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Part 3 of 3

India, Nepal to Tibet, and Kashmir Trip

April 17 to May 8 (22 Days) in 2009

This is part of my journal for the vacation that I booked with Himalayan International Tours  http://www.himalayantours.com/
126 Madison Avenue, 2nd Floor , New York, New York 10016, Phone: (212) 564-5164 , (800) 421-8975
 

Map of India, Nepal to Tibet, and Kashmir TripThis was really three separate trips:

Part 1: Day 1 to Day 6: Delhi to Jaipur to Agra

Part 2: Day 7 to Day 16: Kathmandu, Drive 5 days to Lhasa, Tibet

Part 3: Day 17 to Day 22: Kashmir and then home

Table of Contents

Sunday May 3 - Day 17 - Fly DELHI to SRINAGAR

Monday May 4 - Day 18 In SRINAGAR Lakes and Gardens Tour

Wednesday May 5 - Day 19 In SRINAGAR City Tour

Tuesday May 6 - Day 20 Day tour to PAHALGAM

Thursday May 7 - Day 21 - Fly SRINAGAR to DELHI

Friday May 8 - Day 22


Sunday May 3 - Day 17 - Fly DELHI to SRINAGAR

This is what the itinerary said:

Breakfast at the hotel and transfer for flight to Srinagar.

This is my account of the day:

Today I travel to Srinagar, located in the Vale of Kashmir.  

But first a little background about what happened to cause me to go there and why I went:

I went to Kashmir because I heard that it was the most beautiful place in the world.  My aunt stayed on a houseboat on Dal Lake in the 1950's. I wanted to do the same.  And I kept remembering that my tour leader (on the Vietnam trip), said hands down that she thought Kashmir was the absolutely the most incredibly beautiful destination on the earth.  I had also read so many other reports of how it is "Heaven on Earth".

On August 3, 2003 I had clipped an article written by Mujtab Ali Ahmad "Kashmir eager to embrace tourists".  It said

Resorts, hotels and houseboats are overbooked with visitors...For the first time since an Islamic insurgency erupted here in 1989, thousands of tourists are enjoying the vacations in this picture-perfect place.  ... Nearly 100,000 tourists, including 3,000 foreigners have visited Kashmir since January, compared with 10,000 during the same period last year, Shazia Khan of the Jammu-Kashmir State Tourism Corp. said.

So that was 2003.  This is 2009 and had an opportunity to travel to Kashmir. It happened like most of my other trips - unexpected things happen and you have to make alternative plans. I booked my flights in August, 2008. I used 120,000 frequent flyer miles to fly first class round trip from Atlanta to Delhi. A couple of weeks before I left on this trip, I checked on my flights and found that Air France had cancelled my return flight.  Scramble. Now I cant fly back on the day that I wanted.  I dont mind staying longer, but what to do.  Stay in Delhi, or Lou suggested that I do the short trip to Kashmir.  Hummmm..   

This is a perfect opportunity for me go, but not so perfect because of the situation.  I thought about it, lost some sleep, dreaded hearing the feedback from my sister, did not look forward to telling Dad all this because of the awful US State Department report. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1139.html

AREAS OF INSTABILITY: Jammu & Kashmir: The Department of State strongly recommends that U.S. citizens avoid travel to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh.  A number of terrorist groups operate in the state, targeting security forces that are present throughout the region, particularly along the Line of Control (LOC) separating Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and those stationed in the primary tourist destinations in the Kashmir Valley: Srinagar, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam.

Since 1989, as many as 60,000 people (terrorists, security forces, and civilians) have been killed in the Kashmir conflict.  Many terrorist incidents take place in the state's summer capital of Srinagar, but the majority of attacks occur in rural areas.   Foreigners are particularly visible, vulnerable, and definitely at risk.  In the summer of 2008, serious communal violence left the state mostly paralyzed, due to massive strikes and business shut downs. In addition, there have been attacks specifically targeted at civilians.  For example: in October 2007 five soldiers and two civilians were killed in an IED blast carried out by militants in the Baramulla district of Kashmir; in August 2007 terrorists lobbed a grenade at the venue of an Independence Day function in the Bandipora district; in July 2007 a blast on an out-of-state tourist bus killed six and injured 20 civilians in the capital, Srinagar.  The Indian government prohibits foreign tourists from visiting certain areas along the LOC (see the section on Restricted Areas, below).  U.S. Government employees are prohibited from traveling to the state of Jammu & Kashmir (except for Ladakh) without permission, which is only granted in exceptional circumstances, from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.  When traveling to Kashmir, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profiles, limit their lengths of stay, and exercise extreme caution.....

There have been several disturbing reports of tourists being held hostage on houseboats in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, and forced to pay thousands of dollars in the face of threats of violence against the traveler and his/her family members.

but then it goes on to say:

Travelers should exercise care when hiring transportation and/or guides and use only well-known travel agents to book trips. 

I emailed that paragraph to Lou at Himalayan Tours.  He called me back and explained that there are at least 6 daily flights taking people and tourists from Delhi to Srinagar.  Yes, there may be violent outbreaks, but it is safe now. He gave me phone numbers of two people who had been there recently. The woman that I talked to said that I should go - it was fine that I should go despite everything that I read or hear.

I also researched the place on the Internet.  I found some really bad things that have happened since the 90s.   So I am going to fly from Delhi to Srinagar and stay on the house boat at least one night.  If I dont feel safe, Im back on an airplane to Delhi the next day.

Before I went to Srinagar, I also knew that I was going to be there during elections. I'm scheduled to leave the city on May 7, election day:

Election fever grips Srinagar News:  Srinagar, Apr 3 : Preparations for the forthcoming parliamentary election for the Srinagar constituency in Jammu and Kashmir are in full swing.    .Election for this seat will be held on May 7 while the counting of votes will be held on May 16.

From TripAdvisor Editorial notes:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g297622-r14681218-Kashmir_Jammu_and_Kashmir.html

March 31, 2008 - My wife and I recently spent a month in Kashmir and would like to dispel some of the scare stories that appear in the press and on various websites warning people against visiting Kashmir...

The old city is fascinating, as is the large mosque and the Tomb of Jesus (Rozabal), which is absolutely fascinating, there is some suggestion that he survived the crucifiction and ended his days in Kashmir

Bob Dec 3, 2008

I have visited scores of hill stations, and am always fascinated by hills, specially the Himalayas. But this year I got an opportunity to visit, Srinagar, and other places in Kashmir, like Pahalgam, and Gulmarg, and I tell you, friends, if indeed there is heaven on earth, it is Kashmir. It is the land of good food, good weather, good people, good shopping, I would give it five out of five.
Srinagar/kashmir is the place that must be in the wish list of every traveller.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g297623-i10273-k592632-Srinager_safe_for_Americans-Srinagar_Kashmir_Jammu_and_Kashmir.html

 

The northern most state of the Indian mainland is rightly called "Paradise on Earth" . The sparkling rivers, placid lakes, gorgeous gardens and indescribable beauty of nature in the state of Jammu and Kashmir leave you completely speechless. http://www.world66.com/asia/southasia/india/jammuandkashmir/srinagar

http://www.indiamike.com/india/jammu-and-kashmir-f30/travel-to-srinagar-may-2009-a-t76210/

Apr 10th, 2009, 19:42    gachchami    Hi Travis,

It's precisely that which I in your favour - the fact that you'll not blend in - foreigners and Indians are very safe in Kashmir, safer than in other conflict zones like Afghanistan where they may be targeted on account of their skin colour.. there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents in the past couple of years including one where a grenade was lobbed into a bus full of tourists from Gujarat, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.. the locals won't target you and the army won't harass you, but as someone pointed out in another thread, a passerby was recently killed in an exchange of fire between two men on a London street...these things happen, but they're not worth worrying about - I've made quite a few trips to Kashmir in the past four years, on work, and as an Indian I've received nothing but hospitality from the locals (despite their resentment towards India) . I've also been caught in a spot a couple of times but people are very helpful, especially to outsiders.. the thing to remember is to stick to the 'tourist' areas like the Dal boulevard when there's trouble brewing and avoid going to the inner city.. however, if the situation's calm, i'd strongly advise exploring the 'downtown' area.. other places where most tourists go like Gulmarg and  Pahalgam are very safe - you just need to read the newspapers (as has been pointed out elsewhere) to avoid trouble on the road.

Other reading

http://www.indian-elections.com/election-schedule-09/five-poll-day.html  Srinagar elections May 7-9

http://www.greaterkashmir.com/  and http://risingkashmir.com/ and http://dailyexcelsior.com/

http://business.rediff.com/report/2009/mar/18/foreign-tourists-flocking-kashmir.htm

http://ikashmir.net/  Kashmir New Network

March 18, 2009   Foreign tourists flock to Kashmir - Kashmir is fully booked for tourists this summer, he noted.

 

My cost of Kashmir

$736 + $396 (single supplement) is $1132 USD total (53,700 Rs) cost for 5 days and 4 nights. 

1132 divided by 5 days is $226 US dollars (or 10,700 Rs) a day!  That has got to be one of the most expensive trips ever. But I was going to what appeared to be a dangerous place that I have ever been. But I really wanted to go and maybe I thought the cost was worth it because of the personal attention.  What gets me that the cost does not include tips....and they expect tips....

This is interesting from the 1996 Lonely Planet book, cost of houseboats:

 

Full Board

Lodging

Deluxe 5 star

500-700

350-450

A class

275-400

190-275

B class

200-350

140-230

C class

150-275

100-200

D class (Doonga boat)

100-150

75-100

The cost of a deluxe 5 star, full board (all meals) is 700 Rs or about $15.00. So that might be $25.00 now.  I was paying $226, but that was for a single person and it included the private tours and the wonderful tour guides. It did not include the entrance fees, which are nominal.  Habib paid the entrance fees (to the gardens and mosque), then later I paid him 400 Rs ($8.50), then an additional 250Rs ($5.20) at Pahalgam.  Seems like I remember paying the entrance fees for the first day in Delhi also.  Whatever.

 

Weather temperatures and rain in Srinagar, the summer
capital of the state.  The best time to visit Srinagar is during summers between April and June.  Definitely do not want to the there during June or July!

 

 

 

Itinerary said:  Breakfast at the hotel and transfer for flight to Srinagar, the summer capital of the state. Upon arrival in Srinagar, you will be met by our area manager and escorted to deluxe houseboats. Afternoon at leisure.

 

This is my account of how this part of the trip started:

 

On Saturday May 2 (Day 16 of the trip) I flew from LHASA to KATHMANDU to DELHI. JP met at the airport and we drove to the hotel.  It's the same hotel where I stayed before on April 18 and 19.  He checked me into the Parkland hotel.

He said that he would keep my suitcase in Delhi if I wanted to pack a smaller bag to take to Kashmir.  That is exactly what I should have done for Kathmandu so of course I did it for Kashmir.

I only had 30 minutes to repack.  I got up to my room and pulled almost everything out of my suitcase. Then I took the things that I need for 5 days.   I was a small pile that easily fit into my small black bag.  This is same bag that I pack to go to the gym to workout and sometimes it is crammed full.  So I was probably forgetting something. Whatever. 

The phone in the hotel room rings and the JP is asking if Im done.  I had just finished zipping up my big suitcase.  He came up to the room to get it.

So that night, for some reason I was really curious to see some news. I guess I wanted to hear something about the elections and anything about Kashmir (J&K).  So I finally figured out the TV, the black box attached to the TV and the two remote controls. That was an accomplishment.  And I found the news channel.  Yeah.  They had a story about Indians vacationing in Kashmir to cope with the heat.  There was a story about how the heat is causing may tourists to fly to Kashmir to enjoy the cool weather and snow.

It was 45 degrees C in Delhi yesterday.  Schools are closing early for the summer because of the heat.  There was more scary stories about Swine Flu.  That's all I needed to see. I turned off TV. Go to sleep around 9:30 pm.

 

On Sunday May 3 (Day 17)

 

I woke up at 6:20 am in the Parkland Hotel in Delhi.

7:30 Breakfast. The last time I stayed in this hotel (13 days ago) there was a breakfast buffet, but not this morning.  I remembered the great porridge on the buffet before so I ordered that. They said Porridge would take 10 minutes. I had plenty of time, Ill wait.  I also had toast and they gave me two pieces of individually wrapped sliced cheese.  I put it on my toast and had cheese-toast. Yum. That was a treat. Thats the first cheese that Ive had in awhile. Tea with milk. I ate a lot.

I could not sleep last night for totally different reasons than before. Im excited to get to go to Srinagar today. JP assured me that Habib would be there to greet me.  Last time I slept in this hotel at the beginning of this trip, I scared myself, but now it seems like a totally different experience.  I have learned to just sit back and enjoy the ride. You have to be very patient when traveling. Especially in this country.

So last night I packed a little bag with everything that I will need for 5 days.  I gave my suitcase to JP to keep for me until I return to Delhi in a week.  I Forgot to take malaria pill last Friday and I only had 30 minutes to pack my little bag last night and I forgot to pack the pills. I wont have my suitcase till I leave in 5 days now. Oh well.  So much for taking those malaria pills.

Depart 8:30 from the hotel to drive to the Delhi domestic airline terminal.  It sure seems like a long drive. So we finally get to the terminal in Delhi and a Kingfisher airline employee took my bag from the car and walked me to the check-in.  He also helped me get my boarding card. Very nice helpful. Oh yeah, they expect a tip.  I have to say that in all my travels, some of the most uncomfortable moments happened because of tipping - too much, too little, wrong person, wrong time, wrong place.  It's difficult to know sometimes.

It 9:45 am and here I am sitting in the Delhi Domestic terminal headed to Kashmir. There are some airplanes on the tarmac that say IndiGo. Cute.

My 10:45 departure is now delayed to 11:15.  Thats OK.   Im sitting here in domestic terminal. It is a beautiful building. I see a Pizza Hut and a KFC here! I have all my luggage (my small black bag and day bag) with me. A little heavy but Im more comfortable that way.  Both bags actually made it through x-ray with no additional security check!  That was a first.  I expected everything to be handled numerous times. Im not there yet. Im still amazingly relaxed.

I dont see anyone wearing masks here. The Swine Flu scare is really getting scary. I'm scared to cough or blow my nose for fear that I will be suspect for the virus and they will quarantine you.  JP said that the Swine Flu will never be a problem in Delhi because of the temperature - the virus cannot survive in 45 degree C (113 F) temperature.

10:20 am I couldn't resist. I had to get pizza at PHD (Pizza Hut Delhi). I got a 7-inch double cheese for 99 Rs (about $2.USD). That is a deal!    Other PHD menu items:   Classic Cheese 69 Rs ($1.50) , Chicken Classic 99 Rs ($2), Chicken Spicy 159 Rs ($3.30), and Pepperoni 179 Rs ($3.80).

There was an ice cream place next to the Pizza Hut. A triple scoop sundae of hot chocolate fudge, pina colada or butterscotch flavor was 98 Rs.

The pizza should hold me It should hold me for the rest of the day. I also have those dried fruit snacks that I got in Lhasa, Kiwi fruit (4 y), Pineapple (4 Y) aka Boluopian and Apricots (with the pits).

 

So going through x-ray at the airport, I put my water bottle (with water in it) in a tray.  It worked! They let me  keep it.  After it goes through x-ray (and searched) they stamp the baggage tag. For both India Airlines and Kingfisher Airlines- you must have a new baggage tag for each flight. They stamp the tag after each search.  For searches there is always a separate ladies line.

When I boarded the plane, more than half the plane was already filled. I had to walk all the way back to Row 29 very near the back so everyone could see this western girl walking down the aisle. They served food, but I did not eat it because I had the pizza before I boarded. That was a good idea.

Its 11:10 and I am sitting on the plane to Srinagar. There are 35 rows x 6 seat per row. Full flight of 210 people.  Maybe 3 westerners. Yeah, I stand out.  I bet Emily did too. Blonde hair. I know my reasons for going.

Flight time is 1:30. This is a domestic flight within India so there is no paper work to fill out.

11:40 take off.

As we are flying over the land I see lush green fields and clusters of buildings/houses. I cant recall seeing landscape like that.  Off to the edge of the valley is mountains. Streams of snow are coming down the mountains that I see.  This is rough country to cross. I guess its not any rougher than the terrain to Lhasa that we flew over.  But it also rough because of the situation anyway.   As we approach Srinagar, I see more luscious green fields and small clusters of buildings.

The last thing I wrote before I got off the plane is "I hope I dont regret this".

They announced that it is 18 degrees C (64 F) Local temp.  Nice.

So the plane lands.  I dont say anything to anyone as Im exiting the plane I'm fooling myself into thinking that I can maintain a low profile. The airport said Srinagar.  I wanted to take a picture, but I didnt.  I guess I could have because Im obviously a tourist.

As I walk in the Arrival Hall,  I am given a paper to fill out.

I see a Tourist Reception Center in the baggage claim area. 

Welcome to Paradise on Earth the big overhead sign says.  "J & K Tourism Dept at your service.  www.Jktourism.org  There is also a Hotel Reservation Counter where they will help you book a houseboat.

On the foreigner form I had to provide my passport number, expire date, India visa number and expire date, contact name and phone number (I put Habib) and back up contact name and phone number (I put JP) and the name of the place where you are staying.

The man at the Foreigner Registration Counter scrutinizes everything on the form and checked all the information against my passport  The guy asked the other guy if he knew Habib (I think that what he was asking).  He asked me  if had a reservation. "Yes, with a tour company." He asked me the name of the tour company. I pull out my itinerary and they write down the name. OK, no problem. I can go. I dont blame them for wanting to keep track of every foreigner in their country, or rather city. In a way that make we feel safer. They can contact Habib or JP and know exactly where I am and what Im doing.

Oh yeah, there was only 2 other foreigners registering 2 older men from France, but I did not speak with them.

So I grab my bags and exit the airport.  I see lots of people with signs. I saw Sarah Michelle.  Habib saw me and stepped out to greet me. Yup, this is fabulous tour company. Habib said Lou called him to make sure he was there to greet me.

 

So were driving through the city and Im looking around. Yes, I see police officers. Like I saw many, many army men with guns in Lhasa, Tibet last week. It is not that much different here in Srinagar, in my opinion. There is lots of activity and people around the airport. They dont seem to even notice but maybe they do. Our first arrival in Lhasa there was a group of people that saw our convoy arriving and they were waving yes, they like to see tourists, or in my case here, a single tourist.

There are many large houses. And there seems to be many homes being built. There is lots of construction.

This place seems like a generally cleaner city.  Hmm, cleaner than what? Delhi. Oh yeah, it helps that I arrive on a Sunday in Srinagar. The shops are closed, and there are less people out.  Like in Delhi I arrived on a Saturday. There was less commotion and more opportunity to enjoy the city.  It's an Asian city, like many other places that I have seen, but its Muslim, so has a different feeling.

So it seems like maybe after about 15 minutes of driving through the city, we end up on back streets and alleys. Park the car and walk to the entrance of this tour company. We walked along a path to the houseboat on the lake. This is what I saw.  WOW!

You cross the yellow bridge to enter the "front" door.  Take my shoes off and I am home. 

At 2:45 I'm sitting on this beautiful house boat on this beautiful lake.

We are sitting on the back porch having Kashmiri Tea (flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger). 

I call this place "home" because it is decorated very much like my home in Atlanta. I have a similar carved wood dining room table. The coffee table is very similar to my cherry carved wood coffee table with ball & claw legs.

This is photo from the back porch looking into the living room.
The dining room is the next room.

This is one side of the living room

 

This is the other side of the living room

They have very fine Kashmir made fine ornate carpets here. The carpets are all throughout the house. (So no shoes inside the help keep these rugs clean.)  Compared to my very cheap rug in the living room and the other rugs, these rugs are a lot finer quality.

So now I come to the chandelier. Two crystal chandeliers. Ive been hoping to get our one family chandelier for awhile. But here I have a chandelier in the living room, and another very ornate drop crystal chandelier over the dining room table.

Such fine things here. The carved wood sofa, sitting chairs, dining room chairs, the king size bed headboard is beautiful.  The master bedroom is at the front of the house (closest to the shore).

There were two additional bedrooms in the house. This is one of the bedrooms:

Every bedroom had a dressing room. 
This is entrance to my dressing room:

And the bathroom was very nice.  The toilet (not in the picture) is like none that I have seen. You can raise the seat and use it was a squat toilet by standing on it or you can sit on it. Cant say that I have ever seen that before.

This boat is huge - almost as big as my house.  From the master bedroom at the front of the house to the porch on the back, it is 55 steps. That is a big house!

So the wood carving on the boat is just as detailed as the furniture.  Every place you can imagine on this entire houseboat has the most intricate designs of carved cedar.  (The boat is cedar, the furniture is walnut). The doorway between the living and dining room is almost like lace, but it is wood carved with leaves, birds, vines, and flowers.

The carving is called "Pinjrakari".  "Pinjrakari is the version of the traditional Islamic wooden lattice work, as it is known in Kashmir.  Pinjrakari is made by creating a lattice by assembling strips of deodar (white cedar). It is used traditionally in windows and can be found in all the beautiful shrines in Srinagar and the vale of Kashmir."

 

This house is unique because you can view the lake from one end to the other. The boat is positioned further out than other houses. From the porch on the back of this boat you can sit and look out on all the other boats around the around the lake. The other boat sit along the shoreline that goes back aways. The only good view from those boats is from the back porch.  But this house has a very optimum position on the lake because it is not sandwiched in between other houses - you have a clear view to end of the lake in both directions. And from the bedroom windows you are not looking into another boat, the you have great views of the lake and mountains.

 

Is this awesome or what? 

The Zabarwan Mountain range is adjacent to the lake, and the beautiful snow-capped mountains that you can see in the distance in this picture is the Pir Panjal range.

So we sit and have tea on the porch. Yup, Im going to like it here. A lot.

If you want to stay here at Palace Heights, call Lou at Himalayan tours (800)421-8975.

 

 

Brady and Tyler from Texas also stayed on this house boat last month.  I hope Tyler doesnt mind if I include the link to his photos:   www.tylersharpphotography.com  www.flickr.com/photos/tylersharp and his photos of Kashmir:   http://www.flickr.com/photos/tylersharp/sets/72157615889410370/.

 

Its 4:30 and there is a light sprinkle of rain. Its a little chilly out.  Habib asked if I wanted to do a boat ride today.  No thanks - Im happy not to go on a boat ride and just stay here. We can do the boat ride tomorrow.

I have seen many, many, cell towers here.  So I turned on my cell phone expecting to get a signal. I successfully made phone calls in Delhi, Kathmandu and Lhasa.  But there was no signal here in Srinagar.  Oh well.

They are washing a rug outside the houseboat. The rug is in the water and they step on it on a plank in the water.

More activity outside - they are pulling the algae away from the houseboat.  There is algae growing on top of the lake and all around the shore. It only grows in the spring and it's a constant battle for them to remove it.  They are in that pretty Shikara boat. He is using a paddle to pull the algae out to the center of the lake where a big machine can get it.  Habib said the machine was made in Sweden, and the government pays for the clean-up. I watched the machine suck pull the algae up a moving ramp at the front and collect it.  They use the algae for fertilizer for agriculture.

Some more activity on the lake.  Word gets around fast that there is a tourist in houseboat. This boat was selling food and some basic needs:

I am going to sleep well tonight. I wonder if I need to set an alarm. This is absolutely the most perfect end to a very hectic first 17 days. I am on this calm houseboat for four nights. Yeah, I can handle this just fine.

 

Wow that smell. I do believe they are smoking pot? Theres a Hooka pipe (bong) on the boat that I saw them puffing from. I guess that smoking helps make the hard work of cleaning algae easier. Yeah, it s a strong smell of smoke. But not cigarette smoke, but then maybe that is how the tobacco smells in this part of the world.

I am glad that I put my contacts in last night. Im still squinting some because these are not the bifocal ones.

 

Yup, this is a house. I am renting it, but this place is still their house also. From the front door and back porch, people come and go. Habib came for a visit.  And there is a another man "Nabi" cleaning in the kitchen. I hear birds on in the roof. Pigeons cooing and living in the rafters.  I wonder how private this place is at night.

 

Habib asked if I wanted an Indian dinner or a western dinner. I asked what is a western? Chicken and potatoes. Oh yeah. That sounds good. 6:30 dinner. 

 

It is 7:15 pm and I just finished the most perfect meal of the trip. The last bites of chicken were very good. The potatoes were perfect. Also cauliflower seasoned and rice. I sat at the dining room table under huge chandelier. Yeah, I could definitely get used to this.

Nabi brought me a hot water bottle. John came in to talk to me after dinner, then Habib came in to say good night and there is no wake up time. Whenever I wake up is fine. Wow I could get used to this. I wish I could afford it for longer.

There is a small heater in my room. I left the front door unlocked and I can lock my bedroom door. I am glad that I brought my silk sheets. It looks like they normally just sleep under the thick blankets.  There is only a bottom sheet on the bed and 2 very thick warm blankets. My silk sheets were perfect I got them in Hanoi, Vietnam - that was the best purchase that I made of any trip.

There is a steady rain outside. It's a very comforting sound. I am so tired.  8:30 pm to sleep ?!?  Yes, because I can. I can hear the mosque in the distance. What a wonderful day. Perfect. I definitely do not regret coming here.

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Monday May 4 - Day 18 In SRINAGAR Lakes and Gardens Tour:

 

Itinerary said:

Today you will board small boats which resemble Italian Gondolas with canopies and spring seats to cruise through Dal and Nagin Lakes. Float through a network of canals to the holy shrine of Hazratbal and visit floating gardens and small villages along the route.

This afternoon you will visit enchanted magnificent historical Mogul Gardens of Nishat 'garden of bliss'

The gardens are situated on the banks of the Dal Lake, with the Zabarwan Mountains as its backdrop, commands a magnificent view of the lake and the snow capped Pir Panjal mountain range which stands far away to the west of the valley was built by Mogul Emperor Jahangir, who was the father of the builder of Taj Mahal and Shalimar the garden of pleasure built by Emperor Jehangir for his wife Nur Jehan, is a beautiful garden with sweeping vistas, lakes, and shallow terraces. The garden has four terraces, rising one above the other. A canal lined with polished marble and supplied with water from Harwan runs through the middle of the garden. The fourth terrace, by far the best, was once reserved for royal ladies.

Dinner at your houseboat.

This is my account of the day:

Boy did I slept great last night. The hot water bottle was very hot all night. And the little electric heater in my room sure was nice. I stayed very warm.

I stayed in bed until 9:45 am. Awesome! I was awake around 6, but I drifted in and out of sleep for a couple more hours. Now that is a vacation! Such luxury. Well. I guess Im paying for it.  This was is my view when I wake up in the morning:

 

Today is Monday. It is sprinkling rain and very calm and peaceful. Yeah, Nabi brought me another hot water bottle.

For breakfast I am finally going to eat that instant oatmeal that I have carrying around in my suitcase for weeks. I also have instant coffee. All I need is some boiling water and Im happy.

Everything (almost) that I need for 5 days in my small carry-on bag. I really should have done that for the drive to Tibet. I should have just packed less. So be it.

Oh yeah, big oops on my malaria pills. JP said its too hot in Delhi for mosquitoes and too hot for the swine flu to survive. 120 degree Fahrenheit did he say yesterday?

 

Around 11 it stopped raining so it was time for my boat ride on the lake.

I climbed into a colorful Shikara  boat. Shikar means hunter.  They gave me a blanket and my hot water bottle so I was very comfortable.

I guess word got out that there was a tourist in a boat somewhere on the lake so a couple sellers came a sellin'. 

A man had a boat full of flowers.  He was trying to sell me flowers! I guess I'm not a romantic.  No thank you. Then he tried to sell me some seeds. Hmm, big no thank you. I have no plants at home.  Yes, I have grass and shrubs outside the house, but no flowers.

And yet another vendor in a boat.  He was showing me paper mache items.  I actually bought a duck for 100 Rs as a memory of the ride.  The design on the duck is Hazatha means 1,000 flowers. I can believe that bought a duck!

So Dal Lake is actually 3 lakes separated by dykes or floating gardens and connected with the River Jehlum.   My houseboat was on Nagin (Nigen or Nagil) part of the lake where we started the boat ride in the Shikara.  

We went under the Nagin Bridge over to the huge Dal Lake.

This is a fresh water lake complete with fish and trout.

There are 175 house boats on this lake and over 900 on Dal Lake. Yup, the Lonely Planet book estimated about "1000 houseboats"

Some people live on the houseboats.  Some names of the houseboats are Majestic Place and Heaven Breeze.  Floating Heaven Lake Superior.

The lake is 25-30 feet deep in the middle of the lake. 

They get mosquitoes in June/July/August, but not now.

The lilies pods bloom in May.

There are fields of Lotus plants (not in bloom right now).

There are floating gardens all over the lake.  The gardens move around the lake. They grow flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers etc. I took a picture of some enclosed vegetable gardens.

They harvest reeds from the lake to feed the sheep.

I am the only boat out here! In the summer, he said there may be 50 boats.

We are floating through dense area of lily pads and reeds.  It is very peaceful.

It feels like about 58 degree F.

We floated by the Hazratbal mosque.  I took a picture from the lake (I also saw this mosque the next day).

There are many houses around the mosque.  All around the lake houses are built next to the lake and over the lake.  The government thinks that the houses must be removed because they are polluting the lake.

In Dal we saw Sona Lank (Silver Island) and Rupa Lank (Gold Island) with the four Chinar trees.

The Chinar tree of Kashmir is an integral part of the culture. Almost every village in the valley has a Chinar tree. The number of Chinar trees is decreasing and it may soon be extinct. It is a gigantic sized tree, and  grows up to a height of 25 meters (80 feet) and a girth up to 60 feet in circumference. But they only grow this big in Kashmir.

There are swallows and birds flying all around.

There are some otters here. No turtles.

12:15 now. Seems like we have been out here about an hour so far. There are other locals in boats, but I still the only tourist being paraded around here.

Fort Haripalput is at the top of the hill.

Picture of water duck in yellow flowers.

We saw an eagle ?!?

We are passing an Oriental Apiary.  They make honey here.

We passed under a very old bridge. 

 

We are coming back a different way than how we went out. We are going through waterways with houses on each side. There are people living on the water. The houses appear to be built on land though some are on stilts but not many.

There isn't much, but there is some pollution (trash) in the water.

There is a big cell phone tower in front of us.

They are taking me into an industrial area - Signs: Walnut Wood Carvers:  Shaikha & Sons, A.R. Chaku & Sons, G.N. Chaku & Bros.  

We stopped at Chaku Crafts Emporium.

The man gave me a demonstration of how they carve the wood.  They use 400 different chisels to shape the wood.

 

Walnut is a very hard wood.  They use seasoned wood cut the tree, wait a year, then 6 years in the weather. They can use the wood after 15 years.

Here is some of the furniture in their sales room:

This sign is written in Arabic:  The left side says Mohamed and the right side says Allah.

I bought a carved walnut picture frame and a key ring that says "Kashmir Perfect souvenirs.

I did not see or buy any rugs though. I dont need any rugs.

Chaku wood carvers sure has a big family.  Every son is in the wood carving business!

The weather had really warmed up.  I did not need the blanket by the end of the ride.

Per the 1996 Lonely Planet book, a Shikara ride around the lake costs about 100 Rs or $2 USD per hour. I think I remember Ramazan said a ride like the one I did would cost about 600 Rs.  We were out there for many hours

 

2:45 get back from boat ride. I think we left around 11. Now I know I didnt tip the rowers enough. I was so embarrassed that I didn't have enough (small) bills to give them that gave them too small of a bill. Later in the day I gave Habib some more 100 Rs bills to give to the rowers.  That was a lot of work for them!

I was hungry when we returned from the boat ride. For lunch snack I had some really good french fries, grilled tomatoes, buttered grilled toast, and tea. Yum.

3:45 Leave for garden tour.  It feels like maybe 23 degrees C (73 F). Perfect.

Habib said that the driver's son got ill, so Habib drove the car.  We went into town and stopped in front of the Hazratbal Mosque so I can take a photo of the masjid.  Hazrat means prophet.  This is same mosque that I saw from the boat.  On Friday this mosque has more than 10,000 people worship here.

 

Then we to the petrol station to get some gasoline. Mistake. We drive a little ways and the car wont work.  Habib thinks that maybe they put water in the gasoline. There are some very dishonest people here. So Habib is trying to keep the car running , pumping to get gas. Sputter sputter. Dead.

We are on the main road that goes around the lake. We are blocking a very important intersection in the road.

The is a long motorcade of very nice cars approaching from the other direction and it looks like they want to turn into the road that we are blocking.  Ooops.  So push the car back a little so they can turn.  Habib said that it was an election event.  They had police perched on a couple of cars.

So Habib makes a phone call, puts the keys in front dash in full view and we start walking. He is very calm and I am perfectly fine with the situation. It was thinking that it is nice to get a little exercise. Actually, we got very little exercise. A car stopped and offered us a ride. The people are very nice around here. Habib did not know this man. He drove us down the road to Shalimar Gardens. That is why Habib was so calm, he expected that maybe. He knows the type of beneficiary people in his country and he knew someone would stop if they saw us walking.

 

Shalimar Bagh (gardens)

 

 

We were headed to the Mughal Gardens and their terraced lawns, cascading fountain, flowers, overlooking the Lake. From wiki:  Mugal Gardens - Kashmir At It's Royal Best

The Mughal (also spelt as Moghul) emperors built gardens from Tehran to Agra but it is in Kashmir, complemented by the lake and the mountains, that they reach their perfection. Indeed after houseboats and the mountains it is these gardens for which Kashmir is most famous.

The Garden's Layout

The gardens all follow the same rectangular layout with a series of terraces rising one above the other up the hillside. Down the centre flows a stone channel carrying water through a series of pools and cascades. This system of carrying running water through the artificial cascades, and the layout of the fountains, was introduced to India by the artisans employed by the emperor Akbar. 'Bagh' means garden. One can enjoy some of Srinagar's better gardens in a leisurely bike ride around the shores of the lake.

There are three Mughal Gardens and we visited two of them Shalimar and Nishat.

Shalimar Bagh (Gardens), the Garden of Love

They have "a superb view across the lake to the Pir Panjal mountain range."

That is Habib in the picture.

Sign at the entrance:
If there paradise on earth.  It is here. It is here. It is here. 

Interesting, Wikipedia said "If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this."

I asked about the size of the garden.  Habib explained:

20 kanals = 5444 acres

1 marla = 272 feet

20 marla = kanal

20 kanal = 1 acre.

So why was the answer so difficult.  Couldnt he have just said the number in acres? And then explain the kanal system?

From Wikipedia:  A kanal is a traditional unit of land area in Pakistan (and also in some parts of India), equal to 20 marlas. Under British rule the marla and kanal were standardized so that the kanal equals exactly 605 square yards or 1/8 acre; this is equivalent to about 505.857 square meters

The garden was beautiful. There were many Indian tourists.

More info about the garden - Shalimar Bagh:

Set some distance back from the lake, but reached by a small canal, the Shalimar were built by Emperor Jehangir for his wife Nur Jahan, 'light of the world' in 1616. Although it is known today as the 'garden of love' it was originally named the Farah Bakhsh or 'delightful garden'.

The garden is built in four terraces with traditional water channel running down the middle. The gardens measure 540 by 183 metres. During the Mughal period the top terraces used be reserved for the emperor and the ladies of the court and was the most magnificent. It included a pavilion made of black stone in the middle of the tank. Black Marble fluted pillars supported the pavilion, which was used as a banquet hall.

Shalimar Bagh has an air of seclusion and repose, and its rows of fountains and shaded trees seem to recede towards the snowcapped mountains. A Son Et Lumeiere or sound and light show is put on here every evening during the May to October tourist season.

As we exited the garden, I saw a "Tourist Assistance" booth.  There was no one was in the booth. All the windows were broken.

After Shalimar we start walking again. Not sure where, but I just go along with Habib. Then he goes over to a bus and motions for me to jump on. We take a seat near the back.  I was sorry that our car broke down, but I was also a little glad that I got to experience something other than being driven around myself.

 

The bus stops at the Mogul Gardens of Nishat Bagh and we get off the bus. 

Nishat is Garden of Pleasure

The terraces going up the hillside are beautiful.

The have planted many, many pansies, other color and the rose garden. There were roses blooming in this garden.

There were many tourists from Hong Kong here. That is one of the very few governments that say it is OK for tourists to visit Kashmir.

The rose garden:

I saw these signs everywhere about "no polythene, plastic, etc."  They were really concerned about trash cluttering the beauty of the

 

After the garden, we walked across the street and have a cup of sweet English tea (black tea). Habib also ordered some "Pakora" (with no spices). It was a nice snack wok fried veg-onions. Here is a photo of the guy cooking the Pakora:

 

 

 

 

Interesting conversation:

This tour company also has water cruise tours that last from 3 to 7 days. Camping and all food is included.

It is 440 km (270 miles) to Ladak.  The road opens in April. 

It is 125 km (77 miles) to Islamibad Pakistan.

A drivers license costs $200 USD.

The cost is 200 Rs for a liter of engine oil.

Petrol is 5-6 Rs more then Delhi.  Cost for gasoline: $1 USD a liter for petrol. That is about $5 a gallon?

The cost for a second-hand houseboat is about $60 to 70,000 USD.

40,000 Rs or $850 for a computer.

There is 12% interest rate for savings in the bank.

They have to pay $5 for  doctor visit very high price per Habib.

The cute Indian-made white car is called the Ambassador. It is not gas efficient.   In Delhi they put diesel engines in them.

After the garden we stopped for tea and Pakora deep fried onion and veg.  I took a pix

We are a mile high here.

So after we finish our tea, and Habib answered my hundred questions, he negotiated with the driver of our next mode of transport, a Rickshaw.  (tuk tuk). Now this is fun. The back of the rickshaw, was covered in plastic.  If you open the plastic covers, the ride was chilly.  We went all the way around the lake.

He dropped us at the University of Kashmir.   So this is an interesting question why do they teach architecture at the college if there are no architecture jobs in Kashmir?  Are they teaching the young educated to leave the area?

Notice the dogs in the corner:

 

Habib had to go to a couple businesses to get the correct change to pay the rickshaw. After that, we had a very nice walk back through the streets and finally the alley that  leads to the houseboat. Whew.

 

6:50 pm now. What an absolutely perfect day. Sleep late, boat tour, lunch, and garden tours.  I think Habib said they would prepare lamb tonight. Nice.

Right now I am writing this in my bedroom with the door shut. Everyone is so friendly here. Im sure someone will come onto the boat to chat and I really really want to write about the day. I cant believe the Im saying this that I cant wait to get home so I can start typing all this. No, I really do not want to go home.

 

Not once today did I ever feel like anyone made me uncomfortable (why did I think that would happen).  In the garden, when Habib wasnt around, a guy approached me and insisted that I take a flower. I knew better, but I took it.  Then, of course he insisted that give him some money, but then Habib showed up and he walked away quickly.

Yeah, I have to say that I was very glad to have tour guide to show me this city.  I would have never found these places on my own, walking on these streets and negotiating the rickshaw. 

 

Oh yeah, and another this, I saw more men with guns in Lhasa, Tibet than I saw here.  

Dinner at 7:30. Lamb with yogurt sauce, rice, green beans. Yum. And also a Kashmiri dessert. Very very thin half inch long angel hair rice pasta I think in a thick sweet cream milk pudding. Yum.

I wanted to wash my hair before going to sleep so both Habib and Nabi made sure there was very hot water for a shower. That was hot shower was wonderful! When Emily was here two weeks ago, the weather was cold and she said that the houseboat where she stayed only had cold showers. Im glad I paid a little more for that luxury. 

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Wednesday May 5 - Day 19 In SRINAGAR City Tour

Itinerary:

Today take a leisurely tour of old city through a network of alleyways and exotic bazaars to soak in the local flavor. Your Kashmir travel experience is also a unique culinary adventure. This evening, enjoy a Wazan feast, local multi-course meal usually served on weddings or very special occasions.

 

In my pre-trip journal, I wrote "If I dont feel comfortable with going into the city, then Ill sleep late and just do the dinner this evening."

 

This is my account of the day:

 

7 am. Im sitting here in my bed looking out onto the lake. There is a light sprinkle of rain. I can see at least 10 other house boats and I see mountains up to the sky.

Nabi put another blanket on my bed last night. How did he know I would need it? The little electric heater is also nice. This bed is very comfortable if you can sleep on a very hard bed and hard (not soft) pillows.

I took my contacts out because I cant see to read. (For my information: I had a 3.5 in left, 2 in right).

 

I have a late morning departure for tour.  Habib said we go whenever I was ready to go.

I came out of the bedroom and word was out that I was up.  There was a man waiting to show me shawls.  I wanted to eat breakfast first.  I hate shopping. I hate the price negotiating game.  I wanted my coffee.  That was not going to happen.  He wanted to sell me a shawl.  He started pulling out, unfolding, and draping shawl after shawl to show me the colors and designs.  I kept looking toward the dinner table to see if Nabi had brought my hot water for coffee.  No coffee, and I started the "how much is this" exchange.

He showed me a Pahmina shawl and made the same gesture with his hand that I have seen so many times before  - he pulls on the skin under his chin on his throat.  They do that to try to tell that the wool only comes from that area of the sheep.

The picture to the right shows Pashmina wool for sale.  They weigh it on very delicate scales.

So he tells me 40. For the one Pashmina shawl!  I knew this was not going to be fun.  I had not had any breakfast and here I was put into a haggling situation which I hate deal with.  I wish they would just post their prices and then I will decide if I want to pay.  Well, I knew there was no way that I was going to buy that one shawl for $40 USD so I gave it back to him.  It was a perfect color green on one side and aqua on another but that price was too high.  He knew it was high also, but that is part of the haggling process.

He took off his ring and showed me how the shawl easily slid through the ring.  Ok. But Im not paying that price.  But then he did have a couple other that I liked.  So, I ended up getting the Pashmina plus 2 others for 40.  That was still way too much, but whatever.  I gave him a $50 USD and he pulled out his wad of bills and peeled off a U.S. 10 dollar bill. 

FYI - So after this trip is over, I am back in Atlanta in a store called Tuesday Morning. You never know what youre going to find in that store.  Well, I found three 100% Pahmina shawls for $10 USD each.  They even had a label that said 100% Pashmina. My shawl does not have a label, but I can tell that it is authentic.  Yeah, I knew $40 was too much.

I justified my purchase on the boat by saying that I really didnt mind spending more money that I should to get something that I wanted.

 

10:30 we departed for the Old City tour. http://www.jktourism.org/kashmir/Kashmir___The old city.htm

They had to push-start the car this am. The battery was dead because of the cold weather. A new battery costs $100 USD.

This is the Hazratbal mosque. "It houses a relic of Prophet Mohammed (PHUB) preserved here."  That "relic" is "a hair of Prophet Muhammad".

On the hill Haripalpot Castle (?).  King with 3 wives. No visitors are allowed.  There are "security forces" inside now.  There is a Muslim Sultanula Arrefeen shrine in front of castle.  The castle is being renovated. There is wall around the castle that took 14 years to build. There is a working well at the top of the hill where the castle gets its water.

I also found information about "Takht-i-Sulaiman Hill" where the Shankaracharya temple, built on an octagonal plinth in stone.  It was built by Ashokas son around 200 BC. It is a Hindu temple now.

 

We parked the car and went to Jama Masjid (Mosque).

The photo to the right is the entrance to this mosque.  It's a wooden mosque with about 400 pillars supporting the roof. Built in 1385. Fire in 1479. Rebuilt in 1503. Another fire 1674 rebuild to recent building.

Habib said that 50,000 people pray at this mosque.  Can you imagine the sight of 100,000 shoes outside this mosque. How in the world do you find your shoes?

 

I took a photo of the sign in front of the mosque.

This is what the sign says. I added punctuation where necessary and my comments and extra information is in italics.

Friday Sermon 2:15    Night 8:55    Sunset 7:25    Afternoon 5:30    Noon 1:30   Dawn 4:55

I'm guessing these times indicate the five times that they must pray. The times change every day!

1. Jamia Masjid Srinagar was built by Sultan Sikander Shas Kashmiri Shahmiri (RA) in 1394 AD Father of Sultan Zainulaabdin (Bushah)

2. Measurement 381 ft x 384 ff

3. Built in area of this Masjid is 1,46,000 square feet (27 kanals)

4. Width of brick wall is 5 feet and 4 feet

5. Jamia Masjid with its unique architecture has majestic 378 wooden Deodar pillars supporting the wooden ceiling. 346 pillars of the pillars are 21 feet high and 5 feet girth. 32 pillars are 48 feet high and 6 feet girth.

Deodar is white cedar.

6. The Masjid is provided with a fountain measuring 33 ft x 34 ft which also serves purpose of ablution (- the washing of one's body or part of it (as in a religious rite).

7. Jamia Masjid can hold 33333 people for (Salah)

From wiki: Salat is the name given to the formal prayer of Islam. The prayer is one of the obligatory rites of the religion, to be performed five times a day by an obedient Muslim. Its supreme importance for Muslims.

8. Pulpot (Mehrab) has been decorated with precious granite engraved with 99 attributes of almighty Allah.

9. Offering Salah in Jamia Masjid is recompensed with a reward 500 times more than offering salah in local Masjids (Alhadith)

10. Every year the Salah on the last Friday of Holy month of Ramadhan is offered by Lakhs of people in and ouside the Masjid premises.

11. After 3 devastating fires Jamia Masjid was renovated by

          A. Sultan Hassan Shah (RA) in 1480 A.D.

          B. Jahangir Shah Abul Muzzafar (RA) in 1620

          C. Aurangzeb Aalamgir Shah (RA) in 1672

By Friday Sermon head priests (Mirsaizeen-i-Kashmir)  Enlightened People on Islam and Islamic teachings.

Habib bought my ticket to go inside.  I took my shoes off, walked in, and this is what I saw. Wow.

 

 

 

It is still sprinkling rain as we are walking to the next mosque.  I wore my new (cotton/poly) scarf. It was fine to keep the rain drops off.  (I love my shawl purchases!)

 

 

This photo shows the Pinjrakari  (Kashmiri latticework) on a houses.  I saw many, many of these buildings on the boat ride, and on the walk around town.  Most looked very delapidated.  I saw this house as we were walking along the water to the Shah-i-Haman Mosque

 

 

 

 

This is the Shah-i-Haman Mosque.  It was built 1395. Destroyed by fire in 1479 and 1731. It was rebuilt in the shape of a cube with a  pyramidal roof rising to a spire. 

It's a pretty building with woodwork and green paint.

Non-muslims are not allowed inside so we just walked past....

 

 

We walked through the old town on the narrow winding roads.  From the tourism pamphlet: "The exhilaration in exploring the Old City comes from peeping into a world which normally admits no outsiders and which continues at its own pace, unaffected by changing times".  Yes, I felt that.  I was an outsider, a person with curious gazes.

 

We must have walked by over 100 shops. Selling clothes,  house hold items. I saw Pantene shampoo. Chemists, meat, live chickens, a live duck.

At one point I was walking close to the shops, under the covers in front of the shops trying to stay out of the rain.  A lady with an umbrella walked straight toward me and forced me to jump up the step into a shop.  I was so embarrassed that I left muddy footprints in their shop.  At that point I really did feel like an intruder into their world and sorry for leaving the footprint for them to clean up.

 

I saw many beautiful things.  This is a shop that sold wedding dresses for ladies and clothes for men:

 

 

Check out this contrast.  Colorful ladies dresses:

Not so colorful ladies attire.  Lady shopping for a Burkas.  All black fabric with pretty designs. (It looks like she is wearing bright orange color pants underneath!)

 

This is my picture of the bridge where A Passage to India" movie was filmed.  The green roof of the Shah-i-Haman Mosque is in the distance.

This is nicer photo of another bridge from the J&K Tourism pamphlet.  Their words:

With its almost medieval charm, the city of Srinagar has sight, smells and sounds to enchant the most jaded traveller. Its labyrinthine roads and bustling bazaars are a photographer's delight.

Over a dozen bridges (kadal) span the river Jehlum, including the Zero Bridge, Abdullah Bridge, Amira Kadal, Budshah Kadal, Habba Bridge, Fateh Kadal, Saina Kadal, Ali Kadal, Nawa Kadal, and Safa Kadal.  

The view from any of the bridges is unmistakable Kashmiri. Old brick building line the banks. The distinctive pagoda-like roof of a mosque or a shrine enlivens the horizon. In the waters of the River Jehlum, a straggling row of doongas flank the edges.

Habib suggested we stop for tea. OK, I admit I am finally getting more daring, or this that trusting. I usually decline because Im so scared of tainting my vacation with a troubled tummy. Anyway, this place was a dirty dive with ton of local flavor. Dhaba is the word that they use here for a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

There were hot woks in front for frying. We squeezed inside the shop and he directed me to go up the narrow steep staircase. We were served delicious, sweet black tea in a small glass glass. It was too hot to hold need a handle. They also brought some cookies, not sweet, some salty. One had potato and curry filling. Very good. 

We walked a little more, then I had had enough of the rain. Time to go back I thought. He flagged a rickshaw. It was a wild and crazy ride home.  You feel every bump in the road in those 3-wheel vehicles.

 

We got back around 12:30. I had lunch around 2. I think.

The cook made a very delicious omelet, grilled tomatoes, french fries and Kashmiri bread very good bread. The evening Kashmiri bread is like a smaller bagel, hole in top part of the middle of the around, sesame seeds. It is called "Cuchwaroo".

After lunch I retired to my luscious bedroom with my a pot of Kashmiri tea to savor this wonderful perfect vacation. I couldnt have asked for better. 

There is a television set in the living room, but I have not turned it on. I wanted the privacy and I knew if I was in the living room that I would get a visitor.  I'm definitely not lonely even though I'm all alone! 

I had a wonderful relaxing afternoon. I read my Tom Clancey book and wrote many postcards.  I also dried my shoes in front of the little heater so they are dry and ready for another adventure to Phalgam tomorrow.

I also took some notes from the 1996 edition of the Lonely Planet book that Habib loaned me.  Some interesting information from the book:

Things to buy in Srinagar: papier-mache articles, woodcarvings, shawls, expensive spice saffron.

Before 1990, there were 600,000 Indian tourists and 60,000 foreign visitor to Srinagar each year. Now this is virtually nil.

Kashmiris say that the Government of India is trying to dissuade tourists from visiting the area in order to starve the local tourist industry of earnings

The actions of a few militant Kahmiris has not been helpful.

There is still a steady trickle of hardy travellers. Before you go, talk to recently returned travellers.

Srinagar population 725,000.  Telephone are code 0194.

"The Old City looks like Beirut at the height of the troubles and should avoided if you value your life   - Im sure that was true at one time. When I was walking around the Old City with Habib today we were separated a couple times and at no time did I ever feel uneasy. I , of course, trusted that he would look out for me. There is no way he would take me any place where there is trouble.

6:30 pm.  I had a yummy dinner as usual. Lamb circled by mashed potatoes and toast tips standing up in the potatoes. And peas!  Yum.  This picture is Nabi setting the table:

So I get about 20 minutes to eat my dinner before someone comes to visit.  Habib started to tell me a story, but he did not want to disturb my dinner, so he told me to ask him about it later, and he graciously left.  Thank you!

So later, I asked him to tell me the story.  I think he said it happened last year:

There was a large family staying on this houseboat.  They were using all 3 bedrooms and the kids were sleeping in the living room.  The Indian police saw how nice the boat was and they made it clear to Habib that they wanted to stay here. Habib said no, because there was a family staying here. The next morning, very early, about 20 police men (with guns) came back with intensions to board the houseboat.  Ramazan saw what was happening and told Habib to away, go back to the house on the land and stay out of sight (for his safety). 

It turns out that the man renting the houseboat knew one of the police men so thank goodness the family did not have to move out, and Habib was not questioned further.

It was just a display of how the Indian police tries to exert power over the Kashmiris. 

So I do not want to get into politics but Im trying to understand the situation here. The Indian police force is occupying the Kashmiri area. Why is that?  Both Pakistan and India want the land and Kashmir wants to be independent. The Indian police appear (to me) to be nice to the local Kashmiris. They seem young.  People with guns trying to exert (sometime unreasonable) control and power.   Sounds like the same thing that happens in the wrong part of downtown USA....

The locals don't like being occupied so there are uprisings because of the oppression. It's similar to America occupying Iraq (which I wish never happened to being with).  The Iraqis fight back and kill Americans. And similar situation Lhasa where the Chinese are oppressing the Tibetans. The whole Tibetan culture and essentially civilization will be gone and lost for the power grab of the land and taking over the area.  Some of the arms for local defense here may come from Pakistan.

So that Kingfisher airline employee told me that it is not safe to go to Srinagar now with the elections. Was he trying to scare me not to go because he wanted to discourage me from supporting tourism in Kashmir?  Tourism is the primary industry. If there are no tourists, then the Kashmiris suffer. Sure they have incredible rugs, handicraft, but they need tourists to buy them.

I remember the lady that sat next to me on the plane - she said that the only that governments that say it is OK to visit this area are Malaysia, Hong Kong, Tiawan, and Korea.  Every other government scares the bejesus out of you so you will not visit.  But I came anyway. See my reasons above.   Also see my brief Politics notes below for the real history of area.

So now I address the issue of "Do I feel safe?". The answer is Absolutely, yes I feel safe. But I must follow that statement with "I feel safe at this time, at this moment at this place."

In the domestic airline terminal, it was very comfortable. It is the same everywhere in every airport in the world. Always keep your things with you and be aware of surroundings. No different in Delhi airport.  On the plane, I was the one that felt out of place, but I was on a mission and was going to see it through. Getting off the place men with guns guide our walk to the Arrival hall, I still felt fine and safe. They are not threatening.   All of the information that I had to enter on the form when I entered Srinagar seems like small, large invasion of privacy, but necessary given the circumstances so I was happy to provide the information.  I am glad that Lou talked me into doing this week in Kashmir and I totally trust Habib to be a great tour guide. This seems like another prime opportunity to say that this place is starving for tourists and they arent going to do anything to screw that up.

Because of that realization of everyone here, I also feel very safe on the houseboat. This boat is their house also. They come and go. The "front" door on the side of the boat is open for anyone to enter.  At night I guess I could have locked it, but I didnt. On the door of my bedroom, there was a lock, no it was a hook on my bedroom door and I was fine with that.

There is a button in every single room on the boat. If you need anything and any time, you press the button and it activates a buzzer in the house and someone will come.

 

So from my brief visit so far: I do not get the impression that Srinagar is a city in turmoil. However, in Lhasa it painfully obvious that it was an occupied city.  Lhasa had active roadblocks and soldiers in bunkers on street corners.  But not here.

So the situation here in Kashmir and in Lhasa seems a little similar to the quagmire that the United States has in Iraq. The United States invaded Iraq (I know not why) and they are essentially occupying Iraq - like China is occupying Tibet and India wants Kashmir. The Iraq people want the U.S. to leave, the Tibetans want their country back, and the Kashmiri's also want independence.  Every power wants dominance, control, and land.

Dang, my second pen is out of ink. Ive been writing a lot!

Young men are different when they hold big guns. Why do so many other governments (including the United States) discourage, tell order tourists not to come here? There was unrest, there doesnt appear to be any now. But the fact that tourists were once (twice?) unfortunately targeted for violence by Kashmiris has left an indelible lasting impression that this place is one of the most dangerous areas on the planet. OK, so maybe perhaps the situation could flare up an any moment that could be a worry, and a reason not to come here if you want a reason. If you want to come, talk to Lou who is in constant contact with Habib, who lives here and they will know what is happening here and if you should come and visit. I have a feeling every single houseboat owner feels the same way.

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Tuesday May 6 - Day 20 Day tour to PAHALGAM

This is what the itinerary said:

After breakfast, we'll depart for a full day journey tour to Himalayan resort of Pahalagam, an other premier mountain resort in Kashmir, with its pointed peaks and green pastures. En-route stops will include a visit to 11th. Century Temple and Palace of ancient capital of Kashmir at AWANTI PURA, MATAN a temple town with ponds of holly fish which are fed by visitors and worshipers. These holy fish are not for consumption.

As you approach Pahalgam, you are greeted by lush valleys and rolling meadows cascading streams offering panoramic views. Pahalgam is a base for various Himalayan trekking routes for beginners and for experienced trekkers to many Trans-Himalayan expeditions. Within a close proximity by horseback ride or walking are the meadow of Baisaran, surrounded by thickly wooded forests of pine. Hajan, on the way to Chandanwari, is an idyllic spot for a picnic. This evening, return to your cozy houseboat.

 

From Wikipedia:

Pahalgam is a town in India's northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a popular tourist destination, and every year, many tourists visit Pahalgam. Pahalgam has an average elevation of 2740 metres (8989 feet). As of 2001 India census, Pahalgam had a population of 5922.
Arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth, the town of Pahalgam (Village of Shepherds) offers breath taking views. http://www.pahalgam.com/    The town is at an average elevation of 8989 feet. Pahalgam is 60 miles (95 km) east of Srinagar and is located in the quiet Liddar valley

Pahalgam is also the entry point for the famous Amarnath Cave, a holy site for Hindus. The cave is at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,760 ft) The Amarnath caves are one of the most famous shrines in Hinduism, dedicated to the god Shiva,  The shrine is claimed to be over 5,000 years old and forms an important part of ancient Hindu mythology

 

This is my account of the day:

It's 8:45 am. I leave tomorrow for the long trek home. Right now Im sitting on the back of the boat looking out to   snowcapped mountains in the distance behind the houseboats on the other side of the lake. Blue sky and billowing clouds. Wow. Looks like a summer day.

Breakfast around 9 am. Hot water , toast, milk. Im eating the last of the oatmeal that I brought, and Folgers instant coffee. Yum.

I had a very leisurely morning.

A jewelry seller came by this morning. No thanks to more jewelry. His method of display was also very awkward.  He had a case that must have had a couple hundred pieces of jewelry. Every piece was individually wrapped in unlabelled paper.  He had to unwrap each piece to show it.  It seemed very tedious.  Seems better if there was a way that he could put, for example, ten bracelets for the same price one package to show all at the same time.   There was no way that I was going to ask the price on anything.  See, that shows interest and really was not interested.

Depart 9:30, no 10. Actually is was closer to 10:30 we headed out to Pahalgam. These are my notes from the drive:

Pahalgam 95 km (60 miles) from Srinagar.

2130 meters

Lidder River flows through town and intersects with the Sheshnag River.

Many dhaba's (rough looking places to eat) along the road.

Gulmarg 52 km SW of Srinagar.

2730 meters  ( Not sure if these signs are giving the elevation?  2730 meters is about 9,000 feet)

Sign "Indias premier skiing resort or Mt. Apharwat."

5 min into the drive we were stopped at a police checkpoint on the bridge. A quick exchange of words , some questions, some answers and we are on our way.

Sign Lane Driving is safe driving

This is an Asian city but what is different is this place is primarily Muslim. We passes the U.N. Military Observation Post Mostly people from Holland etc guard it and are stationed there to observe.

We are driving right through many other Military Police blockers in the road. 

This is my last tour of the trip. I cant believe I forgot to bring water. Ill survive. Its a nice cool temperature . I'm wearing my wool sweater and I brought my fleece. The black coat and umbrella that I need yesterday are in Delhi in my suitcase.

We are passing through Pampore.

This town that is famous for the best saffron.  It costs 200-300 Rs a gram.  $6.5 USD a gram now. It was 4 USD.  Saffron Tea is a lot more expensive than Kashmiri Tea!

They harvest saffron in October. There are 6 tendrils in each flower, the 3 red one are saffron. Very delicate.  It takes 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. 

Saffron fields:

Sign Phalgam 77

Passing by lush green fields and small towns. Many willow trees used to make cricket  bats so we are passing many Sports Works shops.

A speed breaker is a huge object in the road that you must zig zag through.

Rice paddies and mustard fields.

11:30 Passing through Bijbehara Town now.

11:45 Anantag Town

Noon Hamden Town

12:15 Pahalgam 23 

Lots of fruit is grown here in the Lidder Valley: apricots, peaches, cherries.

Sharing the road

 

My photo to the right is Phalgam. 

We paid 250 Rs ($5.20) to enter this very beautiful place. 

Even locals pay that price.

 

We had a nice picnic.

There were horses that you could ride, but I opted for a hike instead. We did a short hike along this river.

 

By the road, there were enclosures with big signs by the "Deptt. of Wildlife Protection J&K State Wildlife Division (South) Bijbehara (Ang.)

 

"Musk Deer"  "Save Mute Creature"

 

"Hangul" "Save Kashmir's Pride"

 

On the drive back, we stopped to get petrol.

He paid 300 Rs total for 9.35 liters. 

So that is $6.32 for 2.47 gallons that makes it $2.55 for one gallon of gas. 

That is what I paid for gas yesterday in Atlanta!  Exact same price as Kashmir?!?

 

We passed fields of Mulberry trees - that is what silk worms eat.

 

We also stopped so Habib could buy some meat and another stop to buy a chicken.  The cost of a live chicken is 250 Rs about $5 USD.  Chicken that lays eggs are double.  This is Habib carring the (now dead) chicken.  I had lamb for dinner, so I know I didn't eat it....

 

This is the last evening of my exquisite vacation.  I sat on the back porch of the houseboat looking out onto the water trying to absorb the experience. Ramazan was there of course. There were eerie sounds coming from the mosque across the lake. They recite and sing? Parts of the Koran. All men's voices. Another mosque to the right started their service. It seemed so appropriate for the area. There are so many Masjids around here.  Im sure more than Hindu temples. And what about a Christian churches?

Oh yeah, you also hear barking dogs. You usually always hear dogs in the distance. I cant imaging living next to that loud barking. Nobody seems to own the dogs though. They wander the street in packs. 

Along with the dogs, there are also cows wandering the streets. The Kashmiri Muslims eat meat (cows) and the Indian Hindus do not.  That seems like a problem. 

Anyway. I digress.  This is really a great place to visit.

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Thursday May 7 - Day 21 - Fly SRINAGAR to DELHI

This is what the itinerary said:

SRINAGAR/DELHI: Kingfisher flt. 336 arrive 4.25 pm

After breakfast transfer to airport for flight to Delhi. Time free for shopping (no thank you) or a visit to Bahai Temple. Late evening transfer to IGIA airport for light homeward bound. AIR FRANCE Flt.  225 at 12:40 AM (08 May)

This is my account of the day:

This morning for breakfast I had Kashmiri morning bread with my scrambled eggs.  Im loving this Kashmir bread. The morning bread is about 5 inches round textured, with a nutty flavor,  called "Kashmiri Nan". It is the usual flat Indian bread but with Sultanas and nuts baked into it.  This is picture of the morning bread with my scrambled eggs. 

 

Im starting my trek back home today.  Habib was dressed very nice. I later realized why he was dressed so nice.  Today is election day and we got stopped many times on our way to the airport.

 

We left around 11 am to drive to the airport.

In the small neighborhood where the houseboats is, I saw a group of people at one at one corner. They were grouped around one man with pad of paper. Today is voting day. All of the streets are void of cars. We are the only vehicle on the road for most of the drive. There are some mopeds (2-wheelers) on the streets. There are many people walking around on the streets.  All businesses were closed, but there were still many people out and about. Things are very calm in the streets.

I saw some police, then I saw some more police. But there were no groups of people congregating, no demonstrations, nothing to avoid.  We drive through the several police checkpoints.  It is obvious I am a tourist. They ask questions and  I have to keep my airline ticket handy. We had to show it more than once to prove that we were driving to the airport for a flight later today.

At one checkpoint, they would not let us pass. We had to turn and go around the block. We were not allowed on that particular street.  We got re-routed around the block only because the people in charge want to show their authority.  You have to be patient with all that.

So we finally get to the airport. Seems like it took over an hour to drive there.  It is very heavily guarded.  Guns everywhere.  I showed my ticket, the policeman asked Habib why he had to go to the airport.  Habib explained that he was driving me. The policeman did not want to let Habib pass. Habib told the policeman that he was not going to let me drive myself, so he had to drive me.  Yes, that was a "silly" exchange almost to point of being harrassed.  Again, you have to be patient and concur and respond when asked stupid questions.

So before we can drive onto the airport grounds, I have to put my suitcase through x-ray and they use mirror to look underneath the car. 

So I wrote earlier in the journal log that I did not get the impression that Srinagar is an occupied city. But now it looks occupied because today is election day and there are so many police visible.  They have a heavy presence, to maintain control over people that don't want to be controlled.

So here are some excerpts from newspapers about Srinagar:

The article to the right is from the Hindustan Times on Thursday May 7, 2009  http://www.hindustantimes.com/Homepage/Homepage.aspx

It says "Srinagar was sealed off from the country on Wednesday"

"All routes leading to the city have been barricaded while police and CRPF (Central Reserve Police Forces) men in combat dresses marched the streets.... They are also posted at entry points to stop people from entering Srinagar."

On Wednesday we drove from Phalgam which is 60 miles away, to Srinagar.  I don't remember seeing any barricade preventing us from entering the city. 

From the Times of India on Thursday May 7, 2009

Srinagar: Hundreds of troops patrolled deserted streets, erected barricades and restricted people's movement to thwart anti-poll protests ahead of the fourth phase of balloting in Srinagar on Thursday.

Over a dozen separatist leaders remained under house arrest to prevent them from addressing anti-election rallies. Ali Shah Geeani had called for a 50-hour strike stating Tuesday evening and asked people to stay away from the polls. 

Wall Street Journal May 8, 2009

Many voters in troubled Kashmir defied a call for a boycott and headed to the polls Thursday amid tight security, as India neared the end of its month-long national elections.

A heavy security force kept violence to a minimum in Srinagar, the capital and largest city of Jammu and Kashmir state, and voters turned out despite the separatist group Hurriyat Conference's calling for a boycott of the elections. The locked-down city reported a turnout of 24%, slightly more than the 21% that voted in the last national elections in 2004. 

Excuse me??? "violence kept to a minimum" .  They are trying to scare people  into staying away from Kashmir.

Some interesting facts about the election in India.

Total number of voters is 94,645,317.

Total number of candidates: 1,315

Total number of women candidates: 119

Polling stations: 129,103.

Number of electronic voting machines to be used: 134,267

Total polling staff being deployed: 650,000.

There a 4 voting phases: 16 April, 23 April, 30 April, and 7 May.

So we finally get to the Srinagar airport.  A Kingfisher airline employee takes my bag.  I say my good byes and a big thank you to Habib and run to catch up with my big, which is entering the building.  I am only allowed one small carry on and I have to check my other small bag.  But first, everything has to come out of every bag.  I mean everything. Thank goodness I use clear plastic bags so they can see what I've packed. 

They kept putting things from my carry on bag into the bag that I was going to check. No cosmetics (and nothing that looks like it is cosmetic) is allowed in your carry on bag. Also you were not allowed carryon any food on the airplane. No raisins, no water. All of that goes in the checked bag.  Whatever.

When they were done, they sealed the checked bag with a plastic zip-tie.  No one is getting in that bag, except where the thin nylon was starting to tear.  They put a "fragile" sticker on it.

So enough of this pilfering through my stuff. It bothers me that everything gets touched. It's just a bad in America even for domestic flights.  The TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) say they are just doing their job.  Yeah, it's necessary.   And it's necessary here also.  At every checkpoint, and there are several checkpoints, your stuff gets scrutinized and something doesn't pass the muster.   My nail clippers were confiscated, also batteries and a pocket knife (that was obviously my mistake to be carrying that.)  Thank goodness I could hold onto my underarm deodorant.

So before I boarded this plane I had to go through x-ray and my carry on bag was searched again.  I took everything out and put it on the table.  She saw a safety pin on my MP3 player.  There is evidently a "no pins" rule here, so without hesitation, I gave her the safety pin.  I'm glad that the three more pins holding my passport carrier to my pants passed through the x-ray!  She also wanted my extra batteries. I was getting a low battery warning on my camera so while she watched, I put the new batteries in the camera and gave her the old batteries. She has done her job and everyone is happy.

All electronics were being searched at another table.  I had to carry my cameras over there.  They opened up each camera to verify what?  That I didn't have something in the camera that I wasn't supposed to have, I guess.  I have to admit that it is encouraging to see that they are very thorough.  I think we would feel safer in America if learned from other countries and made our security was just as thorough.  We do have a new x-ray that airports are trying to use in the US now.  Everyone is throwing a hissy fit because the technician can see you naked and it exposes you to radiation.  Sorry, but all that is necessary in order for people to feel more secure....

 

So my book ended up in my checked bag so I have to sit here and watch people and write.  I don't mind.  I really do like  airports. What I do not like is the process of getting to the gate.  Maybe I should get that other bag back from dad the one with a million zippers so I can store nibbles in my carry on luggage. Perish the thought.

It is 1:25 and I'm waiting in the Srinagar domestic terminal for my flight. There is a very very loud lady on the speaker. Not sure I can stand this for another hour. No problem. Im on my way home. OK, Im getting whiney.  I want a huge salad with lots of lettuce and vinaigrette dressing.

People in security are very terse, but everyone else is very friendly here in the airport. People just start talking to me. They always seems surprised to hear that I am from America. Some guy sitting next to me is in the tourism business.  He couldn't wait to give me his email address.  

Yup, Im definitely the only one here with blonde hair and round eyes. I have no food and no water with me so I sure hope this flight is on time. I think Ill go up to the restaurant.  OK, I looked and, uh, no, and no thanks to the food in that "restaurant".

So I'm boarding the plane and I see another western-looking woman!  She is a BBC correspondent from England.  She was in Srinagar with a co-worker covering the elections.  Hmm, they are reporting on the elections and today is election day.  They tells me that not much is going on today in Srinagar because of the elections.  Yup. I believe that is the case.  I think it was Chris Morris.  This is the article that he wrote and filed with the BBC is at the end of this journal.  The title is :    Kashmir: 'A rose between two thorns' . How appropriate is that!

 

It's 5 pm and we are landing in Delhi. It is 36 degrees C (97 F). Yeow. Hot.  JP picked me up at the airport. He had my suitcase with him!  He kept it for me while I was in Srinagar.  I was so glad to see that.

He drove me around sightseeing again. We went to the India Gate and parked. I got a good picture of the empty canopy where the Sir George 5th statue was when Grampa took his picture in 1960.  The canopy is now empty and the statue is in the Coronation Park.  The India Gate 42 m ? for the 85,000 names dies in WWI. Eternal flame runs.  I took pictures of the American embassy, and the back side of the President house. Cost of 75,000 Rs a month for apartment in Delhi.  This is what I saw in Delhi by the India Gate:

 

JP and I had a wonderful conversation while we were together. He is definitely in the correct line of work - showing off his city to tourists. 

So we exchanged email address and JP dropped me off at the international terminal and we said our good byes.  I'm on Air France flight that leaves at 12:40 am.  It was too early to enter the terminal, but I talked the door guy into letting in the building.  I found a great spot in the back corner of waiting area where I could repack my bags.  I had to put everything in the little carryon bag that I had for 5 days back into the big suitcase.

That done, I started a nice conversation with a security officer that works in the terminal.  I really don't feel like I'm traveling alone since I'm meeting and talking to so many people!

I bought stamps in the airport and mailed my postcards.  Then it was ready to check in for the flight to Paris.

 

Fri 08 MAY AIR FRANCE flight #225, LEAVE DELHI INDIA     12:40A First/Business, ARRIVE PARIS-DEGAUL  6:05A

Fri 08 MAY AIR FRANCE  flight #50, LEAVE PARIS-DEGAUL  10:30A First/Business, ARRIVE CHICAGO-OHARE 12:35P

Fri 08MAY DELTA flight #1947,       LEAVE CHICAGO-OHARE 5:00P First Class,     ARRIVE ATLANTA  8:06P

 

I am on the plane headed to Paris. Flight time from Delhi to Paris is 8 hours 45 minutes. 

Yeow. I hear screaming babies in the back. I am glad that Im up in front for the start of the long trek home.

For dinner on the airplane, I had the fish and mashed potatoes and cheesecake for dessert.

For breakfast:  Fruit crepes. Yum.

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Friday May 8 - Day 22

Arrive in Paris at 6:05 am. Next flight leaves at 10:30.  I found the Air France lounge.  It was huge! Lots of free food and alcohol available. There were meeting rooms, business rooms with copier, fax etc. Shower room, sleeping rooms. There were about 25 computer terminals.  I responded to some emails.

I had very nice layover, but I think I ate too much cheese.  Dairy products are hard to find, and too expensive in India. Back at home, I drink about a gallon of milk every week and I sure was craving milk.  The cheese helped satisfy my dairy desires.

10:40 am and I am sipping champagne. Life is good (LG) Do what you like, like what you do.

I'm on the flight from Paris to Chicago in first class and there is an empty seat next to me again.

Paris to Chicago flight time is 8 hours and 46 minutes.

I am watching a ballet of airplanes pulling into position, ready, set, go. We are number ten in the take off list. 5 other planes are patiently waiting to pull onto our long runway after we are airborne at 11:20 finally.

The meal is spectacular as usual. 

Hors d' Oeuvre - Duck foie gras or I selected the Scallop timbale with artichoke and sumac vinaigrette, baby spinach and lemon.

Main Course - Breast of Duck, or Sauteed shrimp, or I selected Veal saut with blanquette sauce. Morsels of veal shoulder are cooked in a veal broth with aromatic herbe, then served with a white cream sauce. Steamed carrots, sauteed muchrooms with herbs and white rice.

Then their "special selection of cheeses" Camembert, Fourme d'Amert, Sainte-Maure

Desserts - Chocolate macaroon with Fleur de Sel sea salt, lemon meringue shortbread, sherbet served with cookies.

 

4 hours into the flight (less than half way) we had a medical emergency on the plane. I was sound asleep and I was awakened by a very odd sound.   It was an older lady gasping for air. She was sitting 2 rows behind me (also in first class). 

They asked over the intercom for any medical personnel to help. People were running up and down the aisle. They got the lady breathing again and she looked ok as we were exiting the plane.  There was a gurney waiting to take her off the plane.

It's 53 degrees F (12 C) in Chicago. 

So I get to Chicago, get my suitcase, and I shoved almost everything that was in my carry on into my suitcase.  I have to recheck it onto my domestic flight from Chicago to Atlanta. Oops there's a problem.  I'm overweight, I mean the suitcase is over 50 pounds.  (I personally know that I have lost weight on this trip - I still don't like Chinese food!) Anyway. The lady is starting to tell me that I need to remove things from my suitcase or pay the penalty fee.  I smile graciously and ask her very calm and nice if it makes any difference if I am sitting in First Class?  She checks my ticket and grabs a "HEAVY" tag.  I thank her profusely as she is putting the tag on my suitcase.

So now I'm on a mission to find a salad.  I got a big chicken Caesar salad. Called Dad, called Martha. Then I got a TCBY frozen yogurt.  Yuk, that was not worth the cost or calories.  I threw half of it away.

I talked my way into the Crown Room (because Im international 1st class) and Im still here drinking my free dirty vodka martini on the rocks. like I said before, Life is good (LG). Except, get this. Every security check that Ive been through they attempt to confiscate or they take something. Whatever. So every time my plastic jar of Dark Chocolate Peanut butter has made it through, until Chicago.  They took it, and the jar was only half empty.  Dang.  Thats the final time. Im on the flight home in 30 minutes.

 

7:15 pm and it's the last day of my trip. I flying from Chicago to Atlanta. What can I say, the view is boring. Yes, I can say that because Im comparing it to where I have been for the last 3 weeks. OMG. All I see here is flat land, fields, small pastures occasional building over where KY or TN? Compared to the majestic mountains of the Himalayas, the deep valleys, the snow capped peaks peeking above the clouds that are forever indelibly ingrained on my mind with closed eyes I go back there to a most beautiful place on earth.

It's 81 degrees F (27 C) in Atlanta.

Arrive home at 8:06 pm. Martha is picking up from Marta to take me home.

Now begins the task of documenting this adventure so I can remember it.

 

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Kashmiri Politix, paraphrased from Wikipedia:

Kashmir was independent until 1947 ---->

Mughal Empire disintegrated 1707 and the Pashtun tribes infiltrated the valley.

In 1814 the Kashmir Valley, including Srinagar, came under the influence of the Sikhs.

In 1846, a treaty between the Sikh and the British was signed. It provided British de-facto suzerainty (overlordship) over the Kashmir Valley.  But the British were not allowed to own land, so they build the beautiful houseboats.

The area was one of the states of the original undivided India, until the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 (when the area  was divided into the now countries of Pakistan and India).

The states were given the option of joining either India or Pakistan. Pakistani forces came into the Kashmir valley to help the local overwhelming Muslim majority of Srinagar to gain independence from the Hindu Rulers.

The Pakistan Army controlled the majority of Srinagar, but not the Srinagar Airport. So that allowed India to air lift the Indian police along with all the heavy weapons and they were able to capture the city and its surroundings.

The Maharja (great king, high ruler) Hari Singh wanted Jammu and Kashmir to remain independent, but to avoid a civil war, he signed a covenant in late 1947 with the Indian Government, which ensured integration of his kingdom into the newly formed Republic of India, conditioned on the requirement of having a plebiscite after any conflict had ended. ( plebiscite: a vote by which the people of an entire country or district express an opinion for or against a proposal especially on a choice of government or ruler.)

Various historians, dispute the claim that the Maharaja signed any agreement at all.  But the Indian government immediately air-lifted many Indian troops to Srinagar.  The matter escalated to the United Nations, which imposed a cease fire.  The result was that Hari Singh lost parts of his kingdom, which now constitutes the "Azad Kashmir" (free Kashmir) state under Pakistani administration.  And the city of Srinagar has thereafter remained administered by India.

So the JKLF Jammul Kashmir Liberation Front is fighting the Indian police (the CRPF Central Reserve Police Forces and the BSF Border Security Forces). Pakistan encourages by supplying funds and arms to Kashmiri militants on the Indian side of the border. In 1992 there was almost a war between India and Pakistan.

And all the Kashmiris want is independence from both India and Pakistan. It is "a rose between two thorns". See BBC article below:

This is the article by BBC reporter that I met on the plane leaving Srinagar.

Kashmir: 'A rose between two thorns'     http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8038611.stm

Thursday, 7 May 2009 18:20 UK

By Chris Morris   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris

          BBC News, Indian-administered Kashmir

"For 20 years we have had a static strategy - unchanged and delivering nothing. If we don't change strategy now, when will we change it?" Sajjad Lone

Out on the campaign trail in the summer rains of Kashmir, this is an election rally with a difference.

In what passes for the main square in the town of Hajin, small groups of men are watching their local candidate speak from the balcony of an old wooden house.

While his fellow Kashmiri separatists are boycotting the entire process, Sajjad Lone is running for a seat in parliament.

No significant separatist in Kashmir has ever done that before, and Mr Lone has been heavily criticised.

As the rally comes to an end a window is broken. There is momentary panic. No-one here forgets that Sajjad Lone's father fell to an assassin's bullet seven years ago.

But Mr Lone says he wants to take his message all the way to Delhi. His constituency goes to the polls in the fifth and final phase of voting next week, and he's campaigning until the last day.

'Same ideology'

"The idea is not to seek power or perks from the Indian government," he says. "The idea is to be able to put forward the same ideology with more credibility and more force.

The rest of the Kashmiri separatist movement doesn't agree.

Election time means shuttered shops and calls for a boycott. The streets of Srinagar have been all but empty for the last couple of days, as the city went to the polls on Thursday.

In the end little more than 10% of voters in Srinagar cast a ballot. Outside the city the turnout was higher, but once again an election has underscored the extent of dissatisfaction in Kashmir with Indian rule from Delhi.

And that's a challenge for the state government, which made its annual move north to Srinagar this week, away from the heat of the plains.

It's a well-established summer ritual, dating back to British colonial times, designed in part to reaffirm Kashmir's links with the rest of India. An old tradition, then, for a new Chief Minister - Omar Abdullah, another son of a famous Kashmiri dynasty.

He's only held office for four months - at a time when the attack on Mumbai by gunmen who came from Pakistan is fresh in India's collective memory.

'Relentless'

Relations between the two countries have been fractious and tense - and that never makes things easy in Kashmir.

We believe we have to have a resolution to this problem first and then elections later Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

"The incident in Mumbai has given us great cause for concern because it has derailed the process of dialogue between India and Pakistan," Mr Abdullah said.

"Events in Mumbai coupled with events in Pakistan have meant that there has been little or no progress on the dialogue front."

In fact one of the main issues the new chief minister has faced in the last few months has been renewed efforts to infiltrate militants across the line of control from Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Support for armed militancy has certainly declined over the years in the Kashmir Valley, but infiltration by militants from groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba is a constant threat for Indian forces.

"Our border management has improved a lot," says Kuldeep Khoda, the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir police. "But at the same time the effort from the other side has been relentless.

"Sometimes when there is international pressure on them they try to calm down, but once they feel the time is opportune for them to push in more infiltrators, then they do it."

And that, say the authorities in Srinagar, is one of the reasons why the security presence in Kashmir is so extraordinarily heavy. Hundreds of thousands of military and police personnel are stationed here.

'No justice'

But over-bearing security leads to public resentment, it leads to clashes with protesters, and it leads to unnecessary deaths.

A rose between two thorns - that's what has happened to Kashmir Mohammed Ishaq Chapri

Shahid Ahangar was killed by the security forces two months ago. He was 22, a mechanic and a good footballer.

The government says he was a trouble maker - always throwing stones at the police. His family say he was innocent.

"I'm not going to vote in these elections," says Shahid's father Khalil Mohammed, as he sits on a cushion on the floor of his small family home.

"They don't do anything for anyone. It makes no difference. And they won't bring me justice for my son."

On the other side of the city, one of Kashmir's main separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is also sitting at home, waiting for this election season to end.

He's under house arrest and it took more than an hour of negotiating with senior security officials just to be allowed in to see him.

His solution to the Kashmir problem is independence. He is a significant player, but under current conditions he will take no part in an Indian election in order to prove that he has popular support.

"We believe we have to have a resolution to this problem first and then elections later," he says, as we sit and talk in his garden. "You can't have elections first without knowing where we are going."

The authorities criticise separatists like Mr Farooq, arguing that they are undermining the political process by persuading so many people to opt out.

He says that India needs to engage more with Kashmiris and with Pakistan, to find a solution.

"We believe the time has come when there should be some movement forward on Kashmir," he says, with one eye on international concern about instability across the border in Pakistan.

"If we're able to settle Kashmir amicably and through dialogue then I'm sure it will have a lasting impact on events in Pakistan and the Afghan problem too."

Two or three years ago India and Pakistan did come quite close to a ground-breaking deal on Kashmir's future, in a series of behind-the-scenes meetings. But as Pakistan's political problems mounted, the deal fell apart, leaving local people still waiting for change.

Out on the still waters of Dal Lake, in the cool evening air, it's easy to forget about these complex problems which churn through the Kashmir Valley.

But the Lake's famous houseboat owners tend to have a way with words.

"We are totally stuck," says Mohammed Ishaq Chapri. "Personally I feel we are in a jail, surrounded by the big mountains. A rose between two thorns - that's what has happened to Kashmir."

Story from BBC NEWS:   http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/8038611.stm

Published: 2009/05/07 17:20:07 GMT  BBC MMIX

 

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Too funny from the Hinduism Times May 7, 2009:

 

Not funny: How skewed reporting can be.  This example reiterates my finding from this trip that what you read is biased to obtain the desired result from the reader.  You cannot believe everything that you read and you need to research both side of an issue.   For example, this is exact same story from USA Today and from Hinduism Times. Look at the difference in the heading:

 

 

This is the actual front page of the May 7, 2009 newspaper that I scanned in:

Hindustan Times lead sentence says:

Pakistani forces attacked Taliban fighters on Wednesday killing at least 64 of them, the military said, after the United States called on the Pakistani government to show its commitment to fighting expanding militancy.

 The USA Today lead sentence says this:

Doctors rushed to treat wounded Pakistani civilians and desperate refugees looted U.N. supplies on Saturday, as thousands of troops backed by bomb-dropping warplanes sought to purge Taliban militants from a northwestern valley.

The fourth paragraph mentions this:

Pakistan's leaders, encouraged by the United States, launched a full-scale offensive in Swat this week to halt the spread of Taliban control in districts within 60 miles of the capital.

Complete articles are here:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=36d82e8c-45ee-41c4-907b-4e3341bba7ae

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-05-09-pakistan-violence-civilians_N.htm

 

Yup, I'm going to keep on travelin' to see as much of this world as possible.  I have hopes that ever since Obama became President, maybe Americans will be able to travel to some countries previously inaccessible.  Just maybe.

 

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