, especially now during Ramadan, or Ramzen as they call it here. It’s quiet during the day because of the holy month. Tourism is at a trickle now. The main season is over. Tourism is only just coming back anyway after the political troubles of a few years ago and animosity toward the West over Iraq, Lebanon, etc., basically the same old stuff just more acute these days. The main attactions are it’s marvelous gardens and the lakes that dominate the city. That can all be enjoyed in about a day.
Â Â Â For the last three days I’ve been on a shikara trek, that is, I was taken through the marshes and coursing waterways west of Srinigar in a small covered boat. My hotel guy araanged it with a shikara owner and a worker. They did the work. I just drifted along. For safety, I pretended to be English. It was a great three days. Sometimes I luck out and do something even better than I had hoped for. It is so lovely out there. The lakes of Srinigar are separated from the marshland by a lock. Getting through there was a project, as they are rarely opened. Farooq, my hotel guy/guide/protector/babysitter, had to give a lot of backsheesh to get through there, including hiring about 15 guys each time to manually open the doors. Anyway, once past there, it was like another world of village life on the water. There, the communities travel about on flat bottomed shikaras of various sizes, though there are roads as well. There is electricity in places and people with generators, but it doesn’t look like life has changed in quite a while. There’s am amazing array of waterfowl and other birds. There are small eagles, like golden eagles, by the HUNDREDS, and countless hawks, owls, egrets, herons, and everything else. I’ve never seen so many kingfishers either, not even in Borneo. It’s all very bucolic. NEar to Srinigar is farming, mostly rice and lotus. Then it becomes wilder, with agriculture mostly of the mom and pop variety. The rivers and ponds are the centers of life.
Â Â I know it sounds like a cliche, but the people here are really nice. If they ever were jaded, I think the dearth tourists has made them gracious again. Too many tourists creates hard-cases. There’s just not much of that here. I hope it stays that way in the rest o India, though I think when the cool tourist months of December to March come, I’ll be in the rat race again.
Â Â I rested up today. Three days in a little boat gave me a stiff back. Tomorrow we are going to Amristar. Here are some pictures. I hope it doesn’t make the previous pictures turn to x’s.
View from the deck of the two room boathouse I stayed in in Srinigar.
The houseboat man’s daughter paddling herself to school. Check out the uniform.
The western suburbs of Srinigar.
The four of us lived on this shikara for three days. They did all the work. The only hard part was sleeping with Farooq’s feet in my face.
Along the way. I’m telling you, this is a nice ride.
I guess I had the camera set wrong, so this is a little out of focus, but these kids were really cute, as were all the others who would come sit on the bank and look at us whenever we stopped..